Abebe Bikila Day Marathon (September 2019)

While I did not need to run a marathon in Washington DC to complete my 50 states goal, the 50 BQ club that I belong to requires members to complete a marathon in the District of Columbia. Being that this is a tiny blip on the map area- wise, there aren’t a ton of races to choose from. Ideally, I would have scheduled a race that passed by all the monuments in town; the Marine Corpse Marathon (which starts and ends in Virginia, but still counts) was my top pick. This didn’t work with my race schedule, though, so I selected a little marathon that runs along a gravel path by the Potomac River instead.

The Abebe Bikila Day International Peace Marathon was an interesting little race. It was run on the C&O Canal Towpath, which is a gravel trail 12 feet wide. The half did a 6.55 mile out and back, and the marathon ran this out and back twice. The course reminded me of Tobacco Road in North Carolina in that we essentially ran along a wooded path for the entirety of the race. The trees were pretty and offered a measure of shade, but they do become monotonous—especially when you pass the same sights 4 times. It was a bummer to be in DC and not run by any of the iconic buildings or monuments, but the course was very flat, which in part made up for the lack of scenery. It was unfortunate to run directly beside the river and get very few direct views of the water.

When I booked this race, I hadn’t really considered the fact that DC/ Virginia gets similar weather to Saint Louis and this race takes place in early September. This means that it got hot. Especially with an 8:00 start time. (I will note that we had the option to take a 7:00 start, but this early time would make us ineligible for awards…. In retrospect, I think I would be willing to forego the award to avoid that last hour of heat.) It was 64 degrees when we started, and most of the path was shaded on our first out, so running felt very comfortable. We had more sun on our first “and back,” but it still wasn’t too terribly hot. Things really went off the rails around mile 15 when the heat and humidity became more apparent.

I ran the first half of the race with a group of folks shooting for a 3:25/ 3:30 finish. I met a very nice couple from Pennsylvania who really set the steady pace. The husband was attempting to pace his wife to a Boston Qualifying time and was delightful and encouraging to all of us. Two members of the group fell off around the half, and sadly, the wife who was going for a BQ collapsed about five miles from the finish. I think it was a miserable/ sloppy race for most of us, though. I saw a number of people drop on the course and a LOT of walkers towards the end. I passed two women who had been pretty far ahead of me for the whole marathon at the end, and both needed assistance when they finished. I had also slowed down a TON by this point. I was on pace for a 3:25 finish at mile 15, but I came in at 3:37, which was one of my slowest marathon times. (Honestly, I was just happy I finished.)

I appreciated how flat this course was, and I was glad that there was tree cover on about four miles of the course to keep us out of the direct sun. There were also no road crossings or turns, making it a straightforward run. The race organization was excellent, and it was obvious that the race director loves doing this. I, personally, dislike running on gravel, so this was a detraction for me. The aid stations also left something to be desired. There were three set up along the course and one at the finish, so we had access to water and Gatorade approximately every two miles. (No gel or food, though.) For some reason, the race used tiny cups at just about every station. I had to stop running and go through 6- 10 of these at every stop, and I still felt dehydrated. Also, no bathrooms anywhere on the course. (Yikes!)

As a final side note, this is the last weekend to run a qualifying race for Boston, so there were a ton of folks shooting for this goal. I feel sorry for all of them. I think that this could have been a fast race had the temperatures been cooler, but I can’t imagine anyone had a strong showing today.


Finish Time: 3:37:46

Overall Place Within My Gender: 6/ 43

Total Training Miles: 8,991.3

Shoe Total: 27

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