“It’s a hill,” the sign read as I approached Calvert Street from Beach Drive.
“Get over it.”
That hill is also the spot where volunteers from Wear Blue to Remember line the marathon race route honoring the legacy of fallen service members. They carry photos of loved ones and American flags on heavy poles. They offer high fives to runners as we scramble up the hill.
I saw the sign just as I passed the last volunteer and lifted my head.
Yeah man, get over it.
And then I saw what looked like a woman standing at the top of the hill holding a Costco-size bag of Swedish Fish.
“Is that Swedish Fish?” I pointed.
She flashed a great big smile but held the bag close to her chest as she gestured me to come and get it.
This was at the 6-mile mark and a critical moment because only seconds before approaching the hill I was regretting not packing any Swedish Fish. I only had energy gels with me and was contemplating whether I was in the process of crashing after having one 20-30 minutes earlier.
I thought she might be a mirage.
Yet there she was – one of hundreds of high-energy onlookers who came out of their homes early Saturday morning to cheer on 18,000 runners participating in the 2016 Rock n Roll DC Marathon, Half Marathon, and 5K.
The Rock n Roll marathon series has been around since 1998 with the original race taking place in San Diego. Now the series turns up in 30 cities around the world. Saturday’s race was well organized, well supported, and just all around fun.
Here’s my half marathon race report.
My finish at DC Rock n Roll Half Marathon on March 12, 2016:
My finish at the DC Rock n Roll Half Marathon on March 14, 2015, my first half marathon ever:
My half marathon PR (I know, really, I have this, a Personal Record):
2:57:17 at the Rock n Roll Brooklyn Half Marathon on October 10, 2015.
I still feel like I’m stuck in what I call the Psychology of the Finish – always keeping something in the tank so I can get to the finish instead of pushing hard – yet I’m thrilled that I came in under 3 hours.
I’m putting together my training plan for the Coastal Delaware Running Festival Half Marathon on April 25 in Dewey Beach. My goal: set a new PR.
Probably because the weather was so miserable for this race in 2015 with bitter cold and rain drenching everything in sight, I’m sure I wasn’t the only returnee runner checking the Capital Weather Gang three times a day for the past 2 weeks.
As it turned out, the air was chilly throughout the race with only a few welcome sprinkles. It was mostly cloudy with very little if any sun. At least for runners the weather was pretty close to ideal.
A week before the race, when we looked at the forecast together, I asked my running partner Micki for advice. She said if she were me she’d wear shorts and a long-sleeve top.
“Why shorts?” I asked.
"More aerodynamic," she said.
"It will improve your time.”
It was cool enough Saturday morning to wear pants, but I can use all the help I can get.
I wore my Lululemon What the Sport Shorts with side pockets for stashing my extra phone battery and energy gels. On top I chose my long-sleeve Nike City Crop Crew because I figured if I needed to tie it around my waist, because it’s cropped, it wouldn’t be hanging past my knees. This is the first time I’ve run such a long distance in a Nike long-sleeve top – I usually wear Under Armour Cold Gear for long runs on chilly days – and this top was genius.
It’s got the same Dri-FIT technology as the Nike shells I’ve been wearing since Day 1, and I was 100 percent comfortable throughout the race. The cutouts in the back increased air flow, and when I took the shirt off at the finish I could not get over the fact that my skin was bone dry even as the shirt held onto wetness like a sponge.
Physical therapist Kevin McGuinness was the first person to suggest that I try to carry my phone some place other than on my arm. His thinking is that even though my phone is light and the armband is light the sheer presence of the band on my arm prevents me from swinging both arms evenly, affecting my balance. (More about balance in another blog post.)
I’d been experimenting with different methods and for Saturday settled on the Belkin (no relation!) Fitness Belt for iPhone 6, which, like the Nike shirt, was clutch. The belt is light and stretchy, and I didn’t feel anything bulky or annoying around my hips. I use the Powerbeats Wireless earphones so for most of the race I wasn’t touching or otherwise adjusting anything, and my upper body felt noticeably more centered and perhaps more stable.
This is my second time running this half marathon, and I don’t recall any differences between this year and last year.
