Daily Chatter

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Stone Mill 50 Miler Race Report

When you pray for strength, does God give you strength or the opportunity to be strong?

What follows is my 2011 Stone Mill 50 Mile Race Report
actually more like 55 miles
subtitled:  My Opportunity

The Stone Mill 50 Miler was held November 19, 2011 with packet pickup the day prior at Fleet Feet in Gaithersburg, Maryland.  Luckily my super secret spy husband was able to pick up my packet and catch up with old friends in the area while the kids and I made the drive to Maryland Friday evening.  With the 6 a.m start and a cold morning forecast, I was happy to save a few extra minutes of standing in the cold since the Watkins Mills High School would not be open at the start of the race.

After a minor potential issue with my car worked out, the kids and I enjoyed an uneventful drive to our hotel.  We stayed at the SpringHills Suites and for as much as I saw of it, the hotel seemed very nice.  As soon as we arrived I staged my gear and prepared for a quick exit in the morning.

No night before photo.  My nerves must have been on edge!

Waking up was easy as in I wasn't asleep much and hard due to knowing that I and 342 other adventurous souls signed up to enjoy a day on the Seneca Greenway and Muddy Branch trails for a predicted 51.5 miles most likely beginning and ending for me in the dark.  The super secret spy and I drove separately so that I would have my car there after the race to be able to get my gear in the event that I finish much sooner than predicted but as with all trail ultra events you just never know how the day will go. 

DISCLAIMER:   Since I suffer from trail brain and generally lack the ability to string my race day memories together my observations may at times be out of order.

I'm the dork in green socks (center) stopping to see my hubbs (far right).

Once there I quickly checked in and started looking for Alyssa at Chocolate is MY LIFE who was also running.  Since it was seriously dark and freezing cold, I wasn't able to find her in the little amount of time I gave myself by showing up so close to the start time.  I barely had a chance to smooch the super secret spy before we were running around the school to spread out the pack a bit before a slippery slide down a steep hill to the trail head. 


If I knew we all looked this cool I would have enjoyed it more!

Once we entered the trails the idea of pace or passing was completely gone.  My sole concern was to not fall on my (fill in the blank) from all the frozen leaves, rocks, roots, general forest topography.  The darkness did have a benefit for the first few miles in that I wasn't able to go too fast which was a recurring issue thorough out the day.  Odd how going too fast can end up making you go too slow.  With no recollection of how it happened the first few miles had passed and the sun was coming up.  We crossed an open area and I got to momentarily see an amazing sunrise.

CEP Compression should sooo sponsor me!

The course consisted of a 44.5ish mile loop and a 9ish mile out and back following the Seneca Creek and Muddy BranchTrails.  I realize that math doesn't add up for a 50 mile race.  Trail math rarely does.  But we will get to that later, just like they saved that reality for late in the race on race day.
The loop was a nice mix of beautiful open spaces and single track trails on mostly rolling hills.  Largely runnable.  While that should be a plus it turned into a minus for me on Saturday.  I was loving the course and feeling really strong the first hour of daylight.  Running much too fast most of the time. 
Did I not see my own shirt?  I wore it to remind myself to slow down.
I was also afraid to eat or drink anything after all the FOTM nature calls.  However after about an hour thirty I took my first GU.  And shortly thereafter started looking for trees to get to know.

Notice I just came up a hill...running.

Even with the need to stop three times in the first 18 miles of the race, I was still enjoying the run and the surroundings.  I fell in with and away from multiple groups of runners but I spent the majority of my run alone.  That results in a lot of time to think.  A lot of time to look around.  A lot of time to listen.
For me ultra running is a mind set that goes beyond simply running distances over a marathon.  Ultra running is about a connection with myself and with nature, a reflection of how very dependant I am on these simple things around me and how much my life is benefited by simply taking time to appreciate the sound that my feet make on the fallen leaves, the smell of the forest on a cool morning, the chance to see the sun rise and the frost melt as I focus on nothing other than my own forward movement.  The ability to do this thing is not based solely on hours spent training, it stems from something inside each of us that carries us through and allow us to enjoy what others find difficult or seemly impossible.  I am endless grateful that I am among those lucky few who get to do this.

Obviously, I like to talk to photographers.


The Stone Mill course had a few creek crossings and loads of opportunities to get your feet wet and muddy.  With the temperatures starting the day in the 30s the water was brisk but the chance to cool my feet was very welcomed.   Several creek crossings came early in the race with other spread through the distance making drop bags helpful if you don't like to spend the day in wet shoes however thanks to layout of the course most everyone finished the day with wet feet.

