Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k Race Review

Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k_2.jpgSometimes it’s important to have a little distance from something before making up one’s mind about it, especially if that something is an ultra-distance event.

On Saturday, March 4, 2017 I ran the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k. My emotions that day ran the gamut from hyped to hopeless as I struggled through and ultimately triumphed over the course that chilly day.

During the first 22-ish miles of the race: “This is so awesome! I’m going to send the RD an email to congratulate her on a great event. So well-organized! Such a runnable course!”

During the following five miles of the race: “These hills are bullshit.”

During the final five miles of the race: “This distance is bullshit. 50k is a knowable distance, and we passed 50k a long time ago. That lake is pretty, but bullshit nonetheless.”

After the race: “I hurt, but that was awesome! I can’t wait for my next ultra.”

The inevitable emotional swings that happen during an ultra are nearly as up-and-down as the hills were in this race! I know it’s strange, but I love it. I want to make clear that I don’t think I’m cool for running ultramarathons nor do I expect anybody else to think I’m cool. Outside of the hardcore running community, nobody thinks that running ultra-distance races is cool. I mean that. Nobody. Part of my job involves putting on large events, so I meet lots of new people regularly. My colleagues like to introduce me to people they know with, “Meet Hope, she runs double marathons.” I have yet to get a response other than, “Wow, good for you!” or its equivalent. Ultras are crazy to non-runners, not cool and certainly not relatable, so dropping the ultrarunner factoid does little to break the ice. Running even more than 26.2 miles? Inhuman! Aching for days afterwards? Why would you do that to yourself? Chafing? Losing toenails? AAAH!

Luckily, I don’t run weirdly long distances to impress anybody but myself. I run to see what I’m made of, what I can endure. The Seneca Creek 50k certainly tested my mettle. Its rolling course, which featured its steepest ascents and descents as well as its most treacherous roots when my legs were most tired, was nothing if not challenging. Though I often found myself enjoying the serenity of running through the woods with nothing but my own thoughts for company, I wasn’t alone out there. My fellow runners and I were assisted in our journey to the finish by hardy volunteers who leapt into action at each well-organized, well-supplied aid station to fill water bottles and hand out goodies. I usually go for Oreos/Oreo-like cookies as I know how I handle them and while I did that on Saturday, homemade salted oat cookies at the final aid station were a welcome treat. There were a number of hot food items that I did not take, but was impressed to see out there. I even heard rumors of grilled cheese. The aid station volunteers deserved the “Today is a good day to be a badass” T-shirts I saw on several runners – dealing with type-A runners all day and keeping food fresh, plentiful, and hot in low-20s weather is not for wimps! I also appreciated not being told “you’re almost there!” until I was truly almost there.

I ran my own race on Saturday. I listened to my body, walked up hills when I needed to, and lingered over many (MANY – as in 15+) cookies at aid stations, taking my time to make sure I was adequately fueled to continue. My first 50k was through deep drifted snow in 6˚F weather (no kidding!) and I came in at 8:38:00, so I knew I had room to set a PR without rushing through aid stations. Setting that PR was far from the point, but I was still pleased to clock in at 6:52:14.

I felt pain in my legs and feet during the race, but that pain was the price of the elation and pride I felt afterwards. When I finish an ultra, I feel like I can do anything because little I come across in my everyday life is as difficult, as physically trying, as mentally fatiguing, as running seemingly endless miles through the woods. If I can realize that the finish line isn’t at mile 30, mile 31, or even mile 32 and still keep going, I can keep going through anything else.

Running ultras is both the sickness and the cure. I’ll be back for more of both at the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k in 2018. If you want to suffer alongside me and test yourself on these punishing hills, you can find out more about the race at https://www.senecacreekgreenwayrace.com/.

Disclosure: I didn’t send that congratulatory email to the RD. Still bitter about those hills after mile 22. Certainly not a sponsored post or anything like that.

Until next time, happy trails!

-Ultrarunner Hope

Accidentally Running a Possible PR; First Look at the Kinvara 6 on Feet

This year marked my third running of the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler, the annual “rite of spring” about which I regularly kvetch. Too crowded. Too many big-butt ladies lined up at the front of the faster corrals and walking out of the gate (Please tell me, seriously, what good does it do you to LIE LIKE A RUG on the entry form about your expected finish time???). No sign of the supposed stars of the event, the cherry blossoms.

Well I’m not kvetching this year. Yes, I did see someone cheat and not run all of the way to a turnaround point. Yes, the course was altered due to investigation into a traffic accident. Yes, there were still big-butt ladies where they didn’t belong. But this year, we got the cherry blossoms and that changed everything for the better. I was completely seduced by the delicate, sunlight dappled blooms surrounding the Washington Monument. Look at the picture and tell me that isn’t serene. I would gladly run five lousy Cherry Blossoms to get one as nice as the 2015 race. The loveliness of the day put me in a stellar mood and that too made all the difference.

