September is supposed to be one of the key peak periods for fall marathoners. Well, my body has decided that it’s going to do this whole marathon thing its way. Going into this race, I had walked 1.4 miles on Monday and run 3.4 miles on the Alter G. That’s it.
After having to bail out of last week’s 18 miler at mile 11 – knowing full well that I could’ve kept going, but that doing so would’ve put the 20 miler in jeopardy – I wasn’t exactly feeling confident about the 20 mile run. I had gotten PENS therapy twice last week and got dry needled and was mostly feeling “better” (a term I use very, very loosely), I didn’t think that the run would be a total disaster, but I wasn’t expecting success, either.
The one thing that made me feel confident about the race? The forecast. Unlike last year’s swampy August 20 miler, where I broke into a massive sweat just cheering on the runners, this year’s race-day forecast was damn near perfect – 60 in the am, going up to around 70, with low humidity and overcast skies. Yes!
It was, admittedly, pretty chilly at the start – being further north and in a valley will do that to you… but we all knew we’d love it once we got moving. I got to the start about 30 min before race time and chatted with my friends. It’s a small race, but many of my training partners were there because it’s 3 weeks out from the Baltimore Marathon – the perfect time for a last 20 miler.
While chatting, one of the women pointed out a runner warming up nearby – Dave Berden, the 2013 winner of the Baltimore Marathon. How cool is it that he was there?? And just before we headed up to the start line, a bus load of runners from the Naval Academy arrived – their marathon team. This race suddenly seemed like a much bigger deal than I thought it was!
It was about a 10 minute walk to the starting line – a perfect warm up. The race starts in northern Maryland, almost at the Mason-Dixon Line, and follows the NCR Trail nearly to the trailhead, and then some. It’s a net-downhill race, but most people would classify it as flat as a pancake if they had to judge by looking at it.
This is a pretty simple race, with little pomp and circumstance, other than the excited nervousness of our last 20 miler of the year. Just a few minutes late, the race started with a bull horn
One of the narrowest points of the trail is near the beginning, which made it a bit crowded while everyone jostled to find the pace and their place, but after about a mile or so, the pack found its rhythm. I started out running with Tracey and Rebecca, my usual running partners (Jennie had run a half marathon the day prior, so she sat this one out), as well as with Anita and Bekky. Their pace is a bit quicker, so they peeled off somewhere around mile 2. We also picked up another woman, Traci-with-an-I, who is running Marine Corp and didn’t know anyone at the race. One of the best parts of running is the camaraderie among total strangers 🙂
Although this was a supported run, my mom was my pit crew for the day, just in case any of my nagging injuries acted up. The girls loved that she was at some of the major cross-roads waving and cheering for us 🙂 Fortunately, my legs were feeling astonishingly good (well, not in absolute terms, just relative to the last 5 weeks), so she just got to be a mobile cheering squad and photographer.
Just before mile 4, a guy in front of us turned to yell something at us, something which we couldn’t understand. It turned out someone had inadvertently kicked a bee hive or hornet nest and more than a few people got stung. Luckily we were all spared, but he had gotten stung, just yards in front of us. Yikes 😦
The next few miles were far less eventful. We chatted like runners are apt to do on a long run, but kept a pretty steady pace. Traci-with-an-I left us around mile 8 to start doing intervals. There were stops for porta-pots, we saw a few horses, and Rebecca’s husband and daughter came out to the trail on their bikes for a little bit.
The next few miles were very familiar, but that also made them feel somewhat long. My legs never really hurt, but they never really felt good either.
I also tried using Fig Newtons as an addition to my usual gel, and I loved it! Gels are all well and good, but they don’t keep that hungry-tummy feel away, and it always creeps up around mile 14-15. I had my usual gel at 14.5 and had one cookie from a snack-pack – it sat a little heavy at first (I don’t think my stomach knew what to do with solid food), but after a few minutes I was very glad I added it to my fueling plan. I will definitely keep this in the rotation for the marathon.
The last few miles were definitely a challenge. Having done the 20 miler before, I knew I could get through it, but with the lackluster training since then, my mind needed a whole lot of convincing. Rebecca started slowing up around mile 16 and told Tracy and I to keep going. I always feel a bit of guilt leaving a runner behind, even when they say to go on without them. She had her music though and insisted, so we kept going.
We kept running as much as we could, even when it hurt, because we both knew that stopping and starting would be more painful. I took one last gel at mile 17.5, because I knew the last mile would be a challenge. I started feeling a bit dehydrated, and the sun started coming out just as the shade on the trail opened up, which was an unwelcome change in plans, but we kept going. We passed one last water stop at what is normally the end of our training runs, and kept going. We crossed the main road and went another 100 yards or so to the turnaround, where Duff catapulted us back around towards the finish (thanks, Duff!). As we came back to the road we just crossed, we turned left and followed the road. The shoulder was pretty narrow, and the traffic was a little disconcerting, but we kept going. The road was mostly flat, but winding at this point, and the space available to us fluctuated. I kept an eye on the road, to make sure I didn’t trip, and an eye on traffic, in case someone felt like ignoring the runners and cones. As I passed my old pre-school, the road dipped down – which meant that the dreaded hill was just up ahead. My legs ached and it was a challenge, but I kept going, one leg in front of the other, when all I wanted to do was walk. Just as I crested the hill, I could hear the cheering and yelling, and I knew I was there. My coaches and some training partners were there cheering people in. I turned into the parking lot, made a u-turn around the island, and there it was – the finish!
In keeping with this being a training run, not a race, I figured my finish time would be somewhere between 3:50:xx and 4:00:xx. We finished in 3:53:01! Despite being tired and achey, I felt surprisingly good at the end. Nothing hurt. I could walk.
I grabbed some water and a few snacks, and went right back to the road to cheer on the remaining runners! It was great to see so many of my training partners looking so strong at the end of such a long run.
With this run done, we are officially in Tapertown!!! Woohoo!!!!