I approached the George Washington Parkway Classic, a ten mile race, with one goal: don’t die. I was coming off a pretty serious cold (or, if you believe Pat’s wild theories, chest infection) and still had something of a cough. I felt fit enough to run (or, if you believe Pat’s wild theories, I was not fit enough to run), but I didn’t have any lofty goals and didn’t expect anything much from myself beyond finishing in the allotted time.
So despite Pat’s doubts about my general health, I hopped in the car at an ungodly hour Sunday morning, picked up my friend Sarah, and headed over to Arlington. From there we took a shuttle to the race start, none other than George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.
Sadly the grounds were closed, including the real toilets (boo). But the start area was definitely not without its perks. In addition to granola bars and bananas, runners were welcome to help themselves to – wait for it – free coffee! This was a boon as despite the weather being excellent for running (clear, low 50s for most of the race getting up to the mid 60s later in the day), the pre-race dawn was chilly.
The race announcer encouraged us all to take our places in the corrals about 20 minutes before race start. Corrals were self-seeded according to time, and Sarah and I took up a position a little behind the 10 minute mile area. After the obligatory national anthem, we were off.
I lost Sarah pretty quickly in the crowds – it was pretty heavy for a bit there – but we had a meet-up plan for later so it was no worries. I settled into a comfortable rhythm and chugged along, feeling surprisingly good for all my cold-related woes.
Other than the usual early-race masses, it was a pretty uneventful start. The sole weirdness was when a shirtless guy came whooshing up from behind at a dead run, bouncing between and off people in a desperate bid to get ahead. Was he an elite who showed up late? Did he get spooked by a plantation ghost? This mystery haunts me.
After that odd moment, though, the whole race was fairly mundane. It’s a straight shot down the George Washington Parkway – no turns or anything. Start at one end, finish at another. There were a few hills here and there but nothing my hill training couldn’t handle. (Ha, remember when I only ever ran on the treadmill? Those were the slow days.) For the whole ten miles I only ever walked at water/Gatorade stops.
There was more spectator support than I expected, seeing as how the whole thing occurred on a parkway inaccessible to vehicles. But there were some neighborhoods here and there, and I think some of them came out to cheer. At one point – I want to say around halfway – we passed under a bridge lined with cheering spectators.
Shoutout to my favorite sign: a big bedsheet draped over an existing roadsign’s back reading, in spraypaint: “MOM, YOUR SHEETS MAKE GREAT SIGNS.” The grinning little kid underneath really made it.
For all the inauspicious circumstances, my race wound up going great. I was shocked when my first mile came in a little over 9:30 – and even more so when the next one was closer to 9. I told myself not to rush, but after half and full marathons ten miles seemed so freakin’ short I didn’t try to curtail myself; I figured I’d see what happened.
What happened was that I stayed under 10:00 for the whole race, sometimes even dipping under 9:00. As I entered the home stretch of Old Towne Alexandria, I kicked it into a slightly higher gear, passing more often than I was passed.
By that point spectator numbers had increased exponentially, with people sitting on stoops and even holding cookouts as we passed. I started to flag a little as I saw the finish line, but powered forward and finished an official time of what, for me, is an excellent 1:31:07, cold or no cold. Indeed, I averaged 9:25 minute miles in the first half and 8:49 in the second. Hello, negative splits!
Feeling inordinately pleased with myself, I collected my medal and then proceeded to the snack area. Volunteers were handing out water, sports drinks, and, BONUS: breakfast soft tacos from District Taco. Further on you could pick up granola bars, bananas, and hard pretzels too.
I found Sarah (who I had apparently passed around mile 6.5 without even noticing?), and we rested a bit and ate our tacos. The finisher village had a massage tent and biergarten, but we were happy to pick up a shuttle back to my car and head home.
Overall I thought the race was excellent – well organized with plenty of course support. It’s not the most exciting course, but if you’re just looking for a good long run, it definitely does the job. Plus, free tacos and coffee? YES PLEASE.
I would totally do it again except it seems to always be the same weekend as the Dark Side Half, so if I want to do that again next year I can’t do this one. Also since I’m doing Wine & Dine this year I can’t do the Across the Bay 10K. WHY ARE ALL THE GOOD RACES AT THE SAME TIME???