The 2007 Frederick Marathon was what I expected. Here are the details:
- 165 miles raced in 2007
- Race: Frederick Marathon (and 5K)
- Place: Frederick, MD
- Miles from home: 49
- Course Difficulty: 5.5 out of 10
- Course Enjoyability: 7 out of 10
- Weather: 50-60s; swirling winds
- Finishers' Medal: 8 out of 10
- Donations To Date: ~41k
I had little reason to believe this marathon would be anything but a fun run even (given various circumstances, some you know, some you do not) though I knew I would, as always, give it my all. Luckily, I know races put on by the Frederick Marathon people are always good events.
As you may have known, this was the race where I would be participating as a Charity Chaser. Basically, I would start as the absolute last person to cross the start line and for every runner who I beat to the finish, Ferris Baker Watts would not only give a donation to the United Way of Frederick but also to my own charity, L’Arche Mobile. This idea came about in talks with the race directors of the Frederick Marathon, Rachel Ridgway and Larry Herman. Two nicer people would be hard to come across. I cannot say enough good things about them, both as humans and as runners and race directors.
So I arrived in Frederick the day before the race and was treated just as well as I had been one week earlier when I arrived in Seoul. I am still getting used to this "elite" treatment and don't think I ever will. Nevertheless, I accepted it graciously. While milling around and conversing I saw someone signing up for the 5K to be held Saturday night the night before the race. I turned towards Rachel and said, "Hey, can I do that?" She said sure and before Christine (my travel partner for the weekend and who was also running the marathon as well) could protest, I was signed up. What the heck, I thought. It had been over a year and a half since I had run 5K but I was itching to at least give it a try. So, I went home, rested up for a little bit, donned my race gear earlier than expected and headed back down to the Frederick Keys baseball stadium.
While the race directions were being given, the big inflatable stating line came crashing down. With complete poise, Rachel looked at it and said, "Don't worry." Within thirty seconds, the gate was blown back up and no one would have known a thing if they had not seen it.
Before the start of the 5K, I had promised Christine, who was looking out for my well-being, to run no faster than an 18:59. I wanted to run a nice even pace to get my legs warmed up and also wanted to have a respectable time. It had been years since I ran a "fast" 5K and one of my goals this year is to break my PR in every distance. So this race would be a barometer of how well I could do, in a reserved manner. Heck, I had a marathon the next day to run! Christine knew I was exhausted from my trip to Seoul plus a taxing week at work so I appreciated her concern.
When the gun went off I figured I would finish in the top ten or so and planned on that. Before a mile had gone by I could see I could do better. Much better.
With a quick sprint down the parking lot and across the street, we had two laps in a local cemetery, then back across the street. Following the warning track of the Frederick Keys baseball stadium from right field to left, we finished on the third base line. I am so glad I did this 5K as the previous year the marathon came in at right field and made a direct beeline down the first-base line. Few things are worse than thinking you are going to be done and realizing there is another 200 yards or so. So, now I knew that the end of the marathon would be the same way, which made my decision to run the 5K wise.
What probably was not wise was finishing second overall in a time of 18:22. Whoops! Christine just shook her head. I got a kick out of it.
If you read my recap last year, I had expressed some wariness over the Frederick Marathon course which appeared to have about 87 turns in it. Normally, I would not have been too bothered by this (being a relative novice and all) but the previous week I had not been directed the correct way (or simply missed a turn) and had ended up running longer than I needed to in order to finish. So the puzzle-like course appeared to be a recipe for disaster. I was glad to be wrong. In fact, the direct quote from my recap last year was:
"A great course that was well marked (a little trepidation on my part after seeing the seemingly complex route map) and extremely well staffed (race volunteers had shirts that said: "OBEY ME" emblazoned on the front; there was no mistaking where you needed to go)"
Well, nothing changed this year except the color of the OBEY ME shirts (red to blue), and in spite of a few differences in the course, almost everything else was even better.
The Frederick Marathon course is not easy. It is most assuredly not hard either. It contains many rolling hills but rarely are those hills difficult and are often encountered after long stretches of straight flat running where the opportunity to work some different muscles is welcome. I have long felt that an entirely flat course does not lend itself to being the fastest. Again, I am no sports exercise medical type person (that is the correct term, right?) but that is what I have found through the running of 68 marathons. By continuing to use the exact same muscles with no deviation, it does not take a PhD. to figure out those muscles will get extremely tired, while others, which are not used, could provide relief. So the rolling hills of this race are exactly that without being too taxing.
