It’s been a glorious summer of riding bikes, but in the interest of change and a chance to exercise everyday pedestrianism, I lined up with a few hundred others to participate in the Adebe Bikila International Peace Day Marathon.
With cycling as our overriding summer focus, the time on two feet has been limited, but I felt I had 26.2 miles to give this past Saturday, and I wanted to prove that to myself. I didn’t tell anyone I was running, and even when I spoke with Felkerino I said I was running the half so as not to incur any raised eyebrows.
The marathon is a milestone that draws people for various reasons. There are those who who take it on as a bucket list accomplishment, people who use marathons as training for even longer distances, the Marathon Maniacs that I frequently see who are doing I’m not sure what, and others who do it as a way to pay homage to someone.
Then there are people like me who run just enough and have already crossed the marathon distance off their list, but like to tool around for 26.2 miles on occasion.
Unlike cycling, running is a largely solitary experience for me. I don’t have a running group, and I usually don’t know anyone at the runs I do. I drop in, do the distance, and head home. So I always feel like a bit of an interloper at running events, which I realize is my perception more than anything, and probably because in contrast, I’m seldom a stranger at randonneuring or cycling events.
This past Saturday started in thick air, but overall dry, and ended up humid with a few scattered raindrops and still somewhat warmish, but thankfully overcast and therefore not a terrible day to run on the C&O. I had half a mind to run the half-marathon distance, but when someone asked me if I was running the full I responded yes, and then what choice did I have but to follow through.
The Adebe Bikila International Peace Marathon, is one of a series of events hosted by the Safety and Health Foundation. This run included almost 300 registrants and the welcome letter intro for the run read like this:
Today, we compete on the playing field of peace as we welcome runners from all over the world. Abebe Bikila’s historic win in Rome on September 10, 1960 – Ethiopian New Year’s Day – was the first-ever medal by a black African, and his repeat win in Tokyo in 1964 made him the first two-time winner of the Olympic Marathon. He inspired runners worldwide and taught us that Sport is truly an international language, along with Art, Math, Music, and Science.
So what I’m telling you is, if you want a run in a metropolitan area with a small-town feel and an earnest vibe, these runs might be for you. This particular marathon celebrates both International Peace Day as well as the great Ethiopian Olympic marathoner Adebe Bikila.
In addition, before the runners head out onto the course, the Race Director Jay Jacob Wind rings a bell 184 times, once for every victim at the Pentagon on September 11.
If you don’t mind double out and back courses, again, this run might appeal. And if you like flat runs on a hard pack surface versus asphalt with no cars in sight, this run is definitely for you.
Photo credt Chessie Photo
With the out and backs, combined with two start time options of 8 or 9 o’clock, runners see each other several times throughout the morning. Many of us exchanged a thumbs up, smiles, or “Good job!” as we passed, reinforcing the neighborhood feel of the event.
Rain kept a lot of the weekend cyclists and tourists off the towpath, leaving more room for us. I alternated between playing music and listening to the wind rustle the tree leaves around, and the occasional patter of raindrops. (The rain didn’t really start falling until I was cycling the seven miles back home though.)
I ran the second half of the run around two minutes per mile slower than the first. I tried to push myself along a bit in the later miles, but my legs weren’t paying any attention, which was probably for the best since my limited running mileage didn’t allow me to push without risk of injury. I eeked out a 4:55:19 – to be expected given my minimal training.
Even so, I was very pleased with this C&O day, and the five hours along the towpath gave me plenty of moments for reflection. When I signed up for my first marathon way back in 2002, I saw it as a way to recognize my dad’s influence, as he has always been an avid runner. In addition, training for a marathon was also the first significant step I took to improve my physical health after years of a sedentary car-centric lifestyle.
It’s been 16 years since my first marathon, and my life has utterly changed – for the better – since then. Local small runs may lack the fanfare that comes with a large spectacle event, but they allow a contemplative space to think, appreciate, and celebrate the accomplishment of 26.2 miles in a far more personal way.