Monday, September 14, 2015

Abebe Bikila Day International Peace Marathon Recap

This past weekend my training plan called for a 20 mile training run. But the half marathon training program I was running with ended Labor Day weekend. Knowing that I would not have anyone to run with for even part of my 20 miler, I registered for the Abebe Bikila Day International Peace Marathon. Scot registered too. This is a smaller, local Washington DC marathon that we'd been looking at for the last couple years.

Some background: Abebe Bikila was a famous Ethiopian marathoner known for winning the 1960 Olympic marathon in Rome. And he ran it barefoot. This local marathon was organized to honor Bikila and to celebrate Ethiopian heritage.

Abebe Bikila coming in for the win at the 1960 Olympic Marathon in Rome

Coming off a not-so-great half marathon the previous week, I was feeling a little nervous about being registered for this marathon. But I needed to get in some training miles because my real marathon come-back was to be Berlin Marathon in just two weeks. Between the end of May and now, I had not run a full marathon; I had run up to 16 miles only. I had to do at least 20 at this event, and more if I felt up to it.

Pre-race pic with Scot and Drew, who was running his 97th marathon (Baltimore will be his 100th next month)

It was going to be a rainy day with little prospect for sun or dry conditions. Even before the start, it started sprinkling a little bit. We parked at Fletcher's Cove, where the marathon was to start, heading north on the C&O Canal Towpath for 6.55 miles, and then back. Half marathoners would complete one loop and full marathoners would complete two loops. There were only a couple small hills on the course, and it was very peaceful, running on the dirt and gravel trail sandwiched between the canal and the Potomac River. Scot and I took the early start, along with quite a few others. I lined up near the back of the pack because the trail was narrow and I didn't want faster runners to be bobbing and weaving around me.

The crowd getting ready for the early start

Fletcher's Cove, looking south on the towpath (the way we did not run)

It didn't take too long for the pack to thin out. I did my run/walk intervals almost from the beginning (I skipped the first walk break). Then I was leap-frogging with a handful of other runners at about my pace. It rained off and on during the first couple hours, but the temperature and humidity were much more comfortable than what I experienced the previous week in Virginia Beach. I was feeling good. I was sticking with my scheduled run/walk intervals, and only walking extra at the aid stations. I was pretty much on pace. The scenery was very serene and it was pretty cool to run past the various canal locks, which still had houses where the people who tended the locks used to live. We were running on a piece of history. Life was good.

Early in the race when the pack had not yet thinned out; this is what it looked like for miles

One of the locks, this one is where the first aid station was positioned

After the turnaround, I saw Scot. He was behind me, pacing an older half marathoner who needed some encouragement. This is one of the things I like about Scot. When he sees someone who needs some extra support or motivation at a race, he comes to the rescue. He was going slower than he would have if he'd been running solo, but he was happy sticking with his new friend and was in good spirits.

On the way back from my first loop, I started to evaluate my progress and my goal for the day. Yes, I was registered for the marathon, and I could have finished the marathon. But I would have slowed down significantly in the second half. I chose to celebrate having a good half marathon, and in fact I turned in my best half marathon time in quite a while. I wanted to have that successful race in my stats. This would also be a mental boost for me, going into Berlin: the fact that I had a good race and felt confident. All that mental stuff counts for a lot! So, I came in for a good half marathon finish and my time was recorded. I received my medal (it was the same medal for the half and the full).
The medal was very simple with this design as a sticker on a medallion on a blue ribbon

The next part of my plan was to go back out onto the course to log my additional 7 miles. First, I wanted to stop by the car and change out of my wet running shoes and drop off my phone. Normally, my phone is very well protected in my shorts pocket, covered by my running skirt. But the rain was too heavy and I didn't want to risk damaging the phone by allowing it to get so wet. I didn't want to go to the car until I saw Scot come in from his first loop. I wanted to tell him what my plan was. After a little while, Scot brought his new friend in for the half marathon finish, I chatted with him briefly and sent him back out for his second loop.

Then I went back out wearing dry shoes. I had stopped for nearly 40 minutes, which was a lot longer than I had expected. It was hard getting back up to pace. I was running slower, but that was OK...I was running. And then the rain really started coming down. I was completely drenched in no time, new shoes and all. And the trail was flooded in several areas. Then a couple other things happened. My knee started giving me trouble. I had never had knee problems, but I felt a slight pinching feeling below my left patella. It would eventually go away, then come back. The other thing was that the soaking wet clothing caused chafing in places where I don't normally chafe. I had raw, irritated skin under my arms and under the neckline of my shirt. Both the knee and the chafing felt better when I walked. So, after my turnaround at 3.5 miles, I pretty much walked the rest of the way back.

But the good news is that I was still in REALLY good spirits. I was still high on my successful half marathon, and proud of myself for going back out for 7 more miles in a complete downpour. I was mostly alone on the course at this point. There were several marathoners still out there, but they were really spread out. I just took in the rain, the scenery (saw several blue herons in the canal, as well as a cute little toad on the towpath), and enjoyed myself. I worried about Scot's state of mind being out there with more miles to go, but I did not worry about myself. For the first time this summer, I felt confident going into Berlin.

After my 7 bonus miles, I stayed out in the rain at the finish line to cheer in the remaining marathoners. I was already 100% soaked, and we neglected to bring towels or dry clothes in the car, so I "embraced the suck", as they say. There weren't a lot of people left. Just the race crew and the friends/family members of the remaining marathoners. But everyone there was upbeat and positive. This was a good day. Eventually Scot came in for his finish. We stuck around for a few more minutes to say some good-byes, then we took our soaking, and now, for me, cold bodies and drove home.

The Abebe Bikila marathon and half is not a big-time, flashy event. It was understated, the medal and t-shirt were pretty basic, and the fanfare was just not there as it is with a larger race. But all the runners were taken care of. The logistics were good (at least for us taking the early start, parking was easy), the volunteers at the aid stations and at the start/finish area were great, there was food, including Ethiopian injera bread. There was even some musical entertainment. In spite of the rain, it was a good time.

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