The course begins in nearly the exact same place as the 5K; right outside the Frederick Keys Minor League baseball stadium, which, as I mentioned before, is also where you finish the race. You run through the parking lot, and make a loop outside of the stadium. You then begin winding through some scenic little parts of downtown Frederick with its quaint narrow streets and shops on either side, all of which looked family owned and decades old.
A twist and a turn here, and a loop into some neighborhood there and around mile 10.5 you get a chance to see runners behind you around mile 7.5. With a few of those rolling hills thrown in you get to both feel a little bit of fatigue going up, but elation going down as the marathon gives back just as much as it takes, if not more.
Through the halfway point the half-marathoners peel off and it gets a little more desolate for a few miles as you run near the Frederick High School and then into the beautifully somber Mt. Olivet Cemetery (where Francis Scott Key is buried). This quiet is broken as you emerge on the other side, right next to the stadium where you started, which also happens to be mile 17. A little bit of a tease at this point since you still have 9 miles to go, this leg allows spectators to gather and cheer as you pass by without moving far from the start/finish at all.
The loneliest part of the marathon begins here where the runners are fewer between than before and the crowds are far more sparse. Runners travel through some back roads near open fields and along some highways. Traffic is blocked off so you needn't worry about breathing fumes or cars zooming by but somehow some hardy spectators still were able to make it out to cheer runners on.
A few more hills at the end, which would not be all that bad if not for something I will tell you soon (as it has nothing to do with the "course"), lead you to the last turn before you go up, down ,up, down two overpasses, around a bend, through a parking lot and then into the Stadium. A cheering crowd and a wonderful announcer who tries to grab as many names as he can from runner's bib numbers welcomes you as you circle the warning track. A really nice race through and through course-wise.
First 4 miles:
Standing still when the gun went off was one of the weirdest things I have experienced. Still wearing my sweatshirt which declared I was the "Charity Chase" (the weather was chillier than predicted; MUCH to our happiness), I did not even begin to think about taking it off for about two minutes, as hordes of people streamed by. Finally, I peeled it off to feel the brisk morning air and handed it to Robin, the wonderful person with Ferris Baker Watts who had been my personal liaison for the past day. I had just enough time to high-five Christine as she ran by to begin her marathon before I was pulled aside to be part of a quick photo for someone who wanted me holding the sweatshirt. Just got a race to do behind me, but ok!
Christine was coming back from an injury about a year ago as well as trying to erase some Frederick Marathon demons. You see, her first marathon ever was here at Frederick when it was held in March a few years back. Here in the greater DC area, even in March, you do not expect to get hit with what they did that morning: a freak snow storm! The funny thing is, a week earlier, when she had been part of the now-defunct D.C. Marathon (which folded a week before it was supposed to be run), the weather was perfect for a marathon. So she was here after running through the streets of New York in November simply enjoying the race (and darn near breaking her PR) to give it all she could. She had expressed some concern about her training but I knew she was far better off than she thought.
So finally, three minutes and 18 seconds after the gun went off, with the police car who was supposed to bring up the rear looking at me as if to say: "You gonna go?" (I wanted to wait a few more seconds to let the runners clear out a smidgen so I would not be caught in the congestion), I was off.
My goodness. That's about all I can say. Weaving and bobbing, running on the grass, sidewalks, and curbs, I tried to pick my way through the masses at the end of the pack. I have only experienced "pack running" about three times in a marathon previously (Marine Corps in 2004, Boston in 2005 and New York last fall) and that never lasted more than a few hundred yards. However, this race took me nearly 3 miles of running to get clear of a bulk of the runners. In the meantime, I received lots of "Waytogo's" and "Do I get my $2 back if I pass you?" as I weaved through the crowd.
To be honest, I had an idea of setting a personal best myself but that quickly evaporated as I knew it would be very hard given the extra energy I was expending picking my way through lots of runners. I then decided to just enjoy it and start seeing each runner in front of me as a dollar sign.
