Run RDC Marathon 2018 Race Report
In November 2018 I ran my second marathon. It was both my second marathon ever and my second marathon in 14 days - just two weeks after Marine Corps Marathon. In my defense, I hadn’t actually intended to run two marathons so close together. I had planned on doing the RDC full marathon as my original target race when I signed up with Fleet Feet’s speed series training program since the race registration was included in my training group sign-up. But then I had the opportunity to get a (legit) bib transfer for Marine Corps Marathon. A bunch of my runner friends were going to MCM and I had major race FOMO so I jumped at the opportunity. That race went well and I felt pretty good; I knew I wanted to run another marathon, but I wasn’t sure when exactly. How long did I need to rest? How much time did my legs need to recover so I could walk comfortably, much less run? I knew I had Run RDC coming up and I thought I might drop to the half marathon but, well, I forgot. (Okay, actually I didn’t forget. I just procrastinated too long and then realized in horror the deadline had passed for swapping distances, oh no!!)
“Well,” I said resignedly, “That decides it. I guess I’m running a marathon this weekend!”
The RDC marathon and half marathon is an event that starts at Southpoint mall and runs along the American Tobacco Trail south to the Chatham and Wake County sections of the ATT. RDC stands for “Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill” and is locally organized and relatively new; this was just the second year of the event.
I was very #LastMinuteLiz about this whole race though. I waited until the last minute to pick up my packet (opting to skip the expo and just get my bib from Fleet Feet Durham). Heck, I was super last minute just getting to the start line. The race started at 7am and I parked my car at 6:55am. Fortunately the race starts at Southpoint mall and there’s tons of parking, so I didn’t have far to go. I snuck into the starter chute just in the nick of time, though I was a little confused by the pacer groups. I saw 4:10 and then the next group I remembered seeing was 4:45 or so. I was confused there was no 4:30 group, but I was so late and rushed I figured I just missed it (though after talking to others at the race I might have been right; there seemed to be a hodge-podge of pace times and I saw a few pacers get off pace, though most of the ones I watched at the finish line came in right on time. So that’s just FYI to anyone considering this for next year.)
Once in the starter chute (there were no corrals) I barely had time to take off my throwaway shirt and start my GPS watch and we were off!
The race starts with a loop around Southpoint mall, which can be annoying and hilly if you’re not prepared for it, but I quickly ran into another runner in a Oiselle Volee singlet and we got to talking so that the first few miles around the mall and onto the American Tobacco Trail passed quickly.
I was a little worried about going out too fast though: making a new friend apparently made me speedy and I did 9:41, 9:31 and 9:47 pace consecutively for my first three miles. I wasn’t really running with any particular goals in mind other than to survive and run as best I could on tired legs. I had no idea how well I would run so soon after MCM and quite honestly, my expectations were rather low. I figured best case scenario I’d run about equal to my Marine Corps pace and finish around 4:45 (assuming my mileage would be accurate without weaving through crowds and missing apexes). Worst case scenario? Well, I’d hobble over the finish line with whatever time I got.
So imagine my surprise when I cranked out those first three miles! Sub-10:00 pace? Oh no no no. Plus, I’d done some math in my head: my new friend’s goal half marathon time required a faster pace than what we were running together. It would be stupid for me to speed up, so at mile 4 I waved her ahead and tried to slow myself down.
Since I didn’t have a particular goal in mind I figured I’d take the 26.2 mile run as a training opportunity to do speedwork on tired legs. I thought I’d try some sort of intervals based on mileage: 3 miles hard and then a recovery mile. Rinse and repeat to the finish line. And for the most part this worked fairly well. After 3 fast miles I held myself back a little at mile 4 (10:21 pace) and then I sped up a little for miles 5-7 (9:58, 9:54, and 10:03) before reeling it in at mile 8 (10:31). At this point the half marathoners had reached their turnaround point and I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Finally!” I thought thankfully, “I can stop trying to race all the half marathoners now.”
Except I didn’t really let up. I kept it in the low 10:00s and even hit another 9:39 mile at my turnaround point around mile 14.
The section of the ATT from Southpoint to New Hope is my home turf: this is the main section that I run (and sometimes bike) multiple times a week so that I have all the mileage landmarks memorized. Renaissance Parkway to Massey Chapel Road? 0.7 miles. Renaissance to the Fayetteville Road bridge? Not quite 2.5 miles. Fayetteville bridge to Herndon park? One mile. The Panther Creek wooden bridge to O’Kelly Chapel Road? A bit more than a mile (~1.1 miles). From O’Kelly Chapel it’s a scenic stretch past multi-million dollar houses near the golf course, and then gamelands, and the next thing you know you’re hitting the gravel at New Hope Church Road.
