Early in 2013 I got it in my mind that I wanted to do a destination race in 2014. Not too long after I had this idea, Alex and I began talking about hanging out, which put me on the search for a race 10 miles or longer in the spring in Washington, D.C. The Georgetown 10 Miler fit all the necessary requirements, so we registered and that was that.
Unsurprisingly, I knew very little about this race heading into things. I had never run in D.C., I had no experience with the D.C. Running Club (the event coordinators), and I really had no idea what to expect. In my mind, I pictured a rolling, paved course that took me through D.C. Oh, how wrong I was.
About a week before the race, I was talking with my cousin and learned, much to my relief, that the C & O Canal Towpath, where the race would be held, is totally flat (given that it used to be where horses walked back in the canal’s early days, this makes sense). What my cousin neglected to tell me, however, was that this path was made of dirt. While there is that small section south of Fullerton where you have to run on dirt at the moment on the Lakefront Trail, by and large I did no trail running to prepare for the Georgetown 10 (not that I ever do trail running, and not that I would know where to train on a trail in Chicago, anyway). While this in and of itself would’ve made running 10 miles on dirt quite an interesting challenge, the entire situation was exacerbated by the fact that D.C. had a rare snowstorm the Monday before the race, and as such the dirt trail was mostly mud, slush, or ice.
Alex and I were two of the first runners to arrive on the race site Saturday morning. We milled around for a bit, trying to stay warm, before bib pickup opened and we were able to pick up our numbers. After grabbing our numbers we spent more time milling around, said hi to a few of Alex’s friends, and tried to not get too psyched out by the whole muddy trail thing.
The race had a wave start based on bib numbers, and I was in the last wave. The course was a little crowded at the start as we all attempted to navigate the slushy, icy trail. This involved a lot of single track running, and the first mile dragged on foreeeevvvverrrrrrrrrr. When I finally hit the first mile mark and saw that my watch said “11:33,” I knew this was not going to be anywhere close to the runs I’d had all winter long.
As the trail continued on, the conditions varied between muddy and dry-ish, but fortunately most of the ice was concentrated in that first mile or so. I knew I was moving pretty slow, but I wasn’t feeling 100%, so I decided to focus on the positives. I was running a destination race! I was running my first trail race! The scenery was beautiful! This was, honestly, rather peaceful! I swear I saw a bald eagle at about Mile 2.75, but consultation with my cousin later made it seem like this might have been some other bird of prey. I, however, would like to continue to believe that I saw a bald eagle while running in Washington, D.C., because America. I settled into a nice 10:05ish mile pace around this point, and, all things considered, I felt like things were going well.
The course was a straight out-and-back number with a spray painted “turn around here” line at the five mile mark (that, to my surprise, was actually in Maryland, making this the first time I’ve ever run in Maryland and giving me another state to cross of my very limited list of “Places I’ve Run,” which currently includes Illinois, Michigan, Maryland, and D.C.). The more I ran, the more my Garmin and the on-course mile markers began to disagree, and when I was only at 4.8 something at the “5 mile” mark, I knew the course would probably be short. Given the state of my legs at the time, however, I wasn’t too bothered. HOLY SMOKES is there a difference between running on pavement and slogging through mud! My legs were DEAD. They weren’t quite in marathon pain, but this race definitely takes second place as the most painful race I’ve run. I was so, so, SO ready to be done at mile seven, but I kept plodding on. I was running 11:30s at this point, and that was all my legs could handle. My hips hurt so bad, and I just wanted to be done.
My Garmin measured the course at 9.63 miles instead of 10, but I could not care less. I was, in fact, incredibly grateful for a short course, because the last thing I wanted to do was run another .4 miles. My official time was 1:45:38, about five minutes slower than I anticipated. All things considered, though, I’m quite satisfied with that time. Obviously these were not ideal conditions, and I was happy to just have finished, period.
I collected my medal, t-shirt, lunch box (best race swag ever!) and a banana after finishing and headed back to Alex’s place to scrub the mud off my legs.
Fortunately, my shoes already have 250 miles on them, so they were on their way out anyway. Otherwise, I might be a little more torn up about the end result of the race.
So, yeah. Not the race I anticipated by any means, but honestly, I’m totally fine with it. This wasn’t something I took super seriously, was not at all a goal race for me…I was there to have a good time. And while perhaps “insane pain” may not be everyone’s definition of a good time, I am a runner, I suppose, and that kind of comes with the territory 😉 And now I have a great story to tell!
Have you ever been totally caught off-guard by race conditions?
Any trail runners out there? More power to you. I’ll stick to roads, thanks.