Monday, March 25, 2013

About the USA Half Marathon

I have learned through trial and error that its best to wait a few days after an event to write its recap. I have learned that waiting a few days I can be a lot more fair about my experience and don't let emotions get in the way.

As a triathlete and runner, I set out to enjoy each and every event I participate in.  There are different reasons for registering for each event; some are to be used as part of a master training plan, others are just to check a race off of a bucket list, others race events because the thrill of being part of that particular event, because your friends are doing the race, etc.  For me, this race in Washington DC was just a justification for traveling to Washington, DC.

Let me explain.  I do not like big cities.  At my age, I have learned to dislike the unknown.  It makes me very uncomfortable to be somewhere new; I like things the way they are.  This is not to say that I will not venture into the unknown.  Much the contrary, I will and I will tackle the experience and enjoy it as it develops.  I know this is a challenge for me and as with other challenges, I look forward to the opportunity of facing it and overcoming it.  It took me three days to get comfortable in DC.  The race was the second day we were there.

So, knowing that I will travel anywhere for a race, my wife picked a vacation to Washington, DC around the time when the race was to take place.  She's a smart lady.  She knew that if she just suggested a trip up there, I would find 678 excuses as to why we shouldn't go (678 miles is the distance between our house and DC).  She knew that if she tied the vacation to a race, it would be a go.  And that it was.

We arrived at the expo/registration/packet pick up site, the DC Armory, on Friday around noon-ish.  The place was crowed, the race was sold out.  30,000 registered participants, and I think they were all there at that time.

Proceeded to look for our names and bib numbers and greeeeat... we couldn't find them (either one of them) on the list.  This is not how I expected this experience to start.  We moved on to the Help Desk and were promptly helped by a very friendly volunteer, who quickly found us on the list and filled out our release forms.  Off to pick up the bibs.

Monica was #29418, I was #13555.  "WOW, what time did you put in for my estimated time?" she asked me as she realized that she was placed in the next to last corral? "Whatever time you told me to put"  I said,  I told her not to worry, but she was not convinced.  I then told her that I would move back a few corrals, she would move up a few corrals and we would start the race together.  This I think, made her feel better.  We decided that corral #20 is where we would start.

The alarm was supposed to go off at 4 AM, but in true fashion I was awake no later than 3 AM.  That gave me extra time to eat a good breakfast and get my mind ready for the events that would follow.  You're thinking right about now that I'm talking about the race, aren't you?  NO, I'm talking about the Metro ride from the finish line to the start.  The Metro is a new animal to me.  I had lost sleep over the Metro... not the race.

The weather prediction was for rain, 70% chances of rain, and cold temperatures.  This would make for an uncomfortable run but I came prepared.  Yes, I wore my layers and even brought an emergency disposable poncho. I would wear this before the start of the race, if needed.

Boarded the metro along with hundreds of other runners for the quick twenty minute ride.  After three stops, we arrived at the Smithsonian station.   Left the station and felt the wind howling and blowing.  By this time it was about 6:15 - 6:30.  Race time was 7:30.

It was drizzling ever so slightly.  The predicted rain was obviously on its way... or was it?

We proceeded to find our new and self assigned corral, #20.  This was in front of the IRS Building.  We found a spot to sit and stretch and waited for the race to start.  One pretty awesome thing the organizers did that made things easier for everyone was setting up four porta-potties inside each corral.  There were lines in front of each set, but not nearly as large as in every other race I've ever done.  Organizers take note.

The race started right on time.  We took off around 8AM, thirty minutes after the first runners took off.  This was the last time I saw Monica until the finish line.

Shortly after the start the race course took us around the Washington Monument.  I remember thinking how cool this was.  However, after that point I couldn't tell you if we went past any other landmarks or not.  I was zeroed in on my run.

First water stop came around the 1.5 mile marker.  There were six or seven tables set up, with empty water cups.  Yes, empty water cups.  A couple of volunteers were stacking these cups on the tables.  Runners were grabbing the cups and quickly realizing that they were empty.  They had to fill them themselves. Yes, you had to fill the cup with your own water from a very large water supply container that had four spouts around its perimeter.

This would be the norm for the entire race, except for the water station staffed by Team In Training.  They had plenty of people, making sure everyone who wanted water or Gatorade  had one.  This is what one would expect from a race this large.  But this was the one and only water stop where this took place.  I noticed, because it happened to me, that in several stops, runners would just run through without bothering to stop.  It helped that the weather was cool, otherwise this would have been a disaster.

Note to self:  If I ever do this race again, make sure I bring my fuel belt.

And for the first five miles or so, the run was pretty much as I wanted it to be.  I was on a happy pace, my happy pace.  I remember looking at my Garmin at one point and realizing I was just a bit over 9:00 minute mile.  I was on a roll.

Somewhere soon after that, we came upon a hill.  A short hill.  I survived it.  Again I was pleased.  But that would not last.

You ever see those walls that Marines have to climb over when they navigate an obstacle course?  Well, someone had put one of those walls on the course.  Well, maybe not that same wall but it sure looked like it.  Not only was is steep, but this mountain was long.  Real long.

To add insult to injury, it was lined with people.  On both sides.  Cheering you on, motivating you through this spot.  This is where I saw the best sign on the course;  "You're not the Pope, You can't quit".  I tried to run as best as I could.  In front of that crowd, you really don't want to walk.  Most everyone was walking up the hill.

After that, the course was pretty much down hill until a short climb at the end of the course, but the damage had been done.

At mile 12ish the course split.  Full marathoners turned right, the rest of us kept straight.  I was glad I could go straight.  I could see the finish line in the distance.  I was ready to be done.  Legs hurt, feet hurt, ITB hurt, I. Just. Hurt.

Once again, as it happened in the Country Music Marathon (another Rock 'n' Roll event), the finish line was funneled down.  We came to a quick halt.  Again, not smart, when you finish a run like this, you need to keep moving, this was tough.  Saw a few people having real difficulty walking, some even got dizzy.  Monica told me later that this happened to her; she almost lost it.  Organizers need to fix this!

The rain we were threatened with?  Well, it never came.  It drizzled once while on the course for about twenty seconds.  Real pleased this was the case.

My official time was 2:19.  About 10 minutes slower than my normal time, but I'll take this.

Next stop on the 2013 tour:  The Oak Barrel Half Marathon in Lynchburg, TN., Home to the world famous Whiskey Hill.  Race date:  Saturday, April 6th.  This will be another Father-Daughter event.  Can't wait!