Washington Birthday Marathon 2004


The 22 February 2004 George Washington's Birthday Marathon continues an ominous trend: I finish in 5 hours 12 minutes, ~8 minutes slower than I covered the same distance in November 2003, which is in turn ~8 minutes slower than November 2002's experience. Oops!

But for somebody as woefully under-trained as I am, it's a not-unexpected result. Again I fail to achieve the elusive "negative splits", but at least I'm only ~4 minutes slower for the second half of the run than I am for the first.

The race is great fun and singularly cost-effective (less than $1/mile for early registrants). I meet a variety of nice people along the way, and my knees and ankles suffer no major damage. The organizers and volunteers are uniformly enthusiastic and helpful. The course is entertaining (albeit somewhat hilly), three loops along the roads of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, with a couple of miles before and after to connect to downtown Greenbelt. Weather is near-perfect, with temperatures in the low 40s Fahrenheit.

This event features a brilliant innovation: an optional early start for those who are impatient to go. A few runners start 90 minutes before the official kickoff time; I begin with a cohort 60 minutes in advance of schedule. This lets me see some of the elite runners (as they pass me!). It also gets me to the finish line in time to applaud the winners at the award ceremony and scarf down some (veggie!) chili, fruit, cookies, etc.

Encounters and Acquaintances

  • At Registration I finally meet Pat Brown, event coordinator, who corresponded with me at length last year about construction along the course, the blizzard cancellation, and other issues. Pat says, "My job right now is to panic!" But everything seems well under control ...
  • Before the start I chat with "Morgan", a geography major at Penn State who is fast! — she strides out of sight within the first half mile and laps me ca. mile 12 on her way to finish ~2 hours ahead of me ...
  • Miles 1-10: I jog with "Steve", a former NASA engineer. We discuss our families, vegetarianism (like me, he doesn't eat meat for philosophical reasons), running, health, and a wide variety of other topics, and cheer each other along during the uphill segments. My official strategy — to walk 1 minute every 5 — goes out the window, but apparently without ill effects ...
  • Miles 10-17: Friend, colleague, and experienced marathoner "CR" joins me. We gossip about who's doing what at the office, and my pace accelerates significantly, thanks to his encouragement ...
  • Ca. mile 25: I meet "Donald", who is doing ~16.5 miles as the last two legs of a shorthanded relay team. He's coming back from injury (stress fracture of the foot last October) and together we alternate walking and jogging between telephone poles at the roadside as we climb the final hill of the course ...

Random Commentary

  • Mile 8: Potty break and stop for refreshments adds ~90 seconds to my time for this segment of the race.
  • Mile 15: My feet start tingling, but apparently just as a warning. (I escape without blisters of any significance, and can actually walk down stairs in some comfort that evening and the next morning.)
  • Mile 17: Stomach cramps commence, fortunately not severe. (Perhaps it's not the best idea to gulp down big bites of Clif Bar and then chug cups of water and Gatorade at every refreshment stop?)
  • Mile 20: Chafing on my inner thighs begins to trouble me (from a seam on my shorts) just as my left knee decides that it's not injured after all and stops giving me twinges. (Is there a "conservation of aches" principle at work here?)
  • Mile 25.9: The course goes through a huge drainage tunnel under Hillside Road. I hoot and whistle as loudly as I can, and listen to the metallic echoes. (Fortunately no one else is nearby.)

Gory Numerical Details

Alas, I forgot my GPS receiver at home, so no latitudes or longitudes. But here are splits and cumulative times captured by my watch at the course markers:


Half-marathon time = 2:33:40

Least-squares fit to pace data (omitting final 0.2 miles):

  • mean pace = 11:53
  • standard deviation = 54 seconds
  • deceleration = 2.6 seconds/mile/mile

(time & pace for mile 10 were estimated, as was the mile 11 pace — alas, I missed the mile 10 marker; see also Bless the Leathernecks (28 Oct 2002), Rocky Run (17 Nov 2002), Marathon in the Parks 2003 (11 Nov 2003), ... )

TopicRunning - TopicPersonalHistory - TopicScience - 2004-02-23

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