Apr 24, 2014

Loudoun Half Marathon Recap

After running the WDW Half Marathon in January, I wanted to follow up with another race to look to improve on my race, having gotten the first half out of my system. I wanted to try and keep it fairly budget cheap, so requirement number one meant it needed to be local, no hotel required. I had some other races on my radar that I want to run sometime, but they were farther than race morning drive distance, so they were out. With little Wickee #2 on the way, I also wanted to make sure it was early enough pre-due date. Frankly, that worked out to make it an earlier season race, which is better running weather here in Virginia anyway. As a matter of chance I stumbled upon a local inaugural race, the Loudoun Half Marathon and 8K. It was in Ashburn (check), the race was in April (double check), and only $40 early bird registration (discount double check). We had a winner.


Loudoun Half Marathon start
I'm there, in the middle, I promise.
Let's start with some brief notes of the stuff leading up to the race. First, I want to mention pre-race communications. The Ashburn Area Running Club (AARC), who put on the Loudoun Half Marathon and 8K, did an amazing job with communications. There were updates almost weekly updates leading up to the race for about a month an a half which was phenomenal. They were emailed to you and linked to the updates portion of the website. They talked about the course map, preview runs, a look at the shirt design, reminders and inspiration. This doesn't even include any additional small updates and pics from their Facebook page. Best I've seen for any races I've run. Yes, even runDisney didn't give this much contact leading up to their races.

Packet pickup was quick and easy. Walk up, find your bib number, next table get your packet, next table for goody bag and shirt and you're done. Granted, it was a small race, so there wouldn't really be lines expected, but even at that they were set up to be amazingly efficient.

Race morning was good as well. Parking was ample at the school. It was nice being able to drive and park easily at the race site, as opposed to the Cherry Blossom which required a drive, metro ride and walk. The meeting area was right next to the stadium, which was opened up for the finish area and included real bathrooms, which was a nice added bonus. When I arrived there was zero line. Closer to start there got to be a short line (even in the men's room). Then it was just walk out the gate to the starting like and away we go.

The Race

Knowing it was a smaller race with no corralling, I let myself be towards the back of the pack. I know I wasn't going to keep up with all the people I saw, even at the beginning, and I was going to run my race, as I always do, which meant walk breaks, so I didn't want to hinder people right out of the gate. I know it would be easier there than forcing people to dodge around me. I started the race strong I felt, and kept my eyes on those in front of me. It's a little tougher to keep pace in a race like this for me when there aren't people too near to me. My problem is my mind tends to wander when I take walk breaks, and when it does my walk pace get slower than slow.

Running my race
Running my race.
Water stops were well spread out. They also full of people cheering, which was very nice. On a course that rolls through Ashburn, there wasn't exactly people lining the streets to cheer. There were people at time, still out as slow poke me came by, which was nice. All the water stations cheered and helped try to pump you up. Many seemed like they were being volunteered by local students, either from the track team or sports teams or other organizations, such as Boy Scouts. It was nice to see them out there. I have to also call out one specific group. Later in the course, way down at the bottom of a long hill there's a water stop. I see noone else ahead of me at this particular point. But I hear cheering. Loud cheering and hollering and clapping. Even though I was way in the distance, they were letting me know they saw me and they were there. There was a group ahead of the station, that I can only assume where cheerleaders, as they cheered a very rhythmed cheer. And they continued to cheer as I went off into the distance the other direction. It really helped mentally.

The finish
I'm givin' it all I've got!
The weather was beautiful. Even as the sun warmed up, there was a breeze that countered it. As it wore on, I got a little warmer at times, but the breeze was usually not far behind. After mile 8 or so I started to run lower on energy. I reached mile 9 where the course goes onto the W&OD trail, and started to think "here's the home stretch". The course would follow the trail all the way to back by the school. Then, promptly as I got some confidence, I also got something on my nose. I wiped a little something white off and can only say I guess that was a birds way of cheering me on. While running on the trail, it was really encouraging. Many people, runners and bikers alike, would give me some encouragement as they ran in the opposite direction and saw my bib. I received a lot of "great job", "you're almost there" and "finish strong!" It felt good. Unfortunately, I was also feeling tired. By mile 11 I was running on fumes. I hadn't trained as hard as I needed to coming in, and this is where I started paying the price. It didn't stop me. I kept pushing as much as I could. I even past someone in the last mile which was a small boost. The last small chunk of the race was on the track, so as the last turn came I started my final run. As I got down the straight away I pushed the speed more and more as much as those fumes could carry me. It might not have been fast but it was all I had. Right above both my knees got really tight but I didn't stop until I crossed the finish line.

Official time: 3:16:29
Unofficial Tracking: Nike+

Post Race

I was greeted immediately with my medal and congrats at the finish line. Even being the 4th from the end, they were still there for me. Heck, there were even 2 people there for medals. After my medal I got the 2nd most important thing: a cold bottle of water. I drank that and waited for the person behind me to cross because I knew they couldn't be too far behind. I clapped and cheered as they crossed, grabbed a 2nd bottle of water and headed for the food. Unlike the Cherry Blossom, they still had plenty. I also liked it because it was different than other race, which often sports bananas, other fruit and maybe the occasional bagel. They had fruit cups, rice krispy treats, some cookies. It was a nice touch. From there, I slowly made my way back to my car, successful in improving upon my Disney Half. I didn't have my official time yet, and had waited a bit to stop my phone, so I had to wait until the evening to see my result. I hit a 15 min / mile pace, which made me so happy. I also had a PR by 17 and a half minutes!

As nine would say: Fantastic!

All round, that also sums up my feeling of the race. You had a fantastic return on your money for what you got out of the race, good course (with some small rolling hills), perfect weather, great volunteers and an amazing time. I so hope the inaugural continues into annual. If so, you'll see me there next year.

Race Grade: A


Loudoun Half bib and bling
Bib and bling.
Image credit: Race images were provided free, from the race organizers. Icing on the cake.


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