Mom and me both get awards:-)
I was a bit nervous about how my body was going to perform on race morning for this one considering I had a pretty hard 50K course race just last weekend at UROC and I have pushed myself hard in training the past 2-3 weeks logging around 85 miles per week. Additionally, Shepherdstown is a supposed to be a pretty tough course, with lots of challenging hills and all of them coming after the 15 mile mark.
Race morning was cold (48 degrees) wet and drizzly. Yesssssss! I have been waiting for this heat to drop and the chill to set in for months and it seems that now that time of year is finally here! I love the cold. Not snow, just cold. Plus I don't mind running in the rain (as long as I have a good supply of Bodyglide and Vasaline). Probably saves my body some precious electrolytes and sweat. Yeaaa admittedly, when I'm running I tend to be a pretty heavy sweater.
Going into the race, I knew this wasn't a fast marathon, as there is no prize $ and the previous female course record time was 3:28, and so I was rather surprised to see so many people gunning it right off the start. Less than a mile into the race on a little out-and-back and I saw the leading female had to be almost half a mile ahead of me. Then I counted three or four other women close behind her. I mean, I was taking the pace pretty conservatively, but whew, maybe the female CR was going to get blown out this year. A little demon suddenly appeared on my shoulder looking to push the pace, and it was at that moment I told myself NO CHASING. There was just no way. And it turned out to be the decision that saved my race.
My legs felt pretty decent starting out, or at least better than they had all week when I was walking around "like a cowgirl" on Monday and taking the stairs sideways till about Wednesday-ish. I kept the pace seemingly tame, making sure I wasn't reaching out of my comfort zone, but the bright yellow mile markers that marked every mile let me know that I was running pretty even 7:30mmis. But it felt comfortable so I went with it. I found the mile markers ever mile kind of annoying because it always seemed to cue me to look down at my watch every seven and a half minutes and do mental math, so soon I just pulled my sleeve over my hand and kept my thumb through the slit to prevent this.
Made it down the little metal grated spiral staircase of Harpers Ferry with no difficulty, although I heard some horror stories about some people behind me. I kept things consistent on the canal, still knowing that I was in 5th place and not seeing any of the other women, even in the distance. I did need to take a pit stop in the woods around mile 6 that cost me about a minute and a half, but no further difficulties after that. At the half marathon point I did note the time on my watch to be 1:41.
At mile 15 we turned off the canal and the hills started. We joined up the half marathoners at this point and there were a lot of them, so I was constantly passing people. But it wasn't too hard to tell who was half and who was full because we were hitting the end of their pack and their pace was significantly slower. I had met a friend on the canal and we ran together for a couple of miles, and then he passed me going up the first couple of hills. I caught up with him a few minutes later though, right after I passed the woman who I noted had been leading during the first couple of miles of the race at the smoking fast pace. So I must now be in 4th.
I figured I probably slowed down some on the hills, but for the most part I was feeling pretty strong. It felt like a mini accomplishment everytime I peaked over the top on one. I could tell my legs were a little sapped though, so I just tried to keep the pace consistent and not push anything here. Soon I had lost my friend and saw the 3rd female in the distance. She seemed to be keeping a pretty good pace but I was gaining on her and soon I passed her on an ascent.
There was a point soon after this where the marathoners turned right to do an approximate 1 mile lollipop loop up a pretty big hill and back down again before turning right again to join back up the with half marathoners and go up another hill. When I turned to start this loop, I saw the first place female and her pacer just leaving the loop, followed by the 2nd place about 2 minutes behind. So they had to be about a mile in front of me around mile 18 and they both looked pretty good. I was feeling pretty good, but not that good, so I kind of doubted I would catch them if they were both strong finishers. But if they faltered...:-) When I hit the top of the hill and did the turn around, I saw 4th female place was less than a minute behind me, 5th place seconds behind her, closely followed by 6th and 7th place. Yikes! Well, I guess now that I had made my move to pass I was going to be chased for the rest of the race rather than playing chaser. Can't say that I really liked the position, but it is what it is and I just went with it.
We hit an especially hard hill on Antietam battlefield a mile or so later. I saw it and my heart fell a little. I thought I might have to walk up a part of it. But I put my head down, started plowing up, and before I knew it I had reached the top. My aunt was waiting for me towards the top and I heard her cheering, but I think I had my head down. I tried to smile and grabbed a bottle of water from her but I probably didn't look good. Surprisingly, I was feeling better than I probably looked, but it was a hard hill and I needed a gel. She had come at just the right time and I was able to choke one down pretty easily with the water bottle, since I was not a big fan of the Styrofoam cups at the aid stations and the mini handheld I was carrying was dry. Thank God I have dedicated supported like my aunt, waiting around for me in the freezing rain for hours just catch me running by for seconds.
We finally crested a hill soon after mile 21 and I knew the rest of the race should be pretty smooth sailing from there. I kicked the speed up a notch. I can't say it was really because I thought I was being chased or because I thought I had a chance of catching the first two women. I think I was just used to finishing my training runs strong and if this was to be treated as a training run, this is what I wanted to do. It was raining a little harder now, which made things colder and I was enjoying it.
2.2 miles left to go came around sooner than I expected and I started pushing more. The congestion from the half marathon provided some obstacle, but they would usually move aside and most would cheer me on, some saying "First woman!" which I knew couldn't be true.
Then I saw her. First place woman. I recognized her from behind and her pacer had already turned around and spotted me. I also saw the 26 mile marker ahead. I gunned it. As I passed, I heard her pacer say "Wanna chase her?" I was pretty gassed at this point. I didn't feel like I was going to be very competitive if things were going to come down to a quarter mile sprint. But as Devon Crosby Helms puts it, I went to the well. The well was dry. So I found a shovel and dug deeper. I dug. I had no idea if she had accepted the challenge or not, but I wasn't looking behind me. I can't push any harder! I dug deeper. I flew across that bridge and around a tricky sharp turn, try as I may without knocking (too many) of the half marathoners over, and burned it across the football field to the finish line insight.
The final sprint might have taken a bit out of me because one of the volunteers followed me from the finish asking if I needed medical attention. No hahahah just finished a bit hard. She crossed the finish less than a minute later, so I guess she hadn't actually tried to catch me, but still the finish sprint felt good. My digital watch time, which is the official time they went with since the timing mats didn't pick me up, was 3:18:42. I was the first female finisher, so I must have passed the other second place chick at some point and not realized it.
Finally managed to get my prize at the "awards ceremony" but not before they missed me finish, missed my chip time that never came through, and almost gave away my trophy to the girl I out-sprinted! At least I did sneak away with a $50 gift card.
Check out Martinburg's newspaper The Journal's article write-up on the race!
Just talking to the press. nbd :-)
My winners plaque. Note the white foam tape coming out from underneath...don't do this race for the trophies and medal which is about comparable hahah.