Race Report: Race for Gold 26.2K

Nope, that’s not a typo: this was a metric marathon, folks! Brought to you by the Potomac Highlands Distance Club.

This race had a few parts to it. As it was located in Frostburg, MD (yes, nary 10 minutes from where our 2012 Ragnar DC adventure began!) and had only race-day packet pick-up, The Lady and I opted to drive in the night before rather than wake up at 2am, drive for two hours, and only then run 16.28 miles.


We departed around 4pm, as we were aiming to arrive in Frostburg right around dinner time. Our night-before-a-race tradition is to whip up some delicious, hearty pancakes (loaded with granola and cinnamon, and topped with more granola, cinnamon, and some greek yogurt), but rather than try to eat them in a hotel room, we sought out the local Bob Evans establishment. Along the way, we beheld some pretty ugly landscapes.

A stack of pancakes, a plate of hash browns, and some grits later, we checked into our hotel room at none other than the very same Hampton Inn where our Ragnar team stayed the night before all the shenanigans went down last year.

Imagine all the cars replaced with 12 and 15-seater vans, and that's what this place looked like 11 months ago.
Imagine all the cars replaced with 12 and 15-seater white vans. That’s what this place looked like 11 months ago.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I did not sleep well at all. I’m fairly certain I got about 3 hours’ sleep, but I know I didn’t fall asleep before 1am, and our wake-up call was at 5am. I suppose that sets the stage somewhat for what follows.


At 5am sharp, The Lady’s alarm jolted us out of bed and into our pre-race routines. Packet pick-up commenced at 5:30, and we knew from the online information that parking was extremely limited. After all, Frostburg is a tiny city by itself, and even though this race’s total registration didn’t break triple digits (though it evidently quadrupled in size from the previous year, suggesting this event is growing very, very fast), we wanted to make sure we had a good spot.

At 6:40am, the buses arrived and drove us all to the starting line in Meyersdale, PA (not MD, sorry about that). This town was also about the size of Frostburg, and just as lovely. The race was along the Great Allegheny Passage, a rail trail spanning the two cities and beyond.

The buses dropped us off more or less just in time to walk to the starting line, form up, and hit the trail! With only ~80 people in total, there were no timing chips or mats, and the starting line itself consisted exclusively of the person standing on the trail with the foghorn yelling “READY! SET! GO!”

They warned us before the start not to run over the nice camera lady. So being the functional adult that I am, I almost ran over the nice camera lady. Sorry about that :/
They warned us before the start not to run over the nice camera lady. So being the highly functional adult that I am, I almost ran over the nice camera lady. Sorry about that :/ [PHOTO CREDIT: Potomac Highlands Distance Club]
The trail itself was pretty similar to the Montour Trails that The Lady and I are intimately familiar with, having done our 20-mile marathon training runs there, as well as the annual Burgh 10K. Well-maintained crushed limestone rail trails are, to put it simply, awesome.

This section of the passage was interesting. The first 7.5 miles were a gentle incline, followed by an equally gentle descent over the next 8 miles, before throwing some nasty switchbacks at us for the final mile leading up to the finish. Most of the route was well-covered under trees; we crossed a lot of bridges spanning small brooks and rivers in the first part of the race. At mile 7.5, there was one water and aid station, a good checkpoint for fueling up before beginning the descent that would eventually finish out the race.

At the start, I felt…ok. Lack of sleep made everything feel a little washed out, and I knew it would take me at least a few miles to settle in. I stuck with The Lady for the first four miles, clocking in a very nice 8:50 pace as we traded positions with a few runners, exchanged pleasantries, and generally enjoyed the gorgeous surroundings.

When mile 4 rolled around, I opted to attempt what my original plan had been: 8:30s, working my way down to 8s. The former is my Marine Corps Marathon goal pace (a 3:45 finishing time), so the latter was a nice compromise between marathon and half-marathon paces. But the way I was feeling, even 4 miles in, I knew it would be nice just to maintain 8:30s for the remainder of the race.

The aid station came and went, and the descent began. We went through a tunnel that was a full 0.5 miles long–it was actually one of the more bizarre experiences I’ve had during a race. Kind of cool, kind of…just plain weird. Thankfully, the overhead lights were functioning, else it would have been absolute pitch black.