One major highlight of this race was being able to meet some great DailyMile friends who are so encouraging and supportive.  One of them, Larry was helping at aid station mile 13 and mile 39.  It was so great to see his smiling face offering to help as I neared.  As much as some runners rely on aid stations for fuel or hydration, I rely on them for interaction and encouragement.  As the miles get higher it's often easy to forget to thank those people who gave their day - a long and cold one - to make it possible for me and all my fellow runners to enjoy a day on the trails.  Thank you!
At the pennylock aid station which was listed as about mile 20 (my garmin about mile 23) there were port-a-potties.  I wasted considerable time there.  But once I finally convinced myself that I was going to keep moving forward until I ran out of energy from not being able to fuel properly, I drank a little water and walked slowly as I ate a 1/4 of a glazed and pumpkin doughnut.  Best.doughnuts.EVER!  I enjoyed checking out the lock system while my stomach decided if it was going to keep the food I put in it.  In fact a volunteer asked if I was going to attempt some sort of biathlon by swimming across the lock.  Luckily taking my time at this aid station helped to settle my stomach and once I walked over the bridge to the canal I started running again and the sugar hit! 
Too tired to drink and keep my eyes open at the same time?!

Before I tell you how much the tow path sucked let me tell you another positive. 
Another bright spot was the treats.  I don't usually plan on really using the aid stations for much more that topping my hydration pack once or twice but I did indulge in a few things after my planned GUs were not working for me.  There were the usual things like cookies of all kinds, chips, potatoes, pretzels, M&Ms, candies, water, soda, sportdrinks and then there were those extra special aid station offerings of homemade brownies and rice krispies, soup, Krispy Kreme glazed and pumpkin doughnuts, grilled cheese sandwiches, roast beef or pork and random booze.  Over the course of the race I had about 2 bananas, a 1/4 of a pbj, 1/4 of a grilled cheese, 3 pringles, 1 baby potato, a piece of glazed doughnut, a piece of the best pumpkin Krispy Kreme doughnut in the world, 1/4 of fig bar, several cups of gingerale, and the best cup of broth ever!

Now on the tow path I again struggled with running too fast and then too slow.  I couldn't find a comfortable pace.  Thoughts of the JFK runners having to endure the pebbly surface over a longer distance kept entering my mind.  I wondered how Kara was doing and knew she would be finishing her first 50 Miler in the daylight.  I played leap frogged several female runners.  One of them, Marty I had met before through mutual friends and know the level of runner she is.  I had been playing leap frog with them all day which I knew meant I was struggling with finding a steady comfortable pace.  We chatted briefly and I did the unthinkable, I ran ahead of them knowing that I should have stayed and paced closer with them to help keep my desire to run faster at bay.  Unfortunately the uncomfortable tow path pebbles encouraged me to run faster to get off of them more quickly.
 After about 3 or so mile on the tow path we hit the Stone Mill which was really cool.  It was at this point for me that we started running the course for Seneca Greenway Trail 50k backwards.  As I don't remember courses exactly, it may not have followed perfectly but I loved recognizing where I was after the Stone Mill.  I enjoyed taking a few minutes to check the old building out as I passed them and thinking of the people who had been there from the past.  I also remembered that this portion of the course held a 50k PR for me and I tried to used those happy thoughts to pull my fatigued body through the next section.

I need to learn to follow!

Through this section I had been running off and on with two men, Todd and Wikipedia.  Okay, so I didn't get the younger guy's name but he seemed to know a little bit about everything.  As we lost Todd (there I go running too fast again), Wiki and I ran together for many miles while he entertained me with his knowledge of complex mathmatical equation and the differences between Karate and Taekwondo.  As we came into the Rte 28 aid station, there was a sign indicating where we were to go back onto the trail.  It read, "21 miles to go."  This sign concreted my feeling that this course was not just the emailed 51.5 miles long but significantly longer as my Garmin readed nearly 34 miles already.  That thought didn't sit well with me as I struggled to push past this aid station. 

Where were the photographers later in the race?

After leaving the aid station again without being able to eat anything, I hadn't made it very far until nature wouldn't simply leave a message.  I was running alone and thankfully the area allowed lots of natural cover.  Hopefully the wildlife in the area won't start tracking me from all the "marking" I did of their forested home.  Why share all these nature call moments with you?  Because this report is as much for me as it is for others thinking about doing Stone Mill next year.  I want to be able to look back and learn from what I did in 2011 so I can improve my performance in 2012 because believe me, I'll be back!

