I signed up for the Rock’N’Roll DC Half Marathon in September because I have always wanted to do an R’n’R race. AND as part of an attempt to create a reunion weekend for all of the ladies I served with in Germany and ran the Prague Marathon with in 2014. Ultimately, we managed to get three of the seven of us in DC (two of us already live here) thanks to the unpredictability of the Army. We got a group of other DC friends together and in total there were 8 of us at the start line on Saturday, March 11 including two friends running their FIRST half-marathon. This was the my third half-marathon and the first I’ve run without my husband, Jeremy. We decided to run our own races this time. I set a goal to run a Personal Record which meant running a sub-1:37 and was hoping for something around a 1:35 at best.
It was about 25 degrees with 13-15 mph winds when the race kicked off at 8:30 am. We had hand-warmers, feet warmers, and full winter coats that we donated before we entered the start corrals. Thankfully, the sun was shining bright and the rock music was blaring from the loudspeakers!
For the first mile my feet felt like stumps and the wind was destroying my face and lips, but after that I got feeling back and the temperatures and wind weren’t really an issue. We ran down Constitution Avenue, made a few turns including a stint on the highway with an out and back where I got to see Jeremy flying just behind the lead pack, and then headed out onto Rock Creek Parkway. Rock Creek Parkway was fairly steady and uninteresting with a slight uphill the entire way…until right around mile 6, when the slight uphill turns into a more obvious uphill, and I experienced possibly the most inspiring, sobering, beautiful mile of my entire life.
The Wear Blue: Run to Remember team was set up to cheer on the runners during the toughest mile of the course. It started with signs lining the left side of the road, every few feet with the name and photo of a fallen Service member, and the day they gave their life for our country. I’m crying sitting here right now as I write this. I hugged the left side of the course and slowed down a little to read the name of every single man and woman on those signs; I might have known a few of them and wanted to read their names as a my tiny way of acknowledging their sacrifice in that moment. Then, after the signs ended, just as the a**kicker that is Calvert Hill became steep (the hill where other races in DC, like the Navy Airforce Half turn-around) I saw American Flags. They were countless, lining the left side of the course. Every five feet there was a volunteer in blue, an ROTC cadet, an NCO, or an Officer holding an American Flag and cheering for US. The runners.
All I could do was say “Thank you”, over and over again, and it wasn’t a thank you for cheering me on. It was Thank You for honoring and remembering our Fallen, Thank You for your own service, and for those cadets, Thank You for what you are about to embark upon. It was emotional and I ran up that hill so inspired and so much faster than I ever meant to. I reached the top and thought “Holy Sh*t I’m dead, why did I charge the hill like that?” I immediately realized, I charged it because as I ran I was personally remembering 1LT Michael Runyan, SSG Jesse Williams, and Cw2 Edward Balli. And I dug deep, recovered quickly, and somehow pulled out a 7:10 for the next mile. I know I’m going on about this but it was the most beautiful mile I’ve ever run and I will always carry it with me. That 7 minutes and 38 seconds carried me through the rest of the race.
Back to more boring things, I took my Gu gel at mile 7 with the water station and started the rolling hills going through NW DC over toward Howard University. I have a distinct memory from making the turn around mile 8 and seeing an awesome drum group just jamming away and I reminded myself to pay attention to the musicians posted along the course! That was also the point when I first had the sun shining in my face and took the hand warmers out of my sweaty gloves. About a mile later my buff came off and went around my wrist. That 27 degrees suddenly started feeling like 60. I jetted down North Capitol from 9-10 for my only sub-7 mile of the race thanks to the downhill.
The rest of the race was just fun. There were more fans and groups lining K street and the streets leading to RFK during the last three miles. I went back and forth with a few girls during miles 11 and 12 as we collectively pushed each-other to maintain our pace. The sun was in full force and I really just wanted to finish! I was starting to get some tightness in my left hip as well and I know I could not have ran at a 7:05 pace much further. My body usually gives out before my mind and spirit haha.
As I came into the final 400 meters I really picked it up and was so excited for the finish line until I realized you end on an uphill. It was only a slight bummer, but I just thought the course designers were cruel! I rounded the final turn and crossed the finish line in 7:33:13 for a 7:05 average pace! NEW PR WHOOP WHOOP! And I crushed my goal of 7:35-7:37. And guess who was waiting for me at the finish line? My husband who had also run a PR of 1:25:41! I was so happy to see him, but I was also really proud of myself for running a PR without needing him to push me, and honestly I did it running off feeling. No holding back to maintain a certain pace or pushing myself until I was miserable. It was really just an awesome race that gave me some hope for my potential in the half-marathon.
