Yes, there was snow chopping up our steps...Yes there was mud keeping us on our toes (and sucking at our shoes)...and Yes, there was a freezing cold river crossing (where, despite the guide ropes, I still managed to slip and dunk myself above the waist), but all of these challenges simply added up to a tremendously fun experience at the 2010 edition of the Seneca Creek-Greenway 50k yesterday!
First off, all the credit in the world goes out to Race Director Ed Schultze and his multitude of hard-working volunteers who put in 100+ hours of maintenance on the trail in the week leading up to the race. With daily website updates as race day neared, the maxed out field of 350 runners were all kept in the loop about the conditions of the course. In the end, yes, the snow and mud did slow us down a bit, but to be completely honest, they added more fun to the race than they took away. I had such a blast storming down the snowy hills, skidding around muddy puddles, and truly appreciating the dry and perfectly runnable sections. The course reminded me very much of the Bull Run 50, and to no surprise of those who know how much I enjoy that fantastic route, I simply had a blast yesterday!
While standing around prior to the start of this point-to-point race, I enjoyed catching up with a couple VHTRC'ers Stuart Kern and Mike Bailey. We were all wrapped up in layers of clothing and mylar sheets (which the RD awesomely provided for us all) trying to ride out the 30 degree temps before the starting gun. Even though the promise of a sunny 50-degree day lay ahead, I knew I had to dress properly for the first couple hours of the race and stubbornly realized I needed to run yet another race in tights this year...Hopefully this is the last one! The disappointment of having to wear tights was somewhat negated by my excitement to finally strap on my New Balance 100s for a race. I correctly guessed that they would be a perfect match for this terrain. As I found out throughout the day, for minimalist shoes they certainly pack a ton of great features in such a small package.
The race began easily enough on a runnable 1/2 mile of paved bike path before we hooked up with the trail itself for the rest of the race. I was in no rush to try and hang at the front (some folks were just running the marathon option and headed out pretty quick), so I just slowly warmed up at a nice steady pace over the first few miles like I usually do. Most of the first 4 or 5 miles of the course were covered in about 6" of crusty, packed snow. There were lots of uneven footprints from the 70 or so "early start" runners who took off an hour before the official race start. Trying to run in the path of all that chopped up snow proved to be pretty tough, but I quickly realized the top layer of snow was strong enough to support my weight if I ran just off to the side of the crushed path. I was pleasantly surprised by the fantastic traction my NB100s gave me on this top layer of snow/ice. It was great to know I made the right move leaving my Yaktrax at home for this run.
About 30 minutes into the race, I came to the river crossing I mentioned in the opening of this post. I knew it was coming (Stuart warned me before the start), but seeing as how it was still 30 degrees outside, I can't say I was too excited about stepping into the knee-deep current of the icy-cold water. There's no time to pause during a race though, so in I went. I grabbed the guide rope and support stanchions (which the awesome race volunteers hammered into place for us) and started to make my way across. Just before the end, however, some mischievous race demon must have decided I was making it across entirely too easily. As I went to pull my first foot onto dry land, the end of the guide rope (which was apparently floating in the water) somehow wrapped itself around my foot and tripped me as I tried to hop out of the river. In an instant, I went from being wet from the knees down to being dunked all the way up to my waist. Holy #%^* that was cold!!!!! To make matters worse, I banged the outside of knee/top of my tibia on a rock on my way down in the river. Faaaaantastic.
As I pulled myself out of the river and tried to start running again, my knee hurt so badly I was limping quite a bit as I tried to slowly gain a rhythm on the snowy trail. I'm no Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman or anything, but I was pretty sure the pain would eventually subside if I just ran it off slowly, so I just did my best to keep moving and stay loose (not to mention dry off and stay warm!). As it turned out, my tights actually kept my legs warm even while wet...and before too long, they were completely dry too. Kudos to the CW-X folks for making such a great product!
Speaking of great products, I should also point out that my combination of Drymax Maximum Protection socks and the NB100s drained and dried amazingly fast on my feet. Even though it was still in the low 30s out, my feet felt both warm and dry in less than a mile after I hopped out of the river. Despite the water-crossing and all the wet and muddy sections on the rest of the course, I finished the race without any blisters, raw spots, or skin damage on my feet at all. I didn't use any bodyglide or tape or anything else on my feet either, just the Max Pros and the NB100s. I highly recommend this combo for wet trail runs like this.
Getting back to the race, once my knee loosened back up after a mile or two, I settled in behind a runner moving steadily along the trail. There were a few spots where I could have passed him, but I kept telling myself to keep it in a low gear for a few more miles before picking up the pace. Also, to be quite honest, this area of the snowy trail didn't leave too many chances to pass safely, and I really didn't want to fall again with my knee still throbbing. As the trail undulated over the hills, we all got a pretty good feel for how to run on/trust the snow under our feet and folks started picking up the pace a bit.
After the first Aid Station (mile 11) I skipped past a couple runners (I didn't stop at any aid stations the whole race since I ran with a 72oz Camelbak with 7 or 8 Hammer Gels mixed in) and caught up with two great guys, Paul and Tom. We chatted about all sorts of things until the next AS (mile 15) when Tom stopped off for a refill. Paul and I continued our conversation through the mile 20 AS, at which point the 50K runners have to do a 5 mile loop around a lake before coming back through the same AS and continuing on toward the finish (marathoners just skip the lake loop). Paul pointed me in the right direction around the lake before stopping at the AS himself and leaving me on my own for the first time all day. Most of the snow was gone at this point and I started picking up the pace a bit whenever I found firm footing. Soon enough I caught up with another great guy, Travis Warren, and we had a nice chat while running together around the lake. At the end of the lake loop, Travis stopped off for some fuel and I figured it was time to pick up the pace a bit more and finish the last 6 or 7 miles with an honest effort.
With some folks running the marathon distance now ahead of me after my lake loop, I really didn't know my placing in the 50K race, so I just worked on running hard and catching up to whomever was ahead of me. I was moving pretty quickly as most of the snow was gone and any muddy sections were pretty short and manageable. With about 4 miles to go, I was surprised to be passed by another runner just as I was losing a shoe in the mud. When I caught back up to him and found out he was also a 50K'er, I knew I had a nice goal for the final 3 miles of the race: Beat this dude! He did me a favor by pausing for a quick drink at the last Aid Station with 2.2 miles to go. I took the lead there and did my best to quick-step through the next mile or so before popping out on the road for the final stretch. With a mile to go I took a peek back and saw I had about a 20 second lead, and I knew I had plenty in the tank for a quick but not painful 7-flat to hold off his charge. I really enjoyed being able to finish a race without being completely drained - 50Ks are so great!
There was a volunteer w/ a megaphone welcoming me to the Riley's Lock finishing area as I crossed the finish line in 4:25:32. The time-keeper told me I finished in 3rd place for the 50K, and that sounded pretty good to me. I honestly had no clue all day where I was running in terms of placement. I felt my pace was quick-but-safe on the terrain for a training race like this. My training week leading up to the race was pretty intense, so I'm more than happy with how my legs responded in this run. Big Congrats go out to Josh Hunsberger (4:17) and Luke Finney (4:23) for their 1st and 2nd place finishes, nice run guys! Full Results Here (marathon results listed first).
All the credit in the world goes out to the RD and his legions of volunteers for their amazing efforts to make this race a reality despite Mother Nature's wrath over the past month. Special thanks also go out to Drymax and Hammer for their awesome products and support - They really make these things too easy! This race was just what I needed to replace the Reverse Ring mess from last week. Now I have another solid month of ramping up my training even more for France before my final tune-up at the Philly 100 on April 3. Back to work!