Two weekends ago, I ran the Annapolis Running Classic Half Marathon. This event includes both a 10K and a half marathon, both of which are usually quite popular. Last year, I ran the 10K at 22 weeks pregnant. It was my final race during my pregnancy, as I was only able to run the first three miles of the 10K before I started having some strong Braxton-Hicks contractions, and I ended up walking the last half of the race. I had such a bad experience that I almost didn’t run the race this year, but at the last minute decided that I shouldn’t judge the entire race based on my experience running it while pregnant. I also wanted to do some sort of race during the month of November, and this one seemed like the best choice given its proximity to where I live, and its really nice swag and post-race party.
Since I wasn’t specifically training for this race, and had experienced some symptoms of overtraining in the weeks leading up to it, my goal was to treat the race as a long run and run it fairly easy, perhaps mixing in some faster miles if my legs were feeling good after the first 10K. I knew the course would be fairly hilly based on its elevation profile, which is always a red flag for me because I don’t have the opportunity to train on hills where I live, but I figured as long as I took it easy, I would be able to finish just fine and enjoy the run.
Although the forecast had initially predicted rain and wind for the morning of the race, this changed (thankfully!) over the course of the week to mostly cloudy skies with lots of wind. The morning started off sunny and cold, with a bit of a breeze. One thing I like about this event is that they have a large, heated tent for runners to gather in before the race. Since the race begins at the Naval Academy’s stadium, there is also plenty of parking very close to where the race starts and ends, as well as the heated tent and “runners’ village.” It’s very easy to just sit in your nice warm car until you’re ready to go line up for the race, and I noticed many runners doing exactly this.
Because Annapolis is only about thirty minutes from where I live, I have run quite a few races there over the past few years. Most of these races tend to follow a similar course: they start at the Naval Academy’s stadium, send runners through downtown Annapolis, and weave them through some of the side roads before bringing them back up to the stadium. The longer races, like this one and the Annapolis 10-Miler, send runners over what is locally referred to as the Naval Academy bridge, through some neighborhoods, and then back over the bridge to the stadium. All of the previous races I’ve run in Annapolis have been 10Ks or shorter, so I hadn’t yet experienced running over the bridge or through the neighborhoods on the other side. However, I drive over this bridge and another that runs parallel to it on a regular basis, and am familiar enough with the area that I thought I knew what to expect.
Knowing that I wanted to run the race at an easy pace, I positioned myself between the 2:00 and 2:10 pacers and held back a bit over the first mile. As you make a loop around the stadium in the first mile of the course, there are a few rolling hills that are tough, but after this the course levels out nicely through mile 2 as you head downtown. Running through the historic part of Annapolis – especially on a sunny, crisp Fall morning – is always a pleasure, and the first 5K seemed to fly by. As I got caught up in race-day excitement, I knew I was running faster than I intended to after the first mile, but I felt good and decided to just let my body set the pace. I knew I would face another hill coming up out of the downtown area, but this hill wasn’t as bad as I remembered it from the previous year, and I still felt strong coming in to mile 4.
One of my least favorite things about this course is that it has several turnarounds, which make it difficult to run tangents and can throw off your stride a bit. The first turnaround is close to mile 4. Somehow, I misread the course information on the website and thought there was also a hydration station at mile 4, so I ended up taking my first Huma gel a bit too early (the hydration station was actually around mile 4.75). Even with all my planning, I still seem to mess up my fueling in various ways during races. Regardless, I made it through miles 4 and 5 still feeling strong.
I had a moment of panic when my watch beeped for mile 5, and I could see that the mile 5 sign was still pretty far ahead of me. I knew with all the turns and turnarounds on this course, I was definitely going to end up running more than 13.1 miles, but I didn’t think I was off by 0.2 miles before the halfway point of the race. Sure enough, my Garmin read 5.20 miles when I came up to the mile 5 sign, but then I passed the mile 6 sign at 5.98 miles. Unfortunately, mile signs seemed to be slightly misplaced throughout the second half of the race, and I eventually stopped paying attention to the signs altogether and went completely by my watch for mileage.
Shortly after mile 5, the 10K racers split off from the half-marathoners and head back toward the stadium. Those runners completing the half turn the opposite way and head straight over the bridge.