As we exited the tunnel, another photographer greeted us, and immediately beyond was a gorgeous view of the countryside.

There was a biker on the far bench (you can just see him in the photo). As I passed by, I remarked to him: “If I wasn’t racing, I could sit here for hours.” He heartily agreed, and likely got right back to doing just that as I kept running.

At this point, I had an experience similar to the Trot for Tots 10K back in December, where I had a very sudden rush of fatigue that felt like almost like a punch to the gut. Very suddenly, my breathing became much heavier, and it took a bit of steadying to find a rhythm again. A point to the mental faculties that day, but it was becoming painfully clear that the second half of the race was going to be really tough; my body just wasn’t there.

Tough it most certainly was. The tunnel exit was around mile 10.4; I made it another 2.5 miles before arriving at the third and final tunnel of the race, and my very own pain cave. I backed off the pace a bit to around 9s, though I could also feel the muscles in my calves starting to give warning signs.

I have to point out: physically I was nearing the end of my rope, but mentally I was calm as a cordial cucumber clothed in a cummerbund. For me, that’s a big effing deal. It was only weeks prior that I’d imploded during a 12-mile run, during which I’d felt many of the same things I was feeling now, but completely lost focus and discipline. Granted, I was now 10 days out from my Ph.D. thesis proposal, arguably the single most stressful deadline in the past couple years, so I’d had some time to get my feet under me, as it were. Still, 10 days isn’t a whole lot of time to go from really-bad-12-miler to awesometacular-16.28-miler, so even in the physical sense, reaching 12 miles at an ~8:40 clip without stopping was a solid achievement for me in the last month. Reaching it without mentally breaking down was a whole ‘nother cake.

Where was I? Cake…icing…fried butter…the South…Mason-Dixon line…Great Allegheny Passage, ah yes! Mile 13.

I couldn’t quite make it without stopping. The Lady caught up to and passed me somewhere on mile 15, and I took that time to walk things out a bit (she asked if I was ok; I assured her that I was, and wished her and her running buddy Mary good luck). I was barely a mile out, so after a minute of walking, I switched to my finishing song–Imagine the Fire–made the turn onto the final stretch, and powered through the switchbacks.

Switchbacks are hard. But it was my intention to crush them, so crush them I did. I caught up to within about 40 seconds of The Lady, and as soon as she crossed the finish line, she turned around to motivate me the rest of the way to the finish.

According to my Garmin, this is the face of a 4:40 mile pace.
According to my Garmin, this is the face of a 4:40 mile pace. No joke, I was giving this thing everything I had. [PHOTO CREDIT: Potomac Highlands Distance Club]
I crossed the finish line, hit “stop” on my Garmin (except apparently not hard enough, since it recorded another 6 minutes of me standing around), and immediately turned around and ran it all again. LOLOLOLO except I actually sat for a few seconds to catch my breath, then walked around a bit so my muscles wouldn’t cramp. Thankfully, they never did during the race (though they felt like they were going to), and they never did after either.

My finishing time: 2:24:37 (8:53 pace).


I didn’t the paces I’d originally wanted (here’s the garmin data). It felt very reminiscent of the Philly Marathon, where I also felt run down from the start and struggled to find any rhythm. But as the days pass, I’m more and more pleased with my overall performance at this race. The atmosphere was unbeatable: a very small race, gorgeous trails, beautiful weather, expert organization, and incredibly friendly participants. That’s pretty much all I could ask for. I was happy to have finished given the warning signs that were showing barely a quarter of the way into the race. I was also very happy with my mental performance: I kept cool despite knowing very early on that I was fighting a losing battle. The gorgeous surroundings helped immensely to distract me, I think. The cool weather and well-covered trails were also invaluable.

The Lady kicked some serious tush, coming away with 1st in her age group! She ran an excellent race, pacing herself very well from the start. I couldn’t be more proud of her.

Our next race is the Air Force Half Marathon on September 21. Between now and then, I intend to continue getting plenty of sleep and enjoying not having a huge deadline with far-reaching implications regarding the future of my career hanging over me. It’s an opportunity to improve, just like every other run.

Great event, great folks, great food, would run again 🙂


4 thoughts on “Race Report: Race for Gold 26.2K

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s