Follow Through: D.C. Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon

If you never disclose your intentions, no one will know whether or not you ever followed through. But if you share them, then the plans are out there, just waiting for the next water cooler conversation.

Such was the case for me with Saturday’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in D.C. The freezing weekend forecast after a winter full of mild weather set up better for a cozy weekend at home drinking hot cocoa with a splash of Bailey’s than a 26.2-mile jaunt through the city.

My marathon plans were no secret among my colleagues and friends, though, and this left me with a need to show and go on Saturday morning. I’ve also spent a lot of money and brain power on my layering system over the years. A frigid Saturday run would be the perfect test for my current wardrobe as well as my stick-to-it-iveness.

I showed up at the start as late as possible so I would not stand around waiting in sub-freezing temps. Not being a zippy runner, I imagined I would not have to worry about sweating up too much. I wore two breathable layers on top (one wool and one poly), some mid-weight running tights, wool socks, wool Buff for the neck, mid-weight wool cap, and mittens.

Running through Anacostia Park. Photo by Felkerino
When I arrived, the starting area was sparse compared to previous years. I couldn’t tell if this was due to the weather, or the new way of staggering the starts of the full and half-marathon options. This year the full began at 7 a.m. and the half went off at 8:30. In that past they have started together, making for a congested first 13 miles.

Winds gusted in the afternoon, and temps warmed to just above freezing for most of the run. But the sun was out, despite not being a very warm sun.

I used all my cold weather brevet riding knowledge to inform my running, e.g., make sure to drink even if not particularly thirsty, and fuel throughout to avoid bonking. And keep moving.

My strategy worked. I never became chilled and I didn’t bonk. I had a few odd aches that made themselves known at around mile 12, but they faded and I felt good the remainder of the run.

I had so much appreciation for the volunteers and the bands who cheered our efforts, as well as the people who came to support runners. Only the stalwart spectators were out for this cold day, including Felkerino and our friend Jerry.

More cowbell! Felkerino on the Dahon Hon Solo
Felkerino met me a couple of times along the course, and shared the state of various runners. “Grim!” “Focused!” “Not a lot of joking around!” One of the band members playing in the later miles shouted, “You’re looking great, and that’s not just the hypothermia talking!”

In the end, the marathon was a mental challenge as much as a physical one. Runners were less chatty and bubbly than I’ve observed at other marathons. The conditions warranted focus.

Stiff breezes penetrated our bodies in the latter half of the route along the unsheltered Anacostia River as the wind kicked up later in the morning. I found myself engaging in what I called “headwind thinking.” What am I doing out here? What is the point? Why is this segment so long?

Usually, the Anacostia River section – miles 19 to 21 – is an enjoyable one for me. The terrain is gentle, and it’s a quiet place. But the headwind disrupted any pleasant contemplation and drew me into headwind thinking.

Fortunately, Felkerino showed up with his cowbell and shouted his support to all of us. His spectator fortitude was admirable. Not many people were riding around the course full of good cheer and cowbell.

Final mile, feels so good! Photo by Felkerino
“I’m so proud of you!” Felkerino said as we parted ways and I began the hilly segment into Ft. DuPont Park. That felt good. Frankly I was proud of me, too. It’s easy to head out the door on an idyllic day, but another matter to attempt 26.2 miles in freezing conditions.

But I couldn’t let my hardy Midwestern roots down, and I couldn’t not try after telling people that I was going to run this damn marathon. So I marched out the door to follow through on my spring running goal this chilly day, just to prove to myself that I could do it. Four hours and 39 minutes later, I crossed the finish line. Felkerino was there cheering, cowbell still firmly in hand.

Special thanks to Jerry and Felkerino for cheering me on this cold Saturday, and to Felkerino for spending the morning riding around to cheer on the runners. We needed you at mile 21! 



  1. fantastic! i have friends that are runners and cyclists [a few that are triathletes] and they tell me how they combine strategies, how these different events work for them, how they train. but you make it interesting! thank you, mary.


  2. MG, Thanks for the excellent post – looks like a tough run in cold weather. My daughter, Molly, just ran the Shamrock marathon. The weather was not ideal but her chip time was 3:30:32 so she qualifies for Boston. Looking forward to some great biking posts on your blog this summer. Dave from VA.


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