As a backstory, I’m coming off of a pretty severe ankle injury which happened at _______ (yet to be blogged about, ultra-marathon) This puppy has been plaguing me for months so to finally be back on my feet and actually running has been a welcoming experience for me. Truth be told, I didn’t really “recover” so much as I “tuned back my mileage and ran in my boot” And by “tuned back” I mean went to a normal weekly number (somewhere in the 40s and 50s) So having proven myself at _______ (another unblogged about marathon.. I swear, they’re coming) I felt confident that this fall would not have me down in the dumps missing all my road races. There are no trails in my future anytime soon, but I can swing the pavement. So I did.
For this race, I was lucky enough to have scored myself a spot on the official GEICO pace team that I coveted back in Frederick. It’s run by a couple named Ann and Bob who basically kick all kinds of pace team organizational ass. They’re in tight with UA and this being the official UA race meant very good things besides the race itself. We were treated to a fabulous pre-race dinner at the Marriott followed by goody packages of specially printed UA gear just for this race (pics coming soon) so needless to say, I looked pretty sweet come race day, which is good. Half the joy of running is maintaining a bad-ass style – there are enough sorry looking runners out there, slumped over in ill-fitting cotton and chafing in places I’d rather not picture. I wanted to look FIERCE! I wanted to look CUTE! And I wanted to look like part of the team! Which, coincidentally, was the first all-women’s pace group. Yes, I got to be a part of a little sliver of history known as “The 4 hour group is full of chicks” This was fun – it meant that any man coming in behind our group was beaten by a bunch of women.
So the race itself was delightful – Charm City really IS charming. Sadly, they took out the most scenic part – the loop around the Fort McHenry due to construction which was about the only part I remembered from the previous year. As a pacer you get a lot of questions from people about the course itself and I’ve always been terrible about looking at the actual course ahead of time so that I may better answer these inquiries. Things like “Where is Key Bridge in the mileage?” to which I said “Oh no, that’s in DC. We’re in Baltimore – you must be from out of town…” and “I see they’ve replaced the Fort McHenry miles with a loop up near the zoo” to which I replied “oh, Baltimore has a zoo? Who knew??” Race guide I am not.
I was a tad nervous because the day before it was 84 degrees and sunny which is heavenly to me to run in but hell for about 99.9999% of all other marathoners. On Saturday, though, it was a cool 60ish degrees with little sun and a fine drizzle that wasn’t enough to soak anything but just enough to keep us cool. The race started without a hitch – my group of 3 other women and I set forth up Paca St., happy to be on our way and confident of our abilities as pacing ninjas.
As I have previously mentioned, there’s always *something* interesting that occurs in a race. Sometimes I’m lucky and get to experience it firsthand, other times, I just hear about it. Today did not disappoint. At mile 1, I heard a very loud THUD, then a crack and an “OH SHIT!!!” The cracking sound had faint notes of human bones breaking and if you’ve ever heard a bone break, you know that sound well. I remember in third grade when Stephen fell off a fisher-price table at my babysitter’s house and broke his arm clear through, so much so, that it was sagging in the middle – he snapped both bones as if they were thin twigs. This was the same sound. I looked over and saw one of my pace group runners had run into a parked car. At mile 1. Clearly someone upstairs did NOT want this guy to run because he went down and we never saw him again. I got to witness this falling several more times and was reminded of the trail portion of JFK. The difference was that these falls were precipitated by the emergence of bright orange cones on the yellow lines of the road for the entire 26 mile course. I’m not sure why they were there but when you’re in heavy crowds and you are running, it’s really hard to see things on the ground, and subsequently, avoid them. So we had a lot of downed runners as a result of these cautionary accoutrements.
The remainder of the race was fairly uneventful – we had the largest pace group with about 200 to start and maybe half who held on the whole way. My teammates included Laveta, Juda and team captain Marci. They were all spunky and fun, petite and pretty and I’d like to think we had the cutest team in the grouping. We were definitely one of the loudest and enthusiastic and with each mile, we took turns regaling stories and laughing and getting to know the various runners who wanted a shot at 4 hours.
With a team captain, my job was very easy – I ran whatever pace Marci ran, so really, I was there for support but I didn’t have to watch my garmin which is always a welcome reprieve. I’ve been going far more old school lately and, as a result, am a lot happier and even better at tuning into my inner-pace clock. I knew someday that my need to always know what time it was would come in handy. Now I see why. We stayed mainly on pace, although we were a tad fast until the end. This was fortuitous, though – when you’re running that last mile, and you start passing people, there is no greater feeling. With us slowing, the other runners in our group were able to get ahead of us, thereby ensuring they would finish under 4. I think Marci was stressed but as a coach, it’s the little mental things that make a huge difference and this proved no different.
I hung around the pace tent a while and enjoyed the nice spread of food and drinks provided by Ann and Bob. I was feeling a bit sad, though (mom, foot doctor and physical therapist please stop reading now). Last year I ran Steamtown the next day and I had toyed with doing another double but procrastinated to the point that I could no longer find a hotel room in Scranton. I even tried emailing the RD to ask for a last minute slot as the registration closed Thursday at midnight but he said no. As I slid in my car, feeling that I accomplished a lot (3:59:53) I couldn’t help but long to have the other have of my favorite marathon weekend. But then I remembered that I was lucky to have this one day and that somewhere, some poor schmo ran into a parked car at mile 1, his experience fully proving to be less charming than mine.