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At the Races

Yes, I am done with marathons!

B&A Trail Marathon

Audrey Blanda 3:53:45

Yes, I am done with marathons, because it is inconceivable to me that I will ever, ever run as well as I did on Sunday, March 4 at the B&A Trail Marathon in Severna Park, MD, a suburb about 10 minutes from downtown Annapolis.  The short story is that I ran a 3:53:45, a 5+ minute PR, and a BQ under the new standards on a fantastic course in perfect weather.  I even had a slight negative split, with a 1:57:09 first half and a 1:56:45 second half, and I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out how that happened.

Here’s the long story:  Intro: After running Richmond for fun last November with my friend Monica (and hell yes, I had a blast!), I wanted to run a serious race.  2011 was a marathon bust for me, race-wise, with a disastrous Boston and an injury right before Richmond, so I was itching to see what I could do.  I saw the B&A Trail Marathon (never heard of it) on marathonguide.com.  Certified course, easy drive, intriguing.  The weather could be a big variable in early March, but it would definitely not be hot (I tank in heat), and the weather at most other times of the year hadn’t exactly been my friend.  When I saw that it fell on my 47th birthday, I took it as a sign, and registered.  For $50 (early registration), I also got a great pair of track pants, a nice alternative to another tech shirt.  I decided to take the family, we had never seen Annapolis and wanted to visit the naval academy.  I mentioned it to Monica, my partner in crime, and she signed up as well.

I felt my training wasn’t nearly where I was in 2009/2010, but in retrospect it was solid.  Very consistent.  Since November I’ve been meeting my long run partner in Central Park every Sunday, and the hills there will train anyone for any road race anywhere.  I had some speedwork and a few races, but no real MP or tempo runs.  I was insecure about the lack of long MP runs and the lower overall mileage, so I thought B&A would be the “proto-race,” and the real goal race would be NYCM in November.

The B&A Trail Marathon is not a “trail race.”  Except for less than one mile, the course is run entirely on a wide asphalt run-bike path, part of the national Rails to Trails system.  The course isn’t as scenic as the bike path at Mohawk Hudson, but I liked it better; it’s wider, and there are no ugly or trafficky urban areas to run through as there are at MHM.  The race is capped at 1050 runners combined for the full and half; there were only 328 finishers for the full.  The races run together, but it’s small enough that it was no problem.  For a small race, the course support was outstanding, probably because this race is put on by the Annapolis Striders running club.  It is really a race put on by runners for runners.  There were plenty of adequately staffed water and gatorade stops, though I only saw gels at one station.  The number of volunteers was not huge, but they were helpful, prepared, and loudly encouraging. It is really a gem of a race, and a well kept secret!

We drove down on Friday with a brief stop at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds.  Philip, a huge military history buff, was in seventh heaven. Even though the armory museum was closed, there were about 80 tanks from different eras on the lawn, and he knew the names of every last one, whether Russian, American, German or Japanese.  Amazing!  I reached the hotel with a bad case of taper madness.   One calf had a painful tight spot, the other hamstring hurt, and the drive made my ITB unhappy.  My stomach was messed up.  But I fought off visions of disaster, repeating “I’m 47, in good shape, and I can do this” in my head.  On Saturday,  I picked up the race packets for Monica and myself at the small but well-organized expo.   We toured the Annapolis Naval Academy (excellent tour, btw), saw all the youngsters (they looked about 14 to me) in uniform, and the crypt of John Paul Jones with his magnificently carved sarcophagus.  Then I flipped out because I thought I might be walking too much. We met up with Monica that evening for a pre-race dinner at a Thai place.  The great thing about Annapolis, if you are a seafood lover like me (and yes, I eat seafood a lot before a big race) is that crab is easy to get from the Chesapeake so they don’t feel the need to be stingy with it.  I had a plate of “Chesapeake Pad Thai,” topped with lots of the best crabmeat I’ve ever tasted. And the prices were quite reasonable.

Race Morning:  I hadn’t slept well on Friday night, and didn’t sleep on Saturday night either, so I got up at 5 am Sunday wondering why TF I was doing this when I really could just creep back under the covers. My goal time had been a 3:55 before we left, then dropped to 4:00 on Saturday with no sleep, but after little sleep on Saturday too my goal was anything under a 4:10.  I had no energy.  But after half a gluten free bagel (I brought my toaster with me again) with honey, a banana, and coffee, I felt almost ready to go and decided on sub-4 as the goal.  I honestly didn’t think I was trained for it (no tempo or MP runs), but I would just try to stick with Monica.  I felt that I might really tank at this race, because I was so fatigued at the start, but dammit, at least I would look good going down!  So I wore a great Athleta outfit, a bright red “Energy Tank” over cute black shorts and not so cute black calf panties.  I read somewhere that bright colors help energize you, and the tank has a cool pocket in the back for gels so I didn’t have to wear my bubble-butt Race Ready short.  I threw a sweatshirt with the collar cut off (very Flash Dance and some disposable gloves on, which I ditched before mile 3 (kind of regretted ditching the gloves though).

