Monday, September 25, 2006

National Capital 20-Miler

Jeanne, David, Susie, Bex and OJ (Other Jen) at dinner at Jeanne's house (thanks, Jeanne!) the night before the 20-Miler and before their half-marathon.

Eyeing the time clock a few yards from the finish line.

E. took this photo while running next to me as I'm closing in on the finish line. Yes, I had to run through a parking lot. Poetry in motion. NOT.

Still smiling. Lukewarm water never tasted so good.

Rubbing Nelson's belly after the race. Spoiled dog.

Soooo .... the National Capital 20-Miler I ran yesterday was tough. Extremely hilly with a trail that canted right going north (and canted left when we turned around and ran south). Strong field - you had to finish in 4 hrs or less. And few spectators. A local tune-up race for marathoners, this race kicked my butt. And I didn't even race it.

I used it as a brisk, long training run, instead. I was going to race it, but I was not mentally prepared. After a seemingly endless and slow 20-miler that I ran by myself in Tahoe a few weeks ago, I was unsure whether I could actually race 20 miles without slamming headfirst into the Wall at Mile 15.

Plus, I was almost late to the race. What was supposed to be a 15-minute drive to the race start ended up being a 45-minute frustrating meander through suburban streets in the pre-dawn dark. Damn you, Mapquest! I arrived with 25 minutes to spare and screeched into the last free parking spot. And I still had to get my race bib, t-shirt, use the bathroom, etc.

Flustered and frustrated, I jogged to the starting line and met up with my neighbor across the street, J., who's also going to run the Marine Corps Marathon. That's me and him in the last photo, stretching our hamstrings apres-race. I said to myself, "Try to enjoy this race. Don't kill yourself."

Miles 1-10: After a muffled "Go!" from the race director, some 500 runners took off. We didn't use chips, so I estimate that I crossed the starting line 20-30 seconds after the race clock began. We also didn't have any mile markers, except for one at Mile 10, where a volunteer yelled out the time, and another at Mile 17.5. Yes, there were permanent mile markers on the trail, but the race didn't use them.

We ran en masse through silent suburban streets for almost two miles. Those first miles were slow - I guestimate 9:40 for the first mile, and 9:30 for the second. Then we ran south on the Mt. Vernon Trail. Here's where the fun began.

The trail is quite hilly at its southern end. Make that uber-hilly. Our hamstrings and calves screamed in protest. Though all of us were much too cool to let on that we hurt. But I was feeling good, all things considered. I passed a number of folks even though I ran very conservatively, and I enjoyed the watching the gray-blue Potomac to our left.

We saw the first male coming toward us, and we clapped in appreciation. Then he clapped and cheered for us! That was nice - I've never been applauded by the front runner before. I'm glad he did, because there were NO spectators to be seen. Just a bunch of skinny runners racing grim-faced and silent on a grey September morning.

After several hills, we charged up a long and steep incline to get to Mt. Vernon, George Washington's estate. That's where we hit the second water stop. I stopped to drink Gu or water at every fluid station except one.

I resisted the urge to go faster. Of course, now I wish I had (foreshadowing!). But I didn't want to bonk. My plan was to finish in under 3 hours. Had I raced it, I would have planned on finishing in 2:51 and change (that according to McMillan). But if I didn't make the 3-hour mark, I wouldn't beat myself up. "This is a training run," I kept saying, to keep myself from panicking.

I saw my friend, P., after the first turn-around. He was about five minutes behind me. He's a faster and more experienced runner, so I was surprised to see him with the slower folks. He told me later that he started the race 7 minutes late. That explains it. He overtook me by Mile 8, where I stopped briefly to take my first Gu.

Miles 10-20: I was still passing people, even though I was averaging about 9:15/mile by then. I hit Mile 10 in about 1:32:36, according to the volunteer yelling out the times. I kept passing and being passed by an extremely fit 40-something blond woman. Her shoulders and back muscles were clearly dilineated, and she had muscular thighs that could crush lesser beings' heads.

"How's it going?" she asked.
"So far, so good," I said. "But ask me in another 5 miles."
We both laughed.

Around what I guess was Mile 13, I started to really tire. My breathing was labored and I seriously thought about walking. But I didn't. We turned around again near the edge of Old Town, and some of the slower folks coming toward us looked utterly spent.

At Mile 15 or so, I stopped at a water station to gulp Gatorade and to take my second and last Gu. My hands were so sweaty that it took me 15 seconds to open the packet (slicing a finger in the process). At every hill, I put my head down and shortened my stride and willed myself up the incline. I'm getting pretty good at the hills - I always passed people on those.

