The morning started off pretty well. I actually hopped out of bed right at 5:30 when my alarm went off, had some standard pre-race peanut butter/banana toast and hot tea while watching a BBT rerun, and shuffled about and up and down and around the house for 20 minutes trying to make sure I had everything on me or in my gear bag that I could possibly need. I nabbed a Car2Go and drove down to park at Hubz’s work building. It is only about 4 blocks from the race start so I figured I’d use the nice, clean, warm bathrooms there rather than brave the port-a-potty lines. A smart choice, it turns out. I got a text from M that she was running late due to single tracking on the Orange line (really, Metro? bad weekend for that….) so I was on my own.
I left the office with about 25 minutes before the starting gun – which I foolishly thought would be plenty of time. Unfortunately, I had failed miserably at pre-race recon, and thus didn’t realize that bag check was on the opposite side of the start line and corrals from me. I busted my hump over there and realized the bus corresponding to my last name was a full 2 blocks further, so I busted it some more. And then it dawned on me just how SLOWLY The bag check lines were moving. Luckily mine was moving much faster than average, but I still only got to the front a few minutes after the starting gun. One major ding for the race organizers – the bag check was not well organized or sufficiently staffed at either the start or the finish line. People were getting ANGRY.
Luckily, I was able to get away and jog to the general area where my corral had moved up to by that point. I only had about 3 more minutes of standing/shuffling before my corral was released and off we went!
I LOOOOOOOVED the first 3 miles of this race! We took off from the Washington Monument, headed down the mall toward the Lincoln Memorial, and then crossed (out and back) on the Arlington Memorial Bridge. Such beautiful scenery and one of my favorite areas to run in the whole city. I felt really good for these first three miles and my pace was better than I had expected (I *should* have taken this as a sign to slow down the pace just a tad, but….you know.) The only major problem at this point was that the course was still pretty congested, but that is often to be expected early on in such large races so it was no big. I even stopped to take a really terrible photo of the view down the mall as we were crossing back over from Virginny.
Next, we headed straight down into Rock Creek. Cue the part of the race that sucked. The run in Rock Creek itself was fine: wide road, pretty trees, etc. I tried to enjoy those three miles as much as possible because I knew what was coming. I threw back a Gu and some water around mile 5 (turns out this may have been a bad, bad idea.)
And then, the dreaded Calvert Street hill. Right around mile 6. As anyone who has run in the park knows well, what goes down must come back up (ew, but you know what I mean). Calvert is one of the major ways to exit the park trail and get back into the city. Seriously, this doesn’t even start to do it justice:
Of course, I knew Calvert was coming, so I paced myself as well as I could and took a very slow, long-course triathlon approach to it (i.e. walk breaks). Still, I was spent once I got to the top and barely had the energy to enjoy the beautiful view running down across the bridge from there. Of course, as you can see, the subsequent mile was more and more climbing up Columbia Road in Adams Morgan.
Gahhh….and all that climbing fed right into the next problem: tummy troubles. I have experienced the occasional tummy upset on training runs and rides, but I’ve never been hit too hard during a race before. Until now. Starting around mile 8, I had major pain and rumblies in the tumblies set in. I managed OK as long as I kept my heart rate fairly low and my breathing easy, which meant more and more walk breaks (especially on anything even barely resembling an incline). This was *SO* frustrating, because my legs felt great but the rest of my body just started freaking out. So I cranked up the mental game to keep moving forward as decidedly as possible. Luckily around mile 10 there was a patch of port-a-potties with NO LINE, so I pulled off and stopped there. After the pit stop, with a few more minutes of easy running, I got to feeling more normal and was able to hit a normal pace again, more or less. I was even more annoyed because those miles 7ish-11ish were the part of the course I was most looking forward to – the part that goes through “real” DC neighborhoods, with much awesome crowd support from locals out on their front lawns.