aka Trail Math
Between the Route 28 aid station and the out and back things get kinda fuzzy.  I ran and ran.  I wanted to stop.  Often.  But I kept running, as loosely as running is defined at this point but I was feeling stronger after what would be the final issue with my "stomach."  Now I simply had to put in some miles and not DNF when I got to the aid station close to the start.  Yeah, that's right.  The course not only ran long it also took us right by the start/finish line in a true test of our will to finish after having run over 44 miles and be within earshot of the finishing line cheers.
Let's talk for a minute about trail math. 
It's not like that math you were taught in school when 1 + 1 = 2 always and forever, amen.  It's more of a loosely defined math.  A math where a cheerful, wanting to be helpful and encouraging aid station volunteer tells a drained, crazed looking, salt covered runner that they are at mile XYZ and they only had X miles to get to the next aid station at Y miles.  They don't do it to be mean.  They do it out of a need to keep us moving.  Sometimes they are simply pawns in the RD's ultra game and they have been given bad information to spoon to the crazed salted covered runners.  We can't blame them.  It's trail math where a 44.5ish mile loop added to a 9ish mile out and back equal 1 loosely defined utterly amazing opportunity to push myself beyond what I thought I'd asked for 55 miler.
A simple 9ish mile out and back is what we were told.  I hit this stretch running loosely with a few other runners, all guys.  As I ran along the trail I knew that given my pace I would be very lucky to be out of the trail before the sunset.  That fact alone should have helped my pace but it only caused the return on my stomach issues.  The mind is a powerful thing!  Although I hadn't eaten anything more than a quarter banana, I had been taking small sips of gatoraid.  I wasn't going to let myself stop no matter what.  We hit an aid station and were told 3.5 more miles.  Questions where passed around by others about the inconsistent numbers but I had already resigned myself to the fact that the course was going to be much longer than we were told.  The aid station workers told us all those encouraging things that they say and said there would be one more aid station at which we'd get to turn around.  I was off again.
The return runners were passing as they headed towards the finish. 
This was bothersome. 
I was constantly getting off the trail to let them pass and they were never taking the "side step."  This was slowing me much more than I wanted but it was a fact that someone had to get over and this was the course I had to run. 
Suck it, buttercup! 
The up side to having runners coming from the turn-around was that they did say what lovely things were in store for me and my fellow runners.  The best was a big creek crossing!  Now did I really make you understand how cool I think it is to run through creeks?  I didn't?  Well, it is.  Earlier in the race there was a family on the trail and I actually bragged to their little girl that I got to play in the creek that she was walking along.  What?  Was that mean?  I offered to carry her across but she wasn't interested. 
Anyway back to the big creek.  Oh how I wish there had been a race photographer there.  It was beautiful.  There was a sissy line to got across if you thought walking on scum covered rocks was a good idea.  It isn't by the way, as demonstrated by the lady who tried it and put her behind in the water.  I slipped down the muddy creek bank and charged across soaking myself up to my thighs. 
Awesome!  And to think I was going to get to do this again...in the dark!
I ran.  I chatted with two guys.  I made it to the last big aid station.  And boy it was a nice one.  If only they had placed this one sooner.  With my issues from earlier I was concerned about eating anything but checked out the offerings.  There was a beautiful dog there too.  Not to eat, just sitting there.  Like a good girl, I asked permission before interacting with the dog.  I was given permission and quickly almost got my face bite off!  Good thing my reflexes weren't too dulled.
After the adrenaline shot from the doggie incident I decided to risk drinking some broth.  I didn't care at this point if my "stomach" was asking me to stop because I wasn't listening. 
Should.have.done.that.sooner!  I was instantly energized!

The return trip took forever.  There were still runners coming at us and the going was miserably slow.  I still loved the creek crossing even in the fading light and wished that the volunteers there had been taking photos. 
It was in this section that I finally got to "meet" Alyssa.  She nearly scared the pee out of me!  A string of headlamps came at us and I looked to the right to avoid blinding them when I hear this voice yell, Shelly it's Alyssa!  Shortest bloggy meet up EVER.  I wanted so badly to stop and hug her and congratulate her for doing it but I knew that stopping was probably a really bad idea. 
After my brief meet up with Alyssa, I felt a surge of energy and lost one of the guys running with me as he tired and needed to walk.  The remaining guy, I think his name was Michael, stayed with me even though he wanted to walk at one point and I asked him to continue pushing.  I love how through these races everyone is given the opportunity to help and to be helped.  We ran together closely as his headlamp was awesome compared to mine.  Finally we were at the road crossing for the school and I was dancing waiting for cars to pass. (yeah, that wasn't nice to have to stop)  I was so excited to see that finish line...until I did.  The finish line sat atop that same slippery leaf covered straight up hill
and to the RIGHT, personal joke about me wasting almost a minute before crossing the actual finish line, duh
but I charged for it anyway and finally I was done.
Stone Mill 55 Miler
12:38:42 offical time
12:37:09 garmin time


  1. Holy Cow! I don't think I would be as mentally strong as you were knowing how long the course was. You are simply amazing! Congrats on another ultra finish!

  2. Just look at it this way, you for 5 miles for free! :P I've heard stories like this from many ultras, although 10% extra is pretty steep.

    Good for you not letting it get in your head too much. You had a finish line to reach no matter what it took to get there!

