Be grateful for a pleasant trip
And pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again
- (Lyrics: Dorothy Fields / Music: Jerome Kern) Pick Yourself Up (1936)
Pick Yourself Up
The DNF from Elephant Mountain 50K gnaws at me. I had no regrets at the time I stopped, but like living with a slowly growing cancer, I can't quite shake the doubts and regrets it has planted. Only one way to deal with it - confront the demon.
The DC Road Runners George Washington Birthday Marathon is just two weeks later. It is near by (20 minutes), reasonably priced ($50 - $120 depending on when one signs up), low-key, small (about 200 entrants plus 35 relay teams) and does not sell out. I haven't run a road marathon since the 2018 Marine Corps Marathon, but The only question is the weather, which in February in Washington can be notoriously unpredictable. I know that - having run it in the cold and wind in 2013, being signed up for the canceled 2014 race, and having run one loop in a snowstorm in 2015 before the race as called off. So I wait until the Wednesday before the race to sign-up, with the forecast looking increasingly promising.
Start All Over Again
|Double Agent Barry goes game face early on|
The Dunkin' Donuts truck is parked on the way and is giving out coffee samples. Barry gets a cup. Not a coffee drinker, I pass.
The race starts promptly at 10 a.m. and we go off at an easy pace toward the back of the pack. We listen in as a couple of women runners discuss the marriage proposal one had received ("I was expecting him to ask, so I had already thought it over") and accepted.
We go along on the familiar route with temperatures comfortable in the upper 30s and little wind. Having looked at the expected temperature climb into the 50s later in the day, Barry has opted for shorts, while I've gone with tights.
Except for about 2.4 miles on the way out and 1.9 on the way back, the course consists of three loops of a rough triangle: Beaver Dam Road on the grounds of the USDA Agricultural Research Center, Springfield Road and Powder Mill Road, with the first and last connected by the short Log Lodge Road, where the relay exchange is located.
|Beaver Dam Road with runners|
Barry and I run together from the start. He says it takes about four miles for his hip to loosen up, and several times I say that I'm going on, but I don't.
I spy a capsule containing a white powder on the ground and pick it up. It is probably a salt cap, and I twist it open and pretend to inhale from it. Or maybe I do inhale from it. And maybe it isn't salt, for soon afterward I pull away from Barry and don't see him again until we meet up at the Community Center for the post-race food. Later in the day I pick up a small plastic bag with two white capsules and an off-white tablet. This time I don't try any chemical experiments. I carry them for awhile but finally discard them in the trash at an aid station.
|Approaching the halfway point|
(Photo by Bidong Liu)
Speaking of litter, since the race is along public roads, it is an opportunity to survey the amount of trash that afflicts our public spaces. All sorts of food containers, fast food containers, snack wrappers and beverage containers have been tossed out of cars (I suspect). Approaching the aid station at mile 19 on the other side of Soil Conservation Road, I pick up a pair of beer bottles. As I cross the intersection past the police officer guiding traffic, I assure him that I'm not running while drinking.
|Casualties of corduroy roads|
Odds and Ends
This is my seventh year running GWB Marathon, so the course itself holds no surprises. There is a mix of the familiar and the occasional new experience. Here are some of them.
I have new glasses with transition lenses, so they automatically darken when out in the sun. I generally like them, but the morning is overcast but the lens darken anyway. This makes it a bit darker than I prefer, so I take them off. The downside of that is the loss of visual acuity - I generally can't make out the big E on the traditional Snellen eye chart, so my uncorrected vision is worse than 20/200. Fortunately this is a road course without rocks and roots and I can see the cars coming at me, so it isn't too much of a disadvantage. Later the day turns sunny and I put my glasses back on.
|Boom box and air guitar for encouragement|
A bit into the second loop, just past a one-lane bridge on Beaver Dam Road, a 16-passenger bus being used to shuttle runners to the relay point is perpendicular to the road and blocking one and a half of the two lanes. Its tandem rear wheels are over the pavement and in the mud, and it is clearly stuck. It likely took a wrong turn on its shuttle, tried to turn around and got stuck. Fortunately it is gone by the time I get there on the third lap.
Part of the audio soundtrack of the race is the report of guns from the Prince George's Trap and Skeet Center south of the portions of the Ag Center south of Beaver Dam Road. The firing is especially heavy during the first loop and it does not take an expert to recognize a variety of arms and ammunition in use. In past years, the sound usually fades by the turn onto Springfield Road, but this year it can be heard for at least a mile a beyond the turn. The intensity of firing is less on the second and third loops, but is still pretty heavy.
Reaching the aid station at the corner of Beaver Dam and Springfield Roads during second loop (mile 13.1) I spy pizza on the table. "Mmmm, pizza," I say, knowing that it was brought out for the volunteers. Asked if I want some, I decline, but add, "Maybe on the third loop."
When I reach the aid station at Soil Conservation Road on the third loop (mile 19) they offer pizza - pepperoni or vegetable topping. I choose a slice of pepperoni, despite already having a few peanut butter-filled pretzels in my hand. The slice sustains me for the mile and a half to the Springfield corner aid station where I decline pizza, but grab a donut hole.
At the start I told Barry that my goal was to finish in 5:30. He aims for 5:45. At mile 19 I look at my watch and calculate that a 12 minute a mile pace will let me attain my goal. Since I'm running at a bit below that I think I have a shot at it. I maintain that for another mile. By mile 21 I feel that I'm running just as hard, but the pace has slipped to 13 minutes per mile. By mile 22, it's slower yet. I revise the goal to 5:40. The last half mile is downhill then flat and a push allows me to cross the line in 5:39:22, good for 174/196 overall, 126/142 male, and 7/10 in my age group. Barry finishes in 5:47.
|Finished (and redemption)|
(Photo by Noah Eisenberg)
We meet up in the Community Center, where the runners get a post-race meal of pasta, pizza and birthday cake for the 288th Birthday of the Father of Our County, the namesake of the race.
|The first President congratulates Barry and me on our finish|
|Swag: Quarter zip shirt, bag, medal, bib|
(not pictured: confidence and reassurance)