GW Birthday “Part of a Marathon” Race Report

The George Washington’s Birthday Marathon started at 10:00 AM on Saturday 2/21/15, which was 6 days after the original scheduled date. The race was called for weather less than 2 hours in, so no one got to finish. It was very disappointing for many people. Personally, I did what I went there to do, finishing my 9.7 mile relay leg in the snow. My relay teammates Karen and Alan didn’t even get to run.

I ran this one with Magenta the Road Trip Flamingo, who dressed for the weather and got lots of compliments on her winter coat

The successful execution of this race is often quite iffy. I suppose that goes with the territory for a race scheduled for February in the Mid-Atlantic. Scot and I ran the marathon in 2012; in fact, that’s where we met – on the course. But the race was canceled due to bad weather just last year, and I’ve heard there have been other years with cancellations. Last week, as the original race date approached, the race committee kept us informed of the impending frigid temperatures and high winds. On Thursday, they decided to postpone the Sunday race due to the forecast. The concern was not precipitation, but the very low wind chill, which made the air unsafe for runners and volunteers. People were noticeably upset, but understood the reasoning. However, they were not happy that the marathon was rescheduled for the following Saturday, when the publicized make-up date was supposed to be the following Sunday. Scot and I (and my relay team) were able to run on the Saturday, along with several other folks we know.

So, on with the race report… Scot and I got up early to make the 30 minute drive from Arlington VA to the Greenbelt MD Youth Center. The snow hadn’t started, so traffic was smooth sailing. We picked up our packets and had a few minutes to say hi to some fellow Marathon Maniacs. Everyone was bundled up because it was pretty cold (20°F at the start) and we knew that snow was coming.

Some of the Maniacs before the start (photo credit to Jody Reed)

Pre-start selfie with Scot and Dan

At the start (photo credit to Mark Gautier)

Off we went, with most of the first mile spent in a residential neighborhood before we headed onto USDA property. The course consisted of an initial couple miles of turns and an out & back before we got to a big loop. Marathoners would run the loop three times, then head to the finish on a bike trail. Relay runners would each do one loop. My leg was the longest because I had the extra distance prior to the loop, the second runner had a shorter leg of only 7.2 miles, and the third runner had 9.3 miles which included the returning bit through the neighborhood and the bike trail. In theory, that is.

Scot at the first aid station; you can see the hill we just went up

I didn't like this course in 2012 when I ran the full marathon, and I still didn’t like it on Saturday when I was only running one loop. First of all, it’s boring with very little to see, and other than the very short out & back at the beginning, the looped course means you won’t see people you know unless they are lapping you. Secondly, parts of the road are uneven and filled with potholes. Finally, it’s hilly. Some days I’m OK with hills, but this race is always cold and boring, and under those conditions I don’t welcome the hills.

We crossed this frozen stream
Rhonda in front, me behind her; taken by our only spectator, a fellow Maniac (photo credit to Mark Gautier)

I was mostly running by myself from the very beginning. I leap-frogged a little bit with fellow Maniac Rhonda, but at first I didn’t know it was her because, like everyone else, she was bundled up beyond recognition. I was cranky from the start too. I’d had a cold all week and a headache the day before, which was lingering a little bit. And my calves were tight, which is not my normal running condition. I think it was probably due to the combination of the extreme cold and the hills. But I kept plugging away. When I reached Mile 5, I sent a message to my relay team members telling them I was 15 minutes behind where I thought I’d be time-wise. Sigh. Then, somehow, I started to pick up a second wind. That was not to last. My spirit was crushed when the snow started coming down hard and fast right as I was feeling motivated. And it was a wet snow. It coated the road very quickly and I had to be very careful with my footing. Then, add the humbling feeling of being lapped by the faster relay teams when I still had a few miles to go. How could these folks run so fast in the snow, when I was just trying not to skid into the cars that were driving too close to me in the same lane?
Selfie at Mile 6 shortly after the snow began and before my phone died

What the relay transition area looked like for this random runner (photo credit to Race Packet)

And then my phone died. It was fully charged, so I don’t know what happened. I just kept chugging along, walking more than I wanted to – in part for safety, in part because I felt defeated. I heard a rumor that the race was called, but I passed another aid station, and other runners were also still out there, so I kept going. I had to get back to the relay exchange point no matter what. When I finally got there, Alan quickly spotted me and told me that it was official – the race was over and everyone needed to return to the race HQ for their own safety. Karen drove us back, we found Scot along the way and picked him up, and then also squeezed another Maniac into the car with us.

Back at the Youth Center, I had some vegetarian chili and changed into dry clothes. We spent a little time talking to other runners. Medals were brought out for the marathon participants. Yes, even though no one finished the race, the medals had the year on them, so they were no good for future races. The medal is more of a souvenir than a symbol of accomplishment for those who were registered for the full marathon (this race does not give medals to relay runners).

The race shirt (same for marathoners and relay runners) and medal (marathoners only); of course, no one actually earned their medal that day

The snow was still coming down. Scot brushed off the car, and I drove us home. I checked the traffic ahead of time and was glad I did. I took a route that would normally be slower, but on that day it was faster. We got home and warmed up and had a frozen pizza. Scot and I talked about what could have been done better for this race. Of course the DC Road Runners can’t control the weather. But what if they had moved up the start time in order to beat the predicted snow? After all, 10:00 AM is a pretty late start for a marathon. Or what if they had an alternate course through a park that was closed to traffic? We had run in snow before. The fact that cars were driving on the open road with us was the main factor that made this race unsafe.
I don’t think I ever want to run this one again, whether it’s the marathon or the relay. I had a bad experience in 2012 when I left the race without a shirt (they ran out of my size), without a medal (they gave them to relay runners in error), and without a published finish time (I was a little over the time limit and the timing mat had been removed, even though there was a race official at the finish who watched me come in), after I went the distance. Yeah, I’m done with this one. In 2012, the only good thing I left with was a new friend, who is now my husband. This race can never top that, ever.

Oh, and this was just not a good weekend for races in the Northeast US. The Central Park Marathon, which was the day after GW, was also cut short due to safety concerns.  And finally, GW Birthday Marathon was one reason why I skipped the Love Rox Half Marathon the next day in Richmond. Originally, the races were supposed to be on different weekends. Even though they didn't technically conflict, I just was not up for the Love Rox on Sunday after being sick, also having a headache, running and driving in snow...and missing out on my rest day. I'm sure the Love Rox is a good race, and I'll do it another time. This Sunday, it was nice to let myself stay home in Arlington and drink warm beverages.


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