Potomac River Run Marathon Race Recap

When I first started this blog, I had “only” run three marathons – all of which had been PRs and great experiences. The next handful of marathons I ran (after sharing my training here) were a bust – DNF, starting too fast or being incredibly unhappy with the results. I found I was putting too much pressure on myself and was focused on running a specific time at that moment. I wasn’t looking ahead nor was I viewing racing marathons as a process. Instead it was a kind of “do or die” mentality each time I got ready to race. It can be extremely disheartening if you are focused on just one race and things don’t go as planned.

Overall, Sunday was a success. I enjoyed the entire experience and was excited and anxious to race as race day approached rather than having that fear and stress that previous races brought me. I executed a lot of things well on Sunday – fueling, pacing, running without music – but I would be lying if I didn’t share that there is a part of me that is slightly disappointed. I trained hard for several months and both my coach and I feel I was trained for a faster marathon than the results show.

And I know a part of that was caused by the course – it was a lot rockier and uneven than I was expecting. But I’m not frustrated with anyone or anything but myself. When I was looking for a marathon, I thought Potomac sounded amazing. I had read the race website and (wrongfully) assumed that it was on a paved road (I know of a lot of “trails” that are actually paved roads through the woods). A few weeks ago, I learned that it was an off-roads marathon. But even then, it sounded like (read: I wanted to believe) it would be on a pretty hard-packed surface and that I would be able to run the paces I was hoping for.

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It wasn’t until a couple of days before the race when I googled Potomac River Run Marathon Recap (note to self: do this BEFORE you sign up for a race) that I learned what it would be like. One recap from a runner (who I trust and respect) mentioned how tough it was to run on the gravel and rocky trail, how much weaving around other runners and walkers he had to do (the course is open to the public) and that it wasn’t a PR course (in his opinion).

I’m not going to say that a PR is impossible on this course. I was actually on track for sub-3:20 until mile 24. Jess was less than a minute from her PR. A runner qualified for her first Boston. Amber PR’d the half. A couple of guys ran sub-2:40 marathons. But I don’t think the course is conducive to running the fastest time you have in you.

But, I am content with the training cycle. I put in the work, made fitness gains and know that eventually, the hard work will pay off on race day.

strong cycle

Race Weekend
My husband, sons and I left early on Friday afternoon for the 4 hour drive down to DC. It ended up taking over 5.5 hours b/c of road work and traffic but we made it safely and were in our room by 8:30pm.

I started off Saturday morning with a short and chilly shakeout run around DC. Our hotel was just two blocks from the White House!

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After a quick shower and some breakfast, we were sightseeing by 9am. Even though I wanted to be off my feet as much as possible Saturday, I really wanted to spend some time seeing DC with my boys. We spent about two hours walking around and were back in the hotel by 11:30am.

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Later that morning, we went over to my friend Jess’s home to allow our families a chance to meet, the kids to play together and for us to have some race talk. I’m so incredibly thankful for the strong women that running and social media have brought into my life. Jess and I talked through nutrition, pacing and clothes for the race and our husbands made plans so they could spectate and cheer together with the kids the following morning.

RACE MORNING
The race didn’t start until 9am which made race morning relaxed and easy – both boys ended up getting up before my alarm was set to go off (5:30am).

My pre-race food was the only small issue of the day – I had planned on eating a couple of bagels from Starbucks and assumed they would be open early. Unfortunately, it didn’t open until 7am – a bit later than I had planned to eat breakfast but there was nothing I could do at that point.

We arrived at the start area by 8am. I loved the low-key atmosphere of the entire race. We found parking super close to the start and made our way over to get our bibs and use the bathroom before keeping warm in our cars until 8:40.

At that point, we walked over to the start, took off our warm clothes and started at 9:10am.

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The weather was SO close to being absolutely perfect. In my opinion, it was just a touch chilly – I think it was about 32-35 at the start with cloudy skies and winds under 10mph and the temps kind of hovered around there throughout the morning.  Cold, crisp morning. Hard to complain about weather like that for a marathon especially since it began raining later that afternoon, poured yesterday and yesterday was windy as heck! I stayed warm for most of the run – there was a point around mile 20 or so where my upper thighs were tingling from the cold and my face and lips felt cold for most of the race, but other than that, I was great.

I went into the race with pace goals but within a couple of miles knew that it was not going to happen because of the surface of the trail. I felt like I was working too hard to see those paces. So rather than focus on pace, I shifted my attention to how I felt and ran the rest of the race like that.

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The course is mostly flat – every .5 – 1 mile is a short but steep incline as the trails meets up with a road access point (which were where the water points were). We had a slight headwind on the way out (6.55 miles) and then a tailwind on the way back (which was negated by the fact that it was slightly uphill on the return).

I don’t have mile splits for most of the race – my watch lost satellite more times than I remember and for the first time in a marathon, I wasn’t obsessing over my pace and checking it every .1 of a mile.

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I don’t even remember much of the first half of the race. I think I came through the half in under 1:39 and felt really excited that I could still PR because I knew I was being conservative.