Miles 1-5 Splits: 9:41, 9:05, 9:02, 8:53, 8:51
Since I’d run the 10K last year, the back half of this race was completely new to me. It’s probably best that I didn’t know what to expect, because if I had known how hilly the second half of the course was, I may not have run the race at all! Coincidentally, the weather turned from sunny and crisp to overcast and windy just as I made the turn towards the Naval Academy bridge. A sign of things to come, for sure.
While I wasn’t prepared for a lot of the hills on this part of the course, I was fully prepared to run over the bridge and so I took it slowly and steadily. The size and steepness of this bridge reminded me of the bridge you run over at the end of the Outer Banks Marathon, heading in to Manteo. You hit mile 6 as you’re heading up the bridge, and because it was still fairly early in the race, I didn’t feel like running over the bridge took too much out of me.
However, I assumed that the bridge was the only significant hill in this race, and I was completely wrong about that. Miles 7-11 of this course continually batter you with hill after hill of every kind, the first of which you face just after coming off the bridge. For all the strength and speed I felt in the early miles of this race, the wheels came off pretty quickly as I passed through mile 7. Not used to running so many hills, my body started to give out in multiple ways. First, I felt a sharp pain through my left knee that caused me to slow down and nearly stop. I decided to run gently to see if it would ease up, and thankfully, after about half a mile, the knee pain went away. Unfortunately, at that point, I could feel a “hot spot” on the bottom of my right foot where I knew a blister was forming. And, to top it off, my stomach began to rumble with GI issues. There were a few times, particularly in miles 7-9, where I seriously considered walking and even leaving the race altogether, but slowing my pace considerably seemed to help ease all the pains, and I was able to continue on. I didn’t take my second gel in this race, however, because my stomach never completely settled.
This portion of the course, in addition to being much hillier, is also much less scenic than the first half. Miles 6-11 wind you through some neighborhoods and side roads, but there’s nothing particularly unique or memorable about this part of the race, in my opinion. The view as you run over the Naval Academy bridge is nice in both directions, but on this specific day, we definitely paid for it with a strong, cold headwind going back over the bridge. Let’s just say that I was very happy and relieved to make it back over the bridge and only have a little over a mile left to go.
Miles 6-11 Splits: 8:51, 9:13, 9:02, 9:21, 9:07, 9:10
After coming back over the bridge, I was shocked to see that I had the potential for a sub-2:00 finish time if I really pushed myself. The last 1.1 miles of this race are, thankfully, fairly flat as you make your way back toward the Naval Academy stadium. You run through a few of the main roads in West Annapolis and then through the stadium parking lot, finishing in the same place you started the race. I decided to try to push a little bit and see if I could pull off a sub-2:00, but ended up with an official finish time of 2:00:24. As expected, with all the turns on this course, I ran a bit over 13.1 miles: 13.21, according to my Garmin.
The Annapolis Running Classic is well-known for its post-race party, which features a variety of beers, grilled and raw oysters, bagels, bananas, and more. I don’t typically spend much time at post-race events because I’m usually trying to find Matt and the kids, and then we tend to go do our own thing. Since this race is close to where we live, Matt and I decided it would be best if he just stayed home with the kids rather than dragging them out in the cold on a Saturday morning. My stomach was still in knots after the race, so I took a pass on the oysters and grabbed a bagel and a banana. I also almost never drink the beer they give you after a race – all I ever seem to want, once my stomach settles down, is a huge glass of chocolate milk.
Miles 12-13.1 Splits: 9:14, 9:04, 9:03
Oddly enough, in some ways I am happier with this finish time than I am of my sub-2:00 time at Wineglass. This was, by far, a much more difficult course than Wineglass, yet my finish time was less than a minute off of my finish time at Wineglass. I don’t think I ran this race particularly “smart,” however, as I was completely unprepared for the hills in the second half of the course; Wineglass was a much “smarter” race for me.
I’m also still feeling the effects of this race and its hills on my body, even more than a week after the event. Because I ended up with two big blisters on the bottom of my foot, which fortunately healed on their own over a couple of days, I took three days off after the race instead of my usual two. I also struggled with some knee pain for my first recovery run after this race, but this went away within a day. However, I managed to re-injure my right foot, which I have had issues with since returning to running after pregnancy, and continue to deal with pain on the ball of my foot when I walk and run. I’m hoping with lots of ice, it will go away on its own as it did earlier this year.
I doubt I will do this half marathon again, but I am glad I did it just this one time. I would definitely consider doing the 10K again next year – the race is well-organized, popular, close by, and overall a nice addition to my Fall race lineup.