St Mary’s River State Park Trail: Skeeter Alley

Yesterday (Saturday) I went to the St Mary’s County Fairgrounds to work the St Mary’s Crabfest for the Marine Corps League. I spent the day selling raffle tickets, ate two crab cake sandwiches, and sweat so much I wen through 12 of the case of 24 water bottles i bought for the day. A half hour after I got home, I went through my (delayed) Circuit II workout at World Gym. After the abbreviated workout, I came home got money to go to KFC, ate ten Hot Wings and a side of sweet kernel corn, then struggled to stay awake and watch the Chicago Black Hawks beat Tampa Bay to take a 3-2 lead in the Stanley Cup Finals. Fed and happy but tired, I promptly went to bed.

I sounded reveille at 0530 for the run in St Mary’s River State Park for two reasons. First, even though my workout was shorter and lighter, it was still within 12 hours after my gym workout and probably not enough time to recover. Second, 0500 is still way too dark to be running that trail. I did my usual routine for the run: two tech shirts, Body Glide, and Skin So Soft as my choice of insect repellent.

For those of you new to this blog, Skin So Soft is a skin lotion available from Avon. Marines in the field have been using it for years as an insect repellent. Since I started using it last year, it has ben effective every time I use it. For example, I ran a ten mile trail course in Patapsco, MD; the course was in a deep forest known for having horseflies (courtesy of the horseback riders who also used the trail). The course was an ass-kicker (definitely not for novices like me), but the Skin So Soft lived up to the Marine legend. I was sore and worn out, but never got so much as a bite.

Unfortunately, today was the day that I had stretched my Skin So Soft too far. About 2:00-ish this morning, it rained. Aside from all the humidity, the added moisture and standing water helped multiply the legions of mosquitos and other biting insects of the forest, and I guess made them more aggressive.

I got to the course just after 6:00, and took a walk on the back half-mile of the course. I took an old Glow Belt from my Marine Corps days and tied it around a tree, so I could mark the final turn at the 7-mile mark. That would be the last I saw of the Glow Belt.

I stretched out, and then took off on the 7.5 mile trail course. The wooded course had its share of exposed tree branches, especially on the inclines and declines that inhabited short stretches of the course. There were also wooden foot bridges along the trail, but not that many exposed rocks. The trail is well marked; however, around the 3.5 through 4.5 mile leg, there are a couple of trails that intersect with the main course; if you’re not careful, you might miss a turn and find yourself going backwards not forwards.

I started off fine, but running wasn’t the problem. After the 1.75 mile marker, the insects came out in force. Aside from the ever=present spider web zip lines I kept running through, it seems line I was running into a near-swarm of flying insects. My arms and legs were fine, but maybe I didn’t put enough SSS on my face. Or maybe, because of the added pools of standing water and the extra moisture in the aftermath of the rain, it seemed like the ‘skeeters and flies had been out in greater numbers. With their numbers, they had become bolder than I had ever seen them.

As the run progressed, the swarm had gone from annoyance to nuisance to serious impediment to my run. I was more worried about fighting off the insects than concentrating on my run. By the time I hit the 3.5 mile marker, it had become damn near unbearable. I was starting to bet bitten around the back of my neck and on the top of my head, even though I had my MCM running skullcap on. Maybe the SSS was sweating off, because the bugs became more numerous and more intense. I had doubts as to how anybody could conceive of hiking or biking through this mess, then suddenly realized I had been on the course alone this morning. I hit the four mile marker, and all I could think of was getting the run done ASAP. I wanted to get out of the trail, go home, and delouse with a long hot shower. Fatigue, chafing, dehydration, run pace, weight, blood sugar…these had all become secondary issues at this point.

At the four mile mark, two significant things happened. First I realized I lost my pedometer. I clipped it onto my left pocket so could maybe check a split or two; I had lost it somewhere while fighting the insects. I wrote it off as lost for all time. The second thing that happened was that the next mile marker I hit was the 3.5 marker. In fighting with the haze of insects, I managed to get disoriented, and now I was heading back to where I started.

No way to mark my true time/distance, bites starting to appear on my arms, and now I was lost. “Hell with it, just follow the trail and go back.” Technically I would get my 7.5 miles, but I wouldn’t run the full course nor would I get my true running time or splits. At the very least I would finish the run.

Backtracking the route, I at least got a challenge, as there seemed to be more short, sharp climbs coming in then there was going out. The stream of insects dogged me every step of the way, and I was wondering if this was some kind of omen for my training as a whole? I am heavier and have fewer miles than I had, compared to this time last year. I had NEVER been torn up by mosquitos like I had today.

Just after the two mile mark, I ran into a hiker with the hiking/skiing-type poles. I asked him “What insect repellent are you wearing?”

“I’m not wearing any,” he replied. “For me, it’s just the horseflies; I just swat them away until they stop coming. Hey, how far did you get?”

“Just to the four mile marker.”

“Did you drop a pedometer, by any chance?”

Well, well, well! I graciously accepted my pedometer back from the hiker, giving him thanks and hoping that God would bless him as he continued on his hike. I hope he’s felling okay this morning, and not overly stung.

I also ran into two more runners as I ambled toward the starting point. They were either wearing better insect repellent or putting on a brave face, because I had seen them at the part of the course that was rife with the flying biters.

As for me, I churned out the run, looking for the mile markers as the run drew to a close. The last 0.75 seemed to take longer than it should have. The climbs were longer than the drops, and they did take a lot out of me. I was fatigued as I made it back to the starting point, but I was more worried about deer tick bites than the fourteen minute pace I was supposed to be reaching for.

I finished standing up, then shuffled back to the car. Before I led, I encountered one of the other runners, as he emerged from the 7.5 mile finish point. “So, what insect repellent are you using?” I asked him.

“Didn’t use any,” he told me. “It was like this cloud of insects all over my face. Maybe I just didn’t know, eh?”

#######################

This week marks the first week that I actually completed all of my scheduled runs and gym sessions. Which means: I ACCOMPLISHED SOMETHING.

Nice.

I need to tailor my circuit course routines to exercises that are more for working the core (chest/back/abs) and not worry too much about my arms. Have to look into that this week.

To those of you new to the blog, usually I add some sort of music video from YouTube at the end of my post. However, because of the fatigue, insect bites, and lack of breakfast and coffee as of 1045 this morning (as I’m writing this), I must once again elect to blow off the videos. Sorry.

Next time, I will have videos. I promise.

Remember, Father’s Day is next week.

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