Sunday, July 19, 2009

2009 Mule Run 100K

It seems like this blog has become a running blog instead of knitting blog. Rest assured that knitting is still happening, but at a snail's pace. I just can't seem to find a way to juggle running long distances, working long hours, and doing a mediocre job of housekeeping. Tom picks up a lot of slack around here, for which I am eternally grateful!

This weekend's adventure was the 3rd Annual Mule Run 100K. This is a tiny event sponsored by the Loudoun Road Runners (there were seven runners at the start). We started at 7:00pm last night on the C&O Canal Towpath at Shepherdstown, West Virginia and finished at Carderock, Maryland this morning. The distance, despite its 100K designation, was slightly over, coming in at 62.4 miles.

We've been blessed with an unseasonably cool and not-so-humid summer and yesterday's weather was perfect. The predicted thunderstorms did not materialize and the temperature at the start was probably in the high 70s. The lows were predicted to be in the low to mid-50s, perfect running weather.

We started a little after 7:00, and our merry band of runners trotted down the tow path. Other than one of us, we are not elite athletes, so we tried to keep our pace slow (we'd be running for a really long time). However, no matter how hard I tried to slow down, the first several miles were under a 10:00 minute pace (this pace would come back to haunt me later). The first stop was at Dargan's Bend, almost 8 miles away. When we reached it, we ate some food (my preference is salted, boiled potatoes) and refilled our water bottles, if necessary. We also donned our headlamps because it would be dark by the time we reached the next aid station at Brunswick, almost 10 miles away.

By this time, the runners had somewhat spread out, with Sarah taking the lead (the next time I saw her was at the finish). Our pace had slowed somewhat, but we were again mostly running under a 10:00 minute pace, still too fast. We added more walk breaks to slow us down. With nightfall, we expected to see a lot of bats and run into a lot of spider webs (last year's runners were festooned with webs come dawn). We were also concerned about the wildlife around Harper's Ferry (last year there was a group of male revellers, which was a bit disconcerting). Fortunately, very few of the above materialized.

I might have mentioned this in a previous post, but running in the dark is a wonderful experience. You lose all sense of time, distance, and pace, and just run. It's running at its very basic. It can be a bit creepy, mostly because you don't know what's lurking in the dark.

At Brunswick, Patsy had set out tapas: prosciutto and cured sausage, tapenade, olives, and a baguette. Unfortunately, by that time, my stomach was a little unhappy, and for many miles after that, I hardly ate anything. I ate some potatoes, Pringles (the potato chip of choice for ultra running), and Coke.

And so it continued, running through night: stopping at the aid stations when we came to them. When running these distances (at least for a supported race), you run smaller distances: from aid station to aid station, and later in the race, from this tree to that tree. The overall distance can be overwhelming. It isn't until near the end that you start counting the final miles (and even that can be daunting).

As the night wore on, three of us ran together. Starting around mile 24, Pat (who is a very good runner, and fast) started flagging. At mile 33 (Dickerson Conservation Park), she threw in the towel. This is where I stopped last year (deliberately, because it was the farthest I had ever run). So after changing socks and putting on a dry shirt, Jill and I continued on.

The next couple of aid stations were each just over 4 miles apart. In addition to my stomach still not feeling right, I was beginning to get tired. But I can run 4 miles (actually, the proportion of walking to running was increasing). After the Edwards Ferry Boat Ramp station at mile 42, we'd be on our own for 8 miles. That seemed like too far. It would also bring us to the 50-mile point.

The 8 miles from Edwards Ferry to Riley's Lock were interminable and somewhat excrutiating. The good news is that I started to get hungry; the bad news is that everything began hurting. My feet hurt, my arms hurt, my legs hurt. Still, we pressed on. We were walking much more than we were running (although I suspect Jill could have done more running). There were highlights though: the waning moon hung in the sky, surrounded by stars and planets. It was beautiful. And the sunrise was outstanding, despite it being obscured by trees. And as we were approaching Riley's Lock, two Great Blue Herons flew by: gorgeous!

A flock of vultures awaited us at Riley's Lock (not a good sign, in my opinion). Patsy, Brian, and Cynthia were also there. I finally ate some potato soup that Tom made, followed by homemade coffee ice cream. My stomach was finally working again! After eating, Jill and I started moving towards our next goal, Swain's Lock, 6.2 miles away.

At this point, we started to see more people on the path. And I must say that they were decidedly unfriendly. We, who were exhausted after running 50 miles and being up for more than 24 hours, had the courtesy to say good morning to the people who were passing us. And for the most part, they didn't respond. I don't know if that was because of our proximity to Washington, DC or if they thought we looked a little out there. Bikers (and runners) would come by three abreast on the path and not move over. Very rude.

At Swain's Lock, I dumped little rocks out of my shoes, refilled my hydration pack, and we started on the final 6.2 miles to the finish. By this time, my feet really hurt, my shin started to hurt and my quads were decidedly tender. And my arms and abs and back were sore. In short, my whole self hurt. I could have easily walked the remaining miles, but Jill encouraged me to run by setting small goals: start running at the tree with sunlight on its bark, walk at that big patch of sunlight. So it continued...picking a goal and moving towards it.

At the 60 mile mark, we met Tierney who had come out to find us (we were about an hour behind everyone else). She told us the stories of the other runners who finished and helped keep us moving towards the finish. Even though we picked up the pace, those 2.4 miles seemed interminable. Tierney kept saying we'd pass a big path and then a couple of little paths before getting to our turn-off. It seemed we kept going and going and going. We finally spotted a group of people gathered a litte further up...that was our group! We're almost done. Jill and I break into run (jog?), arguing who should go first down the little single-track path. I thought it should be her; she said it should be me.

Tom is waiting at the turn, I give him a high-five and disappear down the path, with Jill close behind. We aren't too sure where the finish line is, so make straight for where our group was grilling burgers.

And then, just like that, we were done. It took us 14 hours and 59 minutes, but we completed the Mule Run.

Knitting and Spinning News
All of my knitting continues slowly. That's got to change. And even though the weather has been perfect for spinning on our porch, I haven't touched the wheel in a really embarrassing amount of time. The good news is that we'll be going to the beach soon, so there will be plenty of opportunity for me to knit! Yippee!

Have a great week!


Sheepish Annie said...

Wow! Congratulations! That is an amazing accomplishment. And you started in Shepherdstown which is a very good knitting reference, indeed. You've got it all covered!!!

~Jody said...

Holy cow! That's amazing... I'm really impressed. Way to go!

Unknown said...

Wow... what an achievement. Don't think I could ever do it... running in the dark would freak me out. Congrats! Hope your recovery goes well.