When I signed up for my first half marathon in 2014, I wasn’t entirely sure I could run that far. 13.1 miles seemed so overwhelming. I learned that I could do it, though, and in a reasonable length of time, too (2:35:16). Now that I’ve run seven of them, the distance no longer scares me. After the 2014 Marine Corps Historic Half, I posted on Facebook that I felt like my legs would fall off. I was sore for days. On February 20 I ran my seventh half, and although I was a little sore for the rest of the day, I felt well enough to seriously consider going for a quick run the next morning. (I went for a walk instead–and I had some soreness in my right shoulder and hip from my epic wipeout on the trail–more on that in a minute.) I signed up for this only a week and a half before the race–just in time, too, because it sold out shortly after that. I didn’t really have to train for it because I’ve been running consistently and keeping my weekend long runs between 7-11 miles. (I DO have to train for the Blue Ridge Half in April, though. Lots of hill workouts.) I came to the Dahlgren Trail Half with no time goal and no expectations except to have a great time and enjoy the scenery!
The Dahlgren Trail Half follows the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage trail in King George County. It’s a flat out-and-back course along a dirt and gravel trail. I’ve been told that it’s easy for a trail race because it’s pretty wide and not very technical. I found that to be true, but you still need to keep your eyes on the trail because of roots, rocks, and even some old railroad ties. It does narrow down in spots, too. But it’s a beautiful course with awesome support and a very friendly and festive atmosphere.
Before the race (and after spending a good half hour looking for a geocache and not finding it, grrr…) I met up with friends from Moms Run This Town L. and T., and another friend of theirs (whose name escapes me, and I’m not using names in this post anyway) and we chatted by the fire that the race organizers had graciously built for a little while until our wave was called. The beginning of the course is tricky because there are still rails to trip over and not a lot of room, so they started the race in waves by age category. Of course they called the 40+ women last, but we didn’t mind because the weather was unseasonably warm.
At the start of the race, I had my Jeff Galloway timer set for a 1:30/30 run/walk interval. I noticed right away that there were other women following their own run/walk plans, and I chatted with a few of them about the intervals we were following. Once we got through the first mile or so of tricky terrain, I was able to settle into a pretty comfortable pace. I knew that this race wouldn’t be my fastest half marathon by far, and I half expected it to be my slowest, given that it was a trail race. I figured I’d do my run-walk-run, take my Gu at mile 7 and mile 10 like I planned, and see what happened.
Mile 1: 10:48
Mile 2: 10:52
Mile 3: 11:00
One thing I did differently this race was turn on the GPS on my Fitbit Surge. Normally I’ll leave the GPS off completely, or track it on my phone with the sound off so I can look at it later. For the first time I was able to look at my pace throughout the race. I don’t know if that helped or hurt me, but it was kind of nice knowing how fast or slow I was progressing. When I noticed that my splits were already getting slower, I didn’t worry about it, and I think my reaction was, “Huh. OK. I knew this would be a slow race…”
Still, I was passing people. As I pulled up beside one woman just as my timer beeped for my 30-second walk break, we said hello and she slowed to a walk as well. I asked her if she was following a run/walk plan, and she said kind of; she was just running and walking when she felt like it. When I started my run interval, she speeded up. At the next walk break she said, “I like your intervals! This is working great for me!” Delighted to have someone to chat with (I gave up music during runs for Lent), I happily ran with her for the next few miles. I learned her name (“M”), that she moved here a few years ago from Canada, that her favorite half marathon was the one she ran with her mom in Quebec City, and she was currently training for the Paris Marathon (!!!! I’m not the least bit jealous.) We ran/walked together for the next few miles, talking about our running and our families and races we’ve done. Neither of us had a time goal for this race.
Mile 4: 11:32
Mile 5: 11:07
Mile 6: 11:23
Soon after we started running together we started to see the race leaders on their return trip toward the finish. After a while there were more and more people coming the other direction, and I found myself having to get out of their way. Not far from the turnaround point I decided to pick up the pace a little bit, so we wished each other good luck, and I went on ahead.
At Mile 8 I was still feeling great, and I reset my Galloway timer to a 2:00/30 interval. I was also running faster during my run segments, and I noticed my pace was starting to increase once again. At around Mile 9, I came up behind L. and T., and it wasn’t long until I passed them. This BLEW ME AWAY, because in the handful of races we’ve done since I met them last spring, they’ve finished way ahead of me. Jeff Galloway is a genius, I tell ya!
Mile 7: 11:04
Mile 8: 11:02
Mile 9: 10:48
Mile 10: 10:01
By this time I was beginning to think maybe this wouldn’t be my slowest race. I was still pretty sure I wouldn’t get a PR, but now the competitive side of me was coming out. I started to pay more attention to the runners ahead of me in hopes of overtaking them. I took my second packet of Gu and surged forward. Soon after I shoved the empty pouch into the side pocket of my Saucony Bullet capris, the toe of my Saucony Ride 8 caught something. (Will Saucony sponsor me now? In my dreams…) I don’t know if it was a rock, a root, or a railroad tie, but I’m sure you can guess what happened next. Yep, I went down hard on my right side. I lay sprawled on the trail just long enough to determine that nothing was broken. My hands were a little scraped up, I was pretty sure I would have bruises on my shoulder and my hip, but as I stood up and walked a little bit I figured I might as well keep running–slowly at first but I was able to bring my pace back up fairly quickly.
Mile 11: 10:27
Mile 12: 10:11
By this time I was starting to wish I had music to listen to. I will say that going music-free has so far been going well, because I’m praying the Rosary as I’m running, and I’m able to really focus and meditate on the mysteries that I’m contemplating. After pushing myself for the last several miles, I was starting to get tired, but I think taking it easy for the first half of the race and gradually building speed (except for that one little fall that slowed me down) I still had enough energy to stay strong.
Mile 13: 9:38
Mile .02 (according to my watch): 8:58
After collecting my medal I stretched and cheered for T. and L. as they crossed the finish line only a short time after me. We got some coffee and milled about a little bit, and talked by the fire about the race and the ones we might be doing next. I found M., and we chatted for a few minutes before we all started heading home to our husbands and our families. That’s something else I love about running, and especially racing: I almost always meet new people at races, and I’ve kept in touch with many of them. Running is a great way to meet new friends, even (or maybe especially) for an introvert like me.
Official Time: 2:21:47
Place: 6 of 20 in the Women’s 40-49 age bracket.
I would definitely recommend this race, whether you like to run roads or trails. (Just watch your feet…) I’ve found another great running and walking route! AND, there are a ton of geocaches along the course. I can’t wait to go back for a more casual RunnerCaching trip there, and Lord willing, for next year’s race!