Sunday, March 7, 2010

Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50K

Yesterday, I became an ultra-marathoner. I ran the Seneca Creek Trail 50K (locally known as the Greenway 50K as it's run on the beautiful Greenway Trail which runs alongside Seneca Creek).

Most people know of the tough times my husband and I have had this past year. I've mentioned it here a few times, but mostly on my personal blog. The road to this race was paved with a lot of tears and anguish. I decided to run this race as a way to do something for myself. To give myself a sense of focus and something to look forward to. I chose a trail ultra rather than another marathon because the trail running community is much more relaxed and laid back. It's much more about connecting to the sport and the surroundings, less about the times and performance. Don't get me wrong, it's competitive. But it's much less stressful and a lot more fun. This is what I needed.

The months leading up to the race were rough. While I usually love running in the winter, training this winter even tested my patience. With over 40 inches of snow falling in the DC area in less than 2 months, it was tough to find places to run, let alone run on the trail. Long runs were split up and I could only take so much treadmill running. I had planned on running the Myrtle Beach Marathon as a training run, but even that was cancelled due to snow. With the winter progressing as it was, the Greenway 50K was looking less and less likely.

The race is put on by our local Road Runners Club, the Montgomery County Road Runners. And we are a dedicated bunch. Volunteers were out clearing the trail for days leading up to this race. Clearing snow and blown down trees, marking the course and ensuring the race would go on. And go on it did. Here's my recap.

The race starts in Damascus, MD and finishes at Riley's Lock along the C & O Canal towpath. You park at the finish and the race organizers bus you to the start. It was freezing in the morning. The organizers provided us with mylar blankets and hand warmers to keep us from freezing to death. I got to the race start with an hour to spare yet still found myself rushing when the race started. I was in the port-o-potty of all places and literally ran out of the potty and crossed the starting line. It was pretty amusing.

The first 4 miles were on a combination of ice and hard, packed snow. Not ideal conditions. It was very difficult to have steady footing and it was very tiresome. I walked through a lot of it just to prevent falling. At mile 4, the creek crossing was pretty deep, about ankle-deep. Thankfully, the race organizers provided a rope for us to hold onto while crossing or I would have been in the creek for sure. I was glad it was only my feet that were wet. But running in wet shoes and socks on hard, packed snow is pretty difficult! At mile 7 was the first aid station. I changed into dry socks and loaded up on potatoes and pretzels. Off we went on more packed snow. Finally the trail thawed out and we were on dry dirt. I clearly remember sighing in relief at the snow being gone. AHHH, running on dry dirt feels good.

I got to the aid station at mile 11 where I saw John and Keller for the first time. That was great. Such a great sight. More pretzels and some Pepsi and I was on my way. At this point, the trail goes under some major roads, which was pretty darn cool. The bridges are over the creek and the trail is alongside the creek. I must have been a troll living under a bridge in a former life, because I really love running under bridges. I see John and Keller again after about 2 more miles and that was nice. Then we powered on into Seneca Creek State Park. At the next aid station at mile 15, I saw John and Keller again. My friend, Jon was there to run the rest of the race with me. He's a good friend! We ran around Clopper Lake, which is a beautiful run. There was more packed snow but it wasn't too bad. We stopped back at the aid station. After more Pepsi and potatoes, we were on our way.

We headed south and ran under Great Seneca Highway (another bridge, yay!) and to the aid station at Riffle Ford Road. This is about mile 20.5 or so. I didn't know there was going to be an aid station here, so this was a nice surprise. A PB&J and Pepsi later and we were off. The section between Riffle Ford Rd and Route 118 was a muddy mess with me tripping and falling and almost losing a shoe (two separate incidents). But I managed to get through it.

The section between Route 118 and the Route 28 aid station is a hilly section of the course. This is about 23-24 miles into the race, so I was definitely feeling those hills. Thankfully Jon was with me to distract me from those hills. There were also some strategically placed signs along the course that were distracting. They were for Goldfish crackers. Yes, Goldfish, and they said things like "I think, therefore I Goldfish" and "Goldfish: the other white meat." The signs actually started appearing around mile 13, so there were 12 miles of Goldfish signs. You'd be surprised at how many things you can say about a Goldfish cracker.

At the Route 28 aid station, my friends Connie and Ken, the husband and wife dynamic duo (and 2 more good friends!), were there to run the rest of the race with us. After more potatoes and Pepsi, I was ready to finish the race.

The next 3 miles were good. Muddy but good. We talked about movies and the military, though not exclusively movies about the military. It was nice because the time was passing and the miles were ticking away. But then I was hitting the wall. It was around mile 28 and I was getting tired and losing my steam. We got to the last aid station at Berryville Rd. John and Keller were there, which was awesome. Keller was so cute, telling me I was winning the race. I had my last bites of potatoes and off we went. The last 2.2 miles.

In those last 2.2 miles is the largest hill on the course. But first you need to cross the creek. Thankfully, with Ken's help, I got across without wet feet. Had I been alone, I'm sure I would have been in the creek and floated into the Potomac. After the creek we climbed the hill and then it was smooth sailing to the finish (well, as smooth as a muddy trail can be). We got to Seneca Rd., which is right by the finish, and I almost screamed out with joy. My friend Tammy was there, and it was great to see her. We ran down Seneca Rd. to River Rd. Then onto Tshiffley Rd. "Oh my God. I can't believe I'm doing this" was going through my mind. "Oh my God, I can't believe I'm going to finish." I can't really put into words how I felt.

As we approach the finish I see John and Keller. I really started getting emotional at this point. I crossed the finish and just let it go. I took a moment and just bent down and cried. Months of emotional pain, the incredible loss we endured, the sorrow, that's what came to the surface right then and there. I survived. I pulled myself out of the hole and I survived. Training for and ultimately finishing this race helped me get through the hardest time in my life. I will never forget how I felt when I finished this race.

For pictures from the race, check out my Facebook page. For some reason, Blogger's not letting me post them here.

Where do I go from here? Well, I have a number of (shorter) races lined up in the beginning of April as well as a 200-mile relay at the end of April. Perhaps another 50K is in store for me'll have to wait and see!


  1. Jenn, you've just described a remarkable journey and I could almost feel your emotional high and relief at the end. You've not only survived one of the hardest years of your life, you've tackled a physical challenge so few people have ever done. All of us who know you are so proud of and for you; but you should be even more proud of yourself. People dealing with sadness and adversity can learn from you. You inspire more people than you probably realize. Excellent job!

  2. Jenn,
    Just stumbled across your 50K blog and personal blog. You are a strong person.
    I just added RRCA running coach to my bag of tricks and wanted to see what you were up to.
    I live in Florida. I look fwd to following your blog. Congratulations on the 50K. I enjoyed reading your blog.