Last Saturday I ran my first half marathon of the year, Rock N Roll USA down in DC. I had run this race last year (recap HERE) and wasn’t too impressed. I didn’t have plans to run it this year, but my friends talked me into it. Plus, I had gotten an email from RnR describing all the changes it had made, addressing complaints from last year. SO, I decided to give them another chance.
Friday evening, I met up with my friend and we drove down to DC. Typically, the drive takes about 2 hours. We had to get down to the Armory by RFK stadium before the expo closed at 7 pm. We left around 4:45. What we didn’t expect, was the traffic. The DC/Northern VA area is notorious for the horrible traffic. When I worked for a while out of Northern VA, it would take me about 4 hours to drive back up to my parent’s in northern MD. BUT.. I didn’t expect traffic to be going towards DC, so it was making me very nervous that we were cutting it so close.
We got to the expo a little after 6:30 and ran inside to get our packets. Once I had mine, I quickly scanned the expo booths looking for headbands. I wanted to buy a green headband to wear for the 5K I was running on Sunday (more on that later!) I found myself an nice sparkly green headband from Sweaty Bands, bought it, and headed outside to meet my friend just as the expo was closing up.
We headed over to our hotel.. the Courtyard Marriott. It wasn’t hard to find, but it was extremely hard to get to! There was no direct turn in as it was sitting on a side street, and the road was blocked in all directions by either barriers, construction, or road signs. After we drove around in a circle, we ended up making an illegal u-turn so that we would be on the correct side of the street to make the right onto the side street. There was no parking at the hotel, so we had to pay for valet service. BUT it was all worth it when we saw the metro station that was connected to the building. WIN. I was so excited that we didn’t have to walk the 2 miles to/from the start/finish lines! (Because I didn’t get a parking pass at the finish line in time before it sold out.)
We settled into our rooms (we met up with my friend’s brother after the expo- he happened to be running the race too and staying in the same hotel, so we just got rooms next to each other) and set out to find food. We were all pretty hungry, but looked like Yelp was showing a lot of restaurants in the area. I picked an Italian place and we started walking. For some reason, Yelp said it was only 0.7 mi away.. but we ended up walking 1.1 mi. We got to the place only to be told that they would not seat us and even if we waited it would be more than an hour before they would be able to take us. Begging did not work. So I found another Italian place only 0.3 mi down from there. When we got there, the tiny place only had about 15 tables and they were all full. The waiter told us maybe a 30 min wait. We were starving at this point. (We were starving when we left the expo.) So we declined and started walking back. We came across a pizza place that had a nice menu. They had open tables and served pasta too. We were seated right away. I had pesto chicken pasta. It was glorious.
We finished dinner, and headed back to the hotel. I got my stuff ready for the next morning and decided to get up around 5:15 to get ready.
Race day morning went smoothly. We got to the starting area with only 1 minor problem- we took the Red line to Metro Center, expecting to jump on the Orange line to the Smithsonian stop. Only Both trains that came through were SO full of runners that there was no where to squeeze on! I knew it wasn’t too far of a walk from Metro Center, so we decided just to walk to the start.
Dawn decided she wanted something to eat and remembered that last year there was a food booth at the start. So we made our way up to the Mall and found a water booth and a fruit booth.. with all the bananas you could eat!
We posed for a quick picture with the National Monument, then headed back down to our corral.
We hung out in corral 14 waiting for the start. Last year there were a couple port-a-pots in each corral.. with lines that wound around forever. I remember being in line for one and finally making it just as the national anthem started to play. This was a terrible idea on RnR’s part and I was glad to see they eliminated that this year. In fact.. there were plenty of bathrooms lining up and down the streets at the start (although I didn’t have to use one) so the improvement was noticeable.
The race started and we had to wait a little while before it was corral 14’s turn. But the closer we got to the start, the more excited I was getting! Finally it was our turn!
I wished Dawn luck and we got going. I ran the first mile with her, but she scooted ahead of me after the water stop in mile 2. By mile 3, I couldn’t even see her anymore. Go Dawn!
I’d like to say I felt good.. this was my first half in almost a year.. and the one I knew I was most likely to meet my goal of under 2 hours, or at least beat my PR. But mile 1 felt annoying.. mile 2 not much better. I started thinking “great.. 13 freaking miles of feeling like crap.. why do I do this to myself again? Do i hate myself this much?” I was making really good time though.. my first mile I averaged a 9.1 pace, my second an 8.59. So I figured like a lot of my long runs.. I’ll warm up and feel better.
Indeed I did.. around mile 4 I was feeling strong.. my pace was somewhere around 9.1 min/mi, so it seems I was able to maintain. I started looking at the scenery around me.. remembering the course from last year. I thought it was funny to see people (not in the race) run by in the opposite direction as they were completing their morning long runs. I started wondering what races they were training for. I took a picture of a large bridge as I ran under it. The weather was nice and I stopped being cold about 5 mins into the race, so it was rather pleasant.
We were coming up on mile 6.. the dreaded mile 6 with the huge hill that never ends. I took a couple pictures of the hill, and pushed hard to huff up it. I managed to run the whole thing.. but when I finally got to the top.. I wanted to die. I got this cramp in my chest that migrated to my neck and stuck there for the duration of the mile. My average pace dropped from 9.1 to 11:29 and I was having trouble catching my breath. That hill is no joke!
After mile 6 I found I was feeling not so hot again. I took a Gu and stopped at every water stop as usual. I tried to look around at the neighborhoods and take in the spectators. I tried to focus my attention on more pleasant things., and I kept putting one foot in front of the other. My pace on miles 7 and 8 slowed down to 9:30-10:00. Not terrible, but not as good as before.
By mile 10, I noticed my time was 1:35.. and if I could finish the last 5K under 30 minutes, I could PR. So I set my sights on the finished and pushed hard. Unfortunately, I took a couple hills along the way, which slowed me down a little.. and I just couldn’t compensate after running a hard 10 miles. But I kept focusing on my goal. I also thought about Dawn.. and wondered how far ahead of me she was.. and if she would come in under 2 hours. Finally I hit Mile 13 and the finish was within my reach!
My final time was 2:03.15 (got my new PR!) Dawn missed her sub 2, but PR’d at 2:01! We jumped on the metro and headed back to the hotel to shower and head home. I had to do my shopping and my laundry later on Saturday because my husband and I were running the 5K the next day. I loaded my data from my Garmin.. here are my splits for the race:
My watch was a little off mileage wise, but not by much. I didn’t check a bag into gear check, so I really can’t comment if RnR made the improvements that they promised. I do know that there were more volunteers on the course this year, and all the water stops were manned very well. My only thought on that was I wish there had been a water stop somewhere around mile 12-13, because I had run out of my Gatorade at that point and I was getting really thirsty. The finisher chute was better and less crowded- I felt like the chute itself was wider than last year, so more people could get their stuff and flow through. I was pleased to see they improved the ribbon on the medal.. the one from last year was a generic ribbon that felt very cheap and not the kind of quality you see at bigger races like this. This year was a satin ribbon with the RnR USA logo on it, quite fitting. There was still a little back up at the chute exit, but I wasn’t standing around for 5 minutes. And the chocolate milk.. not frozen, and delicious. Thanks RnR for a great event…I’d be happy to run with you again!