Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Linville Gorge from the summit of Table Rock

Sunday, December 4, 2011

2011 Stone Mill 50-Miler

A small creek crossing early on.
In November 2011, I took part in the Stone Mill 50-miler near Gaithersburg, Maryland. It's held on the same day as JFK (and in the same state) but costs about 1/6 as much and (in my opinion) is a more enjoyable course. The race begins and ends at a local high school and runs on several trails and a few stretches of road/sidewalk. I didn't study the map closely enough and got a bit confused as to where I was in relation to the "overhead" view of the course, but it didn't really matter a lot. There are some unusual sections where you're running through the woods and see people's houses and backyards not far from the trail. It almost feels like you've gotten off-course, but just stick to the path and find the flags, and you'll soon run into a course monitor who will reassure you that you are on the right path. I made two minor wrong turns by missing flags. It's hard to mark every single part of a 50+ mile course, so I'm not complaining. Just take note to use common sense and keep your head up looking for flags--they aren't at ground level, they are at eye level.

I do not wear a GPS or a watch for races and I admit that I hit some later aid stations and was slightly dismayed to learn I wasn't as far along the course as I had expected. Of course, then I later learned that the course was 54.5 miles so that made me feel a bit better. The aid station people were all friendly and helpful and, as best I recall, the stations themselves were well-stocked with what you might need in this sort of event.

The "trail" parts of the course ranged from muddy grass areas to rooty forest areas. Footing was not as technical as in some races, but you did need to be careful. I took a bad spill coming down a hill (not picking my feet up) and had some near spills in the muddy grass area (feet going sideways.) There are a few creek crossings and one "major" one near the final turnaround that includes a rope to support yourself with. This last crossing was ironically refreshing because my feet were a bit hot and sore and the cold water was a temporary relief.

The last thirty or so yards of the course is a nasty hill climb up to the high school parking lot. It makes for a great spectator spot, but it's up to you whether to run or just hike this last stretch.

There were two drop bag locations at roughly the 1/3 and 2/3 points.

Given the low price, there are no finisher's awards promised, though the RD did later send out an e-mail offering to mail people one if they wished. I don't know if that will happen again. We did get a logoed flashlight that was appropriate with the first few miles in the dark on trails (though I carried a mini single-AAA battery flashlight that worked well enough. Plus, I stuck closely behind someone with a headlight for the predawn stretch, saving me from having to carry anything more substantial. The post-race food included pizza but I wasn't terribly hungry and didn't see any that were just cheese.

In summary, it was kind of a low-frills event, but justifiably so, given the low price of entry. For 2012, they have stated that the course will be adjusted to be closer to 50 miles. I don't think anyone particularly cared that it was long, though. It just lowered the cost per mile.

Stone Mill 50 Miler

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