Sunday was my first race of the year at the George Washington Birthday Marathon. I cruised to a 3:14 finish back in 2009 and had a great run on this very hilly course last year with a 3:04 finish (6th place both times). This year my 3:11 was not what I would have hoped for given my current fitness, but with the brutal conditions I managed to place 3rd.
I really enjoy this low-key race, and it is a great fitness builder leading into the spring racing season. Previously this was a fairly relaxed race for me, but this year was another one of those “character-building experiences.”
Temps maxed out in the 20s, and there was a consistent 20-25 mph wind with stronger gusts. It is a three loop course, and you ran right into the headwind on the back half. This meant 4 straight miles into the wind that also happened to be uphill. Good stuff.
I felt great at the start and settled into a nice rhythm at around 6:45 pace. The first 6 miles were like nothing with the wind at my back, and miles 6-10 into the wind weren’t too bad. I started off running in 6th place (apparently my favorite position in this race). I passed someone to take 5th place in the middle of the first lap and saw fourth place in the distance coming into lap 2.
I came into the half-marathon point in the high 1:28s feeling good and right on pace. Then I hit the wall. Not the usual marathon “wall” that people talk about at mile 20 but a punishing headwind that was much worse than the first lap.
I held an ok pace through this stretch and ran just over 7:00s. I took fourth place here, but the wind was really taking a toll on me, especially on the uphills. The last lap was going to be a mighty struggle. The third time into the headwind was weighing on me. On top of that, once you finish the third lap you have a monster hill back to the finish for about 1.5 miles of straight uphill into the wind.
The combination of the wind, not as much distance training recently, and not being used to the hills was making lap 3 not so awesome. Even with the tailwind I was struggling. Right before we turned into the headwind, I heard the guy I had passed at the end of the last lap tell his support crew he could not handle the wind a 3rd time and was going to quit. I shouted back “Come on, let’s go! We’ll work it together.”
We ran together a bit and passed another runner. At some point, another person in front had either dropped or slowed substantially, so I think I was running in second at this point. The wife of the guy I was running with was awesome and was cheering me on as well as her husband. At one point I told her to lock the doors of the car and not let her husband in!
I pulled ahead a bit and trudged through the wind and hills. My stomach was also not great at this point, and I was really dehydrated. But my hands were too cold to successfully grab and drink water, and I was worried I’d just spill it anyway and make my hands even colder. It is times like these when you question your sanity …
The steep monster hill at mile 25 was almost comical. I was passed at this point by a guy I hadn’t seen since the start, and he was finishing strong. I just kept plodding and finally got to the finish in 3:11. The guy I ran with for a bit finished strong and finished in 3:12.
Normally winning times at this race are in the 2:40 to 2:50 range, and 3-5 guys will go sub-3. This time the top 3 ran 3:08, 3:09, and 3:11. It was a tough day all around.
I am happy with how things went all considering. I was wrecked when I finished, but after warming up and getting some food in me, I actually started feeling just fine. I wasn’t too sore afterwards and will get back at it soon. I really look forward to going back to this race, but I hope conditions are a bit better next time!
In other news, the lottery gods continue to curse me, and I did not get into the Bull Run 50 mile. As of now, I am planning to shift gears and head to the Bel Monte 50 out in the Shenandoahs. I DNFed this race several years back, so it would be great to get some revenge this time around. This is a much tougher, more mountainous race than Bull Run with over 11K of climbing, which means I need to start getting back in mountain running shape!