Over ten miles of the course were on gravel as we crossed New Hope Church Road around mile 8.5 or so and ventured onto the Wake County Parks section of the trail. I had a moment of anxiety here: I remembered all the gravel road running I did at Table Rock and had hated how it had felt like I’d pummeled my feet with meat tenderizers, but the Wake County section of the ATT is fine grain compacted gravel and the ride is fairly smooth.
Beyond New Hope Church Road the trail is slightly less familiar. I know all the road crossings, but I don’t know the mile splits. I’d ventured there for solo long runs a few times and I’d explored the section with camera in hand for the Wake County Parks project, so I knew enough of miles 9, 10, and 11 to not be excited about the constant but gradual uphill slog to the Morrisville Parkway tunnel. This section of trail gains about 125 feet over 2.5 miles, which isn’t anything in comparison, but it is a constant uphill drag on your feet. Add to that a few open and exposed sections and it’s the sunniest, steepest section of the trail. This is the non-bridge bridge experience of the ATT.
And yet, surprisingly enough, it wasn’t that bad. I remembered dying on that hill in hot July long runs, very much regretting my route decision that day. But this time? No, that wasn’t bad at all, and I knocked those miles out at a consistent 10:30 pace. Maybe it was the winter weather - the race started at 27 degrees F and crept up to around 45 degrees - or maybe I’d vastly increased my fitness, but I was very thankful to get through that section and fly along the downhill to mile 14.
At the end of mile 14 I turned around, and I think the prospect of heading back home kicked in because I put in a 9:39 mile. I was heading home and I pushed back up and over the big hill. It was around mile 17 or 18 though that my watch started struggling with signal. The ATT is heavily wooded and I’ve had problems with GPS signal there before; it comes and goes in sections and the watch may display a wide (and widely inaccurate) range of paces. 15:00 pace, 10:00 pace, 15:00 pace, 10:00 pace - the watch was throwing me off and I tried not to look at it even though I was still depending on it to determine when to fuel up with gels and when to do my 3 miles hard/1 mile easy interval. By mile 20 my GPS connection was a damn laughingstock. I passed milemarker 20 and then 21 even though my watch insisted I was walking a 15:00 pace and had only gone a quarter mile. Between mile 21 and 22 the distance on my watch barely crept along and at one point when I was running particularly hard I looked down at my watch and it said I was doing a 17:00 pace.
“LIAR!!” I yelled at my wrist. I felt my mental focus start to crumble a little bit. Was I really going that slow? I couldn’t be! How fast was I going though? I knew I’d slowed down but the pace felt like 10:40 to 11:00, not 17:00. Hell, I could hike a 17:00 mile on the Appalachian Trail, so there was no way running 17:00 on the ATT could be correct. But maybe I was going crazy? Maybe I was running in place sweating blood like a Badwater desert ultrarunner about to collapse from heat exhaustion? I touched my fingers to my face: a thick crust of salt stuck to my fingers, but there was no blood.
Keep running, I told myself. Ignore the pace and just go by your time.
And so I started noting the timer on my watch as I passed mile markers along the course and I started doing some mental figuring. Five miles to go. 3:40 time. Even if I ran the rest of my miles at 12:00 pace I’d finish in 4:40 - a resounding PR.
Keep running, I told myself, and ticked down the miles and my time.
At Herndon park I saw McCrae and Ryder cheering me on (well, McCrae at least was cheering. Ryder was pooping. Silly dog.) Before he bent to clean up after the dog I handed McCrae my headphones (I hadn’t used them the whole run), my arm warmers, and my gloves. And then I was off again before Ryder even realized what had happened, just to find my friends Heather, Jill, Lauren, and Laurie all dressed in taco outfits with bowls of candy on the side of the course cheering loudly.
“Candy little girl?” Heather said and winked as the others cheered. At this point my feet were hurting and I was still stressed about my pace so I didn’t stop, but it was such a joy to have my friends there! Jill ran out to greet me and run to the others with me, and so I fulfilled a lifelong dream of running part of a marathon with a taco ;) And the next thing I knew someone was chasing after me - it was Laurie, and she said, “Girl, you are KILLING IT! I had to run hard to catch up with you, but Heather said you needed your dick gummy. So here it is!” And she handed me a gummy candy in the shape of a penis. I laughed, took the candy, and bit the tip.
