Run your own race.
That is something I have been advised to do ever since I started running ultras. I've been offered that piece of advice with increasing frequency ever since my MMT experience. I almost said unsuccessful MMT experience but that may not be the most correct description of what happened at MMT because my experience at MMT taught me more about ultra running than anything I've ever been told or read however I digress. Run my own race. That was the plan for my third running of the Stone Mill 50 mile endurance run. Little did I know that I had already set into motion a series of events that would completely shape my race day into something that was much better than any number I thought I could have gotten on my own.
The moon had decided to stay tucked under a thick blanket of clouds as I found myself in the cold morning picking up my bib with Nicole and her BF after sharing a hotel room to save everyone from having to wake up even earlier than we had. The school that would serve as our "after party" was closed in the morning but the field house bathrooms were open and heated a nice perk for a $35 ultra race. I'll take a heated bathroom over a race tee any day. I chatted with the many trail friends that were already there while Nicole checked on the status of her bib which had been picked up for her by friends. With only a few minutes to spare Nicole's race bib finally arrived and we made our way to the start line. We chatted with many friends in the minutes before the race, Charlie, Ron, Gary, Janet, Adam and as with every race many more whose names were lost among the effort in the miles to come. Then we were running. Running around the school after instructions and a command to go that it seemed no one heard or listened to. We rounded the school and slid down the steep hill and slipped into the woods to enjoy some single track running in the dark.
Charlie photo bombed us on the dam
I doubt you wondering about that plan I had made to run my own race seeing how Nicole and I had only just started running but I had already forgotten that pledge to myself. That silly notion was a foggy memory. Nicole had graciously shared her first Mega and first 50k with me, how could I give up the chance to share another milestone with this amazing new ultra runner for two silly letters.
Early in the race enjoying the foggy morning
The course was a bit congested as we hit the trails but we were moving well thanks to the very runnable trails. Usually the train of runners that the single track creates is a point of frustration for me but the everyone moving well the frustration we offset by the benefit of shared light. We were moving well finding our place in the pack, passing and being passed. Unfortunately this seems to be an increasing mention in race reports; poor trail etiquette. The course's out and back section is run in the morning which means a lot of passing on a narrow section of muddy single track while runners are still jockeying for position. Since this only deserves a mention all I'll say is why is it so hard for passing runners to say, "on your left"?
Having fun cheesing for the camera
Nicole and I chatted as we made our way to the first aid station. Knowing we needed to avoid losing time at each aid station, I didn't stop. I had my pack and knew the next station was only a few miles. I nearly forgot to drop my headlamp in the box but thanks to a very observant volunteer who offered to take it for me, I avoided having to carry it for 23 more miles. The volunteers were awesome!
Around Mile 22 can't wait to see the PennyLock aid station
Throughout the first 20ish miles we were moving at a steady pace and keeping each other entertained with chatter. We came through an aid station and were uplifted to hear that "their" mileage was 2 miles more than we thought. After grabbing some coke and banana we headed out towards Quincy Orchard with renewed enthusiasm. It was great to hit Quincy and hear Matt and Larry cheering as we ran in. Of course I gave them big sweaty hugs which were far better than any fuel I could eaten. With introductions kept brief we grabbed another round of coke and bananas. As I grabbed a couple olives I noticed Alyssa and Kara running into the station behind us. Hellos were quick with the long push to the Penny Lock half way point.
The delicious trail...with skinny trees
Nicole was carrying a handheld and nothing else but I kept my "trail mothering" under control during these early miles and focused on keeping our pace strong and attitudes positive. The only issue I pushed was nature calls which at times were an effort since modest still runs strong until the miles add up. There were lot of trees to choose from if you are a twig but I need a tree with a few more years on it to cover my backside. Finally we found several uprooted trees to avoid to much exposure.
Rt 28 Aid Station
The section from Quincy and Penny Lock seemed to hold the most challenge for Nicole. I tried to keep the chatting going. I tired focusing her to lead. I tried pulling a head a bit and giving her a break from my cheerful chatter. I know that having to listen to an upbeat happy runner while you are struggling can sometimes bring out the wrong emotions. So I just kept our pace up. I knew that there were only two options. The Penny Lock aid station would either be a recharge for Nicole or it would be the beginning of a drag through the canal miles.
