I see the Parks Half as the beginning of the local fall race season. Mid-September usually offers cooler mornings that allow for good race times for all involved. This year, mother nature decided to mix things up and thought that we should race on a morning that was as hot and humid as any mid-summer run. Humidity was near 90% and temps hovered around 78 F during the race and steadily climbed to the mid-90s later in the day. Needless to say, this type of weather surprised many people and left many runners unprepared and in over their heads.
On days like this, it is good for runners to pace themselves so they don't go out too hard too soon. That's where I come in. I had the pleasure of pacing those runners looking to run 8:00 - 8:15 minute miles. I've never had the pleasure of running as a pacer before - heck, I've only raced one half-marathon and one marathon before this! Thanks to the XMP Group I train with (many of whom were pacers for this race), I have become a much stronger runner and I've learned how to pace myself very well, so I was more than happy to volunteer my services so that others could run a smart race.
The masses make their way down Veirs Mill Rd (Photo: Some guy on Flickr)
On to the race itself. The first 2 miles were all downhill, fast, and crowded. Once the course flattened out the pack started to thin. Around this point there wasn't a big pack in front of me, but turning around I saw a large pack of runners and probably had a couple dozen hoping to follow my pace. At my side were some of my fellow XMP'ers, so we all chit-chatted and, as we always do, made fun of Doug for trying to pull the group faster than we're supposed to be running. Nothing too significant occurred during the middle miles, just lots of running and sweating (seriously, everyone was drenched head to toe from the humidity).
Mid-way? (Photo: Dan DiFonzo)
Later on, maybe around mile 9, I looked back again to see how the pack was doing and noticed that it had dwindled down significantly. The heat and humidity was taking its toll. As we were passing the Mormon Temple I was having a conversation with a fine young lady about the smell of stinky fish and how it compares to that of Chinese Restaurant dumpsters at 6am (gotta make the time pass somehow). I don't know if it was the thought of stinky fish, the brutal humidity, or a combination of both but she admitted she was pushing harder than she should, so she was going to wisen up for the last few miles and slow her pace. Was I running too fast? Checked my Garmin. Nope, right on pace. Such is the life of a pacer. I was a moving target people used to gauge their own race, and while she had made it this far staying with me she knew continuing on would lead to trouble over the last few miles.
The last 2 miles were pretty lonely. It seems most people got slowed down as we got closer to 13.1 and my pack was now a few scattered runners who were just trying to keep me in sight. These last 2 miles also had a slight but noticeable incline. Determined to stick to my assigned pace, I found myself passing a good number of runners, many of whom now resorted to a combination of running and walking. The last 1/4 mile of the race runs through an enclosed tunnel on the Capital Crescent Trail. As I entered the tunnel I could begin hearing echoes of the crowd near the finish line. Exiting the tunnel puts you right in downtown Bethesda with only a block or two to go.
Me exiting the tunnel near the finish line (Photo: Edward Johnson)
Doug picked up his pace and passed me with a smirk, as if to say "haha pacer, I can sprint to the end." I've kept to my pace this whole time, my responsibilites of a pacer are now over and the finish line is in sight... full steam ahead! I sprinted past Doug, beating him by 1 second and finishing in 1:46:30. That averages to 8:08 minute miles, smack dab in the middle of my assigned pace range! Looks like I'm not so bad at this pacing gig after all.
The post race celebration featured the usual bagels, bananas, oranges, gatorade, etc., but also included pizza and pasta from Mamma Lucia's! Gotta love good pasta right after a run. I ran into Damon and Erica, two fellow skydivers I've known for years. Damon was actually one of my instructors when I first started learning to jump, so it's always funny to see him outside of the dropzone. Metro cards were handed out to all racers and we all packed into the Metro cars and made our way back to the Rockville station. What a hot, sweaty mess that was! I feel bad for anyone that had to ride in those cars once we got off. Oh well! Parks Half-Marathon completed, and my first time as a pacer was a success.
More pictures from the race can be found here. If I find ones from elsewhere on the course I'll post them too.
UPDATE: Pictures available on the MCRRC photo site.