Saturday November 19th 2011 I ran the Stone Mill 50 Miler in Maryland. Here is my race report. I wanted to post my critical learning’s and rave about the great staff, Race Director Harvey Sugar and urge people to support this awesome single-track race. It was an amazing experience and I am looking forward to Running this 50 Miler again next year and possibly another as well, maybe the North Face in Virginia. The one worry I had doing this race wasn’t the distance, I was pretty confident that I would have what it took to finish, I was more worried about my right knee. Sometime around early to mid-October, my knee had started to act up. At first I thought it was ITBS but it would lock up randomly and catch causing great pain and make it almost impossible to walk. And just as rapidly as it came on, it would disappear and I could move well. It was a great concern.
Earlier in the week, we had torrential rains and everyone was worried and excited about the course being muddy and challenging. After the cold front passed the temperatures dropped into the upper 20’s or low 30’s in the area. In the trees, it was freezing cold. At 6AM sharp the gun went off . With headlamps and hand lamps in place, Approximately 300 of us headed into the woods embarking on what would be an all-day challenge.
The race is mostly over single-track that follow the Seneca Greenway Trail and Muddy Branch Trails in Maryland. We started at Watkins Mill High School and looped the school then headed down a steep embankment and into the woods where we picked up the Greenway trail. The first section was Watkins mill to MD 355 and is approx. 3 miles. This was all in the dark and the line of headlamps made for a very cool and interesting journey. We were all clumped very close to each other so speed was slow and lots of joking and talking were in order. Soon we hit MD 355 and dumped cloths and headlamps, crossed the road at the bridge and headed into the woods for the second leg which was MD 355 to Riffle Ford Road.
This section passes through Great Seneca Park and has a few tricky navigation spots where the trail was washed out from earlier storms. At mile 8 you could make a ¼ mile detour to the Aid Station but most passed it up and continued to the next station at MD 28 and the Muddy Branch Trailhead. To this point, everything was pretty much uneventful. The pace was good at around 10 min / mile average and there wasn’t much mud. The knee that had been giving me problems over the past month was not acting up much and I was having a great time.
At Mile 10 we were 1 mile from the Aid Station and my Running buddy Allan had his wife meet us with hot Starbucks Mocha Lattes and Oatmeal. Man that was awesome, you should try that sometime. We ate the oatmeal, filled our bottles with coke and water, chugged down the Lattes and headed out for the next 10 mile section that would take down to Pennyfield lock on the C&0 Canal.
This section leaving the Riffle Ford area and getting to The Muddy Branch Trailhead was the only paved portion of the trail. It was a necessary Evil and worth the 1.5 mile hardtop because the Muddy Branch Trail (MBT) is spectacular. Once on the MBT we headed southwest over countless small creek crossings, some muddy bogs and spectacular scenery. At Mile 17 the trail crosses Esworthy Rd and was a bit confusing. Earlier in October I had tried to navigate this portion and could not find the trail after crossing the road. Come to find out later we needed to run north on Esworthy Rd about 1/3 mile to the Trailhead and then start southwest again for another 3 miles to Pennyfield Lock. Here it got a little comical as we started down a steep hill and many runners were coming back up it saying it was the wrong way. Why they thought that I was unsure since the trees were clearly marked with Blue Blazes so I just headed down the trail leaving them in their confusion. After two miles we hit river road and I was happy because all the while running I had thought that maybe they were right. Somewhere in this section my knee started to act up. The hill mentioned earlier, well as I was headed down that hill I felt the knee sort of give a little and I was now feeling some minor pain. I continued to the next Aide Station at mile 21 where I was feeling better.
As I took a break at Pennyfield lock eating a PB&J and some crackers I realized the knee was swelling a bit and pain set in again with a vengeance. By the time we left the Aide Station and headed onto the C&O canal, I was barely able to walk. In a matter of minutes I went from minor pain to excruciating pain. I hopped and limped and then started running. The pain subsided some but it was always present and for the next 4 miles I ran/walked doing whatever felt best at the time.
After leaving the Stone mill we crossed River Road again at Riley’s lock and a short run down a side road led to the trail entrance and into the trees. This section is a mostly flat except for the first 2 miles which are very hilly. Historically it is also a miserable/fun muddy section, it did not disappoint. I have run this section several times. There are some creek crossings and many bogs where stagnant mud bogs block the trail. It is also a very fun section between River Road to MD 28 where the next official Aide Station was located. I was in pain in this section but I found if I just kept running I was good. Then somewhere around Berryville Rd in the Hilly section around mile 26 I was coming down a hill when the knee just sort of gave out, Allan why was running behind me made the comment “That didn’t look good”, well it really didn’t feel too good either. That was the beginning of the end. The rest was a run walk to MD 28 Aide station where I had to make a decision.
