Today I ran 18 miles, 13.1 of which were the Parks Half-Marathon, a local race that I had heard great things about. It is a point-to-point race in Montgomery County, Maryland, just north of the DC border, and winds mostly on trails through Rock Creek Park (it’s not a trail race; the route along the Rock Creek Park trail is paved and the Georgetown Branch Trail is crushed gravel). It was a gorgeous course and a really well-organized race, and I definitely recommend it for locals. I didn’t take any pictures on the course because I was too busy running.
I had 18 miles on my schedule today, and decided to do the extra miles as a five-mile warmup before the race. Logistics were a bit tricky; the race begins and ends at two different Metro stations, so in theory it is Metro-accessible, but the race begins at 7am on a Sunday morning, the exact time Metro starts running on the weekends. I considered various options (find a friend with a car willing to drive me to a race in Rockville at 5am on a Sunday: not likely; take a cab there and Metro home: tempting, but pricey; use Car2Go for a one-way trip: can’t do that in Montgomery County; use Bikeshare: ditto, and too far to bike anyway; get Zipcar: done). It killed me to spend the money, but I picked up my local Zipcar at 5am, drove to the start, parked, got my bib number as fast as possible, and took off for a quick five miles around the start. I love that I have so many transportation options in my life, but was frustrated how many of them were not viable for this particular situation.
It was actually really nice to run part of my warmup miles on the course and get a preview of the first two miles’ rolling hills. My timing worked out well; it took me longer to drive to Rockville than I expected and I didn’t start my pre-race run until after 6am, but it all worked out and I ended up in the starting corrals just before the gun. The race is limited to 3,000 runners since much of the course is on narrow paths, which made the start pretty low-stress. I purposely lined up near the back of the pack because I was really determined to NOT race this race, but to keep it super slow and steady, well below my race pace.
And that plan worked out just fine, better than I expected. My pre-race miles and my first five miles or so of the race were too fast, in the 9-9:30 range, but I finally managed to slow down. I tucked in behind people who looked like they weren’t going too fast and tried to zone out. The course really was pretty, and it was great to see parts of the region I never go to (well, not the suburban strip malls at the start) and find out about the trails in the north part of the park. We had amazing weather this morning (in the 60s, no humidity) and much of the course was shady. The route was well-marked, the volunteers friendly, and Gatorade and water stops appeared every two miles.
This race held a lot of firsts for me. It was my first time using a race as a training run and tacking on extra miles. I thought about my first half-marathon and how nervous I was about being able to complete the distance. It was also the longest run I’ve ever done without music. Since the course is narrow and windy, headphones were discouraged. I brought my iPod just in case, but never turned it on. I also didn’t have a time goal for the race (other than keeping slow and NOT PRing), and didn’t even pay attention to the mile markers or track my time. I don’t even know my official time. I went by my Garmin for mileage, so I do know that I ran 18 miles solid with no music and no walking breaks, at an average pace of 10:01/mile. Just what I wanted to do.
My reach goal for the marathon is sub-4, so my marathon pace needs to be about a minute faster. Realistically, I don’t know if I can do that, and I need to be okay with not breaking 4 hours; that’s why it’s a reach goal. I have a couple of big runs on my plan this week: Yasso 800s, a 10-miler with 8 at goal pace, and a 20-miler. I’m glad I didn’t go all out today, then not be able to do my other runs this week.
After the race I was surprised at how good I felt. I Metro’d back to the start, got the Zipcar, and came home. It was nice doing a local race and having the momentum of the race definitely kept me from moving steady the whole time. However, it was still a bit of a hassle to do this; the logistics of transportation and worrying about having time to get my packet and do my extra miles before the race stressed me out. I’m glad I did it, but I’m also glad I don’t have any more races planned until MCM. Had I just done it as a normal run out my front door, I could have slept later, gotten home sooner, and saved some cash. But on the other hand, I got to see a whole new area, benefited from having a route planned out for me, got energy from running with other people, and got a nice long-sleeve tech shirt. I might not do it again, but I’m really glad I did this once.
Onto the next week of runs….