I ran the Abebe Bikila Day International Peace Marathon yesterday in Washington along the C&O Canal Towpath. It was my fifth marathon and my first trail marathon. I started at 7am alongside about 20 or so other runners—an hour earlier than the rest of the 350 or so runners. It was a beautiful morning, and I’m glad I joined the earlier group of runners.

I’ve been running heavily since mid-July, not initially with the intention of doing another marathon. But a few weeks ago I looked up upcoming races on Active.com and decided to register. We followed the C&O Canal Towpath from Fletcher’s Cove and did two “out and backs” that let those running 13.2 miles run one circuit, and those running 26.2 miles do a double circuit. Familiarity with the course by the second circuit was a big help, as were some runners who shared my pace at various points. It was a low-key experience in the best way, with plenty of runners, but also plenty of solitary stretches and everyday Saturday morning life of people walking their dogs, biking with the kids, etc.

A combination of de facto training, beautiful weather, and the light gravel and flat terrain of the towpath helped me achieve a personal best, finishing in 3 hours, 52 minutes at an 8:51 pace. That’s practically an hour faster than my worst marathon performance earlier this year in March, and ~30 minutes faster than my previous best performance in the Philadelphia marathon two years ago.

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A bit about the 184-mile C&O Canal for perspective/context, first from the National Park Service:

Preserving America’s early transportation history, the C&O Canal began as a dream of passage to Western wealth. Operating for nearly 100 years the canal was a lifeline for communities along the Potomac River as coal, lumber, and agricultural products floated down the waterway to market. Today it endures as a pathway for discovering historical, natural, and recreational treasures.

And here’s a bit more from Wikipedia:

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, abbreviated as the C&O Canal and occasionally called the “Grand Old Ditch,” operated from 1831 until 1924 along the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland. The canal’s principal cargo was coal from the Allegheny Mountains.

Construction on the 184.5-mile (296.9 km) canal began in 1828 and ended in 1850 with the completion of a 50-mile stretch to Cumberland. Rising and falling over an elevation change of 605 feet (184 meters), it required the construction of 74 canal locks, 11 aqueducts to cross major streams, more than 240 culverts to cross smaller streams, and the 3,118 ft (950 m) Paw Paw Tunnel. A planned section to the Ohio River at Pittsburgh was never built.

The canal way is now maintained as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, with a trail that follows the old towpath.

Very grateful for the great morning and experience.

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