NOTE: I have added to the end of this race report at the very bottom with a quick recap of my 2016 Stone Mill 50.
My last race was Blues Cruise 50k on October 4th. After that I had planned on running the DWG 50k Fattass. I wasn’t sure how I would do there as I had been working on my speed, and neglecting my climbing. Once I felt recovered enough after Blue Cruise, I ran a couple hilly workout until I realized that my girlfriend and I had tickets to see comedian Bill Burr in Philly the night before the race. We got the tickets months ago and I didn’t realize the date. We had talked about staying that night in the city, and even if we came home, I wouldn’t get much sleep. Then I found out that DWG 50k started at 6am!!! With a 1.5 hour drive, there was just no way. I withdrew my entry for DWG.
I felt like I was on my way to being prepared for another race and I just mentally was geared up for one more before winter base building. Last year I had looked at Stone Mill 50 Mile and I can’t remember why I didn’t run it. Looking at races within a 3 hour drive in November there weren’t many options, so Stone Mill with its $45 entry fee became a top option. I tried talking a few friend into running it with me. I’m not a fan of long drives alone, and it’s always fun to run races with your friend. I got exactly ZERO takers. My friend Matt considered it then decided he didn’t feel ready for a 50 miler yet. But he had plans in nearby Baltimore the night of the race and his wife was driving down. So he volunteered to drive down and crew me, I just needed to drop him off in Baltimore after the race. He also had a friend that lived just 25 minutes from the race… so we could have a free place to stay!
We stopped for sushi in York on the way down (veggie for me of course) and got to his friend’s near Silver Springs around 9pm. We hung out for a bit and got ready for at most 6 hours of sleep. I was getting everything ready for the race and realized that I forgot my contact lenses. I rarely run for even a few miles with glasses. When I get sweaty they just want to slide off my face. I was so mad at myself for forgetting them.
I chose to wear the Pearl Izumi Trail N2 v1, Swiftwick aspire socks and The North Face’s Better Than Naked/ Long Haul shorts with Asics ASX running briefs. I wore CEP calf sleeves for warmth. Sort of like arm warmers for my legs. It was supposed to be 38º at the start with 8-15mph winds all day. Pants would have been too warm though. I wore two t-shirts (Salomon as base then Brooks over it) with pretty thin Brooks arm warmers with thin Manzella glove liners. I wore my Ultimate Direction AK vest with a UD 24oz bottle in the back. That’s become my standard. I also wore a Sweatvac beanie. I considered changing to a cap later, but the beanie helped keep my glasses on!
So I’m obviously not very loyal to any manufacturer to the point where I wear all of their gear. I wore products from NINE different manufacturers. I found that to be amusing.
We got there with maybe 25 minutes to spare. No line at bib pickup, so I quickly grabbed my swag bag, bib and shirt. As I was getting my gear ready and talking to Matt about where I’d need him to resupply me with GUs I noticed chips on people’s feet. I then remembered hearing the woman say something about a chip being on the back of the bib. After asking some runners nearby I realized I was required to put the chip on my shoe!
This year the race was also the RRCA Maryland 50 Mile State Championship… so naturally I looked around a little and sized up the other runners. Anytime “Championship” is added to a race, the competition tends to get stiffer. I started a couple feet from the starting line and off we went. We ran out of the school lot, up the road to and made a left onto a sidewalk along another road. The first mile was on road. From the start two runners took off and made a gap so large after 1.5 miles I never saw them again. They would go onto finish 1 and 2. For the first few miles I tried to stay relaxed and not push at all, while also not dogging it. The trails were winding with rolling hills but very runnable, which was nice as I don’t have a ton of experience running with a headlamp. I ran behind two guys (I’d later find out they were brothers) both wearing bright orange long sleeve shirts. They looked, talked and ran like good runners. Sitting behind them was not a problem for me. Sometimes it can be very beneficial to quickly identify runners with similar goals and abilities and stick with them. It’s better than chasing someone much better than you, or hanging back too far for the company. A runner passed us in what seemed like a 7:30 mile. I thought mile 2 was very early for a “move”, but to each their own. I never saw him again but he didn’t finish in front of me. I believe he made a wrong turn somewhere. Before the first aid station another two runners passed me for a bit and the two orange guys started to run ahead a bit. After that aid station, I’d be in the top 6 all day, trading places back and forth with 3-4 other runners.
