by Valerie Meyer
The Potomac Heritage 50k Trail Run (run used loosely here) was my second attempt at the 50k distance - my first being the Hat Run in March. Though I have done a few training runs of 20+ miles, I have never done an official marathon. I consider this my quirky claim to fame.
Well, I have to admit this was a real struggle. I had high expectations of finishing in 7 hours which were quickly dashed. My buddy, Norm, wanted to meet me at Chain Bridge because he lives near there. According to the web site, it was supposed to be about 21 miles - so, I estimated 4-5 hours. I think it was more like 23 miles into the race. Either way I wasn't going to make it to Chain Bridge on the return trip in under 6 hours. I have to stop this estimating business. My husband Roger has missed my finish of every orienteering event he has ever attended with me. I estimate a finish time and then do really poorly. He finally gives up and waits in the car and then I finish. Of course, I have had a few good times where I have finished earlier than expected. He is still waiting in the car for the expected time and I have already finished. And then there was the time I couldn't complete the course and came up to him from the opposite direction. Talk about a confused look on his face... Now orienteering events are variable because of the getting lost factor, but I did poorly estimating at the HAT Run also. I had a friend stand around for quite awhile not knowing I was ahead of my estimate and long gone. Lesson #1 - No estimating.
My left knee started aching a couple of days before - though I hadn't done anything on it. I hadn't run for 10 days so I thought my fresh legs would be an advantage. Fall is historically a rough time for me with allergies and sinus infections, but I think I am feeling decent - until I actually start running. I am not feeling strong and my knee aches already. Lesson #2 - Listen to your body. Yeah, right - no permanent damage - signs were wrong!
I realize quickly that I have packed way too much stuff in my two bottle carrier pack - an embarrassment of riches: shorts (used), shirt (used), 3 kinds of candy (mostly untouched), Power Bar (eaten), Gel carrier (used, but considered a bust since I can't suck it all out of there), 5 additional GU packs (used), camera (2 pictures taken), Band-Aids (unused), waterless hand cleaner (unused), handkerchief (well used), socks (of course!! But unused), peanut butter crackers (shared with a crow at the Tidal Basin), athletic tape (unused), money (unused - considered handing to a bum in Georgetown, but he didn't ask), inhaler (used once), Chapstick (used), car keys, M&M's in a tube (tasted yucky - contents given back to nature), tissue pack (2 used), the kitchen sink and probably a few more useless things!! Needless to say, the pack was heavy and I had a sore spot for days afterwards where the pack rested on the back. Lesson #3 - I don't need all this crap! I love the GU - so take that in individual packs - and eliminate a bunch of the rest, especially when aid stations are available.
Okay, onto the run. The first 3 miles are from Maine Avenue, across the 14th bridge, up the bike path to Roosevelt Island. Feel like I am going too fast but it takes 37 minutes to get to Roosevelt Island. This was the only part with wind. I am by myself after the 1st mile. Considered just stopping and going back after getting to Roosevelt Island, but kept thinking how we changed our travel plans so I could do this run, and I was going to do this run!! Lesson #4 - Don't do this event again. Well, maybe one more try.
The next part was on trail along the George Washington Parkway. I liked this part because it was near the Potomac River. I got to Potomac Overlook area and had to follow streamers into the park. I managed this okay. This area is beautiful with high rock walls. In the park, there was a scout working on his eagle scout project with about 15 helpers throughout the area. There were also lots of stream crossing which were fun to do. I found the aid station (changed to a lighter shirt) and then tried to follow the directions to get out of the park and back to the trail along the parkway. Think I got a bit lost and then ran into 2 of the others - Patty and Marge - who were definitely lost. I used my orienteering instincts (and dumb luck) and guided us out of there. Lesson #5 - Try to pay better attention to verbal directions.
I now had someone to stay with - I was familiar with the next part and they weren't. Also, the next section was all climbing over rocks. Very slow. The following part was fairly nice trail, though now my knee is aching pretty much all the time. We go into Fort Marcy - this is a really decent part of the Potomac Heritage Trail. Patty and Marge stay with me until I can tell them that there are no tricky parts to the next aid station. I like this area and I run and walk - mostly walk. I liked the company but really had to press to stay up.