(For the record: I have the best friends.)
At this point I was almost to mile 24 and everything hurt. My legs hurt, my head hurt, heck, even my shoulder hurt. I kept checking in with my body. My knee was sore but it would hold. I didn’t have any bad blisters, that’s good. My breathing was controlled - I was working hard but not too hard. I checked in on my gait and form. Shoulders relaxed. A little more forward lean. Big smile - remember, this is fun. It was hard, but not as hard as last time.
It gets a little bit easier each time, I told myself and hoped it was true. At mile 24 though I was pretty ready for it to be done. I sucked down another gel, happy I’d packed extras this time to get me through the final miles. I was glad that I’d reached this point of tiredness at a later mile in the race than Marine Corps. At MCM I’d started feeling the mileage at miles 18-20, but this time the fatigue held off until mile 22. Muscle memory. My legs burned and I wanted to walk, but still I pushed on. Just two more miles. You can do it. You have done this.
It didn’t occur to me at the time, but later, when I was reflecting on the race, I attributed a lot of my performance to confidence and that confidence was built on past successes.
It’s kinda like in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban at the end of the book after (spoiler alert!) Harry and Hermione have traveled back in time to try to save Buckbeak and Sirius. At one point present-Harry is hiding and watching past-Harry and Sirius get attacked by dementors. Harry was watching for someone - he assumed his dad - to appear and conjure up a Patronus to drive off the dementors and save past-Harry and Sirius, but right when it was almost too late Harry realized no one else was coming, so he stepped out and performed the Patronus charm flawlessly. Harry had never successfully conjured a Patronus before; Patronus charms were supposedly fed by powerful, happy memories and Harry didn’t have a wealth of happy memories to choose from. And so when Hermione realizes Harry had conjured a Patronus she exclaims, “‘Harry, I can’t believe it…you conjured up a Patronus that drove away all those dementors! That’s very, very advanced magic…’
“‘I knew I could do it this time,’ said Harry, ‘because I’d already done it…Does that make sense?’”
I knew that I could run a marathon because I’d already done one. I knew that I could run the final miles because I knew those miles; I knew this trail intimately, every curve in the pavement, and I knew my legs would recognize the miles. I already had my own example to follow. I just had to execute it.
And I did execute it! I pushed past the Fleet Feet aid station, through the final uphill to the mall, rounded the corner, and sprinted the last tenth of a mile to the finish line in 4:35 - a 15 minute PR! I kinda couldn’t believe it. 4:45 or maybe 4:40, sure, but 4:35?! It seemed too good to be true and I wandered through the finishers’ chute in a daze.
A few other things are noteworthy:
1) The aid stations along the course were great. They were generally spread about 1.5-2 miles apart, and since it’s an out-and-back you hit each of the aid stations twice. Fleet Feet Carrboro/Durham had the first aid station and of course they were FANTASTIC! A huge shout-out and thank you to the fabulous friends who consistently come to races to cheer and volunteer - you all are amazing! Black Men Run also had a great group out near Herndon, and North Durham Runners Club was great with the unofficial mimosa station (even if I didn’t partake thanks for offering and it was a fun idea!) There were several other gorups out there as well - thanks to all!
2) The course is relatively straight along a paved and/or gravel trail that was formerly a railroad track. Sheriffs were at road crossings to manage traffic and give runners right-of-way. Thank you to this group for their help! The trail was fortunately mostly racers at the start of the morning; with all the runners it wasn’t crazy crowded but it was certainly busy and required extra care when passing other runners to ensure you keep right and stay out of the way of oncoming runners. I rather enjoy routes like this; I love seeing the speedy elites come by and it’s such a joy to catch a glimpse of my running friends and cheer them on. The field definitely thinned after the half marathoners broke off at the turnaround point, but I never felt alone on the full course. It was cold, but it was a fun race!
3) The swag is good. The medal was pretty and we also got a technical longsleeve shirt and some gloves (which were super duper useful in the cold temps!)
So there you have it! It was a massive 15-minute PR just two weeks after my first marathon. It included a bit of dicking around, gummy dicks, best running friends, awesome Fleet Feet support, and plenty of cold but great weather. I personally really enjoyed the out and back aspect so I could see the other runners and cheer them along the course (especially since I knew a lot of the other runners!), and it was so fun to run on very familiar turf - especially when my GPS signal screwed up, since I still recognized distances and could figure out actual pace! If you’re local to Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill then I highly recommend this as a local race on a greenway with good support. I would certainly consider running it again!