By Kristen Serafin
This year commemorated the 10th running of the Stone Mill 50 Miler, the 2019 RRCA Eastern Regional 50 Mile Championship. The weather seemed to understand it was a momentous occasion; as race morning dawned, it was chilly and pale. Don’t look up, I reminded myself. After having sprained my ankle twice at a 50K a few weeks before, I didn’t want to be distracted by the scenery when I should be watching for roots and rocks underfoot. The only thing was, I couldn’t. I told myself I would look up for just a second as friends I made at last year’s race ran with me past early dawn steam rising off Clopper Lake. I told myself to focus on the ground when I found myself staring at the red, yellow, orange and green leaves blowing in the wind. When I hit mile 24, along with four other women, I tried to focus on my race strategy and instead found myself enjoying the sun shining off of the Potomac River, blue herons swooping along the waterway and a delicious quesadilla that I had picked up almost right off the grill.
I opened up my stride on the towpath, a 3-mile dirt and gravel section that offers up a great chance to stretch your legs (if you have the energy). I ran through Seneca Stone Cutting Mill (the race’s namesake), an old ruin which once provided the sandstone used to build the Smithsonian castle in Washington, DC. I have to admit, I did look up at this point and promptly face-planted over a root. I jumped up unscathed and continued my run with a new, refocused sense of purpose. When things got tough – as they inevitably do – I couldn’t get over how much I enjoyed the ride.
Stone Mill trails are very runnable, and with the help of great conditions, they helped create exciting races from all fronts. Paul Jacobs opened up a substantial lead after the mile 24 aid station to finish in 6:51:42. Second place went to Eddie Pantoja of Avondale, PA, who finished in 7:21:42. Third and fourth went to Mark Manz, of Durham, NC, and Ryan Johnson, a local from Gaithersburg, MD. First master went to fifth place overall, Erin Kelman, with a winning time of 7:57:55.
As for me? I emerged from the trail at mile 49 in the lead, charged up the hill, rounded the corner and won my first ultra (a sentence I can’t write without grinning ear to ear). A mere 3.5 minutes later, Bethany Patterson came in second place as the top masters female in 8:39:25. About a minute after that, Francesca Conte and Mary Beth Strickler finished within a few yards of each other in third and fourth respectively, both with a net time of 8:41:24.
Stone Mill is a beautiful race under any conditions. The well-stocked and friendly aid stations, serene trails and low price point make it a great event to race, run your first 50-miler, or simply take a scenic tour of the best trails and volunteers that Montgomery County has to offer. Race director Barry Hauptman is proud to have Stone Mill designated as the 2020 RRCA National Ultra Championship Race. You can bet I’ll be back, alternating between looking up and down as I try to enjoy the course and defend my title at the same time.