    Sorry for the 'nature calls' - I know how frustrating those can be even on a 20 mile training run. Can't imagine dealing with that situation, but you did what you had to do and KEPT GOING!

    Okay, these "trail grub" stations are nearly enough to make me sign up for one of these things.

    But not quite. ;)

    Congrats Lady!!! So proud of you!! Thanks for bringing us along for the ride.

  3. Your second paragraph under "Running Alone" is beautiful. That's what draws me to want to complete an ultra one day. Congrats again!

  4. I am awed by this. and inspired. Thank you for sharing your awesomeness with the rest of us.

  5. I LOVED reading your perspective from this race! So much more optimistic than my own. I actually do enjoy creeks a bit, during the day, but, at night that creek was a different story, at least for me. Did you really not hold on to the rope? I'm so impressed that you were able to do so well, even with stomach issues! Incredible. I would have loved a hug and some chatting....but at that point, I probably would have just started sobbing and refused to go on. I am glad I didn't creep you out too much though. We will just have to do another race together and make sure we meet up in the future. I'm glad I didn't realize that we were that far off at the "21 miles to go" sign, I would have lost it. Congrats, again, on an amazing accomplishment!

  6. Seriously amazing. I hope I would have handled the extra 5 miles without tears. Go you! And I really like the green socks!!!

  7. Wow. What an adventure! Congrats on getting it all done, even those bonus miles!

  8. Great job Shelly! I was out there with you - somewhere on the course. I had very similar experiences as you did (stomach, trail math questions, etc). Way to go! What a great course and great volunteers!

  9. I really enjoyed your race report - plus that was a great teaser video yesterday showing how you are doing so well afterward.

    Congratulations, and I'm very glad you overcame the GI obstacles and persevered through.

    I probably was on the hill watching for Alyssa, and cheering when you came -- it was really fun to cheer for people as they came in. When I came into that forest at the end below the hill, I was a bit discouraged by it -- afraid I'd wandered off and was about to restart the entire course again -- and the main thing keeping me hopeful was hearing people at the finish line cheering, and hoping to see them soon.

    The volunteer at the (big stream) crossing talked us out of messing with the rope, and convinced us to just run across the upstream side, and it felt so good; we were looking forward to hitting it again on the return trip -- I had no idea it would feel so good. I was so glad the nice guy sat out there for however many hours and told us that. Unlike you, I didn't know that running across would be so fun :)

    I was getting faint near the end, and stopped at the aid station at the dangerous road crossing (4mi from end), and they poured salt into a cup of soup and gave it to me, and it was *sooo* good, and then they had pringles too. I felt like I was at a deluxe banquet.

  10. The last two pictures are fantastic!
    I too am grateful for the time that I get to be with myself connecting with me self to see what I am capable of. I am also grateful that I get to do it over a 42km road race rather than a 55mile trail, although your reports seem to be pushing me in that direction. Well done on a great run and a great recovery.

  11. Wow, really fantastic! Congratulations! This was an opportunity to be strong for sure, well done! A really great report as well.

  12. Pssst! Tagged you in today's post: http://marleneontherun.com/2011/11/24/blackjack-21-things/

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  13. CRAZY AMAZING!! When you mentioned mile 21 I was like "No biggie! Maybe i could do this." Then when you got to the part where you said 21 miles to go it hit me, with 21 miles to go, in marathon terms your almost done when you start a marathon. But when you start a 50 miler (that is actually 55) and run 21 miles your still not even half done?! WOW!! Amazing recap and excellent job!!!!
    Maybe someday I'll attempt this. Maybe. =)

  14. Wow, I loved this recap! You are seriously my hero.

    The part with the dog made me laugh, especially the thought of having dog meat at an aid station. :)

    One day we will be at the same race and it will be awesome!

  15. I saved this up for when I'd actually have time to soak it all in. You are amazing - between the stomach troubles and the super long course, you held it together beautifully. Congratulations!!

  16. Incredible Shelly! One of my friends ran it and he went down pretty hard at one point. He also mentioned the long course--lucky you guys! You did an amazing job. Your live for ultras comes through loud and clear!

  17. Amazing, congratulations! Extra long miles and all!

  18. I cannot believe the course ran so long! Girl you are amazing! Congrats on such a tough run!!!!

  19. Very nice race report. Tim H suggested that I look into this 50 miler and when I googled it, it got me here... sounds like a rough race and still a great challenge..you did amazing. What kind og Garmin do you have that lasts 12+ hours? it looks like a 305 from the pics...

  20. Great report. I recently completed my first trail marathon and now looking for a 50k or 50 miler. I'm definitely considering this one.

  21. Great report, Shelly. I was on the fence but I'm sold now. Writing it in "ink" on my blog for my fall 2014 schedule and booking the hotel. Thanks and Happy Trails! ~ Nick