My Second Year Running Navy-Air Force Half Marathon

On Sunday I ran the Navy-Air Force Half Marathon for the second year in a row (last year's race report here). It's a nice race, but I didn't do as well as I'd hoped. That was my fault. I was feeling pretty good after last weekend's Abebe Bikila event, but it only takes one mistake to cause problems in a race.

The shirt and medal were nice; the airplane on the medal spins

I went to the race expo at the DC Armory on Friