Wednesday, December 28, 2016

All Aboard The Blunder Bus - My Stone Mill 50 DNF Report

November 12, 2016

This blog post has taken me quite a while to write. I've been taking a lazy off-season approach to both running and blogging. To be honest I haven't felt much like writing or running. I started 2016 believing this would be my last year of running ultras, I changed my mind, but forgot to tell my psyche and my body. I'm registered for a February 50K so I definitely need to get running and snap out of this funk, so here goes.

I picked the Stone Mill 50 to be the race to wrap up my year. I've run it twice before and I know it's a fun course. Completely runnable, no crazy climbs, party-like aid stations and a dirt cheap entry fee. If I were asked if I knew of a 50 miler good to be your first, I'd pick this one. Yes, as 50 milers go, I'd call the Stone Mill 50 an easy one.

Janice and I got to Gaithersburg, picked up my race packet, checked into the hotel and in no time we were at Growler's Brew Pub having a fun dinner with Ron and Jo Kappus (ultra runners from the New Jersey tribe). Good conversation about kids, dogs, softball, calories, beer, etc. and with an early morning start we headed off to our respective lodging.

Blunder #1:

My morning started normally, woke up at 4:30, got a shower, got dressed to run and ate a banana, a couple ClifBar Organic Food meals with coffee while Janice got ready to spend her day crewing. I like to get to events an hour before start time, so with an 11 minute drive to the start line, I wanted to leave just prior to 6:00. For some reason(s) I can't recall, we left a few minutes later and arrived at the elementary school at about 6:15. It was a chilly 36° so I wanted to go into the school, use the restroom, re-tie my shoes, drink water; basically complete my pre-race ritual. I walked into the auditorium and a man and woman were there chatting and they looked at me strangely as I entered wearing a race number. I said good morning and the woman asked me if I was ok. I responded that I was just coming in to get warm and the man said/asked, "you missed the start". You may have noticed that I mentioned I've run this race twice before. You would think I would've remembered that it started at 6am. He rushed outside with me to see if the timer could still record my start time, but the timing mat had already been turned off or disconnected or something (I'm not sure exactly how they work) I couldn't believe it, my day was done before it started, but all of a sudden the timer guy said, "give me a minute and I can set it back up". The other man asked if I knew how to get to the trail and I did. I ditched the bottle of water I was hoping to drink, put my headlamp on and took off when they said the mat was set.

I've been running organized races much of my life, so I have no excuse for making such a rookie mistake. As I headed out the road section before the trail head, it was all making sense now. I was wondering why we'd need headlamps for a 7am start. I also wondered why the cutoff times seemed pretty aggressive, bordering on unreasonable. At 6am, needing a headlamp made sense and a 6pm cutoff did too.

I was running down the sidewalk now with about a 20 minute handicap and beginning to wonder if my answering "yes" to knowing where the trailhead was, was a correct answer. I remembered the trail started just beyond a bridge. I saw a bridge and crossed it, but saw no trail. Thoughts of turning around, DNF'ing, sitting down on the curb and crying, etc. all crossed my mind, but instead I laughed at myself and kept running. After climbing a hill, I saw another bridge and then I noticed the familiar radio towers across the street and now I knew I was still going the right way.

I came upon a race marshal who's job was done and was heading back to the start. He told me Mike was waiting for me and would run with me to at least the first aid station. I thought, "hmm I may be stupid and 30 minutes late to this point, but I don't need a babysitter". Mike introduced himself and he fell in behind me. Conversation lead in a direction that I asked, are you the "sweep" and his answer was "yes". This was no way to start the day, having the guy who at any moment could tell me my day was done running on my heals. As most runners who volunteer to sweep events, Mike was a super nice guy and he even called ahead to let Aid Station #1 know they'd have a late customer. As we approached the aid station, Mike told me that the cutoff time for this point was 7:05 and it was only 7:01. he was trying to be encouraging, but I saw 4 minutes as way too close for comfort.

Janice was there and told me I was catching up, I told her I loved her, tossed her my headlamp and kept going. Barely a tenth of a mile further, I caught a female runner who was basically walking fast and soon after that another female and then I caught a man. I felt like I was actually catching up as I passed a few more runners. I didn't tell any of them that I started 20 minutes late, I didn't want my encouragement to be their discouragement.

Blunder #2:

Smiling & Climbing Out Of Aid Station #2

Technically, Blunder #2 came after the second aid station. It sits at the base of a small climb after a stream crossing. I was psyched to see Janice there; as I continued the climb, she yelled up to me if I had seen Rick Stahl. I couldn't figure out how she thought I could've seen him considering he started on time (foreshadowing for Blunder #3). I reminded her that he had to be way ahead of me. I was behind a woman with a guy behind me and there was a larger group of runners up ahead. We started to loop back around in the direction of the aid station and I began to notice we were essentially running in a circle and about that same time I realized we hadn't seen course markings in quite some time. Yep, we were off course. In retracing my steps I realized I had added about 3/4 of a mile, so it wasn't that bad. When we got back to the course I realized we had turned right when we should've gone left. The course was marked fine, but we were all playing follow the leader and all it took was one of us to miss the trail markers.

Blunder #3:

Re-entering the course, I saw Bert Salter approaching and I asked him how he could've gotten behind me. I asked if he had gone off course and he hadn't. I heard a voice say, "we didn't do the lake loop" and I responded "oh, didn't you?" and that same voice shot back, "no, you didn't do the lake loop". Yep, I had missed a critical turn for a new section of the course. Here the voice saying this had been running behind me at that missed junction, knew we missed the turn and said nothing. I won't call him out, but I think he saw a short cut to get himself back in the race after spending way too long with his girlfriend at the first aid station. (Yeah, I guess I just called him out.)

Now I knew why Janice thought I should've seen Rick. Now I knew why I was seeing runners, who I knew should be way ahead of me, coming into the second aid station behind me. I had spotted myself about 2 miles and even with going off course, I was mixing in with runners who I would've been with if I started on time. It pissed me off that had dude said nothing, knowing full well we were skipping that section. Freaked out about being late, being lost and now I had cheated. I thought I could possibly make it up on the way back, but how would I figure how to make the correct turn backwards, I was sure it wouldn't be marked in the other direction.

Blunder #4:

This blunder was probably the only one that sort of makes sense. In my semi-frantic haste, I was running ragged. It wasn't that my pace was too fast, but it was all over the place. I couldn't settle into a steady stride. Worse than that, I was ignoring fueling. I realized I had now run about 14 miles without drinking or eating anything. I gobbled down a Strawberry ClifBar ClifShot Energy Gel and washed it down with Tailwind. I've found that starting your nutrition late in an ultra can be disastrous. I was hoping that wasn't the case today.

[An odd note here: My right arm felt numb. Trying to tear open that gel, I had to use my left hand and my teeth. My right hand simply wasn't working. Hand swelling during running isn't uncommon, but my whole arm seemed affected. My arm was very cold, but I still had no idea why it felt numb. At the time, it freaked me out a little, but looking back I'm sure it was just the cold. In my haste to get started I left a wind jacket on and I was wearing arm warmers as well. I was dressed too warm for the day and my perspiration had gotten extremely cold. I ditched the jacket eventually, but should've taken off the wet arm warmers as well.]

Blunder #5:

There was a section where I could see a good distance behind me and a long string of runners. I was pretty sure I saw Rick Martin from back home. The trail switched back and I got a better look and was sure it was Rick. I eased up on my pace and after about a mile he was close enough for me to yell out to him. He said, "Perry? Did you pass me?". My quick answer was, "no, I cut the course...I cheated".

Soon we were running together, wondering where Rick Stahl might be, wondering about my numb arm, talking about my cutting the course. We had turned into a line of about 12 runners and somehow I was on the front setting the pace. I felt good, I was still wondering how I'd find the lake loop on the way back, but I was having a good run with friends now and in a second that was all shattered and I was trying to focus and get up off the ground. I was running strong up a small hill littered with lime stone and I caught a toe. Falling on an incline means the ground comes up to meet you a lot faster. I saw the rock coming, had no chance to catch myself and planted my left eye right on it.

I was a dizzy, semi-blind mess; sitting on my ass. In true trail ultra fashion, every last runner who was near when I fell stopped and surrounded me in an attempt to help. I wish I knew all of them, because I'm not sure if I got to really thank them. A woman offered her phone, but I said I just needed to get up and Rick Martin said, "I'll take care of him". The hand of Paul Encarnación appeared and I was back up on my feet. I walked at first and then was able to run again. Rick and Paul and another guy stuck with me. I was running, but with the lump growing above my left eye, I was afraid my day might be over early. My vision was going bad, the forest was flattening out and turning grey. Queasiness came and went, but an awful light headed feeling settled in and I needed to walk. I convinced Paul and the others who had piled up behind us to continue on and I'd be fine. They all passed, but Rick; he was concerned and determined to stay with me. We were still about two miles from the aid station when I finally convinced him that I'd be fine walking it in. I reminded him that I had self-extracted over much longer distance back home in Stony Valley, so Rick finally agreed and took off running promising that he'd let Janice know what had happened. Soon I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard, "hey old man how's it going?". It was Ron Kappus and I was in a bad way, the look on his face  was priceless when he saw my growing eye socket. I asked him to tell Janice if he saw her. Now I had two messengers, one of them was bound to see her. I walked for about a quarter mile, but started to get cold so I went back to running to keep warm. I was moving fine, but the light headed feeling wouldn't pass.

Rick Martin Arriving At The Pennyfield Lock
Aid Station - The Bearer Of Bad News

Soon I saw the C&O Canal and shortly after that I popped out onto the gravel road that lead to the Pennyfield Lock and the towpath. I was running fine, but I wasn't feeling fine. I saw Janice in the distance and yelled her name, I yelled a couple of times, but she seemed to either not hear me or something as it seemed she was walking away from me. She heard me, she knew I was coming, she was putting together an ice pack for my head. My chair was already set up at the Jeep and Janice retrieved two women who were race volunteers, each with medical experience. I was shocked at how certain they were that I needed to stop my race and they were going to call an ambulance. I still hadn't seen my head, but I thought, "shit I must look bad". I was trying to do the math about making the cut off times at my slowed pace and I realized that I couldn't even think straight much less do math. I was a mess, my run was done. I gave them my timing chip and they recorded my dropping from the race. We convinced them I wouldn't need an ambulance and with the name of a local hospital we were off to get me some medical attention.

In The Jeep And Headed To The ER

Blunder #6:

We found our way to the Shady Grove Adventist Hospital Emergency Room, recommended as the closest. It seemed like a nice place, but the receptionist person seemed to have no sense of urgency and she was asking the most innocuous questions. I made it past her without incident and with two new wrist bands I was soon being interviewed by Ingrid, an overly efficient triage nurse. I assured her I fulfilled all, but one of the common concussion symptoms and my real concern was if I had a hole in my head. She agreed, ordered a CAT Scan and sent me back to the waiting area. I sat for 90+ minutes and decided to ask if I had been forgotten. (yes, it was a Saturday, but no; it wasn't busy) I told the sleepy receptionist that I wanted to leave if I wasn't going to be X-Rayed soon and she basically gave me a stare and asked another nurse to talk to me. She had only a slightly higher sense of urgency. I found it funny when she said she was concerned my skull could be fractured and assured me I had been referred to their fast track team, but that fast track CAT Scan team was really swamped so it could take a few more hours. Two out of the three employees I dealt with were useless. An elderly gentlemen came in with a pretty serious looking laceration on a finger. He made a quick puddle of blood while lightning behind the reception desk asked him his favorite color. After I came back out to waiting area he too reappeared. His finger was wrapped in loose bandages, but it was obvious he also was sent to wait for further care. They need to remove the word "EMERGENCY" from their sign; this is clearly just a room.

I'm sure the folks who referred us to this place meant well, but don't go there expecting urgent care. (Note: In an effort to appease Janice and my Mom, early Monday morning I visited Community General Osteopathic Hospital near home and I was CAT Scanned and released in about an hour with no skull fracture. I did however receive a semi-insanity diagnosis after I explained that I was running 50 miles when I fell.)

Much Better Service At My Home Town ER
It Was Funny How They Seemed To recognize Me...

Some parts of the day were awesome:

Mistakes and mishaps all done for the day, Janice and I were now on a mission to figure out which aid station we should visit to see the rest of the tribe still out on the course. We made it to the Riffle Ford Road Aid Station to see Rick Stahl, Rick Martin and Todd Lewis.

Rick Stahl At Riffle Ford Road Aid Station

Todd Lewis Trying Not To Laugh At My Expanding Forehead
Rick Martin At Riffle Ford Road
While I'm Locating His Drop Bag

From Riffle Ford Road we relocated to the finish line to cheer on our friends as they finished. I got a real taste for what Janice goes through when she's crewing for me. The standing and waiting in anticipation is nuts. I love her for doing it...can't believe she still agrees to do it, much less still loves me afterwards.

Hanging With My DNF Brother Ralph
We'll Be Back!

The wait at the finish line was a lot of fun watching the friends and family gaze off to the last turn where runners appeared for their final jaunt to the finish line. The turn was probably a quarter mile away so you could only sorta' recognize runners when they made the turn. As they got closer though it was so cool to see the excitement swell in their folks waiting for them. Cheering, homemade signs, cow bells ringing, kids, dogs; man that stuff is priceless.

Rick Stahl Finishing Up His First 50 Miler

  • Rookie Rick Stahl nailed his first attempt at the 50 mile distance with a rockin' 9:43 finish.
  • Rick Martin had another great day. This was just his second 50 miler and he won the Men's 60-69 age group with a time of 10:32.  If he hadn't had the misfortune to be right behind me when I face planted, who knows what his finishing time might've been. I can't say enough about his insisting to stick with me when I was in obvious trouble. Thank you Rick, I owe you!
Rick Martin Crossing The Line

  • Geoffrey Hemgen cruised into the finish at 10:47 to the cheers of his family waiting patiently at the school. His son in the Ravens jersey won the adorable award on the day.
  • Ron Kappus came into the finish at 10:53 looking like he had enough left for another 50.
  • Todd Lewis took care of the Lake Loop on his return trip and got across the line in 10:57.
  • Paul Encarnación, another of my heroes on the day, finished in exactly 11 hours. I wonder how much time my mishap added to his time. Thanks again Paul, see you on a trail soon!
  • Bert Salter came in with a time of 11:25. I'm not sure what I was doing when he crossed the line, but I missed him. Sorry Bert, I still owe you for those late night/early morning C&O Canal Pierogies!
  • Jo Kappus and Ralph Smith joined me on the DNF list. Each had a physical issue that ended their day early.
That's Todd Lewis Finishing Another Stone Mill 50 (shrugging his shoulders)
The Goofball In Front Of Him Had Just Sprinted Past Him In The Final 100 Meters
Yep, That Guy Won The Jerk Of The Day Award...Ya Just Don't Do That
Finish Line Etiquette

From the finish line we scooted over to the nearby Dogfish Head Alehouse Restaurant for dinner with Rick and Stacy Stahl and Rick Martin. We got in there just in time to be seated quickly before the waiting area gorged with folks who got a 1 hour wait. Good food, good beer and good stories. A great way to celebrate Rick Stahl's first 50 and Rick Martin's age group win. For me, it was a celebration of the end of a fun year of running. No, wrapping up 2016 with 2 DNF's and a huge lump on my head was not what I had planned; but I finished 9 of the 11 ultras I entered and 2016 saw my first 100 mile finish...I'll gladly stay focused on the positive.

Insert Your Own Caption

Next up for me is the Algonquin 50K in February so now it's time to get back to training.

Happy New Year!