My husband and Jess’s husband set up shop around mile 1/12/14/25 on a huge patch of grass. The kids played, ate and relaxed as they waited for their moms to run by!

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The best part was that I had some company for the 2nd half! Leah, a good friend from West Point, Military Intelligence School and then the Army (I was deployed with her and her husband – at separate times!), and her family live about 20-25 minutes from the race and she jumped in and ran with me for the 2nd half of the race!

photo 1 (22)I had to stop during Mile 14 because of pretty sharp stomach stitches. I was annoyed and frustrated that it was slowing me down and I reached the point of feeling like I could barely move. Leah had suggested that we stop and try to massage it out – which we did – and after about 45-60 seconds, we started running again.

That mile messed with my head and I don’t think we saw splits even within 10-15 seconds of the pace we had been running again.

The last few miles were really tough. Mentally, I was done. Physically, I was done. Emotionally, I was hanging on by a thread – thanks in large part to Leah, her jokes, motivation and smile.

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Celebrating post-race. Jess was THIRD(!!) female overall!

The Good
– Fueling: I ate one small bagel and sipped on 2 servings of Generation UCAN (up until about 45 minutes before the start). I had two gels – mile 7 and mile 17. I had planned on one every 6-8 miles but didn’t feel like I needed it.
– Running on Effort: This is a big one for me. I’ve had the tendancy to get so attached to a certain pace that I hold on to it even if it feels too tough. Sunday was different. I barely paid attention to my garmin as I ran and treated it like a long run. – No music: I ripped off a longstanding bandaid. Because we were on trails, headphones were highly discouraged – and the race organizers had a bunch of rules of when you had to have your headphones off (through turnarounds and other points). I knew I didn’t want to be fumbling around with my music during the race, so I decided to forego music – my first time doing that for any race longer than 10 miles. I love listening to music but began experimenting with no music for some of my shorter races over the summer and liked how I felt more in-tune with my body, breathing and thoughts. But I’ve been so SCARED to try it for longer runs or races. But, I actually really loved the peacefulness of no music on Sunday.
– Support and organization of race: For a race with just 350 runners, it was extremely well organized and staffed. There were a good number of volunteers at the water points (every 1.5-2 miles) and at the turnaround points.
– Crossing finish line with my son: Perfect ending to a great race

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The Bad
– Side Stitch:
I drank water every 3-5 miles. Gatorade just once at mile 22 or so (felt like I needed some electrolytes). No nausea or stomach problems in the later miles but I think the side stitch came on at mile 14 from not enough water
– The course: My feet were aching by the later miles from the gravel and rocks and I got blisters in places I never have before.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at Leah’s house before making the drive home. The kids got to play and run around, I took a HOT shower and we enjoyed a yummy post-race meal from Chipotle!

photo 1 (23)I’ve decided to add an earlier marathon in 2015. My coach and I think that a late-winter marathon followed by ~2 months of recovery/training before Boston in April can work well for me.

Have you run Potomac River Run Marathon? What are your thoughts? 

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I don’t post here every day, but I post all of my workouts (and other happenings) on Instagram on a daily basis {NYCRunningMama}.

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    20 thoughts on “Potomac River Run Marathon Race Recap

    1. Hey! I had a similar experience as you–I signed up for the Potomac not realizing trail race meant gravel (the “trails” in my town are paved!). I also somehow missed it was out and back twice! I thought the last 6+ miles were miserable, there was hardly anyone out on the course, and even though I qualified for Boston I just barely squeaked in. I had also signed up for an “all you can eat pasta dinner” through the race website. When we got to the restaurant no one who worked there knew anything about the dinner, and they didn’t serve pasta! The race director showed up 20 minutes or so after the dinner was supposed to start, but several of us had left by then b/c we weren’t sure what was going on. It was a little crazy! Next time I’m going to do more research on those “flat & fast” courses!!

    2. Just stumbled upon your blog while doing some research on running marathons two weeks apart. I was at this marathon as well! Looking at your pictures, I think I recognize you too! :)

      Congrats on Boston this past Monday. It was a tough course. I went out with a positive split as well. haha. You did an amazing job!! Never mind the illness you had been fighting immediately prior.

      Hoping our paths cross at another endurance event in the future!

      Cheers!

    3. There are situations in our life when we are exposed to physical stresses, as well as mental. Especially this is vital for people whose work is connected with high physical activity. You must make sure that your body gets enough support in order not to be exhausted. There are lots of things which you have to take into account. In my mind, the most important is proper nutrition. Being an athlete myself, I have tried different products. But eventually found the one which is most effective for me. This is Super Army Mega Endurance Formula. This dietary supplement increases my stamina and strength. It also has the influence on the mental level – I feel much more concentrated and resistant to stress. Together with healthy foods this product is enough for me to make my performance better and better.

    4. Pingback: Recovery + Speedwork + Honolulu Marathon |

    5. Congrats on an impressive marathon. I ran the half – I was the one that yelled “Go Michele” when you were around mile 7.5 or so. The loose rock was definitely NOT what I was planning for either. It did quite a number on my lower back. By mile 8, I had slowed to a crawl and needed a few walk breaks to stretch a little. Your pace is impressive and you are very inspiring. I enjoy reading your blog.

