2009-02-15 - Washington Birthday Marathon

26.2+ miles @ 10.3 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/GWBM_2009_CM_z.jpg"OK for me to run on ahead now?" I innocently ask at mile 23.

"No!" is Cara Marie Manlandro's reply—and her voice has teeth in it. It's CM's first marathon and she's understandably a bit tense, even though she's wearing her Magic Tights, the weather is perfect, and things are going splendidly. We're under 4 hours into the race, more than 10 minutes ahead of where I was last year at this point.

Fortunately for me I obey CM's request and escape her wrath. My calves are on the ragged edge of cramping as we climb the final hill-that-won't-quit. We round the curve at mile 25.5 and see another section to ascend. Finally CM agrees to take a brief walk break, her first (not counting strolls through aid stations to sip Gatorade). We crest the hill and start running again.

A wobbly sprint down the final path brings us to the finish line in 4:30:20. It's a "PFFA" day for CM and a 13 minute improvement to my PR set here last year. Wow!

(photo by Bobby Gill) |

The fine race for me happens thanks to CM's smart, aggressive pacing plus recent months of long-run training together. Comrade Ken Swab also gets a tip of the hat: he runs with CM and me for the first dozen miles, provides helpful entertaining commentary, and strolls in 16 minutes behind us.

CM blasts home at the upper bound of my expectations; I had anticipated something 10-20 minutes slower. Yes, she has to walk backwards down stairs for several days after the event. Yes, we reach the finish line before her husband can arrive to applaud. But CM sets an unofficial half-marathon personal record at the midpoint of the race, and then smashes that PR by almost 3 minutes to negative-split the second half. And she's happy. So am I.

In the Beginning

Race day dawns with warm weather, temps in the upper 30's rising to the lower 40's and intermittent northerly winds ~10 mi/hr. I arrive at the Greenbelt Youth Center about 0845 and greet friend Kate Abbott & Caroline Williams. They're doing the 0930 early start. There's a long line for bibs and late registration—but since the GWBM is a small marathon with fewer than 200 runners, "long" means a only a 5-10 minute wait, not like a mega-race. Yesterday Caroline set a powerful 50k PR at Holiday Lake so today is just a training run for her as she prepares for the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 miler this spring. Kate and I are getting ready for the Bull Run Run. I hang around and take photos of Race Director Pat Brown, Relay Director Bob Platt, and the start for the early group. (cf. [1])

Back at the Youth Center a few minutes later Ken Swab greets me, and then I see CM. She introduces me to her husband George Blair and friend Holly Zimmerman. A few minutes before 1030 we amble out with much banter and joking. Ken shushes me so we can hear the "GO" signal. We cross the starting line 12 seconds thereafter.

CM sets a brisk pace, 30-60 sec/mi faster than we trained at. She's intent as she attacks the hills, refusing to walk. I follow her lead and keep running; Ken drops back on the uphills but then floats past us on the downhills. He and I chatter away and entertain CM, who's concentrating on the job at hand. Various folks who have seen me race here in the past five years greet us as we trek along.

Golden Apples

The mountains of manure on the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center are downwind of us so we don't get to smell their fragrance today. Gunfire from the nearby shooting range greets us near mile 5. Ken and I attempt to recite the Gettysburg Address (text at [2]), but CM accelerates to escape and we have to stop.

Then CM takes a packet of Sports Beans out to eat and accidentally drops one. Usually I'm the bottom-feeder who picks up fallen food, but this time Ken beats me to it. I complain, so CM tosses another jellybean down for me. It skitters back and I have to reverse course to snag it. That reminds me of the Greek myth of the Golden Apples tossed down by one runner to slow another who stops to pick them up. But I garble the tale in the telling and confound it with the story of the Golden Apple awarded "To the Fairest", resulting in the Trojan War. My bad!

A mile later my favorite bum bag, a fancy Amphipod, develops a hole after years of hard usage. Ken is behind me and spots a goo packet falling out. I loop back again, pick it up, and transfer the contents of my fanny pack (paper towels, petroleum jelly, energy gels, S! electrolyte capsules, ibuprofen, antihistamine—yes, I'm a walking pharmacy today) to the pockets of my shorts. Ken's knee is starting to complain, so he takes a couple of my ibuprofen tablets. They seem to help.

About mile 7, on Springfield Rd, CM spies what appears to be a line of runners proceeding along the far side of a barren field. Ken and I believe her for a while, but after much peering and debate we figure out that they're distant pennants, markers of some sort perhaps for a farm experiment. Then just after we turn the corner onto Powder Mill Rd Ken spots a couple of Clif Blocs, gummy electrolyte candies, on the ground. I'm tired of backtracking and promise to pick them up next time around, since the course includes three 7.3 mile loops along these country roads.

Dead Skunk

CM continues to refuse to walk up any of the hills, especially after I threaten to lie down and sing the classic "Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road". Ken, who has been ill in recent weeks and hasn't been able to train as much as he might like, begins to suspect that our pace is a bit too much for him today. About mile 12 he bids us farewell and throttles back about 1 min/mi, to something more sustainable. He keeps us in sight for several miles thereafter.

At mile 15 CM and I pass the same location where Ken reported candy on the ground. Only one Clif Bloc remains, and this time I pick it up and enjoy the cherry flavor for the next several miles since it sticks to my molars and refuses to come off. I've been sucking down one energy gel (chocolate with caffeine) every hour, and drinking copious quantities of Gatorade at every opportunity. Fellow MCRRC ultrarunner Jim Cavanaugh is serving at an aid station and teases me for running with a girl every time he sees me.

At mile 20 CM takes a couple of ibuprofens for muscle soreness, and at mile 22 swallows another, my last. I apologize for the shortfall and blame Ken (since he's not there) for throwing off my calculation. We're now clearly far ahead of schedule thanks to CM's hard pushing. At her request I phone her husband to alert him, but it's not quite in time for him to get back.

Kate Abbott phones me and we chat briefly; she ran a relaxed race and finished comfortably, then headed home to her family. On the final big hill we catch up with Caroline Williams who finishes only a few minutes after us.

Bottom Line

Major factors in today's extraordinary result:


(graph by CM Manlandro)

first half = 2:16:31 — second half = 2:13:49

mile split time mile split time mile split time

(cf. Washington Birthday Marathon 2004, Washington Birthday Marathon 2005, Washington Birthday Marathon 2006, Washington Birthday Marathon 2007, Washington Birthday Marathon 2008, ...) - ^z - 2009-02-24