Yesterday morning I ran the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll USA race right here at home in our nation’s capitol. I had big plans for this race. I had never broken 2 hours in a half marathon. Seriously. Never. So that was my first goal. Also, I really hadn’t properly trained for a half marathon in years. I’d dropped into a few here and there either on my way to or on my way back down from a marathon, but hadn’t really taken one too seriously for quite a while. So, I initially set a sub-2:00 goal for myself. Then, as my training progressed pretty well, I realized that sub-1:55 was even within my reach, so that became my new goal. I was pretty nervous about this, but I knew I could do it if I kept my head in the game.
This is the first year that the Competitor Group/Rock N Roll folks have taken over this race, which is pretty exciting. They’re known for putting on good events, and this was no exception.
The date of this race was pretty perfect for me. I got pretty much the whole winter to train for it, yet it wrapped up in time for me to take off to Zambia for a couple weeks and then return in time to (hopefully) train up for an Olympic Tri in late May. In addition to the fact that the timing was just right for me, a large motivation in signing up for this race was the fact that the start/finish was less than 2 miles down the road from my house, meaning I could sleep in to a luxurious 6 AM and walk to the race late enough to avoid the need to waiting an obnoxiously slow moving port-a-potty line. It doesn’t really get any better than that.
My college bff Matthew was in town to run the race and visit his sis, bro-in-law, and adorable little nephew. He arrived late Friday night so he crashed with us so we could be up bright and early and head to the race together. Matthew also traveled to DC two years ago to run this race with me, which was his first ever half marathon! This year he was back to again put me to shame with his speediness.
Matthew had a leisurely breakfast at home before walking the short distance to the start line/corrals. He left me back at corral 8 and wandered up to corral 4 with the cool kids. I had been nervous all week that it would be too warm on race morning, but I was a little chilled as I waited for the starting gun, which is perfect.
It took me about 8 minutes from the starting gun to actually cross the start line, and I was off. I love this course. It weaves around a bit but basically heads all the way from RFK stadium down East Capitol to the Capitol building, then cuts up north to run along Constitution all the way down to the Lincoln Memorial. It then heads north up through Dupont Circle and into Adams Morgan, then east over through the bottom of Mt. Pleasant and all the way along to Howard. It then cuts down by the reservoir and all the way back over until heading south a bit to run East along H St. NE before heading a bit more southeast to curve around back to RFK stadium. The runners get to see much of the scenic memorial/mall parts of DC, as well as a few of the most charm-filled neighborhoods in inner NW and the Hill.
Shortly after taking off, I spotted my friend Gabe over on the left but running about at my pace. Gabe is usually much quicker than me, but was running his first distance race in his Vibram 5 Finger shoes so was taking it a bit easy. I ran over to say hi briefly before he took off.
The Hubz was hanging out at about mile 1.25, which was conveniently located only about 4 blocks north of our house. It was fun to see him while I was still feeling happy and strong. I knew I was the last he had watched run by and that he was going to be able to go back home and nap until Matthew and I reconvened at home a couple hours later.
For about the first 5 miles, I was trying to hold back my pace but not doing so well at that task. Every mile my Garmin beeped at me and reminded me that I was not taking it at a measured pace as I should have. I had high hopes for this race, but I was way ahead of even those high hopes. When I turned to head up the hill to Dupont, I thought it would come back to kick my booty, but by some miracle I stayed pretty strong and fast. The hills up into Dupont and Adams Morgan were tough, but not killer, and I kept feeling strong all the way along.
It did warm up a bit, so I made sure to take in gatorade at pretty much every water stop, and stick to my nutrition plan of taking a gel at miles 5 and 10. I was energized when at mile 5 I grabbed a water to wash down my gel, and happened upon a water hander-outer in a Nebraska t-shirt. I gave him a good “Go Huskers!” cheer as I ran by. And at mile 9, I took gatorade from Andy, one of the trivia hosts from my (used to be regular) weekly trivia game at Nellie’s! So fun to see friendly faces along the race course.
I didn’t really feel any fatigue until about mile 10, turning the corner to head back east. About this time, the sun came out and it started to get properly warm. It was in the high 60s by this point. Nonetheless, I stuck in there, and even powered up the last hill heading up to H St. at the end of mile 11/beginning of mile 12. My pace definitely slowed, but I kept running and felt strong the whole way.
The one thing that kind of sucks about this race is the finish line. It’s so deceiving! It is both up a hill and around a corner, so it’s really hard to tell how far you are from the line as you are coming in. I swear I thought I was going to cross it 3 times before I finally did. Seriously, it was like LOTR 3: Return of the King all over again (really, did that movie not end like 8 times before it finally ended? I mean, REALLY.) But I finally made it. And not only did I smash my previous PR by more than 10 minutes, but I crushed my 1:55 goal to finish in 1:53:04!
I made my way through the finisher area (stopping just long enough to receive my finisher’s medal and grab my Chocolate Milk to refuel!) to find Matthew hanging with his sister, brother-in-law, and adorable little nephew. We chatted for a bit and then had to scurry on back home as Hubz and I had to catch a train to Philly for our own adorable little nephew’s third birthday party.
The best part of the day was when on our way home, we walked by one of the police officers who was working traffic flow for the race course. She stopped us and asked us about our medals. “Do you have to finish in a certain time to get that medal?” “No ma’am, as long as you finish, you get it. You can even walk and as long as you cross the finish line, you will earn the medal.” “Really??? I am going to do it next year. I always work it, but I want to earn that medal!” It was such a nice reminder that, no matter how caught up we get in our own heads with our own expectations, competitive spirits, PRs, etc. etc., every race we run is an accomplishment. It’s really important to step back and give yourself credit every time you cross a finish line, be it in a race or even in a regular weekday training run. Our bodies are capable of so much, and they don’t fail us when we treat them right, and we should be proud of every mile and every step we take!
Final time: 1:53:04 – 8:38/mile. Woot! Splits were not great. Due to the increasing heat throughout the morning, my last 3-4 miles were a good deal slower than the first 10 or so. But still, pretty proud of this effort. Makes me pretty confident that if I choose to do another full marathon anytime in the near-ish future, I can shoot for a sub-4 hour finish time…*famous last words*