When you register for late autumn races dazed by the heat of summer, you don’t really remember that early November in Virginia might be a little chilly. But Friday night and Saturday morning had temperatures below freezing in northern Virginia. I’ve only run in tights once this season, and I wasn’t excited about wearing them for this race, so I braved the elements and went with shorts and a short-sleeved shirt and arm sleeves. That meant I had to jump up and down at the start line to keep warm, which is exactly what you want in a race.
We stayed in Winchester in a hotel not far from the race. Winchester is about 90 miles from D.C., and I didn’t want to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to cut it close getting to a half marathon. Parking lot attendants quickly guided us to a parking spot in an open field (uh, part of the battlefield), and by 7:15, I’d picked up my bib, cutesy zipper gear bag and technical shirt. This was the inaugural year for this race, a fact I learned about an hour before running the race. Typically, I don’t sign up for first-year races because they might end up like a big hot chocolate mess. Except for a few minor kinks, overall this was organized well.
On to the race. A cannon blast from the battlefield kicked off the race right on time at 8 a.m. I passed a few slower runners right at the start, but the timing signs helped people seed themselves correctly. The course is a little strange — it goes out for half a mile through a neighborhood and then returns through the starting area to the back side of the battlefield, behind a barn and down a gravel trail. You end up returning through the same area 11 miles later.
I passed a few female runners after a rough patch on the course around mile 2. Then, for the next seven miles I was pretty much alone on the road, back in my head with the occasional spectator yelling something nonsensical. My past few races have been either heavily attended (St. George) or had a lot of spectators (Marine Corps and Army Ten-Miler), so I’ve had something to distract me from the pain of running. The scenery in the fall in Winchester and the horses and hills in the distance are pretty, but it’s not enough to take your mind off the fading dots of people in front of you or the hill ahead or the maybe pain maybe in your right foot maybe ouch. Relay handoff areas were scattered every three or four miles, so those runners provided a nice cheering section.
This course is hillier than it looks in the race elevation profile. The race emails say the course is moderately flat. That’s a lie. Miles 4 through 6 are almost all uphill. There’s a rewarding downhill stretch near the end, but you have to run over a cross-country-type road in the last mile.
I finished as the seventh woman and 27th overall out of about 600 people in 1:30:36. This is about two minutes slower than my PR from Erie a few months ago at the beginning of the race season. I caught a woman in front of me when I accelerated at mile 10. Around mile 9, I thought if I could keep a 6:40 pace or so, I could gain on her, which I did. Then the course turned back to the battlefield, and I missed the unmarked turn. That threw me off, and I ended up behind her. Boo. I’ll still count a 1:30 on a tough course two weeks after my second marathon of the season as a great time.
Nobody told me to turn at mile 12. I’ll forgive a lack of clear course markers most of the time. I wouldn’t expect a race with fewer than 1,000 entrants to even mark every mile, really. But please just tell me where to turn on the course. I ran about 15 seconds out of my way and had to double back to get back on the course.
Funky out and back course to start. Maybe I was just mentally thrown off by this weird way to start. It seemed like the race didn’t get really started until we crossed back through the start area. To be fair, people would have probably tripped all over each other in the off-road part of the course if we hadn’t spread out early.
Almost no crowd support. About 11 miles of the race had no spectators. I did have one woman in a lawn chair in her yard yell to me that I was “halfway there” around mile 4.5. “That is a lie!” I yelled back.
Odd sign-up process. Frederick County put on this race. I remember about five screens in the signup process on the government website. And I had to enter my educational information.
Nice scenery. The leaves were turning, and the hillside views were quaint. This race actually reminded me of one of the first half marathons I ran back in 2006 in Sedalia, Mo. It winds through large stretches of farm land and finishes in a small city.
Great weather. Yes, it was cold. But when I started to feel my feet after the first mile, the weather seemed almost perfect. It wasn’t windy, and it wasn’t yet cold enough for frost to form on the roads.
Technical race shirt and bag. The small race shirt was a little large, but a technical shirt is always nice.
Post-race food. Standard bananas, Gatorade and bagels were, of course, at the finish line. This race stepped it up with chicken sandwiches and pumpkin crumb muffins too.
- Course: lollipop thing
- Terrain: roads and some stupid terrain
- Website: It’s down right now, but Google Frederick Battlefield Half Marathon