After being sick during (and the week after) the Tar Heel 10 Miler and having a bad blister on the ball of my left foot, I wasn’t sure running the George Washington Parkway Classic 10 Miler in DC the following weekend was the best idea. My brother Matt and I registered a few months back when I realized I’d be in DC that weekend since Mike would be at a bachelor party in Baltimore. This race has a great reputation and is much less crowded than the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler (plus, it has a different course than many DC area races).
The week before the race, I kept my fingers crossed that I’d feel better by race day (also drank lots of water, used neti pot and ate lots of fruits/veggies), but also realized that realistically I might not be able to run it. I didn’t want to feel terrible and have a repeat of the Tar Heel 10 Miler. But by the Saturday before the race, I much less congested, feeling about 90% better.
Pacers Running, a chain of DC/VA area running stores, organizes several races a year. I’d really enjoyed the Four Courts Four Miler in Arlington, VA that I’d run in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Races are well organized, fairly small and you get free race photos after – and often free beer, as well!
In its 32nd year, the George Washington Parkway Classic 10 Miler and 5K is a point-to-point race that begins by Mount Vernon and ends in Old Town Alexandria. Matt picked up our packets which can be picked up from any Pacers store the weekend before the race and at Pacers Alexandria the days before the race. Having that flexibility on time and location makes it pretty fast and easy! The shirt is an A4 brand but more tech style than I’ve typically seen with A4 brand shirts. I also like that they had the option of men and women’s fit shirts!
Since I was in DC to visit Matt and friends, I had planned to meet up with my friend for lunch and a pedicure, forgetting about the race the next day. I also had a bad blister on the ball of my foot but I think the pedicure actually helped relieve some of the pain and pressure. Eating a meal out before a race is always a little risky for me and my sensitive stomach. I went with pad thai (carbo-loading) and had stomach gurgling issues the rest of the day. I hoped that it’d pass and be fine for Sunday morning! Later on, I met up with another friend at a bar to catch up. I had two beers (and also lots of water) which is also atypical of my pre-race routine. But I was going into this race with a relaxed attitude. I was getting over a cold and just wanted to have fun and not put pressure on myself to set a personal record.
5:15 am came too soon! I still hadn’t decided on what sneakers to wear: my old Saucony Omnis or my new Skechers. I decided to go with my Skechers and hoped my form would be better and my blister would be okay. It was pretty chilly with temps in the 40s so I wore shorts, a t-shirt, calf sleeves and arm warmers. I had forgotten to bring hand warmers! I hate having cold hands! Also, I opted to wear a hat instead of sunglasses since my sunglasses broke during the Rock ‘n Roll Raleigh Half Marathon, adding 30+ seconds to my overall time. I wasn’t going to risk that again (note: getting glasses fixed).
We had no problem finding street parking in Old Town Alexandria. There are several shuttle pickup locations to get to the start area at Mount Vernon. Matt and I wanted to park by the finish so we took the shuttle, actually a fancy coach bus, from Old Town to the start line. When we lined up at 6:30, we thought the line was pretty long. But after just 10 minutes, the line wrapped completely around the block. The last shuttle bus was supposed to leave Old Town at 7 am but we didn’t get on the bus until 7 am. There must have been at least 8-10 bus loads of runners behind us waiting. If you run this race, definitely get to the shuttle early so you don’t have to stand out in the cold. It was freezing! I wished that Pacers handed out the heat wraps at that point rather than the start line area.
The bus ride to Mount Vernon took about 15 minutes. It’s funny to drive the entire length of the course before running it; that actually made me a little nervous – 10 miles seemed pretty far! The bus driver showed a short video put together by Pacers to get us excited for the race, show highlights from last year and provide more information about Pacers races and programs.
We didn’t have much time when we arrived at Mount Vernon before the 8:00 am race start. We grabbed a heat wrap immediately. I’d been looking forward to coffee but the coffee was in little espresso cups; not my usual pre-race large coffee. Also, I was so cold and my hands were shaking so much that I kept spilling it. Fail.
