Holiday Half Marathon 2015, and the Oldest Geocache in Virginia!

Sunday, December 13 was the inaugural Holiday Half Marathon at Burke Lake Park in Fairfax County.  There are a ton of geocaches all around Burke Lake and nearby Lake Mercer, right on the half marathon course.  A. TON.  I managed to find two.  More on that later.

First, the race.  And what a race!


(The weather was too warm for a Santa hat, so Christmas socks would have to do.)

The start line was near the playground across from Shelter A in Burke Lake Park, and it looped around in that area for the first mile.  I knew this would be a fun race when I saw people stationed along the route acting out scenes from the movie “A Christmas Story.”  As the course headed toward the lake, the paved trail got pretty narrow and congested with runners.  Once the paved part ended and we hit the actual trail around the lake, it was wider and easier to maneuver around slower runners and get out of the way of faster ones.  (I was running near the back anyway, so there wasn’t a lot of passing on my part.)  As the course followed the trail around Burke Lake, I couldn’t help but marvel at the work that must have gone into putting on this race.  There were decorations and funny signs everywhere, and lots of people stationed at various points cheering for the runners.  There was a section of the race that was like a New Year’s Eve party, where every tenth of a mile or so, a sign with a number counted down seconds to midnight; and when it got to zero, people were handing out cups of sparkling cider.  Of course I partook in a little bit of that!

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At mile 7, the course picked up a paved trail for about a mile to Lake Mercer, and followed a hilly route around the smaller lake.  On this portion we were treated with “The Nightmare Before Christmas”-themed decorations, and then we got to run through Whoville.  I got a little verklempt when I passed a series of signs quoting “How the Grinch Stole Christmas:”

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling.  “How could it be so?  It came without ribbons!  It came without tags!  It came without packages, boxes, or bags!”  He puzzled and puzzed till his puzzler was sore.  Then the grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.  Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.  Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

Every time I watch that TV special, every time I read the book out loud to my preschool class, I get a little misty.

One part of the course was entirely devoted to Hanukkah. (My favorite sign in that section?  A picture of Adam Sandler with the quote, “Put on your yarmulke…”) I was so excited when someone handed me a chocolate coin at mile 10; when my stomach started cramping around mile 11, I wished I hadn’t eaten it.  For the first time during any race, I wondered if I might throw up.  The last two miles were a tough, and for once it wasn’t my legs that were protesting.  But I was in a great mood, because I only had two miles to go and I was having so much fun!  I powered through the stomachache and finished at 2:23:34, five minutes slower than my PR at the Hokie Half. I wondered if I might have gotten under 2:18 if I hadn’t kept stopping to take photos, but since this was my first trail race I wasn’t expecting to do that.  My stomach settled down after a while (the last thing I want to do after a race is eat; this time was no exception), and I even walked back down the trail as other runners were coming in for a geocache.

(Chocolate and this view at Mile 10.)

I don’t usually turn on my GPS tracking during races, but this time I did.  I kept the voice feedback off, so I didn’t know what my pace was until after I finished.  Surprisingly it underestimated the distance, so MapMyRun thinks I only ran 12.85 miles.  (The course was USATF certified.  I KNOW it was 13.1 miles, darn it.)  Needless to say my splits aren’t exact, but here they are, for what it’s worth:

Mile 1:  10:50

Mile 2:  10:36

Mile 3:  11:17

Mile 4:  10:57

Mile 5:  11:27

Mile 6:  11:04

Mile 7:  10:39

Mile 8:  10:41

Mile 9:  11:14

Mile 10:  11:21

Mile 12:  12:35 (What the heck? Must have been my stomach…or maybe a long photo stop.)

Mile 12.85 (Excuse me, MapMyRun, that would be 13.1, THANK YOU VERY MUCH):  11:20

All over the place.  I used a 1:30/30 run/walk interval, and if I had maintained that without all those photo stops my splits might have been more even.  But then again I might not have enjoyed it as much!  What’s the point of running a race if you’re so focused on maintaining your pace that you don’t take some time to have fun?


Maybe someday I’ll stop for a geocache or two during a race.  There were certainly many that I passed that would likely would have been quick finds.  But I’m no Joshua Johnson; and besides, there was a pretty strict cutoff time and I didn’t want to end up wandering around in circles not finding some random cache while runners ran past me and I ended up getting kicked off the course.  But before and after the race?  That’s a different story!  Because guess what is hidden at Burke Lake Park?  The oldest geocache in Virginia! If I had passed that one up it would have been a shame.  I gave myself plenty of time before the race to spend a good chunk of time looking for it (a bigger chunk than I hoped, because my c:geo app was being difficult. I should have asked for a fancy handheld GPS for Christmas…), and I’m happy to say I was successful.

I even managed to find another one not far from the finish line.  By the time I went looking for it most of the runners had come in, and the cache was far enough off the trail that I don’t think anyone noticed me.  (If they did they might have thought I was heading off into the woods for an emergency pit stop or something.)  As I headed back up the trail one of the volunteers cheering everyone toward the finished hollered, “You can do it!!”  When she noticed I was wearing my medal she laughed and said, “Oh!  You already finished!”  I didn’t tell her I was geocaching.  That was when I stopped and thanked her and the young man with her, and told them this was the most fun I’ve had running a race.

The medal isn’t all that great, and neither is the shirt.  But I’m not in it for the swag.  When I run a race, I want it to be well organized and fun, and the Holiday Half certainly lived up to that!


With Christmas vacation almost here, I’m hoping to do a little more geocaching since I don’t get to very often.  More running, too, of course.  One thing I want to do with this blog is give you some rundowns on caches along some of my favorite running routes, so stay tuned for that.  I may run a few races this winter, too, and I’m already scoping out caches near the ones I want to do.  We’ll see; it partly depends on if and when we go skiing, which we like to do a couple of times in January and February.

Hopefully I’ll post here again before the end of 2015. Until then, Merry Christmas, y’all!


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