Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Washington's Birthday Marathon, February 20, 2011

How Long Will It Take?

Saturday night over dinner Sandy has asked me what time it will take me to run the George Washington's Birthday Marathon the next day, and after a brief moment of contemplation, I've responded with a rather specific prediction.  It's a bit of educated guess work but the degree of precision is not meant seriously.  I do think that I'll run under five hours, but not as fast as my two Fall marathons of 4:37 and 4:40.

Sunday morning is bright and cool and after feeding the cats and having breakfast myself, I get on the Beltway for the short drive to Greenbelt for the race.  It is the 50th Anniversary of the low-key race put on by the DC Road Runners Club and it starts at the rather late hours of 10:30 a.m., although I plan to get there in time to register and take the early start at 9:30 a.m.  The early start disqualifies one for any prizes, but I'm not going to be likely to get any, so it does not really matter.

Halfway to Greenbelt I realize that I've forgotten my watch.  Well, I think, this is going to make for some interesting pacing.

Early Start
Upon arrival, I quickly register and go to sign up for the early start.  The volunteer tells me that the early start is for runners who expect to take more than six hours and that anyone running  faster than five hours will be disqualified.  I protest that the website doesn't say that be he is insistent.  Friend Caroline W. tells me not to worry about it.

She also introduces me to Ed D., who is a very experienced member of the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club.  Ed is wearing a Bighorn Trails shirt, so I eagearly question him about the race which I will be doing in June.

Finally we stroll the couple of blocks to the starting line for the early start and without much ado, the 'G-O' command is given and the four dozen or so early starters cross the mat.

I set off with Caroline and Ed at an easy pace as we run the few blocks through Greenbelt, a planned community begun by the Federal government in 1937.  Then we enter onto the grounds of the USDA Agricultural Research Center and head down a long hill.  I joke with them that while we are running the three loops of the Center the race organizers come and make the hill steeper for our climp up it at mile 25.

City Boy
As we approach some fragrant piles near a building a runner says that there is nothing like the scent of pig manure.

"How can you be sure that's what it is?," I ask.

"You're a city guy, aren't you," he responds.  "There's nothing like the scent of pig manure."

During the first loop I catch up awhile with a couple. She's wearing a Megatransect shirt and we discuss her experience in that race that involves a scramble up a boulder field in central Pennsylvania.  Her companion brings up Comrades Marathon, one of the greatest footraces in the world, and that he had done it twice.  He tells a stirring story of reaching the finish with less than 3 minutes to spare within the very strict 13 hour time limit.  Based on my 50 mile times he assures me that I could certainly finish the 56 mile race in a 'down' year.  And 2012 is a 'down' year.  Maybe a trip to South Africa in May 2012?  Something that was off my list is, perhaps, back on.

The disadvantage of the early start is that the aid stations are not in operation yet.  Around mile 8, I catch up with an runner who is complaining bitterly about it.  I snap at him that the lack of aid stations for early starters was fully disclosed on the website and that he could have carried a bottle if that was a problem for him.  He just keeps on complaining.  I run past him and use the Porta-potty at the location of the next aid station, but where drinks have not yet been set up.  He passes while I'm inside, and when I pass him again, he continues to whine about the lack of water and then adds that a car had run him off the road.  I note to him that we are running on two-lane roads that open to traffic and that he needs to watch out for himself.

The first aid station with fluids is at the relay exchange point just short of mile 10.  I down a couple of cups of Gatorade and take a Succeed! salt tablet.

I'm wearing a pair of colorful Eric Clifton Jesterwear tights, blue with gold, and one of the women at the aid station complements me on them.  Then she reaches out and very gently touches the outside of my right thigh with a couple of fingers. "I'm not going to tell my wife that you did that," I say.  But in fact, when I get home, I do.

While running through the exchange area Kenny A. gives me a shout.  He's there to run a leg of the relay and I slow down to chat.  He urges me to keep going, but I tell him I'm just out to have fun.

Going 'Round
Starting the second loop I fall in with another of the early starters.  I tell him of my lack of a watch and he notes that we have reached the 10 mile mark in about 1:48.  I quickly - and surprisingly easily, since arithmetical functions are usually the first thing to fail while running - compute our pace as 10:48 per mile.  "That can't last," I say.

A couple of miles later I'm running and daydreaming when I'm startled by a voice behind me.  I must have jumped because the woman who has overtaken me apologizes for, as she says "scaring the crap out of you."

"I was asleep," I explain.

"Running coma," she responds, and we both laugh.

Shortly thereafter I peel off my long-sleeve shirt, remove the short-sleeve one underneath and re-don the former.  I fold the latter in half and tuck it into the back of my pants.  Since we are running loops, sometimes the mild breezes are to our backs, sometimes on the quarter and other times directly at us.  All day long I take my hat or gloves off and on, sometimes wearing only the hat or the gloves, or neither, or both seeking the perfect degree of warmth and never attaining it for long.

By now some of the relay runners on the second leg are flying past.  Less than a quarter mile beyond the halfway point, Carsten Brown, who will go on to win the race, glides by.  A couple of minutes later another one of the leaders go past.  The rout of the slow is on.

Over the gently rolling slopes of the I move on.  Without a watch I can't use the "run 7 / walk 1" strategy that I successfully used in a couple of Fall races, so I just walk some uphills when I feel like it.  And even though the course has mile markers, without a watch I can't gauge my progress.  On the other hand, running without a watch is liberating, as there is no tyranny of the march of digital numbers.  I can contemplate the vultures circling overhead at one point of the course - there's a turkey vulture, and that one might be a black vulture - without worrying that staring at the carrion eaters is costing me time.

Through the relay area again and on to the third circuit of the course.  Past the fields and woods and banks and buildings that make up the agricultural center, with one section echoing with gunfire from the near-by Prince George's Trap and Skeet Center.

Time without a Timepiece
Finally, it's back up the steep hill at mile 25, and indeed, it is steeper going up than it was going down 24 miles ago.  Run on a couple of streets, and turn onto the paved park path to the finish.  I fall in with Ron H. and tell him that we have no need to race to the finish as he is an hour ahead of me.  He corrects me and says that he also took the early start. I mention that I'm not wearing a watch and as he starts to look at his to tell me what our time is, I stop him.  We cross the finish together and then I turn to him for our time.

4:52," he says.  I laugh. Just as predicted.  Without a watch and with only one timed point on the course. Maybe I should have bought a lottery ticket.

My official time is 4:52:44.  The four early starters who finished under five hours are not disqualified.  I have a bowl of chili, a Pepsi and some birthday cake in honor of the first President's birthday at the post-race meal.  I finish 154 of 222 overall, 112 of 151 males and 15 of 25 in my age group.