CHESTERFIELD Virginia, March 15 2014
“I’m like a bad penny,” I said to Columbia as I came up behind, “I keep turning up.”
I’d met him in the first quarter mile of the race, before the field got separated out. I was asking someone else if they knew what the trails were like. That person didn’t know, but I heard someone call out that he thought they were mainly fire roads. I made my way over to chat with that latter guy a little more. We discussed the race course for a little while, then he asked where I was from. “Manassas,” I said, “you?” “Columbia Maryland.”
We ran and chatted for the next couple miles. The brutal winter had destroyed my already questionable fitness, and I knew I needed to keep a slow pace if I wanted to have any hope of a strong finish. The race’s elevation chart tended to confirm this analysis.
The trails actually turned out to be a mix of fire roads, double track and a couple miles of gorgeous, flowy single track, which put me in mind of the good old BROT and was by far the most joyful section to run.
We started out running in the 8:30 to 9:00 range. I knew I needed to back off of this pace, but the weather was perfect, and the course was beautiful. I could never have imagined it during my sedentary years, the idea of running being too pleasurable to stop or even moderate my pace, but the legs will have their way and so I spent a few miles telling Columbia to go on ahead, as I was going to slow down a bit, but never actually following through.
Eventually we got to the first truly hilly area, and I was finally able to persuade my legs that I needed them to walk the ups. Columbia got up ahead here, but the walking break had the desired revitalizing effect, and I caught him again before too long.
This pattern repeated itself several times over the next six or seven miles. I’d get dropped on the ups, and then catch up where the course was flat or down. He’d always greet me with a hearty “Manassas!” He was usually running with a group when I caught him and there’d be introductions all around. I met D., who was running this race as part of a double this weekend – he would go on to run sub-four at the Shamrock Virginia Beach Marathon the next day. I met a young lady from Northern Virginia, apparently running her first 26.2, who was introduced to me as “Prancer”.
After mile 9 or 10 Columbia put enough of a gap on me that I couldn’t catch him before the next uphill. At around mile 11.5 I saw him at the race’s sole out-and-back section, he some 50 yards past the turnaround, and I the same distance short of it. Then he was gone.
I chatted with several other interesting runners, though. Most of them were ultra runners. One young woman had recently run all three days of the West Virginia Trilogy – a 50k on Friday, 50 miles on Saturday, and a half marathon on Sunday. She said the trails were breathtaking. Several people I spoke with had run the Bull Run Run, or were planning to. I pimped it every chance I got.
I continued walking the ups and running the downs. Through the first 15 miles I was keeping just over a 10 minutes per mile average, which would put me under my ambitious goal time. I was at 18 miles in the neighborhood of 3:04, and was cautiously optimistic about a sub-4:30 finish.
In every previous marathon I’ve run, I’ve found myself crashing in the last 6 miles and getting passed by huge waves of runners. Today was the opposite. Buoyed by my run-walk strategy, I was passed by no one after about mile 12. In fact I was methodically picking off exhausted runners ahead of me. I must have passed around ten or twelve people in the last ten miles, in a race with fewer than 100 finishers.
Eventually I saw a familiar figure just rounding a curve up ahead. I upped my cadence a little and eventually caught up to Columbia for the last time around mile 20 or 21. He had had to take a pit stop at the last aid station, and was complaining of fatigue and cramps. I was slowing too, but I tried to convince him we could still bring it in under four and a half. He wasn’t buying in to this plan though. We ran and chatted a little, and then I got up ahead.
I got to the last aid station and declared “This must be the finish line!” This got a chuckle from the volunteers. “No, but you’re getting close. A mile to go, or maybe 1.2.” “It’s 1.13 according to this,” I replied, pointing to a helpful sign nearby. “I’ll take every hundredth I can get.”
I generally hate walking in the last mile of a race, no matter the distance, and I tried to adhere to this philosophy today. They’d thrown some of the nastiest hills in the last few tenths here, however, and I wound up giving in and trudging up them. Soon enough I found myself crossing the bridge back to the finish area and spied the finish line up ahead. With a few hundred feet to go there was one runner between me and the arch, and I set out to take him. He looked a little beat, and I passed him pretty quickly, but as I started my finishing kick across the field my calves started seizing up with cramps. I managed to grit my teeth and hold off the cramps for the 100 or so yards to the finish, and the pass was not reversed.
I missed my ambitious goal, but did better than I expected to. My time was 4:37:10, 38th out of 94 finishers, and the first time I’ve finished in the top half of a marathon field.
I hung around to watch the later finishers. Columbia came across the line some ten minutes after me. “My name’s
McArdleRay,” I said, offering him my hand, “What’s yours?” “ DavisSteve,” he replied, shaking it.
There were several noteworthy things about this race. Among them:
- Before the marathon started, the race director announced that we had a Guinness world record holder in the field. Laurence Macon holds the record for most marathons run in one year with 157(!). Laurence finished DFL today, but he’s got nothing at all to prove.
- The signage was amazing. At every turn – and at occasional places with no turns – there was a laminated sign on a tree or stuck in the ground with the current distance to the hundredth of a mile for both the full and (where applicable) the half marathon.
- They had an unusual chip timing system. You crossed the finish line, then walked down to the end of the chute, where a volunteer waved a sensor on a paddle over your bib. This added some 20 seconds to my net time, but, meh, it’s not a PR type of race anyway.
This race is beautiful, well organized, and very well supported for its size. The marathon field is small, but there were around 2 or 3 times as many in the half. I hope to come back in the future.
Miles this race: 26.2
Miles raced this year: 48.6