The aid stations were very close together for such a fast race. At the first one our group stopped and the first place female skipped the aid station and passed us. Team Orange Shirts (that’s the name I gave them) chased her and not far ahead I saw the three of them for a while. Lots of place swapping in 4, 5 and 6. Somewhere around 15-20 miles Team Orange Shirts stopped (I think one took a bathroom break and the other waited) and a new friend named Nate and I passed them and caught up with First Female. I ended up running with Nate for nearly 30 miles. He’s a great guy and he helped the miles go by. Kyle from Ohio ran with us as well, occasionally moving ahead.
The course followed runnable rolling hills as it takes you to the C&O canal. There you fun the flat but very slightly uphill canal path for 3 miles. Kyle from Ohio went ahead while Nate, First Female (Caitlyn) and I ran in a group. She said she qualified for Boston during a recent race that went down the same canal path. Kyle said his friend faded back but would probably surge late for a sub-7:30 finish. That stuck in my head for the rest of the race (but he never did catch up). A member of Team Orange Shirts (Josh) came flying up on us after I looked back and saw no one behind us. He had to be running 7-7:30 miles. I told him it looks like he was waiting for the second half to start racing. I assumed he was one of those guys that take it very easy then blast the end of a race. I didn’t expect to see him again. Nate just wanted to break 8 hours (it was his third attempt there) and First Female just wanted to break 9 (and win of course)! Her 9 hour goal surprised me because at that point we were just over a 7 hour pace. I think sub-9 wasn’t going to be a problem! I think she got nervous about getting caught, so she pushed ahead a bit. Kyle then her were just ahead of Nate and I, but we were all running the same pace. I kept trying to keep my heart rate in the mid-150s and if I lost them, I wasn’t going to chase. Still too early.
Around 30 mile in I started to push a little and come closer to the redline. I broke away from Nate and First Female and didn’t see either of them until after they finished. At that point I was 4th. My GPS was way off (same with others I talked to) so I can only estimate my 50k time. It was around 4:30-4:40 which was pretty good. I didn’t realize that stretch was 7 miles between aid stations. I felt like I was running faster but a combination of running alone and not getting to the next aid station made me feel like I was running slower. At that stage of a race, you may feel like your effort is way up, but your pace can remain the same or even slow. I finally got to the aid station and I asked how what mile I was at. It was 37.5 and they told me there was a water stop couple miles ahead then the next aid station as at 40, so it was single digits after that. I tried to keep up my slightly elevated effort while hoping to have a good push in the last 10 miles. I skipped the water stop and pushed on.
After a couple more miles I couldn’t believe my eyes. I saw a flash of an orange shirt through the woods. It was Josh. It was hard to tell how far ahead he was as the trail could be fairly straight or very windy. In the next mile I’d catch a glimpse then he’d be gone. At one point I saw him walking a hill. That’s when I thought I may catch him. This course had hills, but nothing that wasn’t runnable. He flew by us on the canal path and now he’s walking a hill. But he kept running at a decent pace so I wasn’t making up much ground. Then I saw him take a 30 second walk break on a flat section. Now I knew I would catch him. I slowly reeled him in. We chatted a bit. He said he wasn’t feeling great. Was worried about cramping and asked if I wanted to pass. I declined, ran behind him for a few miles and enjoyed the company after close to 10 miles alone. He would pull away a bit then slow back down and I just tried to stay steady. I asked to pass just before the 40 mile aid station. We pretty much came into that together. He wasn’t far behind at all. I left the aid station and I didn’t see him again until after he finished. I WAS NOW IN THIRD PLACE! The rest of the course is the same as the first 10 miles.
Josh would have had to come back from a pretty bad rut to catch me, but you never know who may be kicking the last 10 miles. I tried to push and the wheels started to wobble a bit. Once I hit the last aid station, I had 4 miles left. I had very little energy left. I found myself struggling up these seemingly giant hills (they weren’t, I was just smoked). I didn’t remember bombing all these hill early on. I was struggling and looking back a lot. Luckily no one was there. Once you pop out of the woods you go up and down a couple hills on the sidewalk. They were brutal. Just looking up an a long stretch of uphill pavement… not a good feeling. I just kept telling myself I was so close to the finish as we weren’t on that sidewalk long in the beginning.
