As I hurried from the port-o-potties to the starting coral, things felt a lot different at this year’s Park Half Marathon than they did the year before.  It all started December of last year, when I went down to Charlotte to run the Thunder Road Half with my good college buddies Jon and Chris.  We had a great weekend of drinking, running, eating, and drinking, and it wasn’t long after that Jon gave me a call asking if I wanted to do a repeat this year, only in the DC area.  I told him about how much fun I had at the 2010 Parks Half Marathon, and just like that, Jon and his girlfriend agreed to come up for a run.

Training for this year’s race was far from focused.  Until a few weeks ago, the mileage was certainly there, but with a very busy weekend schedule, long runs, speed workouts, and tempos turned to easy trail miles to calm the mind.  I honestly didn’t know what would happen on race day, as I hadn’t put more than 6 or so miles on road in several months.  But I decided it didn’t really matter.  I’d toe the line with Jon and Jen and just let things roll.  It was Jen’s first half, so with little expectations from anyone, we were bound to have a good time working our way along Rock Creek Trail.

The course itself was the exact same as last year.  You start in Rockville on about 3 miles of road before heading into the woods and onto Rock Creek Trail.  After another 8 miles on Rock Creek, runners turn off to the lite gravel Georgetown Trail as you make your way into Bethesda’s Town Center.  It really is a beautiful course.

I think that it is partially because of that beauty, and I’m sure partially because of the uniqueness of the race, that it has become very popular.  I’d venture to say TOO popular, in fact.  By having the nearly 3 miles on the road, they were hoping the field would naturally thin itself out before hitting the narrow trail.  Unfortunately that didn’t really happen.  It wasn’t until maybe mile 6 that the three of us could run full stride without having to worry about a wall of runners blocking the path.  I’m not going to lie, this was pretty frustrating.  Thankfully no PRs were being set that day, so I was able to just relax and enjoy the beautiful cool weather and nice atmosphere.

One of the best parts for me (and I think everyone running around me), was how great this course was for spectators willing to get on a bike.  At first glance, a point to point course isn’t ideal for the cheer teams, but KFB (and her friend Katie), were not intimidated in the least.  The two of them jumped on bikes, and were pretty much able to follow the entire course along Beach Drive.  They must have have been waiting for Jon, Jen and I to pass by 5 or 6 different places, which is incredible for a 13 mile course.

To be honest, there isn’t much to report on when it comes to the running itself.  I felt pretty good, which allowed for a solid run with near perfect splits.  The three of us all beat our goal time for Jen’s first race, running all but the last mile stride for stride.

I think we all had a great time on a beautiful course running a well run race.  The days leading up to the race brought a ton of rain, so mad props to the race staff and the NPS staff for cleaning up the course.  I only saw a few people take dives into the swelling puddles.  Aside from a few issues with overcrowding, I really enjoyed myself, and was happy to be back.

A few other notes to the race director:

  1. More port-o-potties at the start!  Probably 100 or so runners were still waiting in line when the first gun went off.  I know we had been waiting for 20 or more minutes.
  2. The packet pickup location is FAR to small for this large of a race.  I love the idea of having it at a running store, but a larger one would be much for comfortable.  From just looking at the sponsors, maybe REI?

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