Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Freedom’s Run 2009

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1
21 years ago I ran my first and only marathon, The Marine Corps Marathon. I was 21 years old and I thought to myself, as I crossed the finish line in a respectable 4h:11m, that this was a “one and done” experience. That held true for another 21 years and even though I have run a lot ultramarathons over the past two years, I have yet to go back to the 26.2 distance, until this past weekend. Saturday I ran in the inaugural Freedoms Run Marathon which started in Harpers Ferry, WV and ended in Shepherdstown, WV. I didn’t find out about this race until about a month ago but could not pass up the chance to run through 4 National Parks, including Antietam Battlefield. I would describe this as a marathon with an ultra feel.

Saturday morning was beautiful, clear with temps in the low 50s for the start. I parked at the finish line at Shepherdstown University and jumped on a bus to the starting line at 0600. We arrived at the Harpers Ferry Visitors Center about 30 minutes later and got ready for the 0700 start. There were a little over 300 of us at the start and right at 0700 we were off. The first mile or so covered an out and back to the Murphy Farm and then a good downhill section into the old town of Harpers Ferry. We passed John Browns Fort, crossed the Potomac River and joined the C&O canal heading north.

Going into the race, I had a goal of sub 4 hours but was more concerned with enjoying the day and having some time with my thoughts and prayers. Unlike ultras, there were mile markers each mile and I was keeping an eye on my times. I felt really good running, legs were strong and I felt like the heart rate was staying in control, even though my mile splits were running about 7:45ish. These times were surprisingly fast for me and I initially chalked it up to adrenaline and thought that I would soon slow down. As we continued up the Potomac, which by the way was an awesome run this time of year, the splits stayed pretty consistent and I continued to feel pretty good. Passing the half marathon point at 13.1 miles I was at 1:41 and knew I had about a mile and a half before the course left the flat C&O canal and headed into the hilly battlefield.

We left the trail at mile 14.6 and headed up Sawmill road and the up and down hills continued for the rest of the race, nothing drastic, just enough to get the heart rate up and make the legs hurt a little more. I ran all of the hills, even though my normal ultra routine is to walk most of the hills I decided to press on through. Running through the battlefield was great. The park service was out in full force to support the race and kept the traffic under control. We ran past Burnside’s Bridge and up to the Bloody Row. Coming up on the Bloody Row you could see the observation tower from a long distance away but as I got closer you could hear the haunting sound of bagpipes rolling across the fields. Sure enough, right in front of the tower was a piper in full garb piping for the runners. That was a run highlight. After running by the Cornfield and the Dunker Church we left the battlefield and headed into Sharpsburg with about 5 miles to go.

I don’t think it matters what distance race you in, the last 10% always hurts. I continued to check my mile splits and they had been running just over 8 minutes in the battlefield section. There was a gentle uphill from Sharpsburg that started to take effect and slowed me down al little and then we rolled over the Potomac and climbed up to Shepherdstown University Stadium and the finish.

The official finishing time was 3h:29m:35s, and I could not have been more surprised. That gave me an 8 min mile average for 26.2 miles. My typical tempo run from the Pentagon to East Falls Church Metro station is 8 miles. I usually run an 8:30 2.5 mile warmup to the custis trail and then run 4 miles at 7:30ish and finish with a 1.5 mile cool down in the 8-8:30 range, feeling like I have had a good workout. I find it hard to explain that I could maintain an 8 min pace for 26 miles, especially in the second half of the race when the hills kicked in. Lately, when I get surprised by physical feats, I come back to Phil 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. I feel that my running has a purpose that Christ is using it in way that I don’t fully understand. I believe part of His purpose is this blog, and the fact that I can at least spread my story of how Christ is working my life and I hope that it has had an impact on some of you that continue to follow. I once again offer up all the praise and glory for this race to God and pray that He will continue to run with me. I have found that He is a pretty good pacer!! Run Strong.

God Bless and Semper Fi ,

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