Race date: October 30, 2016
Before I get into my personal race, I have to start by saying that this was the best race experience that I’ve had of any race I have ever done. The organization is top notch. Every detail was thought of. Everything was done to ensure that every single participant was taken care of and had a fantastic time. I would recommend this event. Highly recommend it.
When I decided to do this race I knew it would be a challenge for me. It has a fairly hilly profile and I’ve never been much good on hills. I mean, who likes to run hills? Add to that the 2 time cut-offs the course has, and the fact that I’m a back of the packer, and I knew I had my work cut out for me.
My training over the 18 week training plan was focused on two things. First, hills. Of my four weekly runs each week, at least two of them included minimum of one giant hill and a few smaller ones, and at least every other week, my Sunday long run was hills, hills and more hills. The second thing my training focused on was consistency. I run 10 and 1s, and have always struggled on long solo runs with talking myself into taking extra walk breaks. With the time cut offs for this race, I needed to keep my pace consistent without the extra breaks if I wanted to ensure that I would make the cut-offs.
Training went amazingly well. By the end I had learned to run the hills at the same effort as the rest of the run as opposed to trying to keep up the regular pace, and all those hills and long solo runs had taught me discipline. I could run 10 and 1s all day. At least up to 35 km which was my longest training run in the cycle. I was so ready for this race!
The weather forecast for race day was unusually warm for the end of October but I had come prepared for any weather that Mother Nature could throw at us. Mike and I arrived in plenty of time to get through security, relax a bit, check our bag and head to the start. The temperature was 16c as I lined up in shorts and tank.
The start was amazing. As two Marine Osprey MV-22B aircraft flew overhead and the howitzer went off to start the race, you could feel the excitement in the air. It took about 15 minutes to cross the line and then Mike was gone and I was on my own.
The first 10 km were my first challenge. Besides the final climb at the end of the race, this was the hilliest part of the course. The part I’d been training for. It starts on the highway beside Arlington National Cemetery and winds through Arlington, Virginia uphill for the first 4 km. I had been afraid that in the excitement of the race start I would go out too fast on those hills and burn out, but I ran them really well. In fact I remember thinking “that’s it? That’s the big hill?” Confidence boosted. The next 4 km was a fairly steep downhill which required some control so as not to speed down and kill my legs. The course was heading into a beautiful wooded valley with a stream trickling alongside the road. It was nice and cool through this area and despite all the runners around me, it felt really peaceful. Two more hills at 8 km and 9 km and we were over a bridge across the Potomac River into Washington, D.C. and through Georgetown.
The second 10 km took us on an out and back along the Rock Creek Trail where I was able to catch a glimpse and a wave to Mike around 13 km, a huge spectator gallery complete with a Marine Corps band and then into East Potomac Park and along the course’s Blue Mile which is dedicated to fallen service men and women and is the most moving tribute I have ever experienced in a marathon. We continued around Hains Point and back through the park. I was still running my 10 and 1s comfortably and a check of my pace band at the mile markers told me I was on pace to challenge my marathon PB of 5:23:27.
The third 10 km held my next challenge. The first time cut-off, The Gauntlet, was at 25 km. Looking at my time, I knew I would make it without a problem. We ran out of the park, past the Jefferson Memorial and into West Potomac Park for another out and back with the Gauntlet at the end of the back part. Still running 10 and 1s easily. Pace still on track. I reached the Gauntlet with an hour and 23 minutes to spare. No problem. Coming out of the park area, turning towards the Washington Monument and onto the National Mall, we were reaching midday and it was starting to warm up with no shade anywhere. Through this area I had started to feel some cramping in my stomach and tried to ignore it but by the time I hit 28 km I decided that I needed to make a stop. I’ve never had gastro issues in a race before and I’ve never had to stop mid-race, but I thought that would be the best option. I lost about 6 minutes at that stop but got back on the road and actually felt better in the crowd I had ended up with. It was a little less dense. Almost immediately I was approaching the second cut-off of the day, Beat the Bridge, at about 29 km with plenty of time to spare.
The Beat the Bridge cut-off was on the Washington side of the bridge. The course ran over to Arlington again. The bridge was about 1.5 km long and at noon when I was going over it, I felt like I was baking. From this point until the end of the race it was open road, no shade, full sun with the temperature getting up to somewhere around 27c.
The next 10km was my least favourite of the course. Besides the full sun/heat, it wasn’t nearly as scenic. Maybe the heat and the waves of stomach cramping I was feeling is affecting my opinion and on a different day I may have a different opinion. It went through the Pentagon parking lot and into Crystal City. To be fair, this section of the course is not part of the usual course. Due to a major public transit overhaul and opening times, in order to allow people to get to the start of the race and still have a chance at beating the Gauntlet and Beat the Bridge, the race organizers decided to move about 2 miles of the course from Washington over to Arlington, into the Pentagon parking lot. This will probably be changed back in future years.
My race was quickly falling apart. Due to the gastro issues I was having, gels and blocks were not going down well after about 25 km and I stopped taking them, so I was not getting any nutrition. I tried some of the other things spectators were offering on the course. I thought that a bagel or something bready might do the trick, so I tried pretzels, a donut hole and animal crackers. Nothing seemed to help. I was still drinking water and electrolytes as much as I could but the heat was playing havoc with my tummy. By this time I was finding it difficult to run more than a couple minutes at a time as I continued to fight the cramps in my stomach. During an out and back in Crystal city, I had to run by my hotel twice at km 36 and 38. On the way out, I spotted a cooler with ice in it and grabbed a bunch to put under my hat. As I continued running, I saw a giant fan on a pole about 15-20 feet above the ground that was spraying water. It was like a wonderful rain fall. I took my time going through it and found it cooled me down and I was able to run a little longer. At one of the water stations along this area, the marines who were working it were actually just holding the jugs of water and pouring it into people’s mouths and letting it fall all over their faces. It was extremely hot for the end of October. Another ice station to grab some ice to melt on my face and neck cooled me down and I was ready to go into the final stretch.
The final 2 km went along the highway that the race started on. I could feel the sun burning my shoulders and back this entire way. The crowds, as great as they had been throughout most of the race, were getting thicker, and as I turned left up the final climb there were tons of people cheering and encouraging everyone to get up that hill. This was the final challenge I had trained for and as hard as it was, I pulled together everything I had and ran up that hill, around a turn and down the final stretch to the finish line.
At the end of most races I’ve run, I have a sense of accomplishment, of pride, and this race was no different. But there was one thing I felt that I never had before. A feeling of frustration. A feeling that I had all these strengths that I had built up over months of training that I hadn’t used. I thought about running another marathon in the next few weeks and Mike and I started looking for options but there were none. So, off season begins, and I start planning for my next big race as I chase my goal of running a marathon in which I can cross the finish line and be satisfied that the race I ran, start to finish, was the best that I could run.
Official Time: 5:54:20