I got to the school and though the finish in 3rd place in 7:43. My previous 50 mile PR was an 8:22 at Bull Run, so I was happy to come well under 8 hours. I personally have never literally ran that distance. I’ve raced as far as 70 miles, but that included a lot of hiking. I ran every step of this course except for the many, and I mean MANY little creek crossing and some sketchy sections under overpasses. My my stride rate I hit somewhere around 76,500 strides. A lot of running.
I ate a GU every 35 minutes and tried to eat them slowly. I alternated between regular GUs and Roctane. I took a Salt Stick pill on the hour but took two an hour late in the race. I drank a little coke at the last 4 aid stations and a few banana halves. I kept it pretty simple.
There’s just nothing to complain about. The course was well marked. I may have missed a turn here and there but it was my fault. Of course when you don’t see a marker for a while, it freaks you out, but any long stretched without flags were because the was single track with nowhere else to go. Plus the course follows a lot of the Seneca Greenway and Muddy Branch trails… so they’re already blazed. For a trail race, there was minimal confusion as to where to go. It got a little tricky in heavily wooded sections because the trail was buried by leaves. You hear the sound of feet crunching leaves for most of the race. There were some chunks of road, but I didn’t mind that at all. The majority of the course was very runnable trail with nice scenery. The aid stations had more than I needed and the volunteers were great and helpful. They couldn’t stop traffic at road crossing, but volunteer would be there to keep a presence and show us where to go on the other side. I’d definitely run this race again. At no point did I think “this sucks”… and that’s rare.
The race fit in nicely into where I was in my training. 5 weeks after a fast 50k course. I didn’t have a lot of mileage in the weeks before the race, but I knew it could finish a flatter, runnable 50 under 8 hours. Except for the leaves, it’s a great time of the year as well. Nice and cool. Pretty convenient logistically with ample parking, drop bags, etc.
I’m looking forward to a little break, some base building and then looking toward marathon training. Boston Marathon is next for me. Until then, I’m more than satisfied with my 2015 season.
My 2016 Stone Mill 50 Race Report
I type this nearly 5 full months AFTER I ran Stone Mill in 2016. Honestly, it’s a race I’d almost rather forget. I was coming off of running Waldo 100k in August. I trained really hard for Waldo, maybe too hard, and I went it with beat up legs and a mindset that underestimated the difficulty of the race. On a hot day, I was lucky to tie for 10th and to have had a great week in the Pacific Northwest and some great lessons learned. After a couple weeks off I went back into training and scaled back the mileage and took some extra days off. I thought I had a pretty good chance of winning Stone Mill and was excited to get back to a fast 50 miler, where I feel like I might be my best.
The race was a disaster from very early on and never got better. I let 1 and 2 go out hard and settled in with a small group that split and I was with about 6 or 7 runners, one of whom was my Stone Mill pal NATE! I felt pretty good and left the group only to come to an intersection where there were steamers across two sides of a field and a trail going another way. Already lost. The group caught up and they were confused as well. Before the race, we were all aware that an out-and-back section was removed and they added a loop around Copper Lake. When we hit the loop we had no idea how to enter it. We saw two marked trails that seemed parallel. Someone in our group said we were supposed to hit the lake on the way back.
For the rest of the race I missed a turn, stopped and waited for eventual 4th place finisher Daniel Frank to catch up and give his opinion on where to run next, or I ran back to Dan. It was maybe the worst marked course I’ve ever raced on. Some courses had a bad spot here and there. This was bad spot after bad spot. By halfway Dan and I realized we were supposed to run the lake loop on the way out and the leaders were probably behind us. A volunteer said that a Course Marshall didn’t show up at the critical loop entrance and that many runners missed it. We were told to run in on the way back.
Now I don’t want to bash this race. I really liked it the first time I ran it. But I don’t know if they just had a bad day or if they don’t care. I guess next year I will ask around and see if improvements were made. I certainly WON’T be running this race next year or ever again unless there is more attention paid to marking the course for runners who aren’t local. It was too easy to get lost and too easy for runners to cut the course. Hell, the winning female, my friend Mary Beth Strickler, ran right past the school where the start/finish was. There was no markings or sign at a 90º turn. I mean COME ON!!!
I ended up 3rd again and I still believe I could have won. Here’s to hoping I hear good things about Stone Mill in a year.