Race report: Potomac River Run Marathon

Potomac River Run Marathon

This is probably the only picture of me in which I am not grimacing or cussing after the race. Ouch!

It has been less than 24 hours since I completed the Potomac River Run Marathon in Carderock, Maryland.  So while the pain is still fresh in my quads – and my ego- I figured I would sort out the thoughts in my head by hammering it all out on the keyboard.

Some of you may remember my announcement last week that I was hoping for a PR at this race.  As you may have guessed, I did not accomplish that goal.  In fact, I didn’t even come close.  And I’m actually OK with that.

I always hate to over-analyze a race, but it’s probably useful for me to understand that although I put in the hours and time toward training for this PR, my subsequent training for the Eagleman Half-Ironman in June meant that I rode 42-miles on my bike in what should have been my taper week. Sure, I was tapering on my runs but that was the farthest and fastest I have ever ridden my bike, and I felt it in my quads all week.  I tried to take it very easy the rest of the week, but before I even hit the half-way point of this marathon I knew my quads were toast.

And here’s the thing…like a lot of marathoners, I have experienced the ‘wall’ in the later miles – I call them the ‘dark miles’ of the race. For me it’s usually 18-23.  When I’m tired and hurting and I still have so many more miles to go and I start making deals with my brain to end the pain.

But this definitely was not the wall.  This hit at mile 11 and up until this point I had been nailing my race pace – the race pace I had trained for.  Even reeling it in during those first miles when I was amped up and eager to let it rip.  But somewhere around mile 11, I could feel that my quads were done.  That long bike ride did them in more than I had realized and even 6 days of rest wasn’t enough of a taper to get them back up to speed.

I kept running, but around mile 18 I realized that a PR of any sort would be impossible.  Around mile 21, I was barely shuffling.  I was definitely in the wall zone at this point too and I made the decision to walk the better part of the last 5 miles to minimize the damage to my legs.

As I was walking, I beat myself up for not only missing my goal to PR, but completely blowing my chance to even finish strong.  And I was wondering how I could ever think that I might be able to complete a Half-Ironman in a few weeks and an Ironman in a few months if I couldn’t even find the mental strength to complete a marathon.

But then it dawned on me that me decision to walk had nothing to do with mental strength and everything to do with my desire to remain injury-free so that I could continue to train towards my future race goals.  And I also realized that in spite of the pain, I never stopped moving.  Even though my legs were shredded on that last 6 and I wanted nothing more than to stop and catch a ride home, I continued to put one foot in front of the other until I crossed the finish line.

So while I’m disappointed that I didn’t PR, I am proud of myself for assessing the situation and minimizing the damage before it got out of hand.  And the big lesson I learned is that training for an Ironman and PRing in a marathon do not go hand-in-hand.

So for the next few months, I will continue to train for my half and then full Ironman races, and I will continue to do speedwork, but PRs are off the table until next year.  Whew, that feels better!

As for the race itself, the Potomac River Run Marathon is a small, gorgeously scenic, and well-organized race along the famed C&O Canal trail.  It’s flat as a pancake and crushed shells and rock the whole way.  Yes, that’s easier on the knees.  But trust me, you will feel every shell and rock on your feet before that marathon is over.  It’s also an out-and-back race repeated twice.  So you essentially cover the same ground four times.  Boring?  Maybe.  But I think the scenery and the shade make up for that.

The race support is good in that they are very clear about what they have for racers and where the water stops are ahead of time.  But even though I don’t generally drink that much water on my practice long runs, I would have to say that I was absolutely parched in the 2 or so miles between water stops at this race.  Particularly in that last 10K.  If you’re a camel, you will be fine.  If not, bring your own water!

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  • Kel Villarrubia

    You’re doing great! In the end it’s about the journey, right? I know we tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves, but when you reflect on your life you won’t be thinking: “Man, I wish I had run that race faster.” I am confident that you’ll always remember your accomplishments and loved ones rather than what may seem like a shortcoming in the moment. Great job on all you’ve done and that you will continue to do! You are inspiring!

  • happyfitmama

    Oh man! I’ve so been there. Those voices that pop into our head during the dark miles are horrible. Way to go on not giving in and keeping your eye on the prize – half ironman!