The end of two months of training. Ideal weather conditions. An undemanding flat course. About 700 competitors and nearly as many cheering spectators. It was hard to stop the adrenalin from pumping at the start of the Great Dismal Swamp Half Marathon. But unlike in Virginia Beach and New York, I decided to be smart. Back off the pace. Force myself to do no better than 13-minute miles.
In the New York City Marathon two and a half years ago, I started out too quickly and had to bow out at the midway point. A year and a half ago in Virginia Beach, I finished the half marathon, but was way too exhausted.
My plan going into my farthest race since then was to keep my ego in check, take it slow and finish comfortably. For the first eight miles, I went as far as to walk extra long stretches so I could keep close to my training pace.
With five miles to go, I figured I could up the pace. Before long, I was picking out people ahead of me and trying to see if I could catch up. And, with a little ego boost with every pack I cleared, things were working out fine and dandy. I was going to finish strong, have a decent time, and still have a bit of energy in the tank.
Two miles to go, and I started breathing heavier. My heart rate jumped. My calves were throbbing. With each stride, my feet reminded me of how many times I had pounded them into the hard pavement. I knew the running part of my adventure was pretty much over. As I crept toward the finish line, many of the people I had passed were now passing me, leaving my ego in the muck.
I did manage to break into a trot for the last half mile. And, while ready for a couple of hours of down time, I was nowhere near in as bad a shape as I was after Virginia Beach. I actually finished around the time I had expected.
If you are looking for a very flat half marathon, the Great Dismal Swamp is a good option. The well-organized race is large enough to feel like a big event, but without the logistical challenges of a big city extravaganza.
The race took place next to the Great Dismal Swamp Canal in Chesapeake, part of the 112,000-acre protected area that includes parts of the cities of Chesapeake and Suffolk as well as three counties in North Carolina.
In land mass, both Chesapeake and Suffolk are larger than many Virginia counties, but have mayors and city councils rather than county commissioners. Suffolk is the largest Virginia city at 429 square miles, although most of it is water.
Chesapeake is 351 square miles, mostly all land. It is the third most populous city in the state at nearly a one-quarter million.
The day after the half marathon, I did a short run in downtown Suffolk and then roamed through another section of the swamp.
77 runs down, 57 to go.