I was very proud of this race effort in Washington DC, even though the morning started with every racers worst nightmare…. a wrong turn!! I had high hopes and expectations for this course which traveled along a predominantly flat & fast Potomac River route. With 3,300-feet of elevation gain, I felt confident that I could shave another 25-minutes off of my personal best 50K time. So 2-miles in to my 31.6-mile journey (yes, this is 51K!!), I missed what seemed like the one and only turn of the course!
I was in 4th Place, running slightly ahead of a guy named Jeff , and I completely blew off the seven “GORE-TEX” signs that mark the turn. When Jeff asked if we should have turned left, I claimed, “No! That was for the 50-milers only” as I could see the heads of the 2nd and 3rd place 50K runners bobbing on the trail ahead. I had done my research and new well & good that the 50K and 50-mile courses covered the same route for the first 13.1-miles, yet under the drowsiness of the morning, this never clicked.
Even as the 2nd & 3rd place runners were running back towards me, I stubbornly ignored their waving arms. For some reason, I assumed that the trails would merge soon enough and I would reconnect with the course. It wasn’t until I could see the chain fence ahead that I finally came to terms that we were off course. Fuck.
This was my RACE wake-up call: It was on. I wanted to win this race, and I’d already run an extra mile just 2-miles into the race! Uggh! Jeff, myself, and the two other speedsters quickly re-gained our ground as we frantically passed the smarter-than-us-front-of-the-packers on the single track route.
I led the charge, preferring to make my own passes and see the course clearly ahead. My pace was quicker than I wanted, my heart was pounding, and I knew this was not the flawless race experience that I had envisioned. I was able to compose myself while maintaining a swift pace. I tried desperately to subdue the anger of my poor navigation decision. “Run Joyfully”, I said. This is an endurance race. If I could endure this mishap, and run with joy and economy, I would be satisfied with my result.
I continued my pursuit of the lead 50K runner (who was not navigationally challenged), flanked by Jeff, Albert, & Nick. My head began to clear, and I regained positive thoughts that I could outlast these boys. The reason being: none of my competitors were carrying much for nutrition – not even a water bottle! I ate my first gel roughly 25-minutes into the race, shortly after regaining the front of the pursuit pack following our misdirection. Nutrition is my #1 focus during distance runs. I absolutely live by the “Fuel Early & Often” mantra, having learnt my lesson via bonking during my days of racing half-Ironman triathlons.
The other indicator that I would be able to outlast my competitors had to do with the sounds they were making. Running Economy is maintaining efficient running form at your race pace. This equates to a smooth gait, reduced energy consumption, and an almost silent footstrike with the ground. I could hear my competitors feet flopping and pounding on the ground… a telltale sign that they were over-reaching in their stride and exerting “extra” energy to maintain the pace. These were huge confidence boosts for me through the early miles of the race, as the competitor in me knew that by continuing to run my own race, I would find success.
Jeff, Albert, Nick, & I stayed together through the first 13.1-miles. The three of them surged ahead on the few climbing sections, as I held back and maintained my rhythm – again another tactic to conserve energy. Mile 13.1 was the Great Falls Aid Station which marked the start of the 5-mile Lollipop loop that when completed would leave us with the same 13.1-mile route back to the finish line.
I entered the loop struggling a bit. The terrain got a bit more technical, rocky, and varied considerably in pitch. I enjoyed having the company of the 50-mile racers, though I did not envy their requirement to complete FIVE of these loops! I didn’t feel great through this stretch. I’d been eating gels and drinking regularly, but my body wasn’t reacting crisply to the terrain. Along the first out-and-back leg within the loop, I caught a glimpse of the 1st place 50K male, David. I glanced at my watch as he passed and was later able to determine that he was 8-minutes ahead of me. That was a bit demoralizing, though I reminded myself that I had my own race to run and my own goals to pursue. Jeff & Albert were now gaining a lead on me… I needed to get out of this lollipop!
My split times were right in-line for the 3-hour 50-minute finish time that I was craving. I had run the first 13.1-miles in 1:35 and the 5-mile lollipop in 40-minutes. This was on track with my goal pace of 7:20-mile, and left me with 1:35 to cover the last 13.1-miles to the finish line. Though, I was sure I wouldn’t negative split, I was at least confident that I wouldn’t make a wrong turn again!
After making it out of the loop, I was able to catch back up with Jeff & Albert. I didn’t say much as I passed them, and knew they would be hot on my tail. I was able to fly through the Carwood aid station at mile 24, filling up my bottle and grabbing two more gels. Shortly after leaving the aid station, I glanced back along the switchback and could no longer see my competitors in pursuit!
I was able to build-up a cushion and found myself running alone through the rooty, single track trail for quite a long stretch. I started to encounter Marathon racers who were gracious in making way for me on the trail.
When I made it to the final aid station, Sugarland, I was amped to have 1.6-miles to the finish. I was fueled & hydrated and ready to push all the way home… if only I knew the way to go… uggh, not again! I entered this aid station, greeted by the volunteers offering water and food, though all I wanted was the exit path! I was stricken with confusion by arrows for the Marathon Relay course and another sign pointing to the medical staff. The only aid I needed was of the navigational sort as I screeched to a halt and screamed “Which way!!? Which way!?” I knew I needed to run straight, but when confronted with arrows and people yelling at you in the late stages of a race, you really struggle with decision making. I got confirmation that I was exiting in the right direction, rudely spiked my empty water bottle to the ground, and took off for the finish line.
In retrospect, I am deeply sorry to have disrespected the volunteers at the Sugarland aid station in this way. I over-reacted and could not comprehend the situation as it unraveled. I had intended to ditch my water bottle here, and unfortunately my overwhelming angst resulted in a disrespectful action.
My next series of confusing thoughts was about all the “other” runners on the course. I expected to make it to the finish before the start of the Marathon Relay race. I found it strange that so many people were “warming up” so far from the start/finish line. I concluded that these people were in fact racing their legs of the relay, and I used their energy to catapult myself through to the finish line.
I felt powerful through the finish, and was excited to incite supportive screams from my November Project family that was occupying the relay transition area. Brimming with satisfaction from my performance and the splendor of the afternoon ahead, I grabbed some real food and walked back through the finish area to wait for Julia to finish.
- 2nd Place, 3:51, 7:19/mi pace
- Shoes: Nike Terra Kiger 1
- Socks: Injinji
- Nutrition: 8 Cliff gels, 1 Honey Stinger waffle, 4 bottles of Electrolyte drink
- Mission Accomplished