These woods are neither dark nor deep, but lovely are they during the 45th George Washington's Birthday Marathon in Greenbelt, Maryland on Sunday 19 Feb 2006. Comrade Ruth and I convince ourselves that this is merely "a training run with a medal at the end". The delusion succeeds: instead of pre-race insomnia and butterflies each of us reports a restful night. Ruth meets me before the start and we trade our bib numbers for special ones indicating that we're doing the hour-early start for self-designated slowpokes. Colleague Carl arrives and takes photos of us. He's planning to do only ~20 miles today, since he has family time on the afternoon schedule. The small crowd gathered before the race is cheerful and friendly. I take pictures of a clique of Annapolis Striders who, like Ruth and I, are doing the event today in preparation for the HAT Run 50k ultramarathon next month. After a caffeinated Clif Bar and a sip from the Recreation Center water fountain, it's time to set off.
At the 0930 starting line the temperature is a balmy 18°F. The mercury climbs over the next several hours into the upper 20's, though gusty northwest zephyrs remind us that it's still winter during upwind legs of the three-loop course. An ancient pair of torn hand-me-down thin tights plus double socks, double shorts, double shirts, and double gloves keep me comfy. After the first mile I feel hot-headed above and frigid below, so I doff my cap and stuff it into my shorts to provide extra insulation where it's needed most. An hour later the outer gloves come off. My new fanny pack carries electrolyte drink as well as a variety of munchies and a camera.
Following a pair of over-enthusiastic initial miles we come to our senses and settle into a sustainable trot in the 11-12 minute/mile zone. Ruth hasn't had much opportunity to train for the past few months so she has to work harder than Carl and I, who entertain her with our discussions of family, entomology v. etymology, programming languages, and similar inane topics. We reach the midpoint of the race in 2:28:34. I take a "Succeed!" electrolyte capsule at that point and swallow another one every hour thereafter. During the run I suck down three Clif Shots (gooey 100-calorie packets of sugars and salts) and quaff a cup of Gatorade at every aid station. This keeps leg cramps at bay, though I do feel them threatening me in the final miles.
After the second circuit the members of our happy fellowship part ways at mile 17: Carl punches out to return home, while Ruth wisely decides to slow down and therefore insists that I proceed alone. I take advantage of a net downhill region and string together a couple of sub-11 miles, but then start to feel real fatigue looming and return to a more rational pace. At mile 20 a young Asian gentleman (who started at the regular time, and who thus is an hour ahead of me) interrupts my reverie with a desperate "Please, do you have any food?" The Wall has hit him hard. I offer him a variety of options from my pack and he gratefully accepts a Clif Builder's Bar, which he inhales without water. Then he speeds onward and is soon out of sight. After the race he sees me and again thanks me for restoring his energy level.
On a long run, mental arithmetic capabilities are the second thing to go (or maybe the third thing?). At the halfway point I figure that a finish under five hours is straightforward to achieve. At mile 22 my calculation indicates that it's a cakewalk. Likewise the sub-5 seems in the bag at mile 24. But somehow it slips out of the sack, maybe during the final uphill climb that just won't end. By mile 25.5 the sure thing is clearly a close call. A last-five-minutes sprint to the finish, however, puts me across the line in 4:59:58 according to my watch. Whew! In the following chart red circles show "Raw Splits", blue plus-signs represent a smoothed pace (averaged over adjacent miles), and the yellow filled area is a yet-smoother depiction of local average speed.
Here are the data upon which the above is based.
As in 2004 and 2005, kudos to Race Director Pat Brown, to his coterie of assistants, and to the DC Road Runners for putting on a fine race. (The vegetarian chili at the end is scrumptious!)