Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Guest Review Of The 1775K

The 1775k is a race put on the United States Marine Corps to honor the year 1775, when the Corps was founded.  The distance of 17.75k is equal to 11.03 miles.  The big draw for this race is that all finishers get an access code to enter the Maine Corp Marathon and avoid the lottery entry system they use! (The Marine Corps Marathon, or MCM, is the third largest marathon in the country that takes place in and around downtown Washington, DC. It's one of the best marathons around so the concept of a guaranteed entry to avoid the lottery is what draws a lot of people to the 1775k race and this race itself always sells out in a few minutes).

Course setting:
The setting is an a National Park: Prince William Forest Park.  It is a rural hilly park located in Virginia just past the outer fringes of Suburban DC.  The course is mostly a loop in the park that mixes off-road trails, pavement, and very few flat stretches!

Packet Pickup:
The packet pickup is at a local Virginia running store about a half hour south of DC.  It's not real convenient to get to, and because the race is on a Saturday, the packet pickup on Thursday and Friday until 6:30pm means you have to fight rush hour traffic leaving the city to get out there.  However, a bonus tip if you run the race: the website doesn't say there is a race-day pickup, but it also doesn't say that you have to pick up your packet on Thursday or Friday. I found out on race morning that they do have a packet pickup at the start line. So if you can't get out of work in time to fight traffic down to get your packet, no worries because you can pick up your packet at the start. (I think they don't mention this on the website to encourage as many people as possible to get it ahead of time.)

Getting to the start line:
The start line for the race is in a random church parking lot off of a major parkway near the park entrance. Because of this, there is absolutely no parking at the start for runners or spectators. You have to go to one of three remote parking lots and ride shuttles to the start. The race starts at 7am, and I would advise getting to the parking lots by 6:00am. Because there are LONG lines for the shuttle buses!
Long lines for the shuttle buses to the start

Starting line:
At the start area, there is a bag drop that featured a very long line. I think the line was longer than normal because the race morning was the coldest day in a few weeks, and more people than normal were dropping off changes of clothes for after the race.  However, I was lucky enough to get there with enough time to drop the bag and use the port a potties.  Here I am at the start, ready to go!

Start line selfie

The temperature was abnormally low for late March, around 34F that morning with strong winds. And yes, there was someone running with their shirt off, there is always someone like that right? :)

The race:
I had a plan for this race to run it hard, but not all out. It was a hilly course and I had a 20-miler planned later in the weekend for my final 20-miler before Boston.  So I just tried to run what I call "comfortably-hard."  After about 1/4 mile along the parkway, you quickly turn into the park and hit a slight uphill and the pavement ends. For the first 3 miles of the race, you are running on a mix of dirt and rocky roads.  The footing was pretty good on the compacted dirt

Compacted surface for first mile
but there were definitely areas of mud, puddles, and loose rocks after the first mile that slowed down the pace a bit. But overall, the first few miles of up and downs warmed me up quickly, and there breeze wasn't that noticeable in the forest, so I warmed up fast.  I had started with two shirts and a running vest, a hat, and gloves. The hat and gloves came off as the sun popped up right after the start, and then I was regretting pinning my bib over the vest as I couldn't shed any layers.

We hit the pavement at around mile 3, and I was feeling good enough to take a mid-race selfie and text my wife to say where I was on the course:
Nothing looks worse then a selfie at race pace!
I was taking the first few miles of up and downs fairly ease since you can see on the profile map above that mile 4 has a big steep hill. Here was the first time it came into view:
It never looks steep in a picture right? :)
The steep hill was about a half mile long and I slowed from a 6:50 pace to a 12:00 pace. It was that steep. Then at the top there was about 2 more miles of gradual uphill. So it was worth saving that early energy for this part.

The last two miles feature some up and downs that we ran on the first 2 miles, but they seemed steeper by this point! You can see on the profile the jagged up and downs and they sure felt like it. This was the area of somewhat loose rocks, here is a picture I took going up one of the hills:
Once again, it always feels steeper than the picture makes it look right? :)
The downhill stretches were fun though, here we are cruising down a hill again:
Nice downhill stretch

By now you may be sensing a theme, there is no crowd support at all during this race! Only at the water stations, and a few select spots where a Marine or two was shouting encouragement (and it was VERY appreciated!!!), you were all alone. And running in the top 25 means the course is spread out without many other runners either.  It was hard at times to remember this was actually a race and not a training run.

Finally I came up on the mile 10 marker and knew I had one mile left to go:
Mile 10, just one mile to go!
There was a nice sign that said "1775 feet to go!" and it was a great distraction as I tried to do the math on that one (about a third of a mile said my mind). You were still in the forest so it was good to know you were close!  You finally turn on the parkway and boom, there is the finish line with the "Access Granted!" banner (access granted to MCM was the theme of course as mentioned above).  You get a decent medal (the first year for the medals at this race) and your card which has a code on the back to enter MCM.
Holding the access card, the real draw for this race!
I actually don't know my time for this race, and it didn't really matter. My watch didn't start right, and when I looked up the results on the phone the mobile version on Safari would only tell me the placement (I was 25th out of about 2700, I think).  It was an odd distance, and I wasn't trying for any time goal, just a hard, but not all out, effort.

Pros and Cons:
The pros for this race are of course the guaranteed entry into MCM. But also, it was a chance to run a unique distance and course for me, since I'm used to purely road races on pavement.  The biggest cons are that there is no real finish area party, after you get your access card and snacks you pretty much get on the shuttle back to the lots. It is also not a spectator-friendly course for your friends and family. There is no way to get back into the course to root for the runners, so your friends and family can only really see you at the start/finish line.  It also means no course cheering from spectators.

I'd give it a grade B overall, a unique race experience that was well-run but not a type of race I'd like to do very often.

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