Loving my fresh dry YMX shirt
We ran into the aid station with a few other runners. I woohoo-ed and cheered as we ran the short gravel road into the station. This would be one of our longer stops. Nicole used the port-a-potty while I visited with everyone at the aid station. We had seen Janet at an earlier station changing her shoes but didn't stop to talk. She didn't look like she was having the best day so I offered a bit of encouragement but remembered that cheerful runners sometimes do more harm than good in their efforts to rally a struggling runner. Still it was great to see her giving the course everything she had and looking so great while she did it. Nicole was refueling and told me to try a piece of lemon cake. OMGosh. I think I ate two. It was so amazing. I drank coke and ate some banana. My pack still had water in it so I still did not refill it wanting to keep it as light as possible since I had been running every thing. Just as I was trying to get out of the aid station we heard the phenomenon that is Bob Gaylord coming into the aid station. (I just have to say that I am incapable of creating through words the experience of sharing the second half of this race with Bob. What follows is my attempt and it will fall very short of the actual experience.)
Where as I am a cheerful chattering trail runner, as anyone who knows him will testify, Bob is a running heckler. And capable of running vast distances while talking nonstop. You can see why I'd like him so much. He was running with Kelly and I saw the perfect opportunity to distract Nicole's struggling mind from the temporary aches and pains that invade while running long distances. Introductions were made and let's just say that it was love at first sight. I knew that Bob was going to make the difference in the second half of Nicole's 50 mile experience. The four of us left the aid station, Nicole running with Kelly and I with Bob. I usually try to "gain some time" over the canal miles but Bob kept me reeled in. The slower pace was probably just what Nicole needed. It seemed that her attitude and posture were improving
Hard working volunteers serving up HOT food
Over the next miles we would be entertained by Bob and his vast repertoire of stories and remarks. The canal section whizzed by and Bob told us we had 5 minutes to use our drop bags, refuel and get out of there. I only wish I could have hear the thoughts inside Nicole's head as General Bob barked out his orders. Our bags were at the Stone Mill aid station and so was something else. Grilled cheese sandwiches. It's an amazing running moment when you are sick of bananas and chilled to the core to bite into a gooey warm sandwich. With Nicole's socks changed and my fresh shirt on we headed out of the station headed toward Rt. 28 and another big boost for Nicole.
All the salty sweet you could want plus a few little surprises
What about me?
I'm having the running day of my life. Well at least the near best running day I can long remember. Yes, my hamstrings a talking but it is a lively conversation they are having. It is not like the call the cops domestic dispute they sometimes have on the Massanuttens. Yes, I've had a few nature calls that wasted more time than I wanted. And yes there is that issue of wanting previously wanting those two little letters. (pr, duh! If I actually had to tell you) I am filled with such giddiness that even my low moments are not actually low. While Nicole and I have been together the entire run, there have been many moments when other runners have joined us and I pulled away to steal a moment somewhat alone to listen to the crunching of the leave under my feet. This day was a reminder that for me ultra running is rarely about running my own race. Running for me is about sharing something so simple that it has almost been forgotten. It's about stripping away the pretenses and doing something for the sheer enjoyment of doing it...with no other incentive or reward.
A breath taking day at the feet of trees
RT. 28 aid station holds family for Nicole and warm food for me. Several of the aid stations have had broth or noodle soup which hit the spot on the damp day. We snap a few photos, thank the volunteers and hustle on our way. I'm eager to capitalize on the energy surge Nicole might get from seeing family but Bob reels me in. The "to push the pace or not" debate will continue to the finish line. We laugh. We talk. We run inching our way closer to that finish line. Along the way we gather KC and Toni who had been running with Bob earlier in the race. We find what might be the only two shirtless guys running the race. We debate about getting across the finish line before the darkness sets in. Then Riffleford Road aid station is there. There is music, of course I dance. More coke. Burritos for the brave. Hot soup for me. More pace debates with Bob but with only 7ish Stone Mill miles to go the debates were pointless but fun banter.
A great crew to finish with
Those last few miles always seem to be the longest and often they are the quietest. The light was leaving the sky and the day had almost come full circle as we could hear the cheers from the finish line. I joined in the cheering to get Nicole across that line first but missed seeing it when Bob tripped right before the finish. Ironically making it all day unscathed only to stumble at the end. Bob was up just as fast as he went down and we crossed the line right behind Nicole and cheered as Toni and KC crossed. It was a great feeling to share so many miles and finish together.
Stone Mill 50 Miler - 11:36
My experience this year at Stone Mill was a great way to end my 2013 racing season. Getting to be part of someone else's big moment as I have with Nicole is really a gift. In helping someone else I was actually helping myself. I think back to the goals I used to set and remember that somewhere along the way my focus got a little skewed. I definitely hit my A Goal;
Finish Feeling Fine Having Fun.
In the end I did run my own race. I just chose to run it based on more than just myself which turned out to be exactly how I run at my best.
Thanks to Doug, Bob, Kelly, Toni, KC, Charlie, Larry, Matt, Gary, Ron, Jonathan, Janet, Gary K, Alyssa, Kara, the countless name that I am forgetting and Nicole for giving some of their day to me and helping me create the best Stone Mill adventure...so far.