The Trail Triple Crown is a series of three trail races--a half-marathon, 10K and 5K--sequenced so a reasonably fit runner can run all three races in one morning. This year, in response to requests from fifty-state marathoners, we also offered a new marathon--twice around the half-marathon course--and added a free Survivors' Barbeque afterwards. The whole event is sponsored by Head of Christiana Presbyterian Church with support from the Traildawgs, a local running club, and all proceeds are split evenly between four local faith-based homeless shelter programs: Meeting Ground, Friendship House, Elkton Men's Shelter and Emmaus House. This was the sixth year we have put on the Triple Crown. The event is staged from the Carpenter pavilion at White Clay Creek State Park, Newark, Delaware.
The initials "MSM" on this year's race shirt commemorate my father, Malcolm Stillman Mackenzie, who died in December. He ran cross-country in college, fought in Burma in WWII, raised three successful kids and practiced medicine until he was 80. Over the last two years he suffered from a rare type of parkinsonism, but his warm personality and sense of humor remained intact to the end. I once heard him respond to a picnic invitation: "No thanks, I've been on a picnic." This year's Triple Crown somehow reminded me of that.
The Triple Crown marathon attracted over 200 people from 43 different states. These weren't just any marathoners, however. They mainly represented two fringe sub-cultures in the running world: fifty-staters and trail-runners. Fifty-staters are runners pursuing a life objective of completing a marathon in each of the fifty states. Some people collect souvenir spoons; others collect marathons. Who are we to judge? Obviously all this traveling requires some disposable income, which means these people are typically older than the average marathoner, and having done a lot of marathons, they are not concerned about running fast times. The marathon is a special ritual to be celebrated, documented, remembered. Our fifty-staters had all done lots of big city marathons, but few had done a small-scale trail race before. In the weeks prior to the race I received anxious emails from all over the country. The trails are paved, right? We want finisher medals! How big are the hills? How deep is the creek? Why isn't there a bridge? Where will the pre-race expo be held? How about the pasta dinner? Course maps? Trail races don't generally include expos, pre-race pasta dinners or finisher medals, and we're not very good with maps. Nevertheless, as trail races go, the Triple Crown is pretty cushy. We actually got a park permit, and we got lots of nice volunteers to do traffic control and hand out water along the course.
The other fringe element was the trail-runners, of course. It's not enough to just run any old 26.2 miles. You need to include lots of mud, rocks, roots, creek crossings, briars, fallen trees, lung-busting hills, poison ivy, ticks and other features to make it interesting. Getting lost is part of the game. Finish place might matter, but finish time...who cares? Any finish feels like a win. Actually, on the 0-to-10 difficulty scale for trail races, the Triple rates only a 2 or 3. For real hills, plus swarms of yellowjackets, try the Conestoga 10-miler. Or the Escarpment Run, an 18.6-mile point-to-point over a series of mountains in the Catskills, no road access points, and at the last summit you pass a crashed airplane and realize anyone who might have survived the crash died on the mountain anyway. Or the Catoctin 50K (31 miles) trail, where General Wallace of the Union Army erased all the blue blazes to slow the advance of General Jubal Early's Confederate army on Washington, and the marks haven't been replaced yet. The Mountain Masochist 50-mile..the Western States 100...the possibilities are mind-boggling!
People in glass houses.... I am a frequent marathoner myself, and it's become obvious to me that most of the world takes a pretty dim view of our sport. Doing one marathon is okay to prove a point or something, but if you do more people start suspecting you are a really slow learner or a masochist. Remember how your family and friends came out and cheered you through your first marathon, and were so impressed when you finished? They don't do that any more, do they? That's why we're here. Most people don't understand you, but we do. But I digress....
Since the demise of the Delaware Marathon and the Mid-Atlantic Cross Country Challenge, there has been no marathon in Delaware "with all the fixin's," so we had a backlog of eager fifty-staters from all over the US ripe for exploitation and willing to pay whatever we asked ($35) to run whatever marathon course we specified. I should point out here that the Traildawgs do offer several less-publicized alternatives in Delaware. Carl Camp organized a fat-ass format 50K last summer: no fee, no frills, no wimps and no whining. We had to keep that semi-secret, but 30+ people showed up, mostly carried their own water and finished well before dark. A few fifty-staters discovered Stumpy's Marathon last September, another below-the-radar event held at the Middle Run Natural Area, where every finisher earned a handshake from Stumpy himself and a souvenir rock. We're planning a HUMP Run at the end of May, about 38 miles of trails around the perimeter of the entire PA/DE park/preserve system; finishers get hot dogs. So the Triple Crown is not the only marathon in Delaware, itjust offers the nicest souvenirs.