Everything was pretty spread out, which was good for crowd congestion, but tough for finding things and getting places quickly. There were volunteers directing runners to portapotties, which was helpful.
After waiting in line and using the portapotties, we only had 5 minutes before the race start! We rushed over to the 8:00 corral. Matt’s GPS watch wasn’t catching a signal so I started before he did. I also accidentally turned my watch on early so my mile splits were off for the race.
Since the GW Parkway is so wide, the course thinned out quickly! The first mile was pretty much all downhill which explains my 7:03 pace for that. When I heard my watch beep, I made a conscious effort to slow down my pace so I wouldn’t run out of energy at the end. I wasn’t sure how the race would go after having been sick for a week. Although I felt pretty good, my confidence was down from the Tar Heel 10 Miler and I was worried I’d have a repeat of that. I had no idea how this race was going to go.
Running along the Potomac River was beautiful, peaceful and kind of relaxing. I got into a zone pretty quickly. This race doesn’t have many spectators due the course, at least for the first 7-ish miles. But there were many more spectators when I really needed the boost around miles 8 and 9, as we approached Old Town Alexandria.
I didn’t plan to set a PR for this race but still wanted to run my best. My 10 Miler PR is from 2013 Cherry Blossom which was 1:15:10 on a super flat and fast course. I didn’t see how I could possibly PR on this course with its rolling hills, even if I was feeling 100%. I noticed that I passed many people running up the rolling hills; I think my NC hill training is paying off!
My blister started to hurt around mile 5. At least it didn’t hurt until mile 5! I knew the rest of the race wasn’t going to feel comfortable but I knew I could do it. I focused on keeping my form in check which actually took my mind off my foot. I also tried to sing (in my head) every word of every song that came on my shuffle.
Mile 6 was another slight downhill explaining the 7:02 pace. The course leveled out at the point and I felt my energy falling. I took my GU Salted Caramel energy gel over the course of the next mile. I carried my handheld water bottle, but I noticed there were plenty of water stops with enthusiastic volunteers along the course.
Miles 8 and 9 with their hills were rough. I was exhausted and wanted to sit down. And I really needed to blow my nose. I actually considered stopping at a portapotty to do so at mile 8, but figured I was too close to the end. Mile 9 was through Old Town Alexandria so the crowd support picked up, which helped. I tried to dig into my energy reserves but felt like I didn’t have much more to give.
The finish line was in sight for quite awhile. I could see the clock said 1:15 something as I approached and I realized I might PR! I didn’t think it was a possibility until that moment; I didn’t even bother doing the math in my head during the course.
I couldn’t believe my pace of 7:24! I did not expect that! My watch said 10.16 probably due to my starting my watch early and perhaps running on the outside of the course. Here are my official results:
The finish was well-organized. I was given a medal and a bottle of water before being ushered to the food lines. I grabbed a bag of pretzels (best post run food for me!) and a Pacers snack box. Love the snack box idea! It even had a little handle for easy carrying.
I needed to sit down immediately. I found a curb nearby the finish chute to sit and watch for Matt. He was only a few minutes behind me which was awesome considering he hadn’t run since the Raleigh Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon. We relaxed on the curb and ate some food (I took immodium) before getting photos with George Washington. Pacers had photo booths set up for photos with Martha and George and with GW University’s George Washington mascot.
We should have gotten in the line for the beer garden earlier. We had to wait about 15 minutes to get ID’d and get into the area. But once inside, there was no line for our choice of Port City beer. There were also lots of tables and chairs set up and a band that just started playing.
The finish area was gorgeous at Oronoco Park right on the Potomac River. We lucked out with such a beautiful day! This was an awesome and well-run race that I’d strongly recommend to anyone looking for a springtime 10 miler (or 5K).
+ Free High-res Photos
+ Tech shirt in women’s fit
+ Post-race Port City beer and snack box
+ Wide, fast course
+ Pre-race coffee, bagels, bananas and heat wraps
– Long line for shuttle bus from Old Town to start area