Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Stone Mill 50 Race Report - A Fun Finish For A Fresh Start

I had been having a fun year of running. The high point was surviving The Laurel Highlands Ultra in June - 70.5 miles in 19:34 - there's something about finishing cross-eyed and hallucinating at 1:05am that can leave you on a high spot. I was stoked, training was going well and I even won my age group in a short race in August. Then September rolled around and without warning, the wheels came off. When you're running an ultra you're wise to be able to recognize a rough patch as just that and you push through it. Don't let it stop you. Somehow I failed to recognize September as a rough patch and I let it stop me. I let a whole lot of things that come with running bother me and I let that frustration stop me. I scratched from 3 races and completely stopped running. I had no real idea why, but that made sense to me at the time considering I have no real idea why I run in the first place. For about 3 weeks I sat on the sofa eating chips and drinking cans of Coke 3 at a time. I was having a blast, just me and the dogs chilling and eating chips. Taking naps was also a newly learned skill. Along with building a lovely waist line, I was reaching new heights of annoying Janice. I came to learn that she cherished those days when I'd disappear for 4 hours to run in the forest. Oh well, I'd just need to learn better ways of keeping my non-running self out of her way so she could still enjoy her "me time".

One Sunday, Janice went somewhere to do something with some girls from her softball team and I started to feel like my lard ass was sinking a little extra deep in the sofa that day. The dogs were sleeping off whatever container of snacks we had polished off and I realized I needed to run. It was that simple, I needed to run. I got off my butt and went for a run - did a lot of walking as the climbs on Blue Mountain hadn't taken off the same days I had, but it was a run just the same. The next day I was right back at it, in fact I ran every day for the next 20 days straight. Over the next 32 days, I ran 31 times. Some of those runs were awful, but for some reason I was running again. I got back to running with Mojo and Mollie too! I even found a couple of short trail races to hop in for fun, got my butt kicked like always, but they were fun.

Somehow when I was going through my "I'm done with running" period I had forgotten to tell the nice folks of the Montgomery County Road Runners Club that I wouldn't be at the start line for their Stone Mill 50 miler in November. After all, the conflict with the date of that race was one of the stressors that sent me spinning out of running, how could I have forgotten to ditch this race too? Now here I was running again. Sure I was carrying a bunch of extra pounds and I hadn't done any much needed long runs, but what could go wrong? The date seemed to be opening back up so who cared if a slow 15 miles was my longest run in many weeks? Yep, I burned some Hilton Honors points and just like that we had lodging and a November 50 miler was back on my calendar.

We packed up the Jeep and left Cody home to take care of Mojo and Mollie. After a short fight with DC Metro traffic we were at Fleet Feet Gaithersburg picking up my race number. Pretty cool timing as we ran into Janice's co-worker Matt Sinopoli and his friend Gene Gignac who were also running the next day. My only real concern at that point was if Matt would leave any finish line food for me. After a tasty dinner and brews at The Dog Fish Head Alehouse, we were off to the Hilton for some much needed sleep before the 6am start.

Pre-race prep at Dog Fish Head Alehouse

The morning went fast, the over-night rain stopped and after announcing some cool stats on what states runners came from (35 from PA), the race director said a very unceremonious "go".

One last headlamp adjustment.

Heading out to the 2.? mile turn around I heard guys talking behind me, put 2 and 2 together and soon realized I was somehow running in front of a Western PA contingent, Ben Mazur, Adam McGinnis and Todd Lewis - runners I spent the day leap frogging with during Laurel Highlands. A three man freight train.

Adam McGinnis, Ben Mazur
and Todd Lewis 
The Western PA Limited

It was dark so I wasn't looking at my watch, but I kept hearing comments about our average pace and although I felt fine, I knew I was going too fast. I think Todd was immediately behind me and I felt like I was running from a speeding car - these guys were going good, too good for me to maintain. Finally the sun was coming up so I used wanting to take my headlamp off as an excuse to pull off at the top of a small hill. Phew! As they flew past I thought, "now I can slow down and run my pace". 

Well that all sounds good, but I got caught right back up in the excitement of the race. I was hitting aid stations ahead of schedule causing Janice to miss me at the first one(no big deal) and I had to wait for her at the next(I needed to get rid of a shirt and my headlamp). Waiting a few minutes helped, it seemed to calm me some and drop me into a pack of runners closer to the pace I needed...or so I thought. I had told Niece and Nephew Heather and Jim they may be able to see me at the aid station near the Potomac at 11:00am and then 11:45am at the Stone Mill. I hit the marathon mark well under five hours and now I had just come through the 29 mile Stone Mill aid station just before 11 and was on my way 45 minutes ahead of my planned pace. There would be no way I could survive this pace.

Towing two shirtless guys into an aid station - they sure talked a lot.

Most of the aid stations were only a few miles apart so I chose to run with just a hand held.
Janice refueled me at each aid station with a full bottle and made sure I took two bottles when the next stop would be further than the others(some had 6+ mile gaps between them and in the later miles I was sucking down the liquid). I stuck to my schedule of a gel and an Endurolyte every hour and I used buffered salt tablets twice in the 50 miles(result=zero cramping). At the aid stations I made sure to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwich quarters and a piece of banana here and there - I drank a lot of Coke and Mountain Dew too.