We made a number of changes this year. As a compromise between the concerns of the fifty-staters about running through the creek and the desires of the hard-core trail-runners for as much wilderness experience as possible, I revised the half-marathon course to eliminate one of the two stream crossings on the course and use some newly-opened trails. I got custom finisher medals for marathoners. We added a seventh (self-serve) water stop at the aluminum gate on Thompson Station Rd. above the park office. We decided to have the Star-Spangled Banner played before the marathon and half-marathon, and Lucy Marianiello organized a wind quartet to play it. We added some unadvertised goodies at the Pleasant Hill Rd. aid station. I even got a food permit for the barbeque, and had about 80 pounds of hamburger, veggie-burger and hot dogs stuffed in my freezer.
Teams of Traildawg volunteers marked the trails on Friday afternoon in beautiful weather. I was still creaky from running Boston four days earlier, and just limped around in the Carpenter parking lot giving confused orders. Fortunately the trail-marking volunteers knew what they were doing anyway. Various fifty-staters had arrived in town and were jonesing for a big expo to go to for packet pickup, but since we didn't have an expo, they showed up to check out the park and see if we were for real. I met Dean Rademaker, dean of the fifty-staters; Chuck Bryant, who would be our last and toughest marathon finisher the next day; lots of others.
The rain started on Friday night. This was the first time in six years that we had significant rain at the Triple Crown, but we couldn't worry about it too much. The rain might reduce race-day registrations for the 5K and 10K, but our core groups of fifty-staters and die-hard trailrunners weren't going to let a little rain get in the way of a race. The park manager opened the front gate at 6AM and the cars quickly filled the parking lot. We directed overflow parking to the adjacent field. After we got through the initial organizational chaos, got the clocks set up and processed a lot of race-day registrations, I called everyone together and the quartet played the Star-Spangled Banner. We got 200+ marathoners to the starting line, I explained that most of the chalk marks defining the course would be washing away so people should just use their imaginations as needed, Rev. Kit Schooley said a brief prayer and the race went off at 7:10 AM in a steady drizzle.
The chalk marks actually held up better in the rain than I had expected. There was some misdirection at the second water/traffic station, but people eventually got across the bridge to the other side of White Clay Creek and ran the Possum Hill, Pleasant Hill (David English) and Great Good Place loops, then forded (or swam) the rain-swollen creek and got back to the turnaround point at the pavilion. Some runners had the good sense to quit right there, but the rest headed out for more. On the first circuit some people went astray at the Chambers Rock bridge, a few people missed the turn off the Possum Hill loop back across Pleasant Hill Rd. (the boombox at the aid station there had shorted out from the rain) and ran that loop twice. A few got lost on the Great Good Place loop. A few missed the turn marks after the creek crossing, and one couple ran a detour of several miles north into Pennsylvania.
Since the conditions were more difficult than most people had anticipated, and many of our fifty-staters were planning on running the Jersey Shore Marathon the following day, we had a higher-than-normal drop-out rate. The trails along the creek had turned to shoe-sucking mud by the time people were on their second circuit. It is safe to say that wet shoes, which had been a worry for some people prior to the race, no longer seemed like that big an issue. People got to rinse off in the creek, but the mud bank exiting the creek crossing was a slippery, filthy mess. The rain only got heavier through the morning. The volunteers hung in there and did their best to sustain the runners' spirits, we struggled to keep the aid stations stocked, and the runners kept at it like kids who couldn't stay out of the mud. We even had a volunteer out in the creek help some exhausted runners get across.
Greg Calloway finished first in 3:12:40. Only five runners finished in under four hours. Julie Gerke was first woman and 12th overall in 4:24:08. We ended with 182 filthy, soaked finishers, of whom only 50 finished in under five hours. Complete results are posted at www.traildawgs.org/tc/marathon_results_2003.html. Most people ran their slowest-ever marathon times. Some finish tags were so shredded that I couldn't read them, so a few people are listed as "illegible." Any finish was a win. After five hours we let the volunteers knock off. They left the aid stations stocked for self-service, and that seemed to work okay.
We decided to keep the barbeque going an extra hour or more and bought a lot more food so we could feet the late finishers. The grass next to the pavilion was completely flooded from people hosing off mud. Many people showed signs of hypothermia and needed warm dry clothes and calories fast. The exit lane from the overflow parking on the field had become a mud pit, and the park rangers spent several hours spreading straw for traction and pushing peoples' cars out of the mud. By 5PM Geoff Franklin and I made sure everybody was in and all runners' cars were gone from the parking lot. I promised the park manager we would restore the damaged turf in the field, and we dismantled the finish and got the pavilion cleaned up. I did a circuit through the Carpenter area to clean up course marks. It was over. It had been ugly as hell, but I guess you could call it a success since nobody died.