As I mentioned, if you were a few miles in front of friends you knew you would have a good chance of seeing them at this straightaway where runners passed each other on either side of the road. As luck would have it, even though she said she saw me as I passed by in the initial three miles, I got to see Christine for the first time here. She looked good. I was extremely pleased. I think I wanted her to do well more than I wanted for myself. For people who only run a few marathons a year, the importance and success/failure of one race weigh greater than with those constant 'thoners like me. For example, Seoul was tough but I knew I had a chance of redemption 6 days later.
By this point, I had passed a vast majority of the people I would pass on the day and it was just a matter of maintaining pace and picking people off here and there. I was mostly running with half-marathoners and relay people but I used them as motivation to keep me going strong.
After seeing my friend Mike Wardian pushing a stroller with his son inside (he was going for the World Record for fastest marathon pushing a stroller) as well as a girl running in a bikini (yep, a string bikini) I knew I was going to have not too many more people to pass. As it ends up, the girl in the bikini was a young girl of 23 named Jenn Shelton who is just a flat out AMAZING runner. She would finish in 2:53, beating the next female by nearly 18 minutes. We spoke after the race where she and, what I presume is her boyfriend Billy (who finished 4th overall with a 2:47) chatted for quite sometime. I did some research on both when I got home to supplement what we had talked about, and this 23 year old pair's tenacity on the ultramarathon courses is in stark contrast to their wonderful genial nature and easy smiles. So glad I had a chance to meet them. (A quick search showed me Jenn ran a sub 15 hour 100 mile race at Rocky Raccoon last year. In contrast, in my first 100 miler this June I hope to break 20 hours...just barely! You can see I am not even giving these two the credit they deserve.)
After the jaunt through the high school area, we passed through another shopping district and into the cemetery. The aforementioned sereneness overtook me and even though a mile back I felt tired I was rejuvenated here. Popping out near the stadium to cheering crowds brought me back to reality and invigorated me even more. I passed a pack of five runners and chased down one girl who I knew was in the relay. I just wanted to beat her to her hand-off person. Mission accomplished, I focused on the remaining 9 miles.
This next span of miles was wonderful. I began to pick off a few runners here and there and was beginning to quicken my pace. (KaleRunning.com did the timing and it was very thorough. For example, we received split times for each one of the relay stations. For the first 6.4 miles my pace was 6:58 per mile; from there to the halfway point I ran a 6:46 average; and my average mile time from the half-way point to the 17.4 mile mark was 6:45. You can see I was not lying when I said I felt that I was picking up!)
I did not tell you my average for the last 8 plus miles for a reason. You see, I have yet to mention the swirling wind that surrounded us all day; I did not want anyone to think that it was part of the "course". Having run this race last year with little to no wind, the course cannot be blamed for some freaky conditions such as wind out of nowhere. In fact, for the first few miles after 17 it was helpful, or at the very least, not ALL that bothersome. Sure, we had some headwind and some swirling conditions (both Christine and I commented on how we were glad we wore sunglasses if only for the reason that it blocked the flowing debris) but it was not much of a hindrance until later. How bad?
As I turned the corner at the mile 22 marker, I still had a chance to set a new PR and go sub-3. A 2:55 was out of the question and has become quite elusive lately but I knew I had a sub-3 in me. I had been running faster and faster (as shown by my splits above) and I felt strong. In fact, I inwardly commented on how strong I felt so late in the game. With a relatively flat finish I knew I had a lot left in the tank to make that push. But then the wind happened.
I checked the weather reports and during the finish of the marathon winds were blowing in our faces at a sustained 21 mph. I can tell you right now that the assessment of the winds was 100% accurate and included gusts approaching, if not exceeding, 35mph. I am talking the stand-you-straight-up kind of wind. And I am 180 lbs. Even with my ears it takes a lot of wind to knock me back. But knock me back it did. As I am counting on you to not be able to do the math quick enough for me to finish this recap in order to get my finish time (although some of my sneakier friends have cheated and looked anyway) I will tell you those 6:40s turned into 7:40s and beyond. Even though the first four miles from 17.4 were flying, the wind flat out took its toll from mile 22 to almost the finish. My average mile for that stretch? 7:19.
