Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Seneca Creek 50K

Dave and I leading the pack early.
This year's running of the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon and 50K was held last weekend. I traveled the three hours down to Maryland for my third year to run this gem on the outskirts of Washington DC. This year Blake Cohen traveled with me for the first time. We left State College around 4:30pm and got stuck in spring break traffic for 30 minutes until we got to the four-lane. We stopped at a small italian restaurant in Harrisburg for some pasta. I ordered some spaghetti and was informed by the cook that "we don't have pasta tonight, just pizza," so we split a pizza.

We stayed at a motel about 15 minutes from the finish. I was in bed by 10pm and up at 5am. The run is point-to-point so we drove to the finish and caught a bus to the start at 6:30pm. The day dawned cool (30 degrees) and breezy. We were at the start at 7am and had to stand around in the cool air for an hour before the race started. I was dressed for running and just had an extra garbage bag over me so I was uncomfortably cold. If the forecast had been for colder weather, I probably would have stayed home. I'll admit to being to being more of a cold wimp with every passing year.

The long time race director, Ed Shultze, had retired last year so there was new leadership this year, Harvey Sugar. Everything went well, just like before. The race is only $25 for non-club members and there is no shirt or medal. The aid stations are decently stocked, however, and the volunteers are good. The trail is great, very runnable but rolling, and muddy in spots, with a few stream crossings. You can decide halfway into the race whether you want to run the marathon or 50K. The 50K takes a loop around a lake. The marathon is actually around 30 miles and the 50K is close to 34 miles. This year the race ran in the opposite direction of years past due to parking issues at the finish. This made it uphill instead of downhill so I figured I was looking at another 10 minutes or so of running from my time last year.

I had to bust on Dave because
whenever we got to a photographer he
was in front of me.
After finishing fourth last year, I looked around before the race and saw that the first three from last year were not here. I'll admit that I thought about the possibility of winning the darn thing if I had a good race and no one too fast showed up. Having thought that, however, I also knew that someone faster always shows up.

We started off at 8am with about a mile of road and Blake led as we broke off onto the single-track. After about another mile, the pace wasn't quite to my liking so I made the pass and led until just before the first aid station at mile 6. At this point, two young brothers in red, white and blue shorts took off and I never saw them again. A few others made the pass also and suddenly I was ninth, but I didn't worry about it at this point. I wanted to run my race and figured I would pull at least some of them back in by the end.

I fell in about the same pace as Dave Stango, from near Philly, and we would run together until about mile 22. We took turns leading, depending on how we were feeling. At times, I struggled to keep up and other times I pushed the pace a little. I wanted to try to keep contact because it was great to run with someone and the miles flew by. We discussed previous races and strategies and whatever else came to mind.

At mile 22, I had been struggling to keep up a little, but I came into the aid station and got out first. I figured Dave would catch right back up with me but I didn't see him again until the end. I started to struggle in the next 10 miles as the legs got heavier and my stomach wasn't really happy with me. I was consistently pulling other runners in and passing them, however. By this point, everyone's legs are feeling heavy. With about 7 miles to go, I knew I was in fourth but I had asked someone at an aid station and found out the red, white and blue boys were far ahead. There was another runner in between us somewhere but I just bore down and tried to keep my cadence going.

Enjoying the trail and the company.
Yeah, that is Dave's arm in front
of me again.
The question "why am I doing this again" kept coming to mind as the suffering increased. I was ready to be done. Finally I was a mile from the finish. I spied a guy in the distance but I was pretty sure he was a marathoner and at that point I didn't care. He saw me and increased his pace so I wouldn't overtake him. He didn't have to worry. Most of the last two miles were uphill, the last mile on pavement, and I wasn't chasing anymore. I crossed the line in 4:54:23, twelve minutes slower than last year. Given the change in course profile, I would guess that it is about an equivalent effort with last year, although I think if I would have had someone to push me in the last 10 miles like last year (where were you Meira?) I would have knocked off a few minutes.

It was a good day for a run in the woods. Although it is the shortest ultra, 50K is not easy because the pace is so much quicker than longer runs. I may be back again next year for this one. The day did not go so well for Blake as he struggled with bad cramps and eventually DNFed. Some days you feel good and some days you don't. You rarely know at the start what will happen. That is some of the lure of running and also some of the frustration. Every day is full of promise. Just keep running and you will have that good day.