Of course the next day was sunny and beautiful again, and the Jersey Shore Marathon had great weather. (In 2002 we got the beautiful weather and they were almost blown away in a major storm the next day.) My Traildawg buddies and I had the entire course cleared of marks before 11 AM the next morning. By the following Monday all the muddy straw in the parking area had been raked into windrows to dry, then trucked to a dumpster, and the field was raked and reseeded. The park will let us put the race on again next year.
Now I've had lots of people mad at me before, but I must admit I felt some trepidation opening the first few emails from runners. Fortunately the feedback was mostly very gracious and favorable. People could have trashed us in the reviews posted at marathonguide.com, but they didn't. We could have been slammed any number of ways for putting on such an idiotic event, but since we freely admitted it was an idiotic event, people got into the spirit of it.
The half-marathon is a great race distance. My half-marathon PR suggests I should have a much faster marathon finish than my actual marathon PR, and if I had any sense I'd run more of them. They're healthier for you; you recover from them a lot faster than from marathons.
Our half-marathon course, which the marathoners ran twice, is very scenic, especially when it's not raining and the trails aren't deep mud. It loops through the Carpenter campground, down to the Hopkins Rd. and past the Nature Center, then up the creek and over the Chambers Rock bridge. (Here's where some volunteers got confused and misdirected some people.) A short stretch of pavement to the first trailhead at the park office, then over to the Pleasant Hill Rd. crossing (aid station with M&M's and Gatorade), around the Whitely Farms loop in the Possum Hill area counterclockwise, back across Pleasant Hill Rd. to the David English trail counterclockwise, then across Thompson Station Rd. at the aluminum gate to the Great Good Place loop clockwise (my pick for prettiest trail in the county). Then ford the creek, immediate RIGHT and then left at the PA Preserve sign, south down the Peltier trail, right onto the narrow trail over the fallen trees, through the bramble patch and tick-infested meadow, and down the Arc Corner trail. Cross Hopkins Rd. at the monument, up the hill, through the main trail of the Carpenter area life course, around the edge of the picnic area and a final climb to the finish in the field. That's how it works in theory, at least. It's been wheel-measured. Your mileage may vary, of course.
The marathon is the first of the three Triple Crown races. The 2003 version began with another playing of the Star-Spangled Banner by the wind quartet, some instructions and a send-off prayer. About 110 runners went off in the rain at 7:40AM, following the marathoners. We had good luck the previous two or three years with nobody getting lost, but this year the half-marathoners had similar problems with some mis-direction at Chambers Rock Rd. At the Pleasant Hill Rd. aid station they were well-commingled with the marathoners, and Bob Auer was frantically scooping water and Gatorade for 300+ runners coming from both directions while his boombox sputtered in the rain.
This year's half-marathon winner was Mike Woodman in 1:42:17, followed by master winner Tom Jermyn in 1:43:58. Mike would go on to win the Triple Crown series. Tom had better sense. Triple-crowner Mark Ginn was third in 1:46:15. Female winner was Tara Eppinger in 2:03:57. Female master winner was Laurie O'Connor in 2:11:32. Joanne Abbruzzesi and Kris Kuss (Boca Babes TC team) were second and third women in 2:06:05 and 2:10:56 respectively. The half-marathoner finishers got first crack at the bagels and other snacks at the pavilion.
Complete half-marathon results are posted at www.traildawgs.org/tc/tc_results_2003.html.
At the end of the half-marathon we had 21 individual runners and five of six original teams still in the Triple Crown competition.
The rain and mud made for slow half-marathon finish times, so I delayed the half-marathon awards until after the 10K start, which was slightly delayed itself, and by that time some of the award-winners had left for warm showers and dry clothes. I could understand. I had been wet for four hours and was starting to get pretty chilly myself.
Our 10K course is perhaps the easiest to run, "easy" being a relative concept here. It is run in the reverse direction of the other races, descends the steep hill to the Arc Corner Monument, and is relatively flat from there until the final two hill climbs back in the Carpenter area.
My recall is that the rain intensified through the morning, but then my recall gets a little fuzzy here. Actually things got a little easier to manage from here on. The only people left on the east side of White Clay Creek were marathoners and supporting volunteers; the remaining races were entirely west of the creek where there was much less likelihood that runners would go astray. I had to delay the start of the 10K by a little more than ten minutes in order to give the Triple Crown runners their allotted 2:30 finish and recovery time. Kit and I got the 10K off by 10:15 after the usual instructions and another prayer.
After the 10K start we had the first marathon finishers come in, and we checked on the well-being of a number of slower marathoners who were just completing their first loop of the course. I was worried about the condition of a number of marathoners. Some quit, others chose to continue. I didn't have to pull anybody from the race.
