The NEW Potomac Heritage 50K
November 2, 2003

By John Dodds

I have to admit that I had second thoughts about entering the NEW Potomac Heritage 50K. Knowing Kerry's less-than-conventional views on certain aspects of ultrarunning, I was having a hard time imagining Kerry as the RD. After much mental anguish, I decided to do it, and the logic that convinced me was this: it could be worse; I could be the RD.

John DoddsStrategy. At Catherine's and Catoctin this past summer, I tried a new strategy that turned out to be highly successful, yet very easy. I merely showed up for the food after the race. Why run around the mountains on a hot day for six-plus hours when the whole point is to see people at the end and eat food? Of course, you can't keep on doing this because after a while you can't really call yourself an ultrarunner. So, I decided that I would run the New Potomac Heritage 50K.

Volunteers. I must confess, I also had some mental reservations about the volunteers listed on the web site, but my mind was soon put to ease just before the race started. Kerry handed me a paper with the course directions on it, and Mike Bur told her to give me another one as I would need it. Say what you want about Mike, I have always found him to be very encouraging and supportive of fellow runners - the kind of guy who if he says he'll run with you the rest of the way, then, by God, he'll run with you the rest of the way. As it turned out, I only got lost 4 times, and three of those times were with other people. Frankly, I think I have turned getting lost into an art form. But I have also developed the skill of getting back on the right trail after being lost. This is a skill I have honed from the back roads of Arkansas to the mountains of Wyoming. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I have studied under the masters, such as Bill Van Antwerp, who will be well-remembered (so long as I keep bringing it up) for these famous words: "I don't know what trail we're on, but I know where we are."

I must also confess that from time to time during the run, I did have a few fleeting thoughts of strangling the people who had marked the trails. For a while there, it wasn't real clear that I was going to make it into Virginia. After a couple "detours," at about 9 a.m. I asked a woman I was running with if she had brought any money. She said yes and asked why. I told her we might need money for dinner. Needless to say, I was so glad when I crossed the Key Bridge. When I got back to Chain Bridge for the final several miles, Peyton asked me if I needed a set of directions. I told him I had one as I pulled out a piece of wet folded paper that I couldn't open up. I took a look at the page Peyton was holding and read the final directions: "follow green neon tape to the finish." I told Peyton that even I could remember that, but he didn't look too convinced.

Don't think that I'm whining about the trail markings. Some say that kids pulled down some of the ribbons. Others might say that there weren't enough ribbons. We all know that this run was heavily subsidized by the VHTRC, and as much financial resources as it has, I am resigned to the fact that even it can't afford to buy enough ribbon to keep me on course.

The course. Actually, it was a nice course, although hillier than I had expected. But what I couldn't figure out is how if the race started and finished at the same place, how could there be 5,000' of descent and 10,000' of elevation gain? And how could it be that from Chain Bridge back to Kerry's house was 3,000' of climb? And why is it that when Sue Baehre caught up to me, I foolishly ran the rest of the way uphill with her? Next time, I would like to see the volunteers doing a better job of enforcing the no-running-uphill rule. And whose idea was it to have us walk stooped over through a culvert on a sloped sidewalk of sorts and then climb a railing to get to Fletcher's Boathouse? Needless to say, it was less fun on the way back.

Food. When I got done I was so hungry. I wolfed down a sausage sandwich. It was the second best sausage sandwich I think I have had. The best one was my second sandwich. I think it was when I was eating the second sandwich that I realized that it was really unnecessary to run for 7 hours when I could have just slept in, taken it easy for most of the day, and then driven across the river to have a relaxing meal. And that's not to mention the amount of food. For example, when I left, Kerry was cooking the last 50 pounds of chicken.

Houston, we have a problem. No race of mine would be complete without some physical catastrophe. I was lucky this time, sort of. It was a warm day, but the heat didn't really bother me. Or so I thought. On the way back through Turkey Run, Jaret made a comment about the heat, but I reminded him that he and I had run Kettle Moraine 100 when it was 93 degrees. All ultraunners monitor the color of their urine during long events. I thought I was drinking enough, but as the day wore on I watched the color of my urine go from clear to yellow to dark orange and at the end it was dark brown. This had never happened to me before, so I asked Scott about it. He explained this all to me and told me to drink a lot and that in several hours I'd be ok. Which turned out to be true (following three grape sodas, two sausage sandwiches, potatoes, and cake). Apart from apparently not drinking enough, I had made the mistake of going in the steam room in the several days before the race. I know that you're not supposed to do that before a race, but I didn't think that would be a problem since it was only a 50K. Live and learn.

Kerry Owens at Crampton Gap on JFK Course It's a small world. Just the other day, I walked into a local restaurant and saw someone who was eating what looked like a pretty appetizing dinner. I guessed what it was off the menu and ordered it. It wasn't the same thing. Later, he walked by my table, and I asked him what he had ordered. Before long, we were talking about running since he noticed I was wearing a running t-shirt. This is pretty much what I wear nowadays because after running just over 6 years, I have 3,947 t-shirts. Anyway, he was a runner and at one point we were talking about particular people. Out of the blue, he asked me if I knew Kerry Owens. I wasn't sure how to answer the question since I didn't know if my answer could ever be used against me. But I said I did and asked why. He said she can do some pretty stupid things. I feigned surprise and politely asked what he meant. Of course, I was thinking, man, this is too good to be true as I listened attentively. He said that Kerry had hurt her foot in "her event" (the 50K) and that she then decided to skip the Marathon in the Parks. However, he said she ran from her house up to the race, ran some of it to the finish, and then ran home, thus running more than the marathon distance. Not wanting to get into an argument in a public restaurant with someone I had just met, I agreed that indeed that was pretty stupid. While we probably could have swapped "Kerry-does-some-pretty-stupid-things" stories for the rest of the evening, I had to leave.

(As an aside, I would just like to point out to Bill Gentry and Brian McNeill that I should get extra credit for using the word "feigned" in the previous paragraph.)

Final thought. As I look back on this event now, I ask myself why Kerry would want to spend months planning this, arranging for volunteers, marking trail, keeping up a web site, begging the VHTRC for money, cooking the food, and allowing 60+ trailrunners into her home to do normal people things like taking a shower or using the bathrooms. But to ask the question is to answer it as well: Kerry can do some pretty stupid things. And, of course, we're all glad she does.


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