I come to Turkey Run Park and the aid station isn't where I think it is. I follow streamers but miss one. Do find an open bathroom and catch up with the Patty and Marge again - they missed the streamers also. Wander around a while and finally find the aid station with Jeanne's assistance. Change to shorts. Lesson #6 - Now why didn't I do this in the bathroom?
Head down the next part on nice trail towards the beltway and the Cabin John Bridge. Bob is on his way back and I describe Norm and ask Bob to tell him I am running late. Knee hurts but managing to move along. Get to the beltway and get photos taken with my new best friends, Patty and Marge. :) Can't carry that disposal camera all day and not take at least one picture!! Some of the guys took an alternate route back from here (see John Dodds report)...
The sane people take the advertized route back to Turkey Run, then Fort Marcy, and then across Chain Bridge to the C&O Canal. Between the beltway and Turkey Run, I fall. I have been stumbling all day and finally go all the way down. Bloody up my opposite knee and get bruises on both knees. Worse yet is the fact that my calf seizes up! That really hurt but was temporary. No major damage, so I pick myself up and keep going. I now have my visible proof of participation. A little later, I come upon a woman and a boy about 8 who stops and observes my leg and asks in a reverent tone "Is that blood?" That was my cute incident of the day. He was so casual and impressed.
At Turkey Run, I catch up with Patty and Marge again. I clean up my leg, drink and eat a bit. Coming out of Turkey Run with about 10-12 miles to go, Larry is designated as the sweeper. I am not moving swiftly but feel fine. I insist that he go ahead and I will make it to the end - I am determined and stubborn. I would feel worse if he had to slow down to the pace that I was managing.
Make it to Chain Bridge (finally - about 6.25 hours) and Norm is waiting. He takes a couple of pictures (can't wait to see those!) and I am off again. Dreading the next part because the knee always hurts the most on the flat parts - and the last 7 miles are on the C&O canal and then through Georgetown to the Tidal Basin to Maine Street and finish. I run a little bit of the next 2 miles and come into Fletcher's Boathouse. Larry, Marge and Patty are the aid station. Have to admit I was glad to see this station still open since I had told Larry he could close it when he got there.
From here on in I walk the whole way. The knee hurts and now the bottom of the opposite foot aches - especially when stepping on a stone, and there are lots of stones. Believe this is the metatarsal business in the ball of the foot area.
The temperature is starting to drop and parts of the trail are in shade, so I plod along as fast as I can to stay warm and try to look like it is normal to be dirty, bloody, bruised, and in shorts on a cool afternoon on the canal. A lady in her spiffy jogging suit stops and in a horrified voice asks if I need to call someone about my bloody knee. She has a cell phone, of course. Yup, I can imagine Roger getting that phone call from me reporting in on my skinned knee. I assure the lady that it happened hours ago and is fine. And it is fine. It is maybe the size of a 50 cent piece without the blood running down anymore - surely not worth the attention.
Anyway, I finish in exactly eight hours - the fact that I could maybe make it in 8 hours kept me moving along at the end. I am very happy but humbled. I was thinking I could knock this out in, oh, maybe 7 hours tops. Though the course was very difficult in areas, it also had 10 very flat, easy miles. So, really, no excuses there. My knee hurting was the result of stopping the exercises for my shins and quads that helped before. I have started them again and won't stop again just because the knee feels good. The knee I banged up falling didn't really hurt until the next day. The airplane trip to Iowa was very difficult. I was stiff and being crammed into the seat with no leg room didn't help. I went to bed around 8 pm each of the next 4 nights.
It wasn't until Thanksgiving morning that I was sure that both knees would make it to the start line of the Turkey Trot 5 miler - a Meyer tradition. Brother-in-law Bruce egged me on, of course... Only three minutes slower than last year. I follow that up with 7 miles on Friday and 11 on Sunday. Got to be ready for December 16 Fat Ass, you know...see you there?