    6. AMAZING job!!!!!! I have never run Potomic, but I ran a marathon exactly like this and it was ROUGH!!! It was the Des Plaines River Trail marathon in IL…it was my 3rd marathon. I was such a beautiful and not too hilly course…but it was just such a hard race! I ran it in 3:37, but felt like I was better trained than that.
      The surface was hurting my feet by the end and I ran the last 6 miles in the woods by myself. I just could have really used someone…anyone! If I remember right there was a water stop at mile 20 and 23. I have just decided while I don’t need it to be a huge marathon, I need more people…especially for the end!
      You are totally super woman for running that time on that course!!!! Next year come do Richmond with me!!!!!!!! I already signed up for next year :)
      Jen@milesandblessings recently posted..The Richmond Re-cap!!!!!!!!!My Profile

    7. Congrats on a great race! I really enjoyed reading your recap and seeing how big you are smiling in all your pictures on the course. Your mindset was really strong, and relaxing a bit sounds like it made the entire experience more meaningful and successful. Amazing job on the tough terrain. Definitely a day to be proud of. xo
      Jesica @rUnladylike recently posted..It’s Hug a Runner DayMy Profile

    8. Your experience at Potomac River reminds me of how I felt after MCM. Even though I had a 12-minute PR AND a BQ, I still get very frustrated when I think about it. I, too, had a terrible side-stitch that stopped me in my tracks at mile 14, and from which I never really recovered–it bothered me the entire rest of the race (I walked for about a tenth of a mile around mile 18) and my pace took a huge hit. I was so disappointed with the way things went down that at the time I couldn’t even appreciate what I have since come to realize: the fact that simply finishing that race, with a BQ to boot, in that condition (several other things going on besides the side stitch), was an accomplishment in and of itself. Then I read these words by Kara Goucher, after NYCM, which reflect the quote you featured here: “We don’t always get what we want. Sometimes we work so hard, only to stumble. But our hard work is not lost. The work we do happened and although we may not have been able to show it on the day we hoped, it will be realized later on.” And I realized that I will be stronger and smarter next time because I did work hard, and that matters; and I learned a lot from the experience. So here’s to training hard and moving on : ) Congratulations on a great race! Despite the obstacles, you still did fantastic!

    9. I can totally relate to that do or die pressure when it comes to races. I feel like last winter I was able to let go of that when I ran a few snowshoe races for fun and then that totally changed my perspective for my spring marathon. It can be so tough putting your training and goals out there and then feeling the expectation to live up to it. I’m so glad that you were able to just run by feel, it will lead you to big places down the road!
      Sarah @RunFarGirl recently posted..Ab and Glute Workout for RunnersMy Profile

    10. I LOVE that quote. So true. Thank you for another great recap and, above all, congrats on yet another strong marathon! Can’t wait to hear what’s next for you (before Boston).

      PS: I was looking for a spring marathon on the flat side and close to home and your race recap convinced me to give the NJ marathon “another try” (I was supposed to run it last year but I injured my tibia 5 weeks prior to the race).

    11. I think running on a rocky trail would be tough! Especially if you weren’t training on one or even really expecting it. Congrats on pushing through and a great race! That’s really cool that your friend ran with you, between that and crossing the finish line with your son, it must have been a special race :)

    12. The marathon is such a beast!!! I would say that this was a success for you. You had to overcome SO many obstacles and you were still able to pull off a great race. I can absolutely sympathize with not finishing in a time you know you were capable of, but you gained a lot of insight and experience from this one, which is huge.
      I absolutely love all the friend and family support you had before, during and after the race. I also love that you’re gearing up for the next one already!
      Let’s hope we can run together in 2015…
      Allie recently posted..5 Things to Do When You Can’t RunMy Profile

    13. I think it’s so important to find the good and bad of every race, regardless if if you met your goals for the day or not, so it’s great that your fueling & running by feel worked out! I’ve found that my recent races that went well were the times I pretty much ignored my watch as well. It’s a hard habit to break though – not staring at your watch!
      I agree that this race was managed very well. I wasn’t expecting much going into it because I knew how small it was, but I was pretty impressed by the all the support out there :)
      Can’t wait to see what you do in your early 2015 race!
      Amber recently posted..Positive TuesdayMy Profile

    14. Great effort out there. Yes, I do think those conditions would slow anyone down a bit. Have to say…that picture with your son is priceless. Is that his tongue??

    15. The quote about a successful training cycle not being defined by the race outcome is huge. You have been training smarter and stronger and I couldn’t be more proud to have you as a friend and fellow runner. You ran on harder terrain, in colder weather, and first time without music- and still kicked butt. I love how smiley you are in all your photos and running to the finish with your son- a moment I am sure you will never forget! *hugs*
      Laura @losingrace recently posted..Counting Down: Racing, Off-Season and Fresh StartsMy Profile