This morning, I ran the first marathon of the Independence Series. Today’s race was in Fair Hills Natural Resource Management Area in northeastern Maryland. The course was an out-and-back that we ran 14 times.
The race started at 6:00 AM. I’m glad these races have early start times, but it meant getting up early. I set my alarm for 4:00, giving me enough time to get ready, but also ensuring I wouldn’t get a full night’s sleep.
I got to sleep early enough, but woke up and had trouble getting back to sleep. After tossing and turning for most of the night, I got about three hours of sleep. I slept well Monday night, so I was able to get by OK today. If I don’t sleep better tonight, it’ll catch up to me. That was my experience the first time I did a series like this. Day three was the toughest.
The weather was excellent. It was about 45 degrees at the start, but warmed into the low 60s. It was a clear day with light winds. It looks like we’ll have similar conditions all week. After so many cold wet races, I really needed to have good weather for this series.
My goal was to run a time just under four hours. I'd like to do that in all five races. I wore a Garmin watch, so I could know my mile splits, but I never bothered to look. Instead, I paid attention to my lap times. I needed to average roughly 17 minutes per lap.
When the race started, I found myself in the lead for the first lap. There was a volunteer on a bicycle to lead the way. He stopped at the turnaround point for one of the shorter races, but told me there was a cone next to the big pine tree up ahead. I saw the tree and continued running until I reached the cone. I got there in 7:55, which was 35 seconds ahead of schedule.
On my way back, I could see all the other runners. That’s one of the features of multi-loop courses. You see everybody, whether they’re faster or slower. Since I was leading the race, I also got to see who was right behind me. The next two runners were Seth and Vincent.
I finished that lap in roughly 16 minutes, which was one minute faster than I planned. Since I was ahead of my pace, it seemed like a good time to take out my camera. In the next lap, I stopped a few times to take pictures.
The course started on pavement, but quickly transitioned to a dirt road,
The next part of the course is used for horses, and we passed some stables.
The rest of the course was double-track. The surface was a combination of grass and packed dirt. It was fairly flat. There also weren’t any roots or large rocks to trip on, so it was pretty runnable.
You did have to watch out for horse droppings, however.
As I was taking pictures, Seth took the lead. After putting away my camera, I eventually caught up again. After a few more laps, I was once again leading the race. I was still averaging 16 minutes per lap, which was faster than I planned.
Eventually, I slowed down to 17 minute laps. Even though I slowed down, I could see that my lead over Vincent and Seth was still growing. I reached the halfway mark in 1:53:48. That was a little fast, but I was content to run positive splits. My plan, at that point, was to run 17 minute laps for the rest of the race.
Midway through my ninth lap, I could hear someone approaching from behind. I knew Vincent and Seth were several minutes back. Who else would be running faster than me? As I reached the turnaround, I saw who it was. It was Craig. He was matching my pace, so I had to assume we were on the same lap. Why didn’t I ever see him behind me before?
I picked up my pace in the second half of that lap. At the end of the lap, Craig was right with me. In the next lap, I picked it up more. I ran my 10th lap in 16 minutes. I opened a small gap, but it wasn’t a comfortable lead.
During that lap, I caught my foot on a small rut and stumbled forward. I didn’t fall, but it jarred my legs. I wondered if they would start getting sore by the end of the race.
I felt like I was running too fast for the first day of a five day series, but I saw the chance to win the race, and I had to take it. I hammered out the same pace for the rest of the race. Eventually, the pace wore Craig down, and my lead grew. In the last two laps, it started to seem like I had a safe lead, but I didn’t let up. I finished in 3:48:30.
After finishing, I waited for Craig. Talking to him after the race, I learned that he started late. He missed the start, because he was still in the bathroom. That’s why I didn’t see him in the early laps. He caught and passed Seth and Vincent, but I didn’t know that. I didn’t notice him until he caught up to me. Had he started with the rest of us, it might have been a different race.
During the race, I was drinking Gatorade after each lap, but I didn’t eat any solid food. I made up for that after finishing. I started with a few glasses of chocolate milk. Then I had a PBJ, grilled cheese, pickle slices and coke. When I got back to the room, I continued refueling with some snacks that I had in my room. Refueling quickly is important when you only have 20 hours to be ready for the next race.
By the time I left, my legs were already getting sore. My right quad felt particularly sore. It might be because of my stumble during the 10th lap.
I’m staying in Elkton, MD, which is close to Delaware. Tomorrow’s race in Delaware is less than 10 miles from my hotel, so I’m staying in Elkton for another night. That means I don’t have to travel today.
Without needing to get on the road, I could take my time rehabilitating my legs. I started with a 20 minute ice bath to prevent inflammation. After a hot bath to loosen my muscles, I did some stretching. Then I worked on my calves and hamstrings with a massage stick. Finally, I worked on my quads with a foam roller. (I didn’t pack light.)
This is the sixth time I’ve won a race. Three of them were ultras, and three of them were marathons with relatively small fields. By chance, they’ve all been in different states. Am I too old to try to win races in every state like Chuck Engle?
I’m curious to know how tomorrow’s race will unfold. I’ll have sore legs, but so will Craig. He’s a 50sub4 member, and I think he said that Delaware is one of the states he still needs. If so, I should assume he’ll break four hours. Of course, there could always be someone fast who didn't run today. With three more races after tomorrow, it might not be smart to go for another win. If I see a realistic chance, though, I may have to go for it. At this rate, I’m going to be really sore by Sunday.
Maryland is done. One down, four to go.