I always wanted to finish a marathon by knocking an hour off of my previous personal record. It’s not necessarily the easiest thing to do, but I came close twice; 40 minutes off between 2001 and 2002, and the agonizingly close 57 minutes off between 2004 and 2005. At this point I’d honestly given up having a new PR that was an hour under the old PR; I’d improved enough that I wasn’t going to have that leap in a marathon ever again. (I’ll still improve, yes, but not quite that much.) What I never really saw coming was that I still had the opportunity to do that with just a half marathon.
On Sunday, March 19th, my friend Dave e-mailed me with a reminder that another friend, Dennis, was running the National Marathon and would I like to come out and cheer? I went to the National Marathon’s website to take a look at the course; I knew it was happening, and I knew that with its qualification times I didn’t yet have the times needed in order to run it. What I hadn’t realized was that A) there was now a half-marathon option, and B) I qualified to run it.
After dithering back and forth for about two hours, I decided to sign up. I’d run ten miles the previous day, so a three mile jump shouldn’t be too bad, right? Right?
Anyway, back to the race itself. Now to be fair, as I said to an e-mail that I sent to my family, it’s slightly easier to drop a huge, huge amount of time when the previous time you’d run that race distance involved also still having a huge, huge amount of extra weight. My only previous half marathon was back in 2003, and was in fact one of the two very disappointing races that year that helped prod me towards realizing that just running very slowly was not going to help me drop the pounds (and that I needed to start eating better). But none the less, my 2003 finishing time was 3:14:39, or a 14:51min/mile pace. This new race was 2:06:08, or a 9:38min/mile pace. And oh, what a difference.
I was a little worried at the start of the race; I had a sudden brief "what the heck am I doing here???" thought shoot through my head right as I walked over to the start line. Fortunately I’d met up with Dennis and Dave and I think having someone else there was a good reminder that yes, I could do this, it didn’t matter my longest distance was a 10-miler, life would be just fine. Before I knew it, the race started and we were off… which was a strange feeling, to be honest. Normally it can take a loooong time to get over the start line; here, we crossed with the clock only having one minute on it. Wow. There’s something to be said for these smaller races.
The early part of the race went pretty well; we started by looping around RFK Stadium 1 1/2 times (which meant that three minutes in we passed a marker that said "Mile 1" to much hilarity, since we’d be going by it again before too long) and then headed towards the Capitol and the National Mall. I must admit that I had some slight concerns at this point, but perhaps it was because I’d managed to step in not one but two pot holes somewhere in the second mile. Yeesh! Add in a missing "Mile 2" marker (so I didn’t know how fast I was going) and my "uh oh" gene kicked in. Well, until I kicked it into submission. No more worries at that point, thank goodness. It was a really pleasant race, and for something that I’d done at the last minute it was nice to see a bunch of friendly faces; Dennis, Rick, and Brooke were all running as well (Dennis and Rick were more masochistic and went for the full, though), and at various points of the course I saw Alma, Christa, Julie, Cal, and Dave.
Somewhere around mile 11 we were in the heart of Anacostia, which apparently became undesireable land way back when because it’s full of hills. I was more than a bit relieved at this point to not be running the full marathon, which had 15 more miles to go and almost all of them apparently very hilly. Since my longest run post-marathon was a 10-miler, I was also starting to feel the distance right around here, so being able to have just two more miles to go was a relief. So I kept trucking along, trying to avoid the craaaaazy woman running and talking to random people (or the air around her) around mile 12.5, and trying to ignore the two sudden twinges I had in my achilles tendon with less than half a mile to go. (I haven’t had those in quite a while, now. More stretching next time.) Finally I was over the finish line, with Julie cheering wildly and taking pictures.
I’m delighted with my performance, and pleased with my decision to run it. Provided the race comes back for a second outing, I do whole-heartedly recommend the half marathon option. Generally speaking it’s flat and fast, and really quite fun. Big thumbs up!