I should start by saying one thing, this was just my second Half Marathon. While I’ve run 13.1 miles many times in training, I haven’t raced that distance since I was in high school. Back when I didn’t really run and wasn’t in shape, my family decided it would be fun to run the Virginia Beach Rock and Roll Half Marathon. I crossed the finish line in just over 2:00, but came close to death in the process. If you have ever run a Rock and Roll race, you know what is involved. Lots of people, lots of music, and lots of distractions. All of which can be great. All of which are meant to take you away from what you came there to do.
The Parks Half Marathon was nothing like the Rock and Roll. And it was awesome. This race didn’t have cheerleaders at every mile, it didn’t have bands blasting throughout the race, and no Team In Training filling the masses. There was no finishers medal, just a beanie with the race’s logo on it. Instead what you had was just you, 13.1 miles of trail, and only about 2500 other racers.
The course is easily the most beautiful route I’ve run in a race. After the first few miles of road, added mostly to allow for the pack to separate a bit, you file into Rock Creek Park and stay in the park the rest of the way. I run a lot of my weekly miles through Rock Creak, but never make it to the northern part. This section of the park is definitely my new favorite. Nearly all of the 10 or so miles on the trail was far from any roads, deep under tree coverage, and extremely peaceful.
As you can see from the elevation chart below, most of the course is at a slight downgrade. This allowed for fast starts and quick strides. I went out a little harder than usual, feeling good and strong. Somewhere around mile 5, I started feeling that speed a bit. While I was still feeling good, I was concerned about my pace and knew that the climb was coming during the last few miles. By mile 8 my legs were beginning to hurt. For a second I considered slowing down, fearing to push myself too hard in the middle of my training. Then I had an epiphany, and it sounded a little something like this, “Doug, you’re running a half marathon race, of course you are getting tired, and of course you are starting to hurt. This is 13.1 miles! Now get your ass into gear and move, damn it!” (yeah, I swear a lot in my head while running…). Well it worked. I picked up my pace even more and held steady through the finish line.
The race was rainy, full of mud, and farther away from DC than I thought, but I’ll definitely be running it again. You just can’t beat the course or the vibe from the other runners. It was everything distance running should be.