I was about 4 people away from the starting line when the gun went off.
It took all of about 1 second for me to cross over the line. My goal was to run between 2:40:00 and 2:45:00, and I was hoping to be at 2:45:00 pace halfway through and then run negative splits. Any sort of a PR would make my slowest goal, so I needed to run faster than 2:51:37 at the very worst.
Mile 1: 7:37 / 7:37 (+1:19)
The first mile was long; I have no doubts about that. I imagine that I was running at about a 6:30 pace, possibly a tiny bit quicker. I did not pass the mile marker until 7 and a half minutes in, though. As I was running, I looked up and saw somebody wearing an Eden Athletics singlet, so I picked up the pace a little bit to catch up to him and discovered that it was Matt Hougan running his first marathon. (He ran an impressive 2:54:58.) I ran with him for about a mile before letting him take off. We both had a similar goal of 2:45, but I did not want to be going at that pace this early on.
Mile 2: 5:17 / 12:55 (+0:19)
The second mile was (appropriately enough) as short as the first mile was long. The folks that were around me were all laughing at your low 5 minute mile we had just run. As far as I could tell, though, mile 1 was the only marker that was in the wrong place.
Mile 3: 6:29 / 19:24 (+0:31)
My friend, Ryan Pancoast, caught up to me shortly after the 2nd mile marker. I had failed to meet up with him before the race, but we got to run together for 4 or 5 miles. He ran the race last year in 3:31:38, so he ran an amazing race this year where he managed to cut almost 20 minutes off of his time. He finished in 3:12:17 this year. I have never cut that much off of any of my PRs in one go, although I have hopes of doing so in the 50k the next time that I run one.
Mile 4: 6:10 / 25:35 (+0:24)
Mile 5: 6:30 / 32:06 (+0:37)
The next couple of miles were downhill and fairly easy. I spent most of the time chatting with Ryan about the race and encouraging the wheelchair athletes that passed us as we moved along.
Mile 6: 6:32 / 38:38 (+0:52)
Mile 7: 5:58 / 44:37 (+0:32)
Being 52 seconds over my goal pace at mile 6, I felt that it was time to start picking up the pace a little. The 6th mile saw a slight climb, and technically the 7th mile was pretty flat. However, there was a pretty good drop midway through the 7th mile that I used to pick up the pace and pass a few people.
Mile 8: 6:06 / 50:43 (+0:21)
I kept on a strong pace through here despite the climb. I enjoy running hills, when all is said and done. I passed Paul Epstein and another Running Wild runner through here and zeroed in on catching up to a marine that I saw up ahead. It was tough work, though, and it took me a good mile and a half.
Mile 9: 6:12 / 56:56 (+0:16)
Mile 10: 6:02 / 1:02:58 (0:00)
My goal had been to catch up to the marine that I had been chasing and to keep on at the pace that I was going, but when I caught up to him I realized that we were going at about the pace that I wanted and got to chatting. Sometimes I talk too much during a run. He said that his name was Jeff, but the results list him as a Thomas. I’ll just refer to him as the marine until he emails me and lets me know what his name actually is.
When we passed the 10 mile marker, we were exactly at 2:45:00 pace again, so it was time to dial back the pace to a more reasonable level for the time being. It was around this time that Paul caught up to us, and the 3 of us ran together for the next 12 miles or so with various other folks joining our pack off and on. We kept the pack between 5 and 8 people until the later miles when we began breaking up.
Mile 11 & 12: 12:29 (6:14.5 pace) / 1:15:28 (-0:03)
I completely missed the 11th mile marker, which is fairly tough since they had all of the miles well marked and there were always marines with bullhorns at each one. Nobody else in the pack saw it either so there is always the possibility that there just wasn’t one. We ran a fairly consistent pace through here, though.
One of the wheelers passed me around this point, and we had been passing each other back and forth throughout the entire race. I cheered him on and he stated that I’d catch up to him soon enough. I didn’t think so, though. I told him that I better not since the course was mostly flat the rest of the way, and I was right. I never saw him again. He had had a lot of trouble navigating the hairpin turn in the 7th mile as we went down the hill.
Mile 13: 6:14 / 1:21:44 (-0:06)
My split at the halfway point was around 1:22:20 or so; perhaps a few seconds higher. My official split was another 30 seconds higher than that, which was definitely not the case, but I am not convinced that the timing mats had their times synchronized very well. They were all about 30 seconds slow except for the 5 mile split and the finish line split.
