When I found the Lower Potomac River Marathon online the first thing I did was email the race director to make sure there was still room in the field. She wrote me back almost immediately confirming they still had space and I was quickly hitting ‘submit’ on Active.com. This event was featured in the March issue of Runner’s World and in the part where they write ‘why run it’ the answer is “for the simple things.” And they are spot on with that reason.
After the St. Patrick’s 5k in Denton, MD I had an afternoon at home, a hearty chicken noodle soup dinner and then a two hour drive to Piney Point in southern Maryland to begin my pre-race routines. The goal before any race is to get a good night’s sleep but one little catch to this race was that the day the LPRM event happened to fall on was the switch to daylight savings time. When I arrived in Piney Point it was dark and I was sure it would be beautiful the next day and while I was excited to see the area in daylight my only concern was that I would be going to bed at 9:30 which in my head was technically 10:30 with the time change.
I checked into the race hotel, the St. George’s Island Inn and Suites (where I would love to return to for vacation!) got into my room and started with the routines all the while sipping from my Nalgene. I got the coffee pot ready to go, laid out my race clothes, attached my Gu packets to my race belt, re-packaged my Clif Shot Bloks into sets of three wrapped in cellophane for easy access and triple checked that all clocks were sprung forward and set for my 5:00 a.m. wake-up.
Despite being in a beautiful hotel with a very comfortable room and bed I slept pretty terribly which was a bummer. But when the alarm went off at 5 I was excited for race day. I used the first half hour to just let my body wake up and by 5:30 was out of bed, sipping coffee and moving around the room to get the coffee to do its job. Start time was 7:15 and I wanted to get to the start area by 6 to pick up my packet and finish up my pre-race routines on site.
I arrived at the Paul Hall Center at the Harry Ludenberg School of Seamanship just after 6 and instantly liked the small race environment. No line at packet pick-up. Handfuls of runners from the local running club catching up, joking and stretching. No crazy crowds. And best of all, no line in the bathroom.
26.2 Miles (or 26.53 by my Garmin)
At the start line we watched the sun rise over the Potomac River and it was indeed gorgeous. I settled in with the first third of runners not wanting to start too far back in the pack. The race director reinforced the need for safety in this race since the roads wouldn’t be closed, she yelled ‘go!’ and off we went. About three or four weeks before the race I somehow got it in my head that perhaps I’d try to qualify for Boston with a 3:40 finish time. Just days before the race I read an article about the qualifying time changes for Boston putting my age group at a 3:35 time, something I knew I wouldn’t be able to do at the LPRM. However, 3:40 was stuck in my head as my stretch goal for the race. My achievable goal was to beat my Richmond Marathon time of 3:51. These thoughts combined with a clear knowledge of my training meant I knew I needed to use the first few miles to warm-up at around a 9-minute/mile pace and I did just that.
During the first few miles I planned out my race strategy–something I visualized on every long run but that is good to go through on race day itself. I decided I’d take the first 3 Bloks around mile 8, 3 more at mile 14 (knowing that there were hills at 16), 3 more at 20 and then I’d take the Gus during the last 10k as needed. I was also trying to figure out whether or not I’d need to use one of the two porta pots on the course. I desperately did not want to have to stop. But as we were approaching mile 8 I knew it’d be in my best interest to take the detour into the porta pot and just be comfortable for the rest of the race.
The race wound around a quaint neighborhood peninsula, through a tree covered park area, through a beautiful waterfront beachside and then along a stretch of southern shore farm and open land. It was an out and back course but one that was mostly flat and scenic. Plus with the small field there were plenty of chances to encourage other runners as you passed each other. When the front runners made their first pass by me I started counting females and in the beginning of the race I was the 23rd female; I finished as the 12th.
I ran with a few folks on and off but mostly enjoyed the ‘me’ time of this race and the focus on running it well. I took water at every stop starting at mile 10 and by the time I hit the half marathon mark according to my Garmin I had a 13.1 PR and was still comfortable with my pace. However, I noticed that my 13.1 miles were quite a bit off from the marked 13.1 miles on the course. I was stumped and ran on. The race director had warned me in an email to save myself the first half because of the hills starting at mile 16 and I probably should have paid more attention to that warning. We got very lucky that on the bulk of the mostly flat and open course there wasn’t much wind but go figure that right at 16 miles when the uphill started the wind was in our faces. We tackled various inclines until mile 19 and then the glorious turn around put the wind at our backs and the uphills behind us.
The Last 10k
During the last 10k I had somewhat of a second wind. Early on I passed one of the females that had been seemingly well ahead of me the entire time and was surprised that I was able to pass her. My pace hovered around 8:15 from miles 20-22 and I couldn’t believe it. I kept trying to do the math as to whether or not I could make 3:40 and though I think my form stayed pretty strong during the whole race my cognitive abilities were not quite as sharp. And so I ran. Soon I passed another female and then I could see one more ahead of me and I wondered if I could catch her. I think it was the mile 23 water stop and while I ‘grabbed and ran’ she ‘stopped and swallowed’ and I had managed to pass three females in the last 10k of a marathon, couldn’t believe it!
While normally it is the last 10k that is the killer for me it was really the last 2.2. I even ran one of the last 10k miles at a sub-8 minute pace! But at 24 I was ready to be crossing the finish line. I sucked down a Gu and tried not to look at my watch knowing that I was probably not going to make 3:40 and that I was probably running longer than 26.2. I attempted fartleks to get myself to the 25-mile mark and when it finally appeared I was in the mindset of going one step at a time. When I hit mile 26 I knew I wouldn’t make 3:40 but was sure I was beating my Richmond time and as with any race I wanted to finish hard, so I started sprinting. Somehow that last .2 lasted forever and somewhere in the middle my sprint faded and then at the last few yards where a handful of runners who had already finished and family and friends of other runners were yelling I found a little more kick finishing hard and smiling.
My Garmin showed 3:45:09 and 26.53 miles. What?! Why not 26.2? Other runners had the same skewed distance showing on their Garmin and whether its because we didn’t run the tangents or some other reason, at the end of the day it was still a great race. Oh yea, and a Guinness World Record was set at this race. Check it out.
I stretched, hydrated, grabbed some post-race snacks and hopped in my car to head home to finish my weekend calling friends and family along the way. The small race atmosphere was just what I needed. The field was competitive enough that I was pushed to run hard, though I’m not convinced I left it all on the course. It was a gorgeous day and a great accomplishment.
I also finished with the confidence that with the right training plan I can surely run a 3:35. And that will be my goal for the Marine Corps Marathon this fall. For now though, it’s time to start triathlon training.