The contest between pride and modesty ends in a dead heat: I can't resist wearing my finisher's medal all the way home, but I put it inside my shirt when I go into a store to pick up something for tonight's dinner.
("Raw Pace" (circles) = split information for each mile ... "smoothed" (plus signs) = pace averaged over adjacent miles ... "smoother" (filled area) = further re-averaged pace data)
The inaugural Rock Creek Park Marathon & Relay today is a slightly startling success for me: I finish in 5 hours 13 minutes, without significant chafing, blistering, or soreness. (I do have one questionable toenail, but that's a "footnote" (^_^)!) It's the first long race I've undertaken since last March, when the Unfortunate Incident of the Toe in the Nighttime occurred. (cf. BumpInTheNight (31 Mar 2005), ToeTransplantProjectZeta (1 Apr 2005), TornToeTendonRepair (5 May 2005), etc.)
As usual I set two alarms to get me up on time but wake before either goes off. My breakfast of sub-champions consists of coffee and two high-calorie Dutch stroopwafels. As I dress I apply petroleum jelly liberally to every body part that's considered unmentionable (except among trail runners). By 6am I'm driving toward Lake Needwood, and in spite of getting slightly lost along the way I arrive by 6:30, park in a prime spot, and pick up my race packet without even having to wait in line. Besides my numbered bib and a excellent technical running shirt, the goodie bag also contains a small pouch full of brown rice. A few of us speculate whether we are supposed to eat the rice, feed it to the animals we encounter, or use it like breadcrumbs to mark our path through the woods.
Race day weather conditions are virtually perfect, cool and comfortable. As the sun rises I find comrade Evan, aka my "Speed Coach", who is doing a half-marathon as part of a relay team. We take pictures of each other and then I commence my customary pre-race walkabout. My hope (it doesn't deserve the dignity of being called a "plan") is to finish, without injury, within the six-hour cutoff. I've got plenty of excuses: my weak training regime for the past several months, my accident, the excess weight that I'm carrying, the hilliness of the course, etc. Gotta keep those expectations low! I am uncharacteristically calm and confident.
After some minor confusion is resolved (as to which side of the starting line we should stand on and which way the initial leg of the course is oriented) the pre-race announcements are made and we're off. I foolishly let myself get carried along at too fast a pace — I'm embarrassed to take early walk breaks within line-of-sight of so many cameras and fellow runners. As the chart shows, the first seven miles slip by significantly faster than my condition permits me to sustain. Then reality kicks in. I cut my pace significantly and implement a 1:1::jog:walk ratio, with bonus strolls whenever I see a hill looming ahead.
Half a dozen deer, does and fawns led by a five-point buck, amble across the path just in front of me. Geese honk on the lake and police motorcycles rumble as they cruise along the trail looking for racers in need of assistance. I introduce myself to Ina, a youthful triathlete from Hawaii who is doing a 13.1 mile relay leg and who hopes to run her first marathon in Honolulu at the end of the year. Ina says that she doesn't really enjoy running much; she's stronger as a swimmer. I catch up to and chat with Megan, a young woman undertaking her first marathon today. She tells me that her longest prior run was 18 miles. I refrain from suggesting that that's not usually long enough, and instead exhort her to keep her blood sugar up and stay optimistic. (Happily, I get to applaud Megan at the finish line when she comes in some minutes behind me. I take photos of her with her Mom, and suggest that her next marathon will be a lot more fun if she does a few training runs in the low 20 mile zone.)
Miles 16-18 are the low point of the day for me. But I force myself to eat and drink, I take an electrolyte capsule every hour, I continue the deliberate pace, and I tell myself that "no bad spell lasts forever". The magic works: before long I'm feeling chipper again. With only a handful of miles to go I pass a gentleman who's clearly suffering, reduced now to a stiff walk. He tells me he plans to drop out when he gets back to the parking lot at the lake. I check my watch and estimate that if he does the final two mile loop at a slightly faster pace than he's now walking, he should be able to make it under the cutoff and get a medal. (He perseveres and succeeds; we get to congratulate one another at the finish.)
Bottom line: the first half of the race goes by in 2 hours 32 minutes, but the second takes ~9 minutes longer, a suboptimal positive split. I doubt I could have broken 5 hours with proper pacing, but I could have come closer. Given the happy outcome today I suppose it's not time to hang up the jogging shoes quite yet. I'll take inventory and, if all still seems well in a few days, maybe I will sign up for the George Washington's Birthday Marathon in February and/or the Hinte-Anderson Trail run (a 50k ultra). I've enjoyed both in years past, and some friends are thinking about doing them; it might be jolly to try together.
Many thanks to Ron ("Tarzan Boy") Ely, RCPM&R race director, and all the others involved in putting on a superb event — the best marathon that I think I've been privileged to participate in! Special kudos to the volunteers in amazing polychromatic wigs, to the residents of Mulletville who shared their music and beer with me, and to all the kind people whom I was too befuddled to recognize but who helped me along the way.
(cf. Bless the Leathernecks (28 Oct 2002), Rocky Run (17 Nov 2002), Marathon in the Parks 2003 (11 Nov 2003), Washington Birthday Marathon 2004 (23 Feb 2004), Washington Birthday Marathon 2005 (20 Feb 2005), Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2005 (5 Mar 2005), ...)