Sunday morning started bright and early when my alarm went off at 4:00am. Since Frederick is only about 45 miles away from DC, I opted to save money, sleep in my own bed, and drive up the morning of the race. I was out the door a little after 4:30 and picked up my teammate Stephanie at about 4:45. She came along to serve as CAR spectator extraordinaire and was willing to leave at that ridiculous hour to satisfy my need to be there extra early. I was expecting the drive to take an hour but instead it was only about 45 minutes and we were pulled into the parking lot shortly after 5:30. The lot we ended up in was on the same block as the race start so the logistics were incredibly easy. We sat in the car for a while, then we split up so Steph could walk out onto the course and find her first spectating spot and I hit the porta potties and then did an extremely brief (10 minute) warm up. Then I positioned myself between the 8:00 and 9:00 minute pace markers (which were much closer to the start than I've been in a long time - the benefit of a smaller race), took a gel, and tried to stay loose.
At the beginning of the race I tried to stay as relaxed as possible. I told myself to think of this as a long run, not a race, and just cruise along as comfortably as possible. I decided to have pace visible on my Garmin, for the purpose of keeping myself controlled at the beginning more than anything else, but I avoided looking at it most of the time. I threw on the brakes a bit after the first mile, but I think that time was definitely aided by a long downhill at the start. I distracted myself by watching the spectators, reading signs, and keeping an eye out for Steph. I was also looking for my brother and his fiancee who said they were going to try to make it out as well. She is from Frederick and her brother was running the race too. I saw them somewhere past mile two (along with her Dad) and then passed Steph a few blocks later. The way the course was laid out was great for spectators. As we made our way around downtown, they could move a block or two and see us a mile later. I think that in the first 10k, I probably saw my two cheering sections three times each. It was great and I got a boost every time that I saw them.
Splits: 8:18, 8:41, 8:21, 8:02, 8:31, 8:23
I got to 10k feeling very relaxed and strong. Before the race I had told myself that I needed to stay very controlled until 5k. But I hit that point and decided to stick with that strategy until 10k. It was working, so why push it? I thought of my teammate Cris, who uses this strategy in all of her races and has found that she runs much faster the less that she tries to push. By the time I reached 10k, I decided to continue the same way as long as possible. It was sometime around mile 8 or 9 that I started to falter. According to the official mile 8 split, I was on track for a 1:49, but I was starting to slow down.
Around mile 10 I was definitely struggling and the 1:50 pace group passed me right before the mile marker. I had gotten ahead of them early in the race and knew as my pace started to slow that they were probably going to catch up to me. In fact, during mile 9 I gave myself a pep talk and told myself that even if they passed me I couldn't quit. That I was still going to be on track for a massive PR and couldn't give up on that. Of course, when they did pass me it was disappointing and though I thought about latching onto the group and letting them pull me along, I didn't have it in my legs to keep up.
Splits: 8:26, 8:26, 8:19, 8:37
When I passed mile 10 there was a race clock and I could see that I had to run the last 5k under 26 minutes to break 1:50. Realistically, I knew that was probably unlikely, but I would do my best to get there. For some reason I was under the impression that the course flattened out somewhere around mile 8 before a final climb right at the end, but that was not the case. The hills weren't that steep or long, but they were unrelenting. There was plenty of downhill to counteract the up, but there was hardly any flat.
I definitely noticed the hills more in the last 5k, though they weren't any worse than those at the beginning. My pace continued to slow and I felt like I had nothing left in my legs. It was somewhere between miles 10 and 11 that I made what was probably an unwise decision not to take a second gel. I had taken my first one right before mile 6 and had planned on a second one sometime shortly after mile 10. But my stomach was slightly unsettled and I could think of nothing worse than trying to force one down. So I let my foggy running brain tell me that I'd be just fine and didn't need a gel for those last few miles. I started to feel funny in the middle of mile 11. Not necessarily dizzy, but definitely like I needed calories and soon. Normally I don't drink Gatorade during races because when I combine it with gels it makes my stomach mad. However, Gatorade sounded much better than a gel at that point so I took a cup at the next water stop. I knew that if I didn't get something in my system I was going to be in big trouble. I hated to do it, but I slowed to a walk to make sure that I actually drank the whole thing.
Splits: 8:41, 8:50
Right after that water station I saw Steph again, right by the mile 12 marker. I really tried to pick it up after hearing her enthusiastic cheering and because I knew there was only had a mile left, but I couldn't muster much leg speed. My brother's group had positioned themselves at the bottom of the last hill that took us back up to the fairgrounds where the race finished. He wins with the most motivational cheer of the day telling me that "the family PR was within reach!" I knew he had run a 1:51xx last year at National, but I had no idea exactly what that time was. On a better day I think this would have definitely helped me kick it in, but my legs were having none of it on Sunday. Fortunately I knew that the last hill was coming, but that didn't make it any easier. It was probably only about a quarter mile, but I'm pretty sure that it was the steepest incline of the day.
I got to the top hoping for a straight shot into the finish, but we had to run over to the fairgrounds racetrack and then around the oval. This was definitely my least favorite portion of the course. It was a packed dirt surface, but I found it to be very uneven and I could muster no energy for a speedy finish.
Splits: 8:27, 1:28 (8:34 pace)
Final time: 1:51:28
All in all, I'm very pleased with how this race turned out. Although I would have loved to break 1:50, I still ended up with an almost 8 minute PR. It was a humid day and not the world's fastest course and I feel like I gave it everything I had. I hate to use "low iron" as an excuse, but I do think it was a reason for my slow fade in the second half. I felt great until about mile 8 and then I just slowly ran out of gas. And, really, that "running out of gas" is all relative. My slowest mile (8:50) was still faster than the average pace of my old PR (1:59)! I'm making improvements, even if I sometimes feel frustrated or impatient with the speed of my progress. I'm really looking forward to seeing what I can do once I get my system back in balance and have the energy levels to train as I'd like.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how well I thought this race was run. From remote packet pick up, to the finish festival, it was all well done. Parking was easy, porta potties were plentiful, aid stations were well placed and frequent (about every 1.5 miles), miles were well marked, and they had pace groups for a wide range of finish times. Compared to many races in the area it was on the smaller side (about 4000 in the half) and I never felt crowded. Sure, I did a bit of weaving at the beginning but after that it was smooth sailing, even when they had us restricted to one side of the road. I only ended up with about .13 extra on my Garmin, which is excellent for a poor tangent runner like me. The premium was a jacket and while I was expecting a relatively cheap plastic windbreaker, it's actually a very nice warm up jacket (sweatshirt type material) that I will actually wear. The only downside is that the first weekend in May is a toss up weather-wise, but, as we've seen this spring, early season races don't guarantee great racing conditions.