Back on My Two Feet: The Potomac River Run Marathon

After doing the Rock and Roll Half-Marathon in mid-March, which I had originally planned to run as a full, I was eager to see if there might be another opportunity for me to try 26.2 miles in one go.

Lucky for me, the Potomac River Run Marathon was scheduled for May 5, a weekend of no brevets on Felkerino’s and my calendar and just under seven miles from home. Perfect! After a couple of weeks of mulling it over, I signed up.

Not quite as awesome to ride home, but still good.
Not quite as awesome to ride home, but still good. Photo by Felkerino

On race day, I threw my shoes in the Carradice (note to self: install those A530 pedals), put on my Sidi’s and a jacket, and rode over to the start at Fletcher’s Cove. One other participant had also biked there on a pretty Bridgestone XO-2, and we had a brief conversation about how we both worried about forgetting our running shoes and how awesome it was that we could ride to the start.

He also told me that he was not much of a runner, which was a lie, as he was one of the top two runners in the group of 7 a.m. starters. Needless to say, his bike was long gone by the time I returned to mine.

Bridgestone XO-2 and Surly LHT

The Potomac River Marathon is an out-and-back course along the C&O Canal that runners traverse twice in order to cover the requisite distance. That initially concerned me (for the first 13.1 miles, I would say) as double loops make DNFs easy.

I was determined to go the full distance, though, and spent the weekend mentally preparing accordingly. The day before the event Felkerino asked me, “Are you really doing this?”

“Absolutely,” I responded.

This marathon offered two start options, a 7:00 and an 8:00 a.m. start. While the route was closed to vehicular traffic (being that it was on the C&O), it was not closed to pedestrians and cyclists.

Knowing my pace and the popularity of the C&O this time of year, I opted for the 7 a.m. start. It was the way to go, as I noted more congestion along the trail the longer I was out. Fortunately, everyone who encountered us was considerate and we all made room for each other.

Weather was ideal for running. We began under overcast skies with temperatures in the 50s and a slight breeze from the east. As the morning hours passed, the sun came out and the temperatures had risen into the mid-sixties by the time I finished.

The marathon field was small, capped at 300 runners, and I loved the small marathon feel. There was no chip timing, and people used clipboards and pencils to jot down our passage at the end points of the course so as to make sure that no one did any shortcutting.

I crossed the starting line 15 seconds after the official 7 a.m. clock started. That’s a big change from recent runs like the Rock and Roll or Marine Corps Marathons, where I waited 30 minutes to cross the start line.

For the past month and a half, I’ve been doing shorter runs three times a week, generally just over three miles in length, at a pace faster than I’m comfortable. My hope with these runs was to increase my overall running pace for the marathon.

Because of brevets and century rides I did not do any long runs after the Rock and Roll Half. Fortunately my bike riding, cross- and strength-training in the gym, and runs during the week seemed to work.

I ended up finishing with an time of 4:05:1, more than twenty-five minutes faster than any of my previous run times.

Photo by Felkerino
Photo by Felkerino

Of course, it wasn’t only the training that helped me have a good run. I got lucky with the day, the course is flat flat flat, and my energy level was good. The pit stops were well-placed along the route, and they even had bananas during the second half, which provided great fuel for me.

I also wondered if it was easier on my body to do a course on a surface like the C&O towpath, which is mostly hard pack, as opposed to paved roads. With the exception of a little left shoulder pain (I’m not sure why this happens) and a slight ache in my right adductor I felt healthy and strong throughout.

I took my headphones along to entertain me for the second half of the run (when I worried I would start to sink into the marathon doldrums or a negative place) and I was extremely happy with my song choices for the day.

The double out-and-back proved not to be an issue. Seeing the other runners throughout inspired me to keep going. It also made me feel like we were a little running community, which was cool. There were no crowds aligning the route, but the volunteers were helpful and encouraging, telling us that we were all doing great. It was just the amount of crowd support I needed.

I kept waiting for my low moment to happen, but it never did. I thoroughly enjoyed my 26.2 miles on the towpath today. One of the volunteers actually commented on how I had smiled throught the whole race so my contentment must have been evident.

This marathon was simple and beautiful, with that strong sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing and knowing that you successfully tested your body. People cheer for you. Someone gives you a medal. You go home, feeling slightly stiff but lit up inside with elation. It’s how marathons should be.

Felkerino and his daughter rode out to meet me at the finish, and we rode home together. As we crossed the National Mall, we encountered the Baltimore Rando Ramblers, who were in the midst of their Monument to Monument century ride. Serendipity!

A serendiptous encounter with the Rando Ramblers
A serendiptous encounter with the Rando Ramblers. Photo by Felkerino

We rode with them down the Mall, and parted ways as they went off to Union Station for lunch and to make their way back to Baltimore.

What a beautiful day.


  1. Huge congrats on your shiny new marathon PR, MG!!

    A small marathon sounds so nice, though I am not a fan of out and backs either. I signed up for a small one this fall for a change – Freedom’s Run. I think you mentioned you have run and enjoyed it?


    • Thank you thank you! I have run Freedom’s Run (during its inaugural year) and I LOVED it. I don’t know what it is like now, but it was just the sweetest event when I did it. It also followed a lot of our favorite cycling roads in that area, which made it extra special. And running through the battlefield? That was awesome.


  2. Congrats MG! I love that you biked to and from the marathon, I suppose its a nice cool down. Looks like you had awesome weather for it too! (We a local sprint triathlon this weekend with multiple DNFs due to hypothermia. ugh)


    • That is crazy weather! My aunt showed me a picture of her snowy May lawn. That’s NOT RIGHT!!! Hang on, Nathan. Summer will eventually come to Iowa, I just know it!


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