At the top of one hill, the volunteer said, "Almost there. Only 2 1/2 more miles." But then about a mile later, another volunteer said the same exact thing: "You're almost there! Only 2 1/2 miles to go!"

What. The. Hell. By this time, I was running alone. The next runner was about 250 feet ahead. I closed the gap. Somewhere after Mile 18, I passed an older man with a National Marathon t-shirt. He was way out front in the beginning of the race, but had fallen behind. Some 300 feet after I'd passed him, after yet another hill, I heard this awful retching sound.

The man was vomiting so loudly that he literally sent birds flying from trees in surprise. His retching was not only loud, but almost eloquent in its agony. I looked behind me and saw another runner tend to him. I ran faster and when I got to the next volunteer, at Mile 18.5, I told her of the stricken runner.

I turned off the trail and ran the last 1 1/2 miles through still-quiet suburban streets. I slowed down here. Way down. I shouldn't have, but I was just so tired. At least I didn't walk. It wasn't so much my breathing that was in trouble. My lungs felt pretty good. But my legs were dead.

A guy watering his lawn kindly turned his hose on me, soaking me with cool water and washing away some of the sweat. The muscled woman caught up to me with less than a half-mile to go. I thought I'd lost her. I was wrong.

We made the turn towards the finish line. I saw E. and our dog, Nelson. E. cheered and Nelson barked and jumped up and down. I started to falter. "Go for it," I told the woman.

"C'mon, let's go," she said. So I rallied to keep up with her. We ran through a parking lot and headed onto a middle school track, where we had to run one quarter-mile lap to the finish. That was the longest lap of my life. The woman sped way up, and I let her go. I knew I wasn't going to finish in under 3 hours, so I didn't sprint.

Until the very last 50 meters. That's when I saw the race clock: 3:06: 45, 3:06:46 .... I went into sixth gear and hot-footed it over the finish line to make it across in 3:06:55. If you take into account the 20-30 seconds I lost in crossing the start line, my net time was about 3:06:35. Average pace was 9:20/mile.

Good enough for now. But in the Marine Corps Marathon, I'm going to run 35 seconds faster per mile. I just am. And if I hit the Wall, it's going to be a spectacular SPLAT. But I'm hoping it won't come to that.


  1. Although a picture is thought to be worth a thousand words I think we need a few more here. Do you like your race? Did you have fun? Let's have some details, please!

  2. Congratulations! I'm with 21st Century Mom though, MORE DETAILS! Congratulations again!

  3. Nice to have that support from the local running club! I ran my 20 miles solo on Sunday morning. You looked much better than I did at the end though ...

  4. Hey 21st Century and Sherri - You're too fast for me. It took me a bit to post the photos, and then a little longer to post the actual race report. It's up now!

  5. Excellent race report - well worth the wait.

    I hope I get to the point some day where a 9:30 miles feels slow - but I'm not holding my breath.

  6. Congratulations...and you were worried!! Love the pic of Nelson:) He looks like he ran it with you.
    We had such fun at Jeanne's with you and E. Let's do it again soon!!

  7. Nice race, Bex! And we all knew there was no way you could be in a race without actually racing it. :)

    Love the RBF pic, but where's the food? ;)

    And I never know what to do when I see somebody stagger off to the side like that. If it were me, I wouldn't want a racer to stop and lose time to check on me, but then I worry if they are in real trouble, shouldn't I just stop and see. Hard to decide right there in the race.

  8. super report, bex! congratulations on a great race! i'm with 21st century mom once again, "i hope i get to the point some day where a 9:30 miles feels slow - but i'm not holding my breath." i really like the action shot that e. took of you! oh, and map quest sucks. i always stick to yahoo maps. again, well done, bex!

  9. Did you taper for this race? That will help your speed increase a bit on marathon day. 35 sec/mile might be ambitious - but there's only one way to find out!

  10. Only by the grace of God and/or Jeanne's carbo loading dinner extravaganza might I match that 9:20 pace you set this weekend. If you motor faster than that and go SPLAT I'll throw some water on you as a I go by. :~)

    Jeanne's going. "What extravaganza?"

  11. That was your best race report--ever!!! You did the right thing with the retching (not wretched, although he probably felt that way) runner. That hill to mount vernon is a bitch...thank god i've never had to run it, only bike it. and the pics are great! and you know what? You ARE going to shave off those seconds and you ARE NOT gonna hit any freakin' wall!!

    Nice work!

    What extravaganza?? :)

  12. jeez, sorry to see you guys getting sick like that in the last pic... maybe you are running around too much?