I had planned to take another Gu around mile 10, but after the tummy trouble I wasn’t about to mess with putting anything else in my system. I did take in a little water at mile 11, but that was it. Although my legs still felt good and my tummy was calm again, the other stuff was still troubling me…my heart rate was higher than it should have been and breathing felt hard. But I powered through with the help of some good music and an *absolute* resolve to finish in under 2 hours. Which I did. Just barely. 1:58:42.
I stumbled through the finish chute and grabbed some chocolate milk, some gatorade, and of course my medal. I didn’t get a space blanket because I figured I would head right to bag check and quickly retrieve my sweats…foolish assumption, again. The bag check lines were, again, REDONK:
I literally waited in line for 45 minutes to get my bag. The first 20 minutes of which I was 100% stationary. I haven’t the foggiest idea what the problem was. I wasn’t in a rush since I had some time to kill while M finished up, but I was FREEZING and wanted my dang fleece! Luckily I was stuck in line with some friendly folks so I chatted it up to make the misery pass faster.
Once I finally had my bag, I circled back around to the finish chute to wait for M to cross. I knew she started in one of the last corrals because she wayyyy slow-estimated her finish time when she signed up. I only had about a 10 minute wait before she texted me “Finished!” When I found her she was like “I feel like I’m 85 years old, but I’m SO HAPPY!” It is so fun to re-live the first race experience threw a newbie runner friend! We then met up with M’s friend who had made her an amazing cheer squad style sign. Look at that big smile!
Of course we promptly celebrated with a delicious brunch. As I always say, who needs chocolate milk when you can refuel with bloody mary?!
PROS of the race:
- Parts of the course were beautiful.
- There was great crowd energy.
- Awesome bands – I even passed both a brass quintet and an a capella vocal group, not to mention the amazing and always kick butt Batala.
- Hometown pride!
- Decent swag – the tech shirts were nice and they even had women-specific sizes for the first time this year, which I love because I don’t like tripping over my race shirts.
- Serious organizational problems especially when it came to bag check.
- I’m not sold on this Rock Creek park thing, which was part of the new course changes this year.
- Some problems with finish area traffic flow. I witnessed several folks who were very confused about their inability to get back into the finish festival after getting their bag check (undoubtedly, also after a long long wait to do so). There was a way back but it wasn’t clear.
- If you ask my Hubz, the course blocked off WAY too much DC traffic. It took him 1.5 hours to drive about 4 miles to get to the darkroom.
And, the primary lesson from this race is one I already knew but was ignoring – practice your fueling on your long workouts! Because I hadn’t really been “training” hard on any long runs (and really hadn’t done that many long runs at all), I hadn’t practiced with Gus, gatorade, anything. When both my legs and my digestive system are in running shape, I can handle Gus and they really do make a difference in my pace and energy. But when I haven’t practiced with them…recipe for disaster. Lesson learned. And I have a feeling I’ll be trying to get friendly with some Infinit products in the near future. And as my coach said when I told her about my race “Sh*t happens!” She also reminded me that similar problems are almost certainly going to happen AT LEAST once during my Ironman, so it’s good to experience it and figure out how to tackle the problem.
As far as my time is concerned, I’m not thrilled, but I’m not crushed either. I was 5 1/2 minutes slower than last year. BUT I’ve been training hard, most of which is not speed-focused running training, and I didn’t taper, so I was far from having fresh legs. Plus, I lost serious time to the upset stomach. All considered, I took it happily (and moved right on to my bike workout less than 24 hours later…)
I will definitely run this race again. It’s hard to say no to a local marathon or half. Plus, the St. Patrick’s day scheduling makes it a super fun vibe all around…all the way to the end while you’re heading to get on the Metro to leave RFK as attendees of Shamrock Fest are emerging to begin their debauchery. I would also consider running the full next year, depending on how other training and life considerations are going. Maybe next year I’ll even resurrect my Four Courts tutu for the occasion! Or a full body Green Lantern-ess costume?