Friday, March 6, 2015

George Washington Birthday Marathon (truncated) - February 21, 2015

Have a Plan B
Some things are not meant to be. Last year's George Washington Birthday Marathon was canceled due to a snowstorm.  With no make-up date, the DC Road Runners did the best they could, mailing runners their shirts, medals (for the race that wasn't) and a partial refund of the entry fee. It was only the third time since the February marathon began in 1962 that it was canceled.

Learning from experience, DCRRC had a make-up date for this year's edition of the race should it be necessary.  By Thursday, February 12, it was clear that cold and windy conditions on Sunday, February 15, were going to be beyond challenging and bordering on dangerous, so the race was postponed six days to Saturday, February 21.  It was the right call, as temperatures on the 15th bottoming out at 10 degrees with northwest winds of 20-31 miles per hour and gusts to 46 miles per hour.

Modeling the game face and taped shoes pre-race
Mother Nature decided to keep things challenging.  The forecast for the 21st called for temperatures in the upper teens rising into the twenties with calm winds, but with a near certainty of snow.  But to make things interesting both the amount, rate and timing of the snow was somewhat uncertain.

A 10 a.m. start for the race assured that the cold would not be too bad, but it also pushed the race closer to the timing of the oncoming snow.

Be Prepared
I was pretty much resigned to the likelihood that the later part of the race would be in the snow.  Running in the snow is not particularly bad - if it is not blowing in your face it is even peaceful.  But being wet is unpleasant, especially cold and wet.  In addition to wearing three shirts for warmth (one too many can be removed, one too few dooms you to cold), I tied a windbreaker around my waist for additional protection in shedding snow.  And I adopted an innovation from Don L. by putting duct tape on the front of my shoes, figuring that it would not only help retain heat from my Little Hotties toe warmers, but would retard moisture from getting in my shoes.  Thusly attired, with hat, buff, gloves and extra Hotties for my hands should the need arise, I headed out to the start with the rest of the optimist-runners

What sort of fool would run a marathon facing a snow storm?
These sorts especially - those wearing shorts and earmuffs.
The Audacity of Hope
There may be one hundred or so runners at the start line, including relay runners preparing to run the first loop of the three loop course (there's an additional 2.4 mile 'out' and a 1.9 mile 'back' on the first and third of the 7.3 mile loops).

It's a bit cold at the 10 a.m. start but no snow. If  the snow can hold off  until noon or 1 p.m., and not come down too heavy, we can get this done!

Within about a mile I fall in with Meenah and Sarah. Our paces match, and not only do I now have new friends to run with today, but runners who have never heard my stories before!  No need to worry that this is the fourth time I'm repeating an oft-told tale!

This is their first time running the GWB Marathon so I fill them in on the course.  I give them my opinion of the HAT 50K which they are signed up to do.  I'm sufficiently warmed up that I shed one of my three layers and tie the shirt around my waist.

When they ask what is my favorite marathon, I preface my remarks by saying that it isn't just a marathon, it is a costume party and one that is great fun.  When I say "Marathon du Medoc" a voice right behind us chimes in. "As soon as you said costume party I knew you were going to say Medoc," a woman comments.  "I ran it in 2008 and I agree with you."

Snow-encrusted at the end,
wearing the shirt from the 2014 non-marathon.
As we approach mile marker 4, a snowflake appears, then more.  It isn't even 11 a.m. and the snow has started. Unfortunately it isn't just spitting snow. In a short time it is snowing at a decent rate. The ground, frozen for over a week welcomes the flakes without melting them and soon the roads and shoulders of the roads are coated white.  Headed up the slight incline on Powder Mill Road near mile marker 9, the lane and shoulder lines have disappeared under a coating of white.  Cars coming down the hill are traveling slowly and we runners try to stay as far left as possible.

Game Over
A left turn off of the road brings us into the parking lot and relay exchange area.  I duck into a Porta Potty. When I come out race officials are telling runners that the race is canceled and we should either wait for the shuttle back to the Greenbelt Youth Center or run back.

I elect to run back.  The snow has picked up and as I'm now headed south, the snow is directly in my face. I've got my buff over my chin and around my cheeks but even at that I have to alternate looking up to see where I am going and down to keep from having snow in my face.  My glasses not only begin to fog up but begin to ice up.

I cross the finish line, or what would have been the finish line, but there is no clock and no volunteers. They are a bit further along loading equipment into a truck.  I run the three tenths of a mile back to the Youth Center where I enjoy the post race pizza, chili, cookies, candy (the National Confectioners Association is an official sponsor) and hot and cold beverages.

Volunteers urge the returning runners to take additional shirts from this year and last year, as well as other DCRRC shirts and even some Army Ten-Miler shirts someone brought.

The drive home is a nightmare on the Beltway.  Even creeping along there are places with no traction and vehicles slide sideways. Each driver gives all others a wide berth as downhills and banked roads allow gravity to play a far-too-large role in determining direction. What should have been a 20 minute drive (and was going to the start) takes well over 90 minutes to get home.

I finished my abbreviated 11.9 mile 'marathon' in a leisurely 2:04:37.  There are no official, - or unofficial - results. Runners on the course when the race was cancelled were either picked up or told to run back to the finish or the relay exchange area.

Despite an announced policy of no refunds, and runners knowing that the race could have been cancelled in its entirety, the DCRRC work a deal with the Reston Runners providing free entry into that group's Runners Marathon on March 29 for GWB Marathon runners.  In addition, runners will get a $15 credit toward the 2016 GWB marathon. Good people, those DCRRCs.  Maybe that's why I'm a member!

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