Monday, September 14, 2015

Revenge of the Penguins 20-Miler Recap

On Sunday a group of us from PR Training in Reston participated in the Revenge of the Penguins race in place of our weekly long training run. The race is designed as a supported training run, and offers both a 10-mile and a 20-mile option.

Why Revenge of the Penguins?

I absolutely love the story behind this race. The Marathon Charity Cooperation (MCC) has a training program to prepare runners for fall marathons. In the distant past, they used the National Capital 20-miler race as one their longest training runs. However, this race has a 4-hour time limit. That is not enough time for us slower, back-of-the-pack runners...also known as "penguins" thanks to John "the penguin" Bingham. So, MCC started its own 20-mile race - one with no time limit - and called it "Revenge of the Penguins." The 2015 race marked its 8th year!

Pre-Race Logistics

The race has a "green" initiative, offering reserved parking spaces to cars with 3 or more runners. We signed up for a space, ultimately bringing six runners and one penguin to the race in a 12-passenger van. Our penguin, also known as Coach Mike, drove us to the race, cheered for us, took pictures of us, and wore a penguin suit.

Our PR Reston running crew:
me, Rachel, Sallie. Penguin Mike, Jamie, Jen, Natalie

We met up in Reston and drove to Carderock, MD. We zipped into the reserved parking area and found ourselves parked next to my dear friends from Reston Runners and the Women's Training Program!

Therese, Amy, Donna Lea, Sylvia, & Roz
Everyone wanted a picture with the penguin!

We headed over to packet pickup for our bibs, timing chips, and embroidered wind breakers. Yes, we got embroidered wind breakers!

sweet swag

We walked over to the start when we saw a large group of people starting to head that direction. I made it to the start just in time for the multi-chapter "Moms Run This Town" picture. Later in the day I learned that MRTT is co-branding with "She Runs This Town" to clarify that the group is for all women, not just moms. On the down side, it means a new logo and temptations to buy newly branded running gear. But I digress. On to the race!

Moms Run This Town seriously represented at this race!

The Race

I connected with Indira and Madhura right before the race started. They are also training with PR and were running the 10-mile race - their longest race! They wanted to run with Natalie & me since we run similar paces and run/walk intervals. I was glad to have the extra company for the early miles and quite proud of them. I wish I could have seen them finish.

The race was run on the C&O Canal Towpath. On the plus side, it was absolutely beautiful - the water, the flowers, the ducks! On the down side, the path was clay and stone. It was tough on the feet and the body. I don't think I would want to run on this surface again.

The Early Miles
The early miles required a bit of adjustment. The path was narrow in places. We were caught up with two large groups who ran similar paces to us, but different intervals. We were running 3/1 (run 3 minutes, walk 1 minute), one group was running 2/1, and one was running 30 seconds / walking 30 seconds. As you can imagine, we kept getting tangled up in each other and passing, then being passed. It was frustrating for everyone and involved needless maneuvering and wasted energy.

Fortunately, we solved the problem when another problem arose that needed solving. I was wearing gaiters on my shoes to keep the stones out of them. The gaiters worked great for their intended purpose, but they were tight which made my neuromas flare and my feet go numb. We stopped briefly so I could take them off, and that put enough of a cushion between us and the other groups to ease the traffic jam.

The Middle Miles
Indira and Madhura ran with us until mile 6.5, where the 10-mile run turnaround was. Natalie and I wished them luck and continued on. We made a porta-potty stop around mile 8.5. Around mile 10, we stopped to look at Natalie's ankle, which was starting to swell. I had some KT tape in my hydration vest which she wrapped around it. At mile 11.5, we reached the turnaround point. Turning around was an exhilarating feeling - every step will now bring us closer to the finish!

The Challenging Miles
By mile 15, Natalie's ankle was really swollen. We stopped at the porta-potties. The volunteers at the water stop asked Natalie if she wanted a ride back to the finish, and she said she was going to finish the race. We continued on.

The next couple of miles we slowed the pace down a bit. I could tell Natalie was hurting and I didn't know how to help her other than by slowing the pace. She didn't want to walk, she didn't want to stop. She was determined to finish. Natalie built some serious mental toughness during this run. We ran together for another half mile or so, and then she told me to go on ahead and run my own pace. 

The Last Miles
I started picking up the pace again and was amazed at how strong I was feeling, how much gas I still had left in the tank. I decided to see what I could do for the last couple of miles, how much I could bring up my average pace for the run. We had run the first 10 miles at a 14:06 pace. The next 7 were at a 15:08 pace. I wanted to get as close to an average pace of 14 as I could.

I stunned myself by running mile 19 (by my Garmin - I was not aligned with the course markers at this point) in 11:58, mile 20 in 11:16, and my last 3/10 of a mile at a 9:33 pace. I was able to run fast enough at the end to bring my overall average pace back to 14:09. I even earned a new "fastest 1k" record during this last push!

That gave me a good sense of confidence that I could "beat the bridge" during Marine Corps, which requires the first 20 miles at a 14-minute pace. This had been an easy-paced training run. I could have run faster, I could have run further. I felt good. I will be ready.

Finish photos courtesy of Coach Mike

Post Race

Penguin Mike was close to the finish, cheering for us and taking pictures. Although I wanted to go cheer with him and watch for Natalie, I could tell I needed food, and I needed it quickly. I walked back to the pavilion and had a slice of cheese pizza and a banana. 

On my way back towards the finish, I ran into Natalie, Rachel, and Jamie headed in my direction. We went back to our spacious passenger van, where we changed into dry clothes and Oofos recovery sandals, and found ice for Natalie's ankle. Soon after we were joined by Sallie, Mike, and Jen and our merry band was back together and very ready to head home, proud of our collective accomplishments!

We did it! (photo courtesy of  Penguin Chauffeur Mike)