Matt - Chocolate Chip Cookie Connoisseur & Gene - Refueling with Gatorade

I took a few extra moments at the Stone Mill aid station and trotted up the next couple of
ascents at a very easy(slow) pace and I was encouraged by hitting the 50k mark in about 5:50 - that was much closer to where I wanted/needed to be. Unfortunately it became quickly evident that I was not slowing down by choice anymore, fatigue was ruling at this point. I had hoped to finish at 10 hours or 4:00pm and at a later aid station I told Janice that goal was falling seriously out of possibility. I had 7 miles to go and it was 2:30, my pace had slowed considerably and I explained that I felt I was going to miss that mark. I was pushing hard, but I didn't have much left. I knew it was slipping away, but I felt I could really know how much time I could salvage when I got to the aid station at 48 miles. Much of the day, my trusty Suunto Ambit2 S watch hadn't been jiving with the aid station distances so I was relying on what the volunteers or signs listed as the distance. Well, I reached that aid station and I heard a volunteer say "you're doing great, just 3 more miles". Me and two other runners quickly asked, "what mile is this?" and "just about 47" was what we got. The race web site had labeled this last aid station as being at 48 mile and I know it's just a mile and I was going to miss 4:00pm whether it was 2 or 3, but to me that announcement was crushing. I was managing my physical and mental fatigue based completely on having 2 miles to go at that point. Fatigue totally took over and my next 3 miles were a mess.

I started to hear traffic and soon enough was I popping out of the woods onto the sidewalk we crossed in the morning darkness. I knew the High School and the finish line was close. After a short run along the street a nice volunteer directed me back into a forested area and I could see steep hills looming and before long I was looking up at the finish banner, but it was perpendicular to where I was. I heard Janice and others yelling my name. It was sort of confusing about how to get to the finish, but soon I heard the race director yell, "run to me" which meant run straight up a steep grassy hill. It was maybe only 40 yards up, but it was enough to bring flashbacks of running hill drills in football. I muttered some expletive to myself, but just had to laugh at that hill. As the exclamation point at the end of 50 miles it was easy to resolve to walk that last short distance.

Coming out of the woods one last time.


Crossing the line I was greeted by a volunteer with wire cutters to cut off my timing tag. When I explained it wasn't on my shoe it was in my pocket, the gentlemen doing the timing simply said, "not good" with a cross look - oops. I tried to explain that I expected to need to change my shoes, but that fell on deaf ears - didn't matter, I soon saw Janice and quickly recognized Heather and Jim who live in Virginia not too far from Gaithersburg. What a very cool surprise, having them at the finish. I hadn't seen them since the Goretex 50 Mile at the DC North Face Endurance Challenge in June 2012. I now knew who those other voices were yelling my name when I was at the base of that nasty hill.

The next day I read an article that said 80% of runners go out too fast at the start of races, so at least I've got company. The Stone Mill 50 offers an easy course. With nothing more than rolling little hills and nothing technical, "easy" is the only label I can give it. Heck, we ran more than a mile on a suburban sidewalk and 3 miles on the flat C&O Canal towpath. The 2 trails the race uses snake through suburbia, one minute we were hearing loud sirens nearby and around the next turn we were greeted by a beautiful buck. Hunters were there too, decked out in full camo carrying their bows on the hunt for Bambi with a couple hundred crazies running through their hunting ground. I was surprised by the amount of water crossings - my feet were wet much of the day. I saw a helmeted woman on horseback, but I also ran through a Starbuck's parking lot. The Seneca Creek and Muddy Branch Trails are beautiful and their gentleness will tempt you to run outside of your ability - take it from me, DON'T DO IT! After all, it is still 50 miles long. All in all, I'm happy with my finish, I got in with a 10:34ish - 89th of 179 male finishers & 115th of 252 overall finishers. 

The biggest deal? >>> I beat sundown and as Jim said, "in November that's hard to do".

Janice found fun while chasing me from aid station to aid station.

I now have completed 2 of the 3 events I found interesting when I first learned about ultra trail running. The Laurel Highlands and The Stone Mill 50 both caught my eye because of their closeness to home. I remember reading The Stone Mill site thinking the drawing of the old mill was very cool and I thought it had to be a fun event because it seemed to sell out in a hurry. Of course, just like Laurel Highlands, at the time I was confident I'd never enter such an insane endeavor. The third event that caught my eye? The 3rd was the JFK 50 and I've accepted I'll never run it and that's ok, I'm having more fun than all those miles on the towpath could ever provide.


  1. My wife liked running, and therefore also read a lot of sports bra brand, but overall Champion zipper sports bra is more comfortable to wear.

  2. Great report - great result! Are you running it again this year?

  3. Well Joel...I blame you! I had planned to make the Oil Creek 100 my last ultra for the year, but today I submitted my entry for this year's Stone Mill 50 and it was your asking that made me rethink it. When I feel I made mistakes at an event, I like to settle my conscience by returning to try it again. If my second attempt stinks too, then I simply accept it and move on. So I guess I'll see you in Gaithersburg somewhere perhaps. :-)