I think it’s a wonderful tour through the city, starting down on the Mall, heading back and forth over the Memorial Bridge, and meandering through the streets of Adams Morgan, Mt. Pleasant, and Anacostia, with views of the Capitol as we ran down North Capitol Street. I’ve been craving Ben’s Chili Bowl ever since passing it on Saturday and will need to find a way to have lunch there one day this week.
When I looked at my race photos, I was disappointed with my posture during some parts of the race, especially at the finish, which was a straight uphill shot. I don’t remember that particular hill from last year, and it took me by surprise.
According to MapMyFitness, I ran 14.08 miles. I use the app’s audio coaching and noticed the discrepancy around miles 9-10. There’s some chatter on social media about the marathon course being 27 miles instead of 26, but seasoned runner friends told me I could have picked up extra mileage by not being efficient about how I navigated the turns and corners.
I paid for 13.1 miles and got 14 so I’m ok with that.
This is my 5th half marathon but I’m still blown away by the incredible support runners get at these races – from the local police who protect us and guide us as we run through busy city centers to the hundreds of volunteers who manage the fuel tables and medical tents. I stopped at one fuel table to take my foot out of my left shoe because my toes were cramping and just as I unlaced my Brooks, a volunteer raced over to me to ask me if I needed medical attention.
There were fuel tables every 2 miles (or so). Sometimes there was water then Gatorade and sometimes we got Gatorade first and then water. At some stops volunteers handed out salt packets and later in the race, maybe at mile 9 or 10, just as we turned onto North Capitol Street, volunteers offered Glukos Energy Gel Fruit Punch in pouches (awesome!) and Glukos Energy Gummies (sticky). For about a mile after the Glukos table I was having a little fun stepping around and over stray gummies on the ground because stepping on even one gummy created a mess on the bottom of my shoe.
And what incredible energy and enthusiasm neighbors gave us throughout the race.
Other than the fantastic woman with the Swedish Fish, my favorite spectators were on Harvard Street. Residents of all ages were out on their porches and on the sidewalks cheering runners with motivational signs. Some groups offered us beer and other alcoholic selections. One group – which I remember from last year (in the rain!!) – had Guinness as well as platters of barbecue wings etc.
At first I passed the Guinness table, but then turned around and picked up one of the cups and drank the beer. It left an interesting flavor in my mouth after consuming an energy gel, Swedish fish, and a salt packet, and I started to let my mind wander about the subject of beer and whether it would be a good fuel for me moving forward in my training.
The spectators are my favorite part of the race, especially since it never occurred to me to be one. In addition to regular folks standing by the side of the road clapping and cheering and the bands set up every few miles, memorable vendors were Shake Shack, which offered me a cup of water (I think I looked like I needed one), and the Nike Run Club, which showed me some awesome love as I ran by in my stylish cropped top. The November Project was out making tons of noise with their positive energy. Love that group.
By the time I came across these folks many of them must have been outside for 2 hours – just incredible!
Favorite sign other than It’s a hill. Get over it.
At some point, maybe after we passed Howard University (or before), a young couple set up in the center of the street where we were making a turn. The woman was in a folding chair and the guy was standing next to her. He was holding a sign that read, “I just farted. Go faster!!” while the woman in the chair was making fart noises into a kazoo.
I’m not making this up.
What I did well
- I finished
- I finished in under 3 hours
- I trained well
- I hydrated well (as opposed to my disastrous hydration at the Negril Marathon in December)
- I made one potty stop
- I did not further injure my hamstrings (yeah man)
- I had fun
- And I had fun
What I need to work on
- My fueling: I had an energy gel at 45 mins into the race but crashed about 20 minutes later
- Energy gels aren’t working for me. I need to go back to Swedish Fish and Gummy Bears or find another form of fuel that releases somewhat more gradually
- Running hills
- Speed work (somehow)
- Lose some stored body fat around my abdomen (experimenting with timing meals/workouts)
Would I do this one again?
- Absolutely – it was an extremely positive experience
Will someone please tell me where/when I can see the South African band KONGOS perform live? They live in the U.S. now, right? I am so into those guys. Great mix. Gaslight Anthem’s "Howl" woke it up just as I climbed the finish. Epic.
See you next time!