The one saving grace was one of the main things I have advocated for every marathon since I started running and the Frederick Marathon did it both last year and this year. I am talking about water and Gatorade EVERY MILE the last 10K. It is impossible to describe to non-marathoners how important a well-hydrated course in the last 6 miles is. Sure liquid and all is important throughout the race, but as any marathoner knows, the race begins at 20 miles. And the Frederick Marathon knows that and handles it perfectly. This is just amazing to me that it is not done more often.
Even though my salt-encrusted shirt would say I needed more than I took, I still knew that not only was the liquid going to be there, but so would the small cheering station of volunteers who mans those stations. The combination of cheers and liquid made even the worst winds palatable.
So while my time slipped away, I was able to do my very best to keep on and pass one or two more people.
With about 3/4 mile to go I got passed by the first person to pass me all day. I was ticked. Earlier in the race, one of the guys I had passed had decided to draft off of me (meaning he was using me to break the wind for him), which made me think: "Seriously? You are going to draft off of the Charity Chaser?" It took me a few minutes to shake him but I did eventually. Other than him, no one I passed mounted any threat to overtake me whatsoever. But here, this guy had come from nowhere to fly by me.
Over the last two overpasses we went and I kept him in my sights the whole time. I hadn't looked at my watch in minutes on end. I just wanted to beat this guy. Down through the parking lot and into the stadium we went. I was about 10 yards behind him but I could not close the gap. Around the warning track we went and I could feel I was gaining ever so slightly but did not know if I had enough race distance left. Turning at the outfield and down the third base line we went. I finally knew I had him.
As the finish line photo will show (and this will be one I am sure I will buy), I beat him by abut two feet. Or two more dollars from the sponsor. I crossed the line in 3:03:22, which was good enough for my third fastest time ever. I was quite pleased.
With a cheering crowd reacting to both this duel and the words of the announcer telling them I had passed hundreds of people and therefore raised hundreds of dollars for not only L’Arche Mobile but also the United Way of Frederick, I was beaming. I was also sore. And I had unfinished business. So I got a quick massage, grabbed a bottle of water and headed back onto the course. For I had told Christine that if I could, I would run back out and try to help her finish.
As I walked off the soreness ("running" right now was not in the cards) and cheered everyone else coming into the finish, my mind went back to the last mile where I had seen Christine. She looked so strong and, by my calculations, WAY ahead of her best time ever. I knew she had a few miles to go and I simply did not have the heart (or the energy) to tell her about the winds she would be encountering soon. All I could do was hope she weathered them well and pray they did not take too much out of her.
I walked over the two overpasses and before I knew it, there she was. I looked at my watch and thought: "No way!" I ran down to her and trying to block the swirling wind as much as I could (with little success) and began to pace her back to the finish. Or, get in her way, the choice is yours (one time she put a hand on my back and said: Run faster!"). Picking up another girl named Erin we had a little train going. Erin had a friend on a bike coaching her along as well so we motored along. We all began cheering for each other. Back down the hill through the parking lot and into the stadium we went. I left a smiling Christine as we both knew she was going to PR. By how much was the only question remaining.
As she finished on the third base line, she raised her hands and smiled a smile which could be seen by me on the other side. She had set a personal best by nearly THIRTEEN MINUTES!! Lord knows what she would have done if not for that wind!
So as you can see, I had a good race weekend. I spoke with Larry and Rachel after the race and said the only thing I would change would be the last few miles. As the course runs in open fields it lends itself to being subject to the weather far worse than it could if run next to buildings or a tree line. But that was my only complaint. Wonderful, friendly volunteers; an excellent race atmosphere from top to bottom; fan-friendly viewing stations (without moving more than a few feet you can see people at the start, 17 mile mark, and finish); a decently hard but not too hard course and wonderful amenities abound make the Frederick Marathon one of the best marathons out there.
Oh yeah, Mike Wardian. Pushing the stroller with two hands because of the wind (meaning he barely was able to use his upper body strength), this machine broke the Guinness Book of World Records time by 7 minutes to run a 2:42. I have to get him on a relay team!
So for all of you out there who promised donations based on each person I passed, multiply whatever it is you said you would give by 705 runners. That was the number of people who started before me who finished the race. Aren't you glad you didn't wager a dollar per person?
Special thanks to all my friends and family for their support, to the Frederick Marathon and to Ferris Baker Watts for making me the Charity Chaser. A similar event may be in the working, so stayed tuned!