The Catoctin Aqueduct 10/5K was held on Saturday, September 27 at 8:30 am. The 10K race was an out-and-back run on a section of the towpath of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, which is a graded stone and dirt trail that runs along the Potomac River, from Point of Rocks to the site of the Catoctin Aqueduct. When I was younger I used to train frequently on the towpath where it runs through southern Montgomery County and was pleased to have the opportunity to participate in a race along the canal. The event was held to raise money for the Catoctin Aqueduct Restoration Fund in order to rebuild the historic stone structure.
Short history break:
The Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal was constructed from 1828 to 1850 and runs approximately 185 miles from Cumberland, MD to Washington, DC. It was built to transport coal boats which were towed by mule teams and used a series of locks to allow the boats to move from high to low water levels. Unfortunately, the C&O Canal (and others like it) quickly became outdated by the railroads, specifically the B&O which was built at the same time.
The Catoctin Aqueduct is one of eleven stone aqueducts that cross the canal and was constructed from 1832 to 1834 at the 51.5 mile mark of the C&O Canal. It is where the C&O Canal and B&O Railroad first competed to cross a major tributary of the Potomac River. In 1973 the aqueduct collapsed into Catoctin Creek after a flash flood and in 1978 a steel frame Army Bailey bridge was erected to transport hiker/biker traffic over the creek. The original stones are being rescued from the creek so that the aqueduct may be restored to its historic condition.
My idea for this race was to get in a quality speed workout of a moderate distance as a sort of final tune up before the Baltimore Marathon in two weeks. When I calculated in a good cool-down, I figured that this would count as my long run and tempo run for the week. I woke up on race morning and had a breakfast of peanut butter and pumpkin butter spread on two whole wheat waffles. As I made my wife a latte, I thought about the previous night's thunder storms and wondered how the participants in the 180-mile Ragnar Relay were managing. As I drove to the event, I was inspired as I passed a few of the Ragnar members and their bike support teams heading towards Point of Rocks. I arrived at the event which was near one of the Ragnar Relay exchange sites and registered before starting my stretches and warm-up. The weather wasn't particularly hot, but everything was still wet from the night's storm and it was humid. Since this race was part of the Frederick Steeplechasers' Fall Grand Prix Series, I bumped into a bunch of other members as I jogged over to the canal. The 5 and 10K start was combined and the field was fairly small with most of the other participants that I recognized being in older age groups.
The race began at a gate entrance to the towpath and I was in the lead from the start. I settled into a fairly relaxed early rhythm and took in the beautiful surroundings. The path is flat (with a very slight downgrade heading out which means a very slight ascent on the way back), but it was wet and full of puddles and soft areas so most of the time my eyes were down as I scouted the best places for footfalls. I was able to take in some nice views of the river and it was good to be in the shade of the trees. The course was marked at miles 1, 2, and 3 with these signs also indicating how many miles remained for the return trip. The turnaround section seems to have been a bit longer than the .2 miles needed to make the 10K/6.2M distance. I don't mind, however, because it gave us the opportunity to pass by a gathering of stones salvaged from the original aqueduct and cross the current bridge that is at the aqueduct site. My approximate splits were as follows:
turn) 2:17 (probably just over .3 miles)
On the way out I simply ran alone and checked out the lock houses I passed and a train on the nearby tracks that was headed in the opposite direction. I tried to maintain a solid pace that would be a challenge but that I would be able to recover from in a few days. I crossed the bridge and turned back for home and hit a group of four or five other runners right near the 3 mile mark. Based on my turnaround split that gave me a lead of just over two minutes halfway through the race. Passing the runners who were heading out made things more interesting as the towpath can be fairly narrow at points. I tried to offer encouragement to all the other participants as I passed by (after all, my Brooks singlet does say "Inspire Daily" on the back; I try to live up to that). I continued passing other 10K runners for about a mile and then I eventually started coming up on a few of the rear 5K runners. Finally, I saw the highway bridge at Point of Rocks and knew that I was near the end. I ran into the finish in 37:17, over five minutes ahead of the second place runner. It's hard to get much meaning from that time since I'm not sure if the course was long or the mile marks were not accurate. Another runner with a Garmin logged 6.34 miles, but at least a little bit of that was surely due to some swerving to find the driest path.
After the race I changed out of my racing shoes and went to grab a couple bananas and a bagel. At the awards ceremony I received a medal and then picked out a gift from the prize table (since they did the awards in reverse order and did the 5K first, I got last pick before the remaining items were raffled off as door prizes). I got myself a "Towpath Tag" collector's pin with a picture of the Catoctin Aqueduct and a waist pack with the C&O Canal National Historical Park logo. For my first place finish I will also have a stone that will be used in the aqueduct restoration "adopted" in my name. Afterwards, I run the course again for my cool-down. Tim O'Keefe, the winner of the 50-59 age group as well as fellow Steeplechaser and science teacher, runs with me to the 5K turnaround point. After he turns back I enjoy some alone time on the canal until I finish up and head home.