Jan 26, 2009

JFK 50 Race Report Part 3 - The Towpath

This race report has four parts:
Part 1 - intro | Part 2 - AT | Part 3 - towpath | Part 4 - finish

Sorry, I don't have any pictures from this part of the race, so here's a picture of a Christmas wreath instead. In January. About a race in November. Yep.

I don't think I'll ever forget the picture of me seeing the towpath for the first time, from the checkpoint at the aid station, across some railroad tracks, through some trees, and there it was a path perpendicular to my field of view. I remember that moment because I had heard so much about this tow path, this flat stretch of dirt that goes for the distance of a full marathon. I knew I was about to step on this path and stay on it for the better part of the whole day - I knew that stepping on this path meant no more hills, I knew that stepping on this path meant possible hours of monotony..

But I didn't know how the dehydration was affecting me until a few minutes after I got on the path.

getting on it, I was immediately reminded of the rail trails that I run around here. Just straight flat paths of right-of-way that had been turned into a recreational path. Not knowing what a tow-path was, I asked someone if it was trail - and his response assumed that I knew what a tow-path was. I did figure it out, eventually. the Potomac river, to my left, was hundreds of yards wide but shallow with occasional rapids. To my right was about a 10-yard wide ditch of silent (frozen) water. It was clear you couldn't bring freight up and down the river, and this ditch - this canal - was what they built to make it possible. I am going along a ridge between the canal and the river- and it turns out that they used mules to pull barges 160-something miles up and down the canal. There were locks and everything. I was fascinated.

Anyway, by now I figured my wife was awake, so I called her really quickly just to give her a status update, and after hanging up I tried running for a ways. To my shock, I couldn't run too far at all. As much time as I spent at that last aid station forcing water down my gullet, i was still dehydrated and couldn't get into a rythym. This was a shame because the towpath is where I had planned to do a lot of running - take it easy on the AT, make up lost time on the straight and flat. So I walked. Fortunately, it was a cool trail.

To avoid a long narrative, Let me relay some of the thoughts that I wrote down after the race, of the 26.3 mile towpath, in order of their occurring:

* Zoom! a very-eccentrically dressed Eric Clifton passes me like I'm not moving. I'm not sure what he's been doing lately, but about 10 years ago Eric was one of the top ultrarunners in the USA. He was probably the fifth 7am runner to pass me. Before long, hundreds of 7am starters would be passing me, and the constant passing would not stop for the balance of the race.

* Holy crap, a headwind! Thankfully, it didn't last long. Headwinds did occasionally happen on the towpath, but they never lasted more than a minute or two.

* After the first lock (which was super-cool), there was no water in the canal for pretty much the rest of the race.

* The first aid station after getting on the towpath had the same stuff. Nothing warm. Frozen M&Ms. Frozen PBJ. I drank as much as I could and continued.

Dehydration update: My overall condition has not improved, but it's not getting worse either. I guess that's a good thing.

* Miles 20-30 seemed to go by rather quickly, as I dropped into a pattern of running 2-3 minutes, walking 5-7. It was a bit of a bright spot in the race. I did that for miles and miles.

* Even better news is that my tube thawed out at some point here, and I had them put gatorade and water in my pack! I can drink again! Boy did I drink. I stood at that aid station and put away almost a whole hydration bladder's worth of water right there, and had them refill it again. I completely drank and refilled my 2-liter pack before each of the next 4 aid stations, which were 2-4 miles apart. As far as food, the cookies were yummy, the m&ms were yummy. But there wasn't much selection. I made sure I ate enough, but sure wished I had some protein.

* Mile 25 came and went - halfway! and I felt pretty strong. Then, going through 26.2 is always a fun moment.

* At mile 31, I came into an area I found out later to be Antietam. It had handler access, so there were a thousand people there. But the best part of antietam was that it had luke warm soup. It felt so great.. luke warm was just fine. Still wish I had some protein.

* In contrast to miles 20-30, miles 30-40 took for-friggin-ever. Thoughts of "Is this thing ever going to end?" came frequently.

* Condition did deteriorate a bit at mile 35, had a bit of a lowpoint when I couldn't run more than 100 feet at a time. I recovered from that a bit, and actually ran a whole sustained mile somewhere in this section.

* I basically spent my time counting miles til the end of the towpath. 11 miles to go and I just wanted to be off the thing. It really felt like the race would be over at the end of the towpath (reality - still 8 miles to go and we knew it). but I was counting each marker 10, 9, 8, 7, 10k, 6, etc..

* The aid station at mile 38 aide station ROCKED. you can always tell when an aid station is staffed by ultrarunners, and 38 was one. good music, they take your pack and fill it for you, soup, plenty of food.. lots of people here too (handler access).

The four miles between the end of the towpath and the mile 38 aid station actually seemed to go by quickly - it really felt like the end of the race, I was so excited to be off it that the first part of the asphalt I felt like a new man.. But that will be in part 4 of this report.

Which hopefully won't have as long an interval as part 2-3 did. (:

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