I haven’t raced – really raced – in a long time. Speed has not been a priority of mine since 2016, favoring recovery and deliberate distance over quick turnover and short courses. In training, I’ve allowed my pace to settle in anywhere between 9 and 10 minutes recently, relishing in my simple ability to run pain free.
However, I love the DC Road Runners summer Bunion Derby race series. It’s a beautiful mixture of relatively short, easy courses, intense summer heat and humidity, wonderful people and most importantly, host of a post-race watermelon feast.
I signed up for several races in the series this summer, with the Hugh Jascourt 4-miler on the C&O canal being the first I actually showed up to. Run out of Fletchers Boat House a few miles outside of Georgetown, DC, this race is small, flat and can be fast.
I usually bike to races that start out of Fletchers, for a couple of reasons: traffic in DC sucks and it can sometimes take an hour depending on accidents to get to Fletchers, I work in Downtown and don’t drive my car so I’d have to go home to get my car and get to the race, and the ease of cruising on the Capitol Crescent Trail makes it a simple choice.
I arrived at the race about 20 minutes before the start. I was greeted by the check-in table and briefly chatted about the recent interview I did with Run Washington on the PATC-DC trail work I do. I headed up to the canal starting line, snapped a photo or two, then stood by waiting for the race to kick off. I reconnected with some old friends I hadn’t seen since my 2016 marathon training cycle. All around a lovely pre-race experience.
As the race director called people to line up, I started getting a little nervous. ‘What have I gotten myself in to?’ I thought. It was just a 4-mile race, but looking around and remembering how fast all my fellow road runners are, a knot started forming in my throat.
There was no time to ponder this question, however, as the race quickly commenced.
Running on the canal can be a monotonous event. It is flat, it is straight (except for the occasional long curve) and the ground is a tan dirt color pockmarked with puddles and the occasional pebble stone. This race was no different. I know the distance, I know the turn around point and I know the terrain very well. I have run this stretch more times than I can count.
When I was younger, I used to anticipate this section of the canal, because it meant we were almost done with our week-long ride from Pittsburg to DC. I rode the 350 miles or so with my brothers Boy Scout Troop several summers. Chain Bridge, maybe a mile into the race, was our lunch stop on our last day of the ride each year. My dad would be there with the family car, sandwiches packed along with snacks and drinks. We’d stop, relish in our near final journey, and then head back out. As soon as we got to Fletchers, the pavement of the Capitol Crescent was a welcome relief, and a beautiful sign that mile 0 was just a few miles further.
I settled in to a fast clip on the canal during the race. I knew I was moving way faster than my calm and collected 9 or 10-minute training pace. I was cruising with runners I knew were pretty fast, which at first gave me anxiety (was I going out too fast, was I going to burn out 2-miles in?) but near then end gave me strength.
At the turn around point, I was feeling good, but the switch in direction shook me for some reason. The first quarter mile heading back towards the start/finish I felt my cadence slip. I felt the humidity (it was not terribly hot). I focused on my cadence, focused on keeping up with the crew around me and shut out negative thoughts in my mind. I dug in.
I slowly started creeping forward, passing one, two, and then three runners. I settled back in to my pace. One mile left, and I started yearning for the finish. My body was not tired, but I just wanted to be done. I haven’t run this fast for this long in a long time. My body knew what to do, but my mind was saying ‘NO!’.
I crossed the finish line at 31:30, a sub-8 pace. I was so happy.
My legs immediately started seizing up. I walked/jogged down the canal trying to shake them out. The muscles were very tight, lactic acid had clearly built up. My body was mad. A few minutes of active recovery loosened them enough to let me go down the steps to the boathouse, grab a watermelon, and call Chris to let him know I was done and ran well.
I ended up getting third in my age group (neat!) and hung out talking swimming technique with my friend. I then hopped back on my bike, and cruise the 5 or so miles home.
Another great DCRRC race. Another happy day.