Marathon in the Parks 2006

Betty Smith is a wonderful person; she's also good at throttling down an obsessive-compulsive Type-A companion to a rational pace during a long training run. Several weeks ago Brian Kim proposed a New Year's Eve reenactment of the Marathon in the Parks (aka MitP), one of my first and favorite marathons — only this time as a fun run with no guaranteed en route support, no club affiliation, no insurance, and no prizes. The official MitP existed from 2001 through 2004, when it died through lack of sponsorship.

Sure, why not reenact the Marathon in the Parks? But if I do it, I want to do it right, every step of the 26 mile 385 yard course, with no shortcuts or omissions (did someone say "obsessive-compulsive Type-A"?). That's why the evening of 30 December 2006 found me putting a big X with duct tape on the Kensington Parkway 18 meters south of telephone pole #778429-9947, to mark the turnaround point of one dogleg subsegment of the race.

On New Year's Eve morning I'm up at 4am to get ready, and by six I'm on the road, pre-positioning grocery bags near miles 18 and 22. They're full of candy, cookies, salty potato chips, and bottles of Gatorade — the kind of junk that somebody might crave if s/he has just expended a few thousand kilocalories and has miles yet to go. Next to the food caches duct-taped to trees I attach big brown trash bags to minimize litter, plus crudely lettered signs that read: "Marathon Aid Station - For Marathon Runners - Do Not Remove Until 3pm". A big rabbit and three deer lurk in the pre-dawn gloom, their eyes retroreflecting my headlight beams as I drive by. I hope that clear plastic bags surrounding the food sacks will keep such woodland critters out, and that the signage will deter grazing by random passers-by.

More than an hour ahead of schedule I park at the Shady Grove Metro station. I walk to the MitP starting line and inspect it, then return to sit in my car, drink homemade electrolyte mix, and wait. Soon Betty Smith arrives; she had corresponded with me a few days ago and expressed the wish to have someone run with her, since she gets uncomfortable in isolated sections of Rock Creek Trail (RCT) when alone. Betty has done 50 marathons and is typically faster than me by a minute or two per mile, but today she's in no hurry. At about 7:45am we find non-event non-organizer Brian at the other end of the parking lot, along with a few dozen others. Ultrarunner Jim Cavanaugh, who passed me at the Bull Run fun run a fortnight ago, greets me; we chat about the Promise Land 50k that running buddy Caren and I are contemplating ("Not easy!" Jim advises). There's a mini-debate about what version of the MitP course to follow. The majority elects to use an old variant that cuts half a dozen road miles off the initial part, to be made up at the end by following the Capital Crescent Trail from Bethesda to the DC Line and back. I insist on the official USATF-certified course, and Betty along with half a dozen others agree. At 8am, we're off!

Betty and I stick together, plus or minus a few dozen meters. After two brisk miles the rest of the gang are out of sight. Our first hours are pleasant on the pavement (I find a penny heads-up and pause to pick it up) except when we have to dodge dangerously fast Sunday morning traffic on the narrower lanes. Then at mile 10 we reach RCT and really begin to enjoy ourselves. The forest pathway flows by uneventfully and after about 2 hours 40 minutes we reach the halfway point. Betty and other kind souls have stashed Gatorade and water here, so we fuel up and continue.

My goody bag at mile 18 has been severely depleted by the faster folk ahead of us, but enough remains for me to be happy. Betty is a healthy vegan and doesn't see anything she wants, but she's carrying enough in her waist pouch to be quite self-sufficient. Her body fat is only 8%, she tells me; her resting pulse is only 28. I mistake the steady chirping of her Chi Running pace timer as a heart-rate monitor's beeps, and am surprised at how steady her pulse is until she explains. We increase our walk breaks and enjoy the streets of Kensington, including our hairpin turn at my big duct-tape X. At mile 22 my groceries are untouched; apparently by this point nobody ahead of us is following the precise official MitP route, down the gravel detour that bridge construction compelled the trail to take prior to 2003.

Betty and I walk the final two miles as a cool-down, and she tells me about growing up in this Chevy Chase neighborhood during an era of intense racial segregation. The local pool was closed to her as a child. She was the first African American to attend Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, and huge barriers still existed then: to play golf or go bowling with the B-CC team required her to get a "Letter from God" for admission to the golf course or bowling alley. And even a Divine Letter wasn't enough to let her eat at the same diner with her classmates after practice!

Betty points out houses along Coquelin Terrace once occupied by liberal American politicians Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern; she played kickball and shot hoops with their children during the 1950's. We chat about the changes that have happened in society, and other changes that are still underway. At the MitP finish line we part ways, Betty to get a bagel and me to take the subway back to Shady Grove, then drive home with detours to remove my duct tape X and retrieve my "aid station" bags.

The next day I meet Brian Kim at an MCRRC 5k race and he awards me a leftover 2004 MitP medal plus a couple of surplus MitP volunteer t-shirts — so there were prizes after all!

(see for the official map; cf. CoordinateCollection (19 May 2002), MarathonCoordinates (3 Oct 2002), Rocky Run (17 Nov 2002), Marathon in the Parks 2003 (11 Nov 2003), ...)

TopicRunning - TopicPersonalHistory - TopicProfiles - 2007-01-02

(correlates: 2007-01-01 - New Year's Resolution 5k, Running2006Analysis, PeasantWishes, ...)