The year’s first running event went off without a hitch yesterday. I am happy to report that I finished the race without mishap and now have exclusive access to register for this October’s Marine Corps Marathon – an event which typically sells out in less than three hours.
Rather than the Garmin GPS snapshot I typically use for ride reports, I have posted the race’s course map so readers may quickly discern the elevation data along with road names and distances. No thank you’s are necessary.
I have difficulty writing compelling reports about running events, so those of you who are routinely bored by my cycling reports are forewarned – this will be worse. Running events don’t have nearly as many topics to consider when telling a tale. Consider the distance – eleven miles may be a fairly lengthy route to run but I routinely gloss over longer distances with a mere sentence or two, or perhaps no mention at all. Now I am obliged to regale you with each turn and dip of the road. I am certain you are thrilled at the possibility.
The shorter length is not the only challenge for your humble scribe. Unlike cycling events, there is very little chatter between participants due to the enormous effort spent on breathing. There is little in the way of race strategy; there’s no drafting. There are no breaks for enjoyable meals and the conversations that they frequently generate. It is difficult to bring a camera or to even admire scenic vistas. Alas, the run – at least for me – is basically just a lot of running and hoping I don’t get injured. Although I enjoy the event, I don’t think there is much of interest in me relating to you how I ran as fast as I could and then finished.
Having properly warned you, here goes nothing.
This race started a mere five miles from my house, which made the drive to the start a pleasant change of pace. Spring was still frustratingly absent and the temperature at the start was 31 degrees. This was a relatively small field of runners – only 2,500 due to the narrowness of the course in several points. Because every finisher gains an automatic entry in the Marine Corps Marathon, it is extremely popular. Registration sold out in 40 minutes. After a short opening ceremony featuring the posting of the colors, a prayer, and the national anthem, a starter’s pistol was fired and we were off onto Route 234.
We ran up a gentle rise for 2.5 miles, the men and women of the Prince William County Police Department guarding the intersections en route. It is at these early points in any run where I quickly do a check of my various maladies and determine if everything is settling in properly: inflamed nerve under toes on right foot, plantar fasciitis on right foot, right ankle, right calf, left calf, and left knee cap all were functioning properly. Oddly enough, a pain soon developed on the side of my left foot. That was a new one for me and it mercifully went away by the time we turned into Prince William Forest Park, where we would spend the rest of our race.
The first mile inside the park was on a forest trail which consisted mostly of dirt and stones. I don’t do a lot of trail running so this was a new experience for me. I can’t say it was particularly eventful other than I understood every step was an opportunity to twist my ankle on the uneven surface. That didn’t happen to me and I was pleased to be able to catch up with The Diesel who (as usual) scampered ahead of me on the rather large hill leading up to Scenic Drive.
Scenic Drive was a pleasant paved road in the middle of the forest. It should be noted that it was very quiet due to the fact there were absolutely no spectators on the route. Logistics would not permit anyone besides race volunteers to watch the event from anywhere other than the start and finish lines. The only motivation came in the form of signs the Marines had placed along the route, with phrases designed to capture the “hardcore” spirit for the Marines such as, “I’ve seen pond water move faster” and “Quite whining.” I can’t say they were very motivational for me. Fortunately, I was not relying on placards for my motivation.
After a pleasant three-mile descent to Mile 8, it was time to climb two very nasty hills (see the elevation guide on the map above). I remember riding these hills a few years ago on my bike. My thought at the time was that they were quite steep. My thought on the run was that if they were steep on my bicycle, they’d be hell on foot. I was right. My 8:30/mile pace slowed to a mere 10:30/mile at this point. Then the road leveled off and we once again moved to a very gravelly trail for the final mile.
As is typical for the Marine events, this final mile featured another hill.
In the end, I crossed the finish line with a time of 1:40:35, earning me a respectable if not spectacular 618th place out of 2,500 runners. I quickly met up with my wife who finished a few seconds ahead of me and we stood in a lengthy line waiting for some water, Gatorade, and food. We emerged on the far side of this tent and wandered about a post-race party which featured massage tents, some stretching rollers, more energy food stands, and a local radio station playing music. Eventually we found what we were looking for – the tent that was issuing Finishers’ Coins and a password that allowed for early registration for the marathon. Having secured these items, we beat a retreat to the buses which took us back to the starting line and our car.
We pulled into our driveway at 11:00 AM, a mere four hours after we left for the event. This was a huge change from a typical cycling ride which guarantees an entire day of riding and traveling. It was nice to have some time left in the day to do other things of interest.
As of this writing, I am happy to report no ill effects of the run. I got through it in better shape than normal and at a pace which equaled runs of similar distance last year, despite far more hills and trails. I’m off to a good start on the running portion of the season. Cycling is doing ok, but I need to get some more miles in. Eventually, I will need to put myself in some water and swim a bit, but that can wait for a while yet!