Mile 14: 6:22 / 1:28:07 (-0:01)
I saw my wife and friends for the first time in the 14th mile. They were actually at the 12th mile as well as I went around the northern side of the Mall, but I did not spot them in the crowds. There were very few people on the southern side of the Mall at this point, though, so I got to see them as I went by this time. It is great to see family and friends when you are running.
Mile 15: 6:19 / 1:34:26 (0:00)
Mile 16: 6:17 / 1:40:43 (-0:01)
The next couple of miles were pretty consistent with our group. We had some fun waving at the cameras and just pushed out the miles one after another. One thing that I noticed was that you could constantly see the Washington Monument during this race. On the eastern side of the Potomac, it just seemed to appear in front of you every time that you changed direction.
Mile 17: 6:20 / 1:47:04 (+0:02)
Mile 18: 6:22 / 1:53:27 (+0:06)
Mile 19: 6:23 / 1:59:50 (+0:12)
The next 3 miles were really hard. The wind was not too bad for most of mile 17, but once we got near the mile marker and moved into mile 18, the headwinds became pretty fierce. It was here that running in a pack really helped out, because everybody stepped up to the place to break the wind. We would all take turns for a couple of minutes at a stretch to take the lead, with the pack breaking up a bit at the water and food stations and then consolidating again once we were through. Our consistent pace through here is a testament to our teamwork.
Mile 20: 6:17 / 2:06:08 (+0:12)
The bridge, which is normally a tough part of the course, was pretty easy for me. We did not exactly have a tailwind as we crossed over, since the wind was more at our sides than behind us, but it did not hinder us at all so that was almost as good as a tailwind after the past 3 miles. Our pack began to break apart as we crossed it, with Paul taking the lead and most of the rest of the guys falling off of the back. The marine and I stuck together for another 3 miles or so. I passed Matt Hougan through here as he struggled to break through some new territory in his running.
Mile 21: 6:23 / 2:12:31 (+0:17)
Mile 22: 6:36 / 2:19:08 (+0:36)
Mile 23: 6:46 / 2:25:54 (+1:05)
Through here I spotted my wife and friends again, and gave them a good wave as I ran by. My wife was hopping about 3 feet into the air as she cheered me on; she was so excited that she even forgot to unfurl her sign that she’d made up.
The Crystal City miles are supposed to be easier for most people than the bridge, but I found the opposite to be true. Especially at the turn around, where you run along a brick road, I began to hurt a bit and my pace began to falter. Somehow, my road id came unlatched and I felt it bouncing around on my stomach. Thankfully, I’m a firm believer in tucking your singlet in or else I would have lost it. I pulled the chain off and stowed the two pieces in the pockets in my shorts.
These miles are an out and back, so my buddy “OohRah”d at a lot of marines that were ahead of us as they came back the other way. The marines had a great showing this weekend; I think that they had three guys in front of the first Royal Navy runner. Shortly after the course split off again I began running by myself.
Mile 24: 6:53 / 2:32:48 (+1:40)
Mile 25: 7:01 / 2:39:49 (+2:24)
I passed Paul in here somewhere, and shortly thereafter I was really wishing that the group was still together. The headwinds were not as fierce as they were in Boston earlier this year, but they were pretty strong and it is much harder to break them by yourself than it is when you only have to worry about it for a few minutes at a time. I managed to keep moving at a decent clip, but I was falling off of the pace fast. The only reason that I was not worried about that was because I knew that there was no way that I would fall so far off that I’d fail to beat my personal best.
Mile 26: 6:52 / 2:46:41 (+2:58)
The last mile saw a reprieve from the wind, which was nice. The race directors decided that they wanted to be cruel to the runners, though, and make them run past the finish line, do a hairpin, and then run up a hill to come back to the finish. Actually, they make them do another hair pin and go up a steeper hill right at the end, but that one isn’t as bad.
Mile 26.2: 1:21 / 2:48:03 (+3:03)
I felt pretty strong in the last few hundred yards. I waved for the crowd, got them pumped up when my name was announced over the intercom, and hammed it up as I sprinted in. And by sprinting in, I mean picking up the pace a little bit over what I had been running. It is an uphill finish, after all.