My GPS said just over 31 miles but the sign in the aide station said 29 miles only 21 left to go. Well, I knew at this point I wasn’t going another 21 so I had to get that 50K mark under my belt. The GPS said I was there but the official mileage was 29 so I decided to press on to the next road crossing which was around 1.5 miles further. This was a very grim time since I knew I had failed to get the 50 Miles but it was also a landmark for me since I had never ran 50K. talk about bitter-sweet. I walked up a long hill and then started running. There were times the pain was so intense I thought I’d vomit and a hundred moments that my brain was screaming what are you doing fool (In a Mr T Voice) but if 50K was all I’d get that day then 50K it was. As I came into the Parking lot at Blackrock my GPS read 33.2 miles, I was done, stick a fork in me. I fist pounded Allan, said I’d see him at the finish line and climbed into the truck. Torn, Beaten and proud at the same time. Talk about a strange twist of emotions.
Well, It has been over a week now and, the feet are good, the knee is still swollen and I have a pretty healthy bakers Cyst behind the knee. I say the feet are good because I have had some problems with the Peroneal Tendon where it attaches to the 5th metatarsal on the left foot. Basically, it gets damn sore after running and it didn’t disappoint after this run, it was excruciating and felt like someone was holding a bic lighter to the knuckle there, That pain disappeared after a few days, the knee, not so lucky. I recon I’ll be getting some scope time to see what’s up but I made my mark at 50K and enjoyed every minute. It is interesting when you achieve a goal and miss another at the same time. You just don’t know whether to celebrate of get mad. I chose to celebrate.
Things I Learned in my first Ultra:
- They are hard but not impossible. I have no doubt that I can run a 50 Miler now. I was close.
- My hydration strategy although I thought was good enough must not have been. I was drinking pretty regular at about 20 oz per 5 miles but I was not going to the bathroom at all on the run – twice in 33 miles is not good enough. It was almost 2 days before I was back to normal and 12 hours before I pee’d after the run and that was a weak dribble attempt. Never did I drink enough that I felt I drank too much. I know I need a lot of water as I sweat like crazy. Lesson Learned!
- Food and electrolytes! I had decided on a Gel every hour and an S cap every 2 hours. I did only 3 gels in 6 hours and only 2 S-Caps. I just don’t think I was doing well on electrolytes and at the end I was feeling some cramping that started around mile 25. Since I sweat so much, I probably need more potassium. I was using a Nuun Tablet in my water, I think I used 3 or 4 tablets, that didn’t seem enough.
- Training: I had previously done some 25 and 28 Milers; most training runs were 20 or less on the same terrain as the run. It would have been better had I ran some 30-40 milers to mentally prepare because when the knee started going south really bad around mile 25, I was already fatigued. I don’t know what the outcome would have been had I not had knee problems but I question whether I could have made that last 10 miles after mile 40. Guess I will never know. My training plan called for some back to backs of 20 and 30 miles. I neglected doing them. That was a mistake. Next year I am kicking it up a notch.
The shoes I wore were Merrill Trail Gloves. I tried several other shoes in training and always came back to the MTG’s. I wore them the entire run and was very impressed. I got no blisters, I was comfortable and if the shoes got too slippery with Mud I would simply run in a creek and wash them out. They dry and drain very well. Before the run I drenched my feet in 2 Tom SportShield Liquid Roll-On. This stuff is the chit and works well for me. I never had a hot spot wearing the MTG’s with SportShield. Shoes give me heel blisters so I need a soft back. Vibram Five Fingers have no traction and no rock plate so I eliminated those when I started trail/Ultra running.
Running the Stone Mill 50 was a blast, people running Ultras are a different bread of human. They are so much cooler than the uptight people running Marathons and other street races. On the street I have been yelled at, pushed, crowded out, and generally feel like everything is do or die. In the Ultra world the general feeling is team work and comradery. If you happen to fall, others help you up and care; If someone else falls I help you up. When someone looks in trouble, everyone wants to help. It is a crazy cool world to play in.
Oh, one last note! At mile 29 or 31 whichever it was, they had BBQ’d Roasted salted baby Potatoes. OMG, they were like eating little chunks of heaven or Fairy Eggs.
Here is a picture taken by someone at mile 8 at that Riffle Ford Creek Crossing as we switched from the Blue Greedway Trail to the Trail leading to Route 28. Not sure why I looked like such a poser!