Tuesday, February 28, 2012

George Washington Birthday Marathon - February 19, 2012

I obsessively check the weather in the days leading up to the George Washington Birthday Marathon. I devour the National Weather Service Scientific Discussions, updated four times a day.  The main conclusion of the discussions is that the weather for Sunday, February 19 is going to be very hard to predict.  The various models are in disagreement and slight changes in the speed or direction of a southward moving cold front and an eastward moving low means that it may rain, or snow, or not, or both, and be early in the day, or later, or not at all.  Some of the extended forecasts end with a cheery admission that meterological forecasting is still subject to uncertainty: "Stay tuned."

I decide not to take any chances and get out the ScotchGard and spray my hat, gloves, shoes and a windbreaker.  Meanwhile the meteorologists change the forecast every six hours, sometimes with precipitation earlier, sometimes later, sometimes greater probabilities of precipitation, sometimes lower.

I've paid my entry fee so I'll be there.  The weather promises a risk of hypothermia, as I know that waterproofing won't stand up to five hours in the rain or snow.  Someone asks me what's my medical insurance deductible, reminding me that there is another component to the cost-benefit analysis.

Sunday's weather is proving to be difficult to forecast, even on Saturday. The chances of precipitation are dropping and moving toward later in the day. Nevertheless, Saturday night I Scothgard the outer shirt I plan to wear on Sunday.

Compost Facility
Jennifer and me around Mile 13
I pick up Mark Z. on the way to Greenbelt for the start of the race.  We get there and meet Jennifer W. and CM M.  Jennifer is ordinarily much faster than me (having run 3:46 at last year's Marine Corps Marathon compared to my 4:29) but she hasn't been running much the past couple of months and just plans to do it as a training run.  She agrees to take the early start with me while the faster Mark and CM plan to take the regular start an hour later.

The weather has decided to cooperate, and while it is a bit cool, there is no precipitation.  The 30 or so early starters cross the line about 9:35 a.m. and Jennifer and I head out.

The course consists mostly of three loops around the US Department of Agriculture experimental facility in Greenbelt.  Around mile 2 the course takes a bit of a one-time pass by the "Compost Laboratory Facility."  In previous years this has been a particularly fragrant portion of the run, but this year this is virtually no odor.  Jennifer grew up on a farm in South Dakota and I had been extolling the virtues of this portion of the course. She seems a bit disappointed for our olfactory disappointment and proceeds to rank the scents of various manures for me: horse, 'almost pleasant;' pig, 'foul;' cow, 'in between;' and rabbit urine' 'the worst.'  She will be visiting the family farm in June so she'll have an opportunity to be reacquainted with them.

After taking the first two miles too fast, we settle into a moderate pace on the rolling, moderately hilly two lane road through fields and woods that make up one of the three sides of the loop.  The first aid station at mile six is manned and we get something to drink before going on.  Last year early starters could not count on aid stations being open early in the day so this is a pleasant surprise.

The roads have a lot of camber to them and I try to run on the double yellow lines in the center.  This is the most level part of the road and I'm trying to avoid aggravating my iliobitial band by running on the canted surface by the edge of the road.  A race official comes by in a giant pick-up truck and reminds me that the roads are open to traffic and that I should get to the side.  I do, and as soon as he drives off, I return to the middle of the road.  A few hundred yards down the road he stops, and I again move to the side.  Once he drive off for good, I return to the center.

Relentless Forward Progress
We finish our first loop and begin the second.  About a mile into it we are passed by the race leader on his first loop.  Soon a couple more leaders go by, and around mile 12 for us and mile 5 for him, last year's winner Karsten Brown passes us. I tell him that there are three runners pretty far ahead.  He replies that it takes the pressure off and that he can just run and enjoy the day.(He finishes fourth in 2:54, seven minutes behind the winner).

Dragging along at mile 17
(courtesy Kenny A.)
Jennifer's lack of training starts to show and we walk some of the uphills.  While she as had some issues with gel causing side stitches in the past, she accepts my offer of one, and later in the day and a second with no ill effects.  She and I also take two Succeed electrolyte capsules each during the day.

Around mile 12 friend Kenny A. flies past.  He's running the second leg on a relay team.  He's fast and his team goes on to finish third in the men's division of the relay race.

The middle miles of a marathon are the least pleasant. The early miles are fueled by adrenalin and the later miles are fueled by determination, but the middle miles are never memorable. They are the place you make relentless forward progress. Between miles 10 and 21 our pace drops to over 11 minutes per mile for each mile save one.  We finish our second loop around mile 17.  Kenny is there and yells words of encouragement.

I try to help make the time pass by singing for Jennifer - more like reciting, as my singing makes children cry and animals flee. Two songs are stuck in my head, Junior Brown's Highway Patrol ("I got a star on my car and one on my chest") and Willie Nelson's Red-headed Stranger ("He shot her so quick they had no time to warn her").  But I can't remember all the lyrics and make a botch of the attempts.

We start our third and final loop.  At mile 21 I look at my watch and see that we have been running for about 3:53.  I tell Jennifer that we have a chance to finish in under 5 hours if we push it a bit.  She agrees to try and we pick up the pace. It's not a big bump in our pace, but we increase the tempo to comfortably under 11 minutes per mile.

And then, before we have reached mile 23 a voice from behind says, "Hi, guys."  It's CM. She's started about 55 minutes after us and is passing us.  She looks fresh and although she badly rolls her ankle a few hundred yards from the finish, she goes on to collect her first sub-four hour marathon at 3:53 and finish third in her age group.

Jennifer and I push on even as we watch CM disappear into the distance.  We thank the mysterious man who every year appears on a particularly lonely portion of the course with a boombox blasting music for the runners.

We even partly run up the notorious 'hill of doom' at mile 25.  Jennifer has caught a second wind while it is my turn to be winding down.  I tell her to go on ahead but she sticks with me.  We run the last two-tenths of a mile down a bike path being reconstructed that requires one to watch one's footing (and causes CM's ankle roll) and finish in 4:50. That's good for 151/207 overall; 104/139 male; 14/24 60-69 AG.)

GW Birthday Marathon Swag
We collect our finisher's medal and head to the Greenbelt Youth Center where the post-race food is being served.  Jennifer gets a couple of pieces of pizza and heads home to take her children to a movie.  I have several pieces of pizza, some spaghetti and meatballs, cookies and Coke and sit with CM, her husband George, friend Holly and her favorite stuffed penguin.

No one has seen or heard from Mark.  He had raced away from CM at the regular start.  Jennifer and I didn't see him pass us and CM doesn't recall passing him.  Calls to his mobile go unanswered.  After a little while in strolls into the center.  Apparently CM had passed him and neither had spotted one another.  He finished in 4:20.


  1. Good report! --- but typo correction: CM's time was 3:54, not 3:56! --- and I was a bit over 4:20 ... ^z

  2. Thanks.
    I've corrected CM's time - it was actually 3:53 net time.
    Yours stays at 4:20 - that's what you tweeted and that's what it stays in my report. For these posts I drop the seconds. Write your own version of history if you'd prefer a different time.