The weather was about as perfect as you can get.  About 45 at the start, climbed to about 50 quickly, then started dropping.  Overcast for 90% of the race.

Monica and I drove to the race which started at 7:30 am outside Severna Park High School (yay, indoor bathrooms and lots of them!).  We arrived at 6:30-ish and found parking easily in the lot (yay, small race!), hit the head (naval term, hah) a few times, and still had time to spare.  We waited inside the school until 7:25 :shocker!:, then went out to the start and easily found a great spot.  The theme here is easy!  It was exciting to see all the kids from the Naval Academy wearing Navy tech shirts with “Marathon Team” on them.  You don’t see so many marathoners this young at most races.  Since my biggest problem is starting too fast, I started with Monica, who promised to keep me slow at the beginning.  She’s a better pacer than I am, and won’t speed up to MP for at least 6 miles or so.  So I ran with her for 4 miles, when I realized that even if I could stay with Monica and we both ran a sub-4, a sub-4 would be a BQ for her, while I needed a 3:55.  I love Moonie, but I knew I would feel like shit if she hit a BQ and I didn’t at least try for mine.  When I figured that out, it was game on!  I started to speed up just a bit, which felt more comfortable for me anyway.  We had told each other to run our own races anyway,  and I figured that Monica would catch up once she picked up her pace.  I did see her after the turn around at mile 20, and she was only about 2-3 minutes behind me then.

Pace for the first 4 miles (from my garmin, slightly off from official results):

1. 9:03 (Moonie: “SLOW TF DOWN”)

2. 9:14

3. 9:14

4. 9:14

After a few minutes, I met up with a woman running the half.  We were perfectly matched in pace, and started chatting.  We ran the rest of the first half together, which was great for me!

Splits 5-13

5. 8:53 (this is comfortable)

6. 8:57

7. 8:31(downhill)

8. 9:05 (the only “real” hill in the race)

9. 8:51

10. 8:36

11. 8:40

12. 8:43

13. 8:57

My new friend split off toward the half finish after mile 12, and I started to worry about keeping myself on pace.  That worry was short-lived, as I caught up to two guys running at a nice steady clip.  I thought if I could stay with them, I’d be ok.  One of them dropped back, and I started chatting with the other, who turned out to be my own personal Pacing Angel dropped straight from Running Heaven by the Running Gods themselves. His name was Don, and he wore a Marathon Maniac shirt.  He was running B&A as his Maryland marathon for 50 states.  I asked him if he’d done Alaska yet, and when he said he wanted to run the 49th state on his 49th birthday in June, I confessed that it was my birthday that day.  I think he decided to stick with me because it was my birthday, because he never ran ahead even when I stopped quickly for a drink.  Don was phenomenal, steady as a rock.  He offered encouragement when I needed it, and I never had to look at my watch and try to do math; at every mile marker (little white wooden rabbits, the symbol of the Striders) Don would tell me our exact pace and what I needed to maintain to hit a BQ.  I felt like a celebrity with my entourage of one! He was amazing, even when I started to suffer at mile 23.  After mile 24 I would cry out loud every so often, and he would tell me how far to the turn in to the finish.  At about mile 25.5 we left the bike bath and headed to the finish back at the high school.  And then we were there!  We kicked it in together, I think he let me finish in front of him because it was my birthday.  I hit my watch and then looked at it.  I was honestly shocked.  I gave my Pacer Angel a big hug. I could not thank that guy enough.  Philip and the kids were at the finish line, and out of 22 marathons, I think this is the first time they actually saw me finish.  It was great having them there!

Splits from second half:

14. 8:46

15. 8:55

16. 8:48

17. 8:55

18. 8:46

19. 8:50

20. 8:38

21. 8:38

22. 8:46

23. 8:53  (this is where it stopped being fun and I started feeling nauseous)

24. 8:52

25. 8:59

26. 8:55

(.34 on my garmin) 2:54, 8:41 pace

About five minutes later, Monica came charging for her own BQ, and we hung out enjoying the glow for a while.  All in all, the best birthday since my dad took me to the ballet (without my brothers) when I was nine!:laugh:  I just don’t think I’ll ever catch the same wave that I did here, with perfect weather, a near perfect course, and my own personal Pacer Angels for the entire time, so I plan to quit while I’m ahead.  Except for NYCM this year, I’m already registered.  Oh, and maybe Boston in 2013, If I can register.  And if I can’t, maybe I’ll run Gansett (I qualified for that too) and spectate at Boston.  And then there’s Buffalo, which I always run in May, but that’s just for fun.  And I’ve never done Chicago and Philly, and I hear the Flying Pig is really fun.  And of course the Oz Marathon.  Oooo, and DWR, that’s a must for the FE with the newest runango member, Baby N!  And CIM, Avenue of the Giants, London… But after those I am definitely quitting.  For sure. Scout’s honor!

One thing I must give credit to, is the obvious power of the green smoothie.  Roger, Dave and Alison, this is clear proof.  Don’t look at me if you don’t PR at your next race!  – Audrey Blanda

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