This is easily my favorite race of the year! It’s usually a week or two before Christmas and because most people are outside of their major training seasons they are just there to have fun with it.
Coming into the race, my primary goals were simple: 1) not re-injure myself, and 2) set a new PR. The last time I ran this race, two years ago, my dad bet me $1,000 to finish in under an hour, and I couldn’t do it – I finished in 1:01:58 (which was still a PR). All season long I have been smashing this in my training runs, but I know my fastest times for the season are behind me right now. I was realistically expecting to come in somewhere between 52:00 and 55:00.
I was nervous about this race for multiple reasons. First, I’ve only run outdoors in the cold a handful of times because of my injury rehab; second, it was my first run in my old shoes since injuring myself at Baltimore (more on that another time); and third, because the temperatures were forecasted to be 32-37, right at that annoying point where it’s cold, but not COLD. The night before I spent almost two hours going back and forth between what I wanted to wear – but I finally settled on ColdGear tights, smartwool socks, HeatGear long-sleeved shirt, and gloves, with a ColdGear long-sleeved shirt in reserve in my bag.
I misjudged my travel time and ended up getting there about 20-30 minutes earlier than anticipated (I always forget there’s no traffic at 6:00am on a Saturday!) but I got prime parking for easy exit after the race. After reluctantly parting with the heat in my car I walked over to the start area and man was it cold! (duh, it’s December) It wasn’t windy, but just that kind of cold that bites right through whatever you’re wearing. I always remember the tent being warm, but I think that’s mainly from the collective body heat – there weren’t enough people in it that early to heat it up yet!
The first thing I did was get my timing chip, pin my bib on, and use the porta-potty (ah, fresh, unused porta-potty – a runner’s race-day dream come true!). For the coffee drinkers, Zeekes had coffee available all day, and there was a DJ and a band playing. Outside the tent were two massive and lovable Irish Wolfhounds – the “official” mascots of the race. Lots of people were dressed for the season, ranging from ugly sweaters to sparkly red and green skirts to full-on Santa and elf costumes; a number of the guys had on kilts, as is tradition.
All morning I continued my internal debate about what to wear. I had decided to stick with the HeatGear shirt – until 10 minutes before the start and I walked outside. Holy cow was it cold! I quickly went back in to the tent and changed my shirt, before heading off to the start area to warm up (although I’m pretty sure I felt colder after my warm-up than I did before). Waiting, I noticed that my fingertips were tingling and my toes and forefeet had gone numb. Not cool.
The race is officially “opened” by the race director, the Irish Wolfhounds, the bagpipers, and those who have run the race every year walking through the crowd to the start.
Just a few minutes later we were off! The first half mile or so is uphill, then we turned off to a small road, which was far too narrow for the size of the crowd at this point. I’m all for people running for fun, but I was far from the only person who was irritated about having to dart around “fun runners” three- and four-abreast and people walking uphill this early in the race; I easily lost about 30-40 seconds. I could feel my Achilles grumbling with every cold step, especially when I had to run in the uneven grass alongside the path. I strongly believe that everyone who wants to run should run, but all runners, regardless of ability or speed, need to be honest with themselves about where they start in the pack. It’s not about being snobby, it’s about being safe and fair for all involved.
Somewhere around a mile the course opened up and the crowd thinned just enough. I hit my cruising pace about this time, choosing to run by feel and avoid looking at my Garmin. Around mile two feeling finally returned to my fingertips and toes – woohoo!
Every time I’ve run this race before I’ve had to walk at least once on the half-mile climb to the turn-around point – not this year! This year I barely even noticed that it was a hill. Regardless of how the race turned out, I knew that, despite late-season injury, all the training this year had paid off.
Just before the turn-around I saw Melissa heading back, which signaled that I was keeping a healthy pace. A bit further on the bagpipers had relocated to the course and were playing for us, which was a nice pick-me-up.
After the turn-around, it’s an easy return, with half a mile downhill a short-ish up-hill section, a meandering mile and a half that’s mostly flat around the lake, and then just under a quarter mile downhill to the finish. I looked at my watch a few times, noting that I was holding pretty steady at around a ten-minute mile. Not bad considering the last two months!
As we made the final turn off of the lake loop, I looked at my watch – I had just over 2 minutes to cover the last ¼ mile. I knew it would be pushing it, but I picked up the pace and as soon as the path straightened out to the downhill I pushed all the way to the end (thank goodness Melissa and I would occasionally do sprints at the end of our long runs this summer!). I knew it would be close so I made sure to run the tangents as much as possible (other runners be damned!), turned the last corner (when did the bridge between that corner and the finish line get so wide??) and crossed the finish line sprinting – and finished in 50:00 even! Yes, I’m kinda peeved that I couldn’t’ve cut one more second off somewhere to get a 49:xx time, but I gave it everything I had and blasted my old PR out of the water. I have officially PRed in every race but one this year. I think it’s safe to call 2014 a success!
After a quick pit-stop to let my stomach calm down I made my way back to the tent for the most important treat of the day – Boordy Wassail! Yes, I can (and do) buy this stuff at any store, but race-day wassail is sooo much sweeter. They had an impressive spread of cookies, bananas, and apples (I’m also vaguely remembering oranges). The tent was buzzing with adrenaline and holiday spirit and the band was great. I ran into an old friend and some people I know from training, cuddled with the Wolfhounds, and then called it a day.
If you’re ever in the Baltimore area and looking for a great December race, I highly recommend this one. Roughly 5,000 people run it each year and the race swag is always fantastic. This year was the 15th anniversary, so they went all out on the swag – a men’s Brooks running jacket. It can be a bit pricey for the distance, but is totally worth it, hands down.
Next year I would like to see them address the early log-jam a bit better. I’m not sure if a wave start is strictly necessary, but there does need to be a better system for segregating the start-line by pace (and encouraging people to be realistic about their pace) or letting fewer people through at a time. That said, I can’t wait to run this race again next year!