I started my 2019 race season with a half marathon last January, the Great Scorpion Trail Race, so I thought it would be fitting to finish my 2019 race season with a half marathon. I moved to northern Virginia this summer so I did a quick google search for races and found the Potomac River Runner’s Holiday Half Marathon and 4 mile race and quickly signed up.
The Holiday Half marathon and 4 mile races take place on the Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail, and start and finish at Wakefield Park in Annandale, Virginia. There were a couple of things that drew me to this race. First, there is plenty of parking at Wakefield Park so easy access to the race. Second, it was run on the Cross County Trail, which is a jewel of Fairfax County. It is a 40 mile trail that runs across the county from Great Falls in the north to the Occoquan River in the south. Third, the swag looked like it would be pretty sweet.
The races are “Trail” races but I think it is important to note the trail surface. The trail surface for the 4 mile race was completely paved and the majority of the half marathon the trail was paved with the exception of several miles around Lake Accotink that was mostly a crushed gravel surface with a few rockier sections. There were also a few smallish hills, so overall the course was very runnable.
My goal time for the race was to run a 2:15 or better half marathon time. I have slowed down in recent years, not due to age, but due to laziness and not putting in the effort to be faster. I am currently following a training plan for a 50k in February, and have included some speed work in this plan. All that to say that I started off the race conservatively.
I felt good from the start and settled in during the first mile. My pace was between 9 and 9:30 minute miles and I did not feel like I was straining to achieve that pace. I kept this up for the first 5 miles, which went by quickly, and I knew that a 9:06 average pace would put me right at 2 hours for a half marathon. So I decided to see if I could break the two hour mark.
My pace for the next few miles was just under a 9 minute pace, but knew I was going to cut it close. When I hit mile 11, I decided to see what I had in the tank and ran my two fastest miles of the race in 8:32 and 8:14 respectively for miles 12 and 13 and finished in 1:57:59. I was ecstatic to have broken the two hour mark, it was a nice validation that the speedwork and plyometrics that I added to my training routine were paying dividends. Overall, I finished 97th out 282 runners.
I like to mention the gear that I use for my races. The shoes I used were a pair of Altra Lone Peak 3.5’s. They did great and had plenty of cushion to handle the paved and crushed gravel sections of the trail. I wore a long sleeve tech shirt from another race and Nike running shorts and pro combat compression shorts. Temperatures were in the low 30s so I also had on a beanie, a buff around my neck and lightweight gloves. I wore the Fuel Belt Uno to carry my iPhone, keys and a water bottle. I didn’t really use my water bottle, as I took a quick sip of water or Gatorade at the two aid stations on the course. Overall, I was very comfortable during the run.
The swag for the Holiday Half was good – a long sleeve tech shirt and a nice medal. The after run food was great, catered by Anitas, which is a local chain that serves New Mexican style Mexican food. They had the full gamut of breakfast foods including chorizo eggs, and it was delicious!
Overall, this was a great race. It was very organized, and the course was interesting. I recommend this race because it is good for a first half marathon or a runner looking to add another half marathon to the end of their racing season.