We had 76 10K finishers, about the same as last year. The overall winner was Ryan Pommerening in 43:56. Triple-crowners Mike Woodman and Mark Ginn finished second and third in 46:00 and 46:30 respectively. Josie Shew, the Boca Babes' 10K runner, was female winner in 48:57. Colleen Kelley and Elizabeth Garver were second and third women in 50:30 and 53:14 respectively.
Complete 10K results are posted at www.traildawgs.org/tc/tc_results_2003.html.
At the end of the 10K we had only 14 individual runners and five teams still in the Triple Crown competition.
The rain made for a somewhat smaller 5K turnout than last year. We gave the Triple Crowners their allotted 1:15 finish and recovery time, got 71 runners to the starting line, gave final instructions and a final prayer, and sent them off at 11:30.
The 5K finish was the most exciting of the morning, with a sprint finish by Mark Harrell and Matt Orensky in 19:28. Mark won by a hair. Eric Persak was third in 20:54. Steve Bunville was male master winner in 23:20. Female winner was Julie Karaszkiewicz in 25:00. Fifteen-year-old Erin Munson was second female in 25:52. Diane Kukich, the Boca Babes' 5K runner, was female master winner in 26:46.
Complete 5K results are posted at www.traildawgs.org/tc_results_2003.html.
Triple Crown Results
I dreamed up the Triple Crown seven years ago as a really tough physical challenge. Since I direct the event each year, I can sometimes slip into the half-marathon and run that, but I have never had the chance to complete the three-race series myself. However it is pretty evident to me that running three consecutive, progressively faster-paced races in one morning totaling 22.4 miles is a significantly tougher challenge than running a straight 26.2-mile marathon on the same terrain. You run a half-marathon, then try to let your legs recover some. Then you run a 10K. After the 10K you really have to focus on keeping warm and moving or your legs may not work at all. And then you run a 5K. By now running has become a bizarre experience, your legs feel utterly trashed.
The Triple Crown is scored by sum of finish places among the Triple Crown competitors, low sum wins. In the event of a tie, the runner with the faster half-marathon finish wins. At the end of the 5K there were only 12 individuals and five teams that had completed the 2003 Triple Crown. They all deserve mention here:
AGSX BIB half
10K 5K SUM
1 Mike Woodman M37 76 1 1 1 3 M winner
2 Mark Ginn M34 66 3 2 2 7 M30-39
3 Bob Dougherty M49 205 4 3 3 10 M master
4 Michael Nowaczyk M28 227 6 6 4 16 M20-29
5 Brian Gallagher M37 224 8 5 8 21
6 Laurie O'Connor F46 73 9 7 7 23 F winner
7 Barry Kreisa M48 70 10 9 9 28 M40-49
8 Elayne Dell F28 63 12 11 5 28 F20-29
9 David Alexander M43 225 11 10 11 32
10 Tom Olson M45 223 13 12 10 35
11 Phil Hesser M50 201 16 13 12 41 M50-59
12 Angela Sinn F23 74 18 14 13 45
After the 5K awads, Kit and I computed individual Triple Crown scoring and announced the awards. At that point I was simply too tired and hungry to manage the TC team awards, so I owe those winners an apology for not announcing them, but they include friends who'll forgive me:
The Boca Babes (Kris Kuss, Josie Shew and Diane Kukich) won the overall team championship with five points (2-1-2), edging out Team Staats (3-2-1, Charlene's half and Kerry's10K & 5K) by a single point. Team Lenard was third (1-4-4; I believe this was an individual TC converted to a team--the tags were pretty well destroyed in the rain; otherwise it would be a seventh place individual TC finish). The X-Factor guys had a side bet that whoever was beaten by the most women would buy the beer, and Mike Keating lost that one. The Running Wounded were fifth.
This is tough running! About half the people who attempted this series DNF'ed. The rest of the world didn't dare try.
We had almost 60 volunteers, including a dozen Traildawgs, 35+ members of Head of Christiana Church, plus additional volunteers from Friendship House, Meeting Ground, Elkton Men's Shelter, Emmaus House, St. Mark's School and the University of Delaware. I thank every volunteer who braved the weather to help put this race on, and every hardy athlete who ran it! Many runners gave us extra donations for the four shelters we are supporting--thank you again! And thanks to park superintendent Nick McFadden and his staff at White Clay Creek State Park.
The Triple Crown might be described as a church picnic for maniacs, but it does express our faith and mission. Most people don't understand runners, particularly people who pay good money to run long distances in the mud and get filthy and exhausted, but then a lot of people don't understand Christians either. That doesn't distract us from our purpose though.