The runners’ trail is hilly in spots with a few switchbacks up some slopes but the Parkway seems to smooth these hills out. This is deceiving though, as the Parkway is undulating in spots.
Parking is plentiful and free on the streets of Alexandria early on a Sunday morning. By 7 am on race day I was on a bus traversing the actual course in reverse from Alexandria to Mount Vernon. The trip seemed long and the road seemed hilly. Riders joked that the driver must be following the marathon route.
There was an hour to kill when we arrived at Mount Vernon. I went to the water closet three times out of nervousness. I stood in the sun and stretched. I encountered my friend from California Bex and we ran around the traffic circle a few times to warm up and get a little bit of a second wind.
Bex had written a winning essay in the New Balance PR Challenge and won the complete New Balance running outfit she was wearing. If she bettered her 10-Mile PR of 1:31:04 set at the 2005 Army 11.3-Miler, she would win free New Balance shoes for a year. Bex always looks great, always very stylish in her running accouterments. Today was no exception even though she wasn’t in her customary sleek racing skirt.
We swapped strategies. I wanted to get to running 7:30 miles right away and stick to it because I wanted to finish in 1:15. Bex wanted to run 8:00s and then speed up and kill her PR. The race horn sounded and we were off. I lost Bex as I passed the first mile in 6:54. Too fast, I thought. It must have been downhill.
Still, a steady stream of persons was passing me and I was passing almost no one. I must have started too far forward. Oops. I threw away my cotton t-shirt and continued on in my polyester racing singlet. The second mile went by in 7:27. Better. This was straightaway running down a broad boulevard in a forest. The Potomac glittered off to our right. There was plenty of shade. (Right: In the heart of the race. I'm in the white shirt.)
I ran the third mile in 7:35. I wanted to speed it up a bit to settle on 7:30s but the undulations in the roadway were throwing my pacing off. I have a 3-mile race next week where I want to break 22 minutes for the first time. I was pleased to hit MP 3 at 21:57.
Mile 4 must have had an uphill because it went by in 7:56. I really needed to speed it up. Miles five and six were better, 7:38 and 7:35, but I still wanted to be a little faster. Maybe I just didn’t have a 1:15 in me today.
J, a local racing character who directs the monthly Tidal Basin 3K race, passed me. You can hear him coming from a long ways off because he makes a lot of noise as he runs, sighing and groaning. He’s in my age group now that I’ve turned 55 and he’s faster than me, although I beat him occasionally. He often wins his division. It’s always the same, he comes up on me mid-race and goes by me. He passed me twice in this race because after he passed me the first time, he peeled off into the trees for a short break. He finished 68 seconds ahead of me, fifth in our division. (Above: Bex and Potomac River Run Marathon director J on the streets of Old Town after the race, with J, who ran a 1:21 and L, director of the LPRM, who picked up a post-race award for placing in her age group.)
My friend A had done a 1:15:46 (7:35) at Cherry Blossom and I wanted to match her time. I started formulating an end-of-the-race strategy to do so. I needed to hang on here in the doldrums of this ten miler, miles seven and eight, and then attack the last two miles. I thought it was all downhill at the end, which was a mistake.
Miles 7 and 8 weren’t great but kept me close to my goal, 7:47 and 7:37. I sucked down my only Gu for energy. That stuff takes about half a mile to swallow when you’re running. The new Interstate highway bridge was visible in the distance, with Old Town behind it. We passed where the event’s 5K race had started. How fast could I run a 5K with a seven mile warmup? Not fast enough it turned out. I ran the last three miles in 23:14 (7:45).
Mile 9 killed me. It was uphill going over the new highway bridge. Then entering Alexandria and turning towards the water, there was a steeper hill in the distance. It seemed like runners were crawling up it. I started up the hill and MP 9 was nowhere in sight. My Timex Ironman watch was ticking towards eight minutes for the mile. A cop blocking an intersection let two cars, one in each direction, proceed through the intersection in the little gap bereft of runners directly ahead of me. One car driven by a very elderly lady slowly came out into the crossing, hesitated and stopped, blocking our path. Not good. Some runners ran behind her and some ran in front of her. I was brought to a complete halt by this fiasco then I ran around the front side of her car. I passed mile marker 9 on the top of the hill in 8:05 at 1:08:37 for the race. I needed a 7:06 last mile to break A’s time. She had sucked it up and run a 7:11 last mile at Cherry Blossom, but a 7:11 last mile wasn’t going to happen for me today.
The last mile had a short but significant downhill to the water, then the course turned left for the final long straightaway to the finish line, passing the Torpedo Factory along the way. Knowing I wasn’t going to meet my goal of 1:15, I just brought it home in 7:32 for a 1:16:10 gun time and a 1:16:05 (7:36.5) net. Looking down at the ground as I always do when I run tiredly, I ran by Jeanne. She called out to me and snapped my picture. It was great to see her cheering the runners on. (Above: The last 200 meters. Photo credit Jeanne.)
I waited in the finish chute for Bex and snapped her picture when she came in. She PRed by a monster eight minutes. Then we went to stand with Jeanne to watch other running buddies come by. I was bleeding from a nipple abrasion which told me that even for a relatively short 10 miles, I should have applied vaseline to my chest beforehand. But otherwise I felt good. (Left: Bex pushes it home past the mats.)
I finished in 314th place out of 2539 runners. I was 6th in my age group, a top ten percent finish. It was my second best 10-mile time by almost two minutes, although over a minute and a half off my PR. It’s the only 10-miler I plan to do this year, so if I’m ever going to beat A at this distance, I’ll have to wait til next year.