Fifty-some-odd (some very odd, if you've seen me!) runners are on a Saturday morning 17 kilometer stroll through the Maryland countryside. We proceed along a winding network of lane-and-a-half roads ... pant past fields of sod, corn stubble, and curious horses ... crawl up and zoom down gentle hills ... and thread the edges of small woods and wide meadows. Pop-pop gunfire greets us as we near a farm owned by the Bethesda-Chevy Chase chapter of the Izaak Walton League --- the sounds of skeet and target shooting. (A decade ago son Merle and I went there with a friend (JB) and remotely punched holes in paper using his Glock.) Our route takes us into the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area on the Potomac River floodplain.
Pick-up trucks with small boats in tow swerve by. Cyclists blast past and shout encouragement at us. Wood-chipping machinery chews away noisily behind a veil of trees. Puddles and potholes make for minor water hazards at low points of the course. Signs nailed to every other tree announce "POSTED - Private Property - No Trespassing!". Buzzards circle in the distance, hoping for roadkill. A few too many empty beer bottles on the grassy shoulders of the asphalt suggest that rural drivers may need to work on their environmental consciousness, as well as cut back on alcohol consumption while cruising.
Yes, it's another ^z race report. "Edward's Folly" is a 17km (~10.56 mile) contest held on 12 April 2003. Conditions are lovely for a long run: cool and somewhat breezy, with clear skies after a week of intermittent showers. The race is well-organized and well-managed by Lyman Jordan and a crew of helpful volunteers of the Montgomery County Road Runners Club. The finish line lies at Edward's Ferry, a cute but tiny and somewhat hard-to-locate riparian park. It was the site of several important river crossings during the Civil War, and sits 30.8 miles up the Potomac along the C&O Canal, near Lock 25.
I don't allow quite enough lead time, take a couple of wrong turns, and arrive only 10 minutes before the official commencement. With a few other late-comers I drive along a gravel byway, partially flooded and aptly named "River Road". I park my '72 Dodge Dart behind several dozen cars and trot to the registration desk. Sign-up is fast and efficient: I grab my number, jog about a mile to the starting line, and have time to pin the bib in place and catch my breath before the "G-O Word" triggers a gentle stampede.
Back of the pack in last place is where I begin, a deliberate choice to match my deliberate pace. I set my watch to beep every 5 minutes to remind me to take frequent walking breaks. I also carry a GPS receiver and record waypoints at each kilometer marker (see table below). My plan? Simply to hold myself back for the first half of the race and retain some energy reserves --- as per the philosophy of TwoGreatSecrets (9 Nov 2001) and in sharp contrast to most of my previous outings which start off too fast and end with me in a thoroughly exhausted state, e.g., as described in Rocky Run (17 Nov 2002).
After the first few kilometers my knee isn't troubling me much, so I begin to cut back a bit on the walk breaks. I overtake a few people who started off fast and are beginning to flag. We chat briefly en passant; everybody seems to be having a great day. Water stops are several miles apart, but cool weather makes that no problem. In a spirit of semi-independence I haul my own drinking bottle along and refill it a couple of times. I take a few swallows every kilometer but don't eat during the run itself. (I make up for that by pigging out at the post-race feast --- excellent strawberries, bagels, and other fine fare.) During the final downhill dash to the end I catch up with one runner who jokingly asks me to please pass his friend up ahead. "Is he over 50 years old?" I ask. "Maybe," is the answer. "Then I'll try," I reply, fantasizing about improving my age-group standing. Surprisingly, I succeed.
The bottom line? Net time according to my watch is 1:36:43, for an average pace of 5:41 minutes/km = 9:08 minutes/mile, a little better than my going-in goal of ~9:30 min/mi. A linear least-squares fit indicates that my pace accelerates by ~3.4 seconds/km/km over the duration --- so-called "negative splits" as I had hoped to achieve.
The winner of "Edward's Folly" finishes in slightly over an hour. Faster runners perhaps have burned their candles at last week's Cherry Blossom 10-miler, or are saving themselves for the soon-to-come Boston Marathon. The official clock shows me as 1:36:49, in 41st place overall, behind 26 men and 14 women, 3rd of 5 in the 50-55 year old cohort. I feel good for the final four kilometers, as my times reflect. And best of all, the old joints seem to survive the experience without noticeable damage. Good race! Many thanks to the volunteers who make it all possible.
For data freaks, below are my GPS-measured coordinates and elapsed times for each kilometer. (The 4km split is suspiciously large, and the 5km suspiciously small --- is a marker out of place, or does a subtle hill intercede?)
|8||39:05:22||077:25:05||5:55||17||39:06:14||077:28:20||4:54 --- finish line|