After running the Hashawha Hills 50k at the end of February and two marathons in March, my legs were kind of dead, so I haven’t been running much. Thus, my expectations for my Cherry Blossom performance were low — I just wanted to beat my boss (otherwise life would cease to be worth living — his heckling isn’t good-natured) and keep my time under 90 minutes. I started out fast, hoping to avoid having to do too much weaving through the crowd (I never thought I would say this about a race, but Cherry Blossom really does need more corrals since the pace disparity within each wave is too much) and when I did one of my regular, “how are you feeling” checks around the two-mile point I realized that I was feeling great and could keep pushing the pace. When I wasn’t hemmed in by too much human traffic, I was practically bounding over the course with big, bouncy, joyful strides. When I’m feeling it, I’m feeling it! I’d promised myself to not check my watch during the race so I’d focus on enjoying it rather than hitting a time goal, so I stuck to that and just ran by feel. I was surprised at the finish that I managed 1:17:50 — slightly better than my previous 10-miler PR, which I ran at Cherry Blossom in 2014. I basically accomplished my new record by accident.

With one caveat: the course may have been short. My GPS watch didn’t read short; I think it even came up long since I had to weave and pass people for the duration of the race. However, the traffic accident I referenced earlier caused a last-minute course change (We may have skipped an entire bridge? I never look at course maps very carefully; one of my friends noted that change to me, saying that the course was likely 0.25-0.5 miles off.) and the time between the mile six and mile seven signs seemed suspiciously short. I’ll wait until I hear something official about the change. Either way, I wasn’t looking to run a PR so I’m not going to get my knickers in a twist if the course was in fact short. I had fun and I’m pleased with my performance and that’s what matters. Also, I think I look pretty majestic in this picture. PROOF shot with scrolling text all over it or it didn’t happen, amirite?

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After the race I went out for Mexican food with a friend and some of her friends. Feast your eyes on the beauty of the breakfast burrito I basically inhaled. It was good as it looked!

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One of the women I was with is local-elite level — she recently ran a marathon in 3:18 and was disappointed by her time. She was so jazzed about running that I found myself getting motivated too. I might look for some summer races or more races for this fall since I’ve only got two left on my entire 2015 calendar.

The husband of another woman who came to breakfast with the group came with his fancy DSLR camera and made the mistake of dressing in a neon yellow jacket…just like the Marathonfoto photogs! Runners were coming up to him and posing, so of course rather than explaining that he wasn’t shooting the race in any official capacity, he just took their pictures. Naturally we gave him blue hell about it. He took a couple pictures with me in them after the finish, so I may be able to post one when they get passed around.

Also of note: I’d pre-ordered the Saucony Kinvara 6 and my pair arrived yesterday.

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Initial impressions without having run in them:

They look sick. Big win for me on the blue/slime green men’s colorway. This is a shallow observation, but I know myself well enough to acknowledge that I won’t run in a shoe if I hate how it looks, even if it’s a great fit for my feet and gait.
Fit is hugely improved over the Kinvara 5 — actually felt lockdown. Hallelujah!
The heel isn’t sloppy. Quick visual comparison revealed that the heel is much narrower in the Kinvara 6 than the Kinvara 5 so heel slippage should be less of an issue.

I missed the fast feel of the Kinvara 3 and 4 in the 5. The construction of the 6’s upper is still more like a regular trainer than a hybrid trainer-racer/light trainer, but it seems to be going back more to its roots. I feel like the Kinvara crowd isn’t hoping to get a tradtional, plush trainer-like upper with the shoe so the move to the beefier tongue and collar between versions 4 and 5 still puzzles me, but 6 seems to have struck a better balance. Once I get some runs in the shoe I’ll have a more informed opinion. I’m keen to do a comparison review of the Kinvara 3, 4, and 5 since I still have each, but that would require a lot of refresher runs in the older iterations. We’ll see!

I Specialize in Misery

Four days after the Rock ‘n Roll DC marathon and I’m still feeling snarky. Por ejemplo, actual mean thoughts of mine from race day that are still rattling around in my head:

“Whenever I see someone in a pair of Altras, I have to look up to make sure it’s not Tony Hawk. Those things couldn’t look any more like skate shoes. I don’t care if the model is bounding four feet off the ground in the ads, you can’t convince me that it’s possible to run fast in Altras.”

“Guys, if you’re going to run a race shirtless and you’ve got monochrome black tattoos in all the different quadrants of your chest and back, I’m going to have a really hard time not asking you how your time in Russian prison was.”