I have set a goal to run a 1:32:00 so I can qualify for the NYC marathon and I am going to attempt to do it in Rehoboth Beach, DE in December where is it super flat! I may have just become a half-marathon fan, and I never thought I would say that!
- 7-7:38 (Calvert Hill and the amazing Run to Remember crew)
- 10-6:54 (slight downhill on North Capitol)
One really cool thing about the race was the Military Challenge were active-duty, reserve, and veteran service members could sign up for a competition within the race, against each other. Jeremy actually got 5th overall and I got 11th, 3rd place for women. Pretty cool!
Expo – The Expo was at the DC Armory over by RFK Stadium (the soccer team stadium). Be prepared for the metal detectors and the entrance! They do provide a parking lot and its right off the Metro (B/O/S), so very easy to get to. We found street parking too. You claim your bib at the basement level and have an opportunity to change your start corral. I was originally in corral 3 because I wrote an unusually slow finish time, and with no questions asked they moved me to corral one so I could start with Jeremy. This is both nice and annoying (because anyone could move up and I’m being elitist but that is frustrating at the start). We were in a rush to eat dinner (getting hangry ya know?) so other than grabbing t-shirts and a piece of Krave beef jerky, we hightailed it out of there. Unfortunately, even though the race is on Saturday the expo is only open until 7pm so be prepared to leave work early to get there in time!
Start – The start line is on Constitution Avenue near 12th street and so easy to get to. You could metro to Smithsonian or Archives or, if you will pay the jacked up Uber prices, they can drop you off a few blocks from the starting line. The race begins with the National Anthem and some rock music, of course! I think wheelchair racers and elites started before us, but it was hard to hear at points. The marathon started at 7:00am and we started at 8:30 so the start was only half-marathoners and there are no waves, just 30 corrals that are all connected.
Course/Water Points – I think this race is actually all about the in-race experience! It is an R’n’R race after all. The course is really interesting, because it doesn’t stick to the National Mall, monuments, and the Potomac. No in true Rock’n’Roll fashion it takes you into some grittier parts of the city and at times the scenery is a highway, a row of houses, or graffiti covered neighborhood staples. The first few miles are around the White House and along the Potomac, then some highway and Rock Creek Parkway to the killer Calvert Hill the ends at mile 7. The next few miles go through NW Washington, DC taking you clear across the quadrant until you reach Howard University and turn onto North Capitol Street, which is slightly downhill.
The course is fairly flat after that with long stretches along K and H streets NE and finishes with some zig-zags through the neighborhoods around RFK until you reach the finish. There are water points every 1.5 to 2 miles but only a few of them seemed to have water AND Gatorade. A few points had other goodies like Glukose gels. The finish line is fun but there is a dang slight uphill then an immediate curve into the finish, just a heads up!
Swag – All in all, not that great! At the expo you get a technical t-shirt (gray this year with a cool design but it fits awkwardly), bag of stuff that has some medicated gel and some vitamins, and coupon for a discount on one of those meal delivery services. And of course at the end… a really nice finisher’s medal. The bib also features a name that you personalize during registration. Like my friend Rafael who’s bib said “Big Papi!”
Post-Race – The post-race is kind of disorganized compared to others I have ran. The person with medals actually gave me the marathon medal at first then asked which one I wanted…’well the one for the race I actually ran!’ There are goodies but no box or bag to put them in. It was like one person ran at me with a Gatorade then I had to go find someone with a heat blanket. I was carrying an armful of chocolate milk, granola bars, and Gatorade to the bag pick-up point. It was easy to recover my bag after the race to change into warm clothes and there were plenty of port-o-johns but that’s about it. I will say they had a nice spectator area at the finish with bleachers and apparently a band at the post-race party but it was too cold to stay! ANYWAY, the best part about racing in DC on a Saturday is going to brunch after!! You are in the nation’s capitol so take your pick.
***Note: I don’t have any photos of me running during the race because they are not free and you have to pay $29 for an individual download or $79 for the digital pack, its all or nothing. Thanks MarathonFoto :-/
Overall its a decently-organized race in DC with a pretty cool/challenging course with musical entertainment at each mile, a fun medal, and a buzzing finish line. The jury is out on whether or not I will run again next year, I might just run Shamrock which is the following week and although the weather always sucks, it has amazing swag and a GREAT after-party (plus it is flat as heck!)