After and up and down year running; I was preparing to finish off the year with an attempt at a 50 miler, the Stone Mill 50 starting in Gaithersburg Maryland.  The day turned out as up and down as the rest of the year.

Starting is the easy part?

After getting into Maryland and to sleep at 130am, I woke up at 4 and was ready to head to the race at 5-  the start was 15 minutes from my father in law’s house.  About 15 minutes later I realized I was driving north instead of south.  I turned around, and tried to get the start on the GPS.  Bad news was that although the address was Gaithersburg, when doing address searches you needed to use Montgomery Village.  I learned this post race.  Anyhow, I arrived at the race at 545 and ran to sign up.  Relaxed as I saw a long line and assumed I had plenty of time to check in and gear up.  At 550, I registered and ran back to my car to grab my gear.  As I fiddled with my pack and shoes, I heard a cheer and people started running.  I only started 100 yards behond and it was on.

Getting locked up

For the first 7 miles, the course moved along a good amount of single track.  With a big size race, there was a lot of slow going and waiting as we crossed small creeks.  The trail crossed some roads, went under overpasses but was pretty runnable.  At mile 8 or so, we came out to a road crossing, with a light.  That went ok, and there was a 2 mile run down the main road to bridge the gap from the Seneca Creek Trail to the Muddy Branch trail system.  I started to notice that at this point my legs were cramping everywhere-  calves, quads, hammy’s-  you name it.  I was having trouble running and my legs felt sore all over.  Not good for mile 12.  I struggled through to mile 20 and the Pennyfield Lock aid station on the C&O Canal.  I spent a few minutes here hydrating extra, and eating and stretching.  Twenty in and things weren’t going well, but my pace was holding steady for a sub 13 hour which was my goal.  Nothing impressive with sub 13, but my realistic goal.

I’ll take any help I can get

The next miles were along the canal towpath; I figured these would be easy.  Here I learned that for the rest of the race, my sore quads were going to make running flats painful and slow.  At the Stone Mill aid station, I was given some Coconut water to help with the cramping.  Nasty, but it seemed to help with cramping, though the soreness remained.  I spent the next few miles moving along with a guy who had done 5 100 milers and lots of 50’s.  We ran on and off and eventually I tried to push on past so as to not get too used to walking.  It was recovery number one, I felt ok and was moving better, but as the day went on it got hotter and the course went through some open fields and I started to drag again.  It felt like a death march and I was resigned to dropping at the next full aid station.  I couldn’t imagine a painful walk for another 20 miles.  Ten minutes later, a guy stopped as he passed and we discussed the trouble we were having and I hinted at dropping.  He asked if it would be weird if he prayed for me; I was groggy and wasn’t sure I heard right at first but at that point I said sure.  He prayed; hoping for my recovery to finish the race and for future good training.  We shook hands and he went off…lo and behold 5 minutes later I started jogging.  And then running.  I noticed an uptick in my energy and started a good pattern of moving faster.  OK, coincidence, and funny story but the timing of it all was good.  I hit the next aid station and met up with a group of people prepared to move on.

Death by one cut?

We ran the flats and downs and walked the ups and things were looking better, though the quads were still shot.  It was then that Bobby, one of the group mentioned we had better move to make the cutoff into the 39 mile aid station.  I was surprised, I was watching my pace per mile and the cutoff should not have been an issue but according to him we were challenging it so I started to run more.  There was no way I was going to be pulled.  We left the rest of our group, moved well and could finally see the climb to the 39 mile aid station at Rt 355.  It was here I realized why the cutoff was a concern-  my Garmin GPS watch read 41 miles, and I turned it on well after the start due to my late arrival.  Ultra’s are notorious for not having exact mileage and the consensus was we were already a couple of miles more in than expected.  I pulled my headlamp, put on an extra shirt, drank some energy drink and went on. 

Going back to school….

Bobby and I worked together until the out and back section north of Watkins Mill Road and I decided to use the downhills to gain some speed and move on.  I felt great knowing I was going to finish but wanted to get it done.  I caught up to a woman, Marina,  and after talking a bit realized it was somebody from the Ultra List, an email group of ultra runners that I subscribe to.  She has been recovering recently so was going slowly (my pace) but has been around Ultra’s for many years and has run as fast as sub 8 for a 50 miler.  It was good to spend time to learn a lot about Ultra running and Ultra runners-  she knew many of the greats and had good stories to tell about them.  We worked our way to “the” water crossing.  There was a river we needed to cross twice-  it had a rope across it.  The gentleman who was volunteering suggested going to the right-  though it was below the surface the other side had slick rocks.  I jumped in-  some cold water?  Who cared.  We made it to the turn around of the last out and back section.  Great aid station!  Fresh hot roast beef, turkey and ham wraps and hot soup.  We ate-  too much and then headed back.  We moved briskly but admittedly we didn’t push all out.  We finally hit the last road back to the Watkins Mill high school and ran around the corner to the finish.  We took the long way, adding more distance, as the route to the woods had been unmarked.  We finished around 13:49. 

I was pretty disappointed with the time.  It was well over 13 hours.  My GPS had died at mile 44 so I was not sure as to distance or time and didn’t ask.  At the finish, runners all around came up to us and said their GPS watches (with longer battery life) all read closer to 55 miles than 50!  With that, I figured I passed mile 50 before 13 hours and was happy with the effort and not unhappy with the time.  Unofficially, I came in 158 of 178 and there were also a lot of drops.

Today-   sore as heck.  Sore during race means more sore after.  Time to figure out why the cramping and soreness so early in the race, and plan next years races.

As for the Stone Mill 50-  amazing value.  For 35 dollars you got a souvenir flashlight, VERY well marked course, lots of aid stations and volunteers.  The course had more road and was not always as remote as many trail races, but it was very runnable and nice for the most part.

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