I was running again. This time I participated in the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon, held in “historic” Fredericksburg, Virginia. Truth be told, there isn’t very much about Fredericksburg that is historic, except that on one December day in 1862 several tens of thousands of Union soldiers proved that assaulting prepared defensive works on high ground is extremely unwise.
Despite all of that, the Marines always put on a good event and Sunday was no exception. About 7,000 runners gathered at a convention center on the outskirts of town on a drizzly but warm morning. There were an additional 3,000 runners participating in 5K and 10K races that were being run simultaneously. There was plenty of excitement at the start, what with a Marine band, color guard, town crier, one of the Washington Nationals’ famous Racing Presidents – George Washington, and actor Sean Aniston.
I can now say I’ve run a race with a hobbit. Incidentally, the hobbit beat me by about two minutes.
There was much pre-race drama for me on a personal level. Heavier than expected traffic pushed our arrival back to almost the very last-minute. This made things exciting for a co-worker, who was waiting patiently for me to arrive with the race bib I picked up for him the day prior. I managed to arrive shortly after the invocation and just as the national anthem was beginning. My buddy had about five minutes to spare. I then set about turning on my GPS and grew increasingly frustrated at its refusal to synch with the satellites. After varying amounts of cursing and pleas to an unseen GPS God, the necessary signals were acquired literally as the firing of a cannon signified the start of the race.
I then began to execute my rather unconventional race strategy.
The big (literal and figurative) feature of the race is a large, mile-long hill known as Hospital Hill. It is very appropriate that there is a hospital on the top of this hill – there are plenty of potential patients struggling up it. Most people budget some energy so they can take on this hill. Not me. I decided my only hope of reaching my ambitious goal of two hours was to run as fast as I could on the downhill portions early in the course, build up a reserve of minutes which I would then cash in when it came time to climb.
So off I went at a sub-8:00 min/mile pace, shockingly fast for me. I even left The Diesel in my wake. After three miles of downhill running, I had two minutes “in the bank” and was feeling good.
After four miles, I was beginning to tire. I amused myself while running on Sunken Road by thinking of the thousands of Confederates who once used it as a bulwark against the Federal assault. This did not amuse me for long.
After five miles, I was definitely tired. I tried to eat some energy jelly beans I had stowed in my shorts pocket. This was a mistake and I quickly learned my stomach has a MUCH different reaction to eating while running than while cycling. This added to my distress.
At Mile 6, The Diesel reeled me in. We were in downtown Fredericksburg in a quaint shopping district. She asked me if I was injured and I said no. Then I said goodbye. Then she was gone. She was nursing a strained hamstring but still had a shot at breaking the 2 hour barrier.
By Mile 9, I had used up all the time I had put in my bank and was now running at an even 9:00/mile pace. Hospital Hill was still a mile away and I knew there was no hope for me to meet my race goal. I trudged along the Rappahannock River, enjoyed the view the best that I could, and braced myself for the hill.
Hospital Hill was precisely as advertised. After making the long climb at a 12:00 minute pace, I found the remaining two miles to be a drizzly test of will. I eventually found my way to the finish line at 2:14. Once there, a Marine Lieutenant presented me with my Finisher’s Medal and I made full use of the free water, fruit, pretzels, some tasty banana desert that was served cold, and a cup of beer. The beer was especially nice.
My “middle of the pack” finish for my age group was a little deflating and The Diesel came three minutes short of breaking the 2 hour barrier, her leg injury keeping her short of her goal. Still, she finished in the Top 20% of her age division – a fact that seemed to impress me much more than it did her.
I continue to be impressed with the spectacle of running events. This “small” event of 10,000 runners dwarfs anything I’ve seen around here in the cycling world. Huge sponsorships, mascots, famous actors, great staffing, music at the start/finish and along the course – you name it and it is first class. There’s a lot of fun to be had being part of such an event and it’s also quite nice to complete a significant challenge in a little over two hours. It frees up plenty of time for other worthwhile weekend activities, like napping.
Still, I looked with dismay at my monthly riding totals and see I have actually run more miles than I have ridden. Rest assured, I’ll be fixing that this week.