The Rock ‘n Roll DC marathon did nothing to dispel my opinion of the Rock ‘n Roll series as the grimiest, most corporate, worst run race series around. Far be it from anyone on the Internet to have an opinion unmolested! But I do so dare. I figure the Rock ‘n Roll DC planning went something like this:

“Hey, DC is a really pretty city. Instead of creating a course that passes by most of the major monuments, let’s run everybody through some ugly parts of Anacostia.”
“Sounds good, but we need to be sure to include lots of pointless out-and-backs and clover loops, people love those. And let’s make it a point-to-point; transportation convenience, especially for out of towners, is overrated.”
“Does five volunteers seem like enough?”
“Ah, four is more like it. You only need four people to pass out water to a crowd of 10,000.”
“Ten thousand? Ha! We’re going to secure a permit for 1,000,000 people so we can be sure to not sell out and make the field as crowded as possible!”
“Muahahaha more money for us!”
“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”

Suffice it to say, I’m not running this race again. I mean it this time.

A couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have been caught dead saying what I’m about to say: maybe the tutu wearers have got it right. They’re out there racing for the sheer fun of it. Maybe they put in serious training hours, maybe they didn’t, but either way, they’re not taking race day too seriously. Why race if not for fun? Don’t be that guy wearing a sub-4:00 goal pace pinned to the back of his singlet making a huge deal out of stopping to stretch frequently when he’s half an hour behind where he wanted to be to show that “SOMETHING WENT HORRIBLY WRONG.” Don’t let the clock make you miserable like that poor guy.

I always set three goals when I run races so I’m guaranteed to feel like a winner no matter what happens. Goal 1: Usually a reach time goal. Goal 2: A more realistic time goal. Goal 3: Have fun. This isn’t always my format. For the JFK 50 Mile Run, my goals were as follows: 1. Finish without crying. 2. Finish. 3. Have fun. Happily, I managed all three!

It’s important to truly enjoy training because you can’t control all of the variables on race day, you’ve just got to roll with the punches. If something doesn’t go according to plan, you can’t let that derail your entire experience. Find fun out there somehow.

Saturday’s race was a case in point: it poured down rain the entire time, and the temperature hovered somewhere in the low 40s. Far from ideal conditions — I actually got colder during Rock ‘n Roll USA than I did during the Hashawha Hills 50k because I got drenched. In a text message after the race, one of my friends commented that I “specialize in misery.” That’s pretty spot-on, but it’s a different kind of misery from the unhappy guy who missed his goal time. Rather than beating myself up for not putting up a certain time, my brand of misery lies in the tough race day conditions that I endure. When I sign up for a race, I’m committed to running it, regardless if the forecast includes rain, sleet, or frigid temperatures. As it happens, the nasty race day conditions that make other runners quit or stay in bed, have popped up a number of times for me so I’ve had the opportunity to prove to myself over and over that I’ve got no quit in me. That’s often a miserable experience, but it’s a life-affirming one, and fun in its own way. However, make no mistake: I do not think I’m a badass for running long distances and running them in lousy weather. I’m just a runner, and these experiences, although they demonstrate the depth of my grit and determination, are more humbling than anything else.

Even though I was not a fan of the race (despite getting the aforementioned satisfaction out of it), I’m not above showing off the finisher medal.

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So Here We Are Again

I promised myself after the 2013 Rock ‘n Roll USA Half Marathon that I’d never again run a Rock ‘n Roll race in DC. It’s pretty much the grimiest, most corporate race series around, not to mention too crowded and understaffed.

Fast forward to late 2014. I’ve just finished the JFK 50 Miler (Do I think running a 50 miler makes me special? I’d love to say no, but the distance magnets on the back of my car would probably give me away.) and in a rush of good feeling (RUNNING IS AWESOME, MUST RUN ALL THE RACES!) I signed up for the 2015 Rock ‘n Roll USA Marathon. So here we are again. Below is a frankly pretty lousy snapshot of some of the gear I’ll be wearing or leaving in my car tomorrow. (I don’t think you need to see my underwear, we’re not that close yet, Internet.)

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The waterproof phone arm band setup is pretty unique, as is my preference for Gold Bond Friction Defense over BodyGlide (that stuff is so sticky and so expensive — not everything sold at running specialty stores is better!), so I might post more in-depth about those at some point, but now I just need to hop in bed since I’ve got an early start tomorrow. Oh how I long for low-key races!

5k PR: 25:57 23:00

Something pretty amazing happened yesterday: I ran a 23:00 5k. Not 23:29 or 23:01 rounded down. Twenty-three flat.

My last 5k PR was achieved this past September when I had a bit of a cold. The course was fairly flat* and my previous best wasn’t too stellar, so I didn’t have too much difficulty in setting a new one.

Somehow in just a couple of months, with no specific 5k training (and granted, no cold either), I sliced nearly three minutes off of my 5k time. I went out fast (like 7:02 fast) and managed to hang on without slowing down too much. I must be making progress and doing something right!

*I once ran a race that was entirely in a parking lot and I’d call that full-on flat. Tracks are full-on flat. Most races that bill themselves as flat aren’t actually full-on flat, so I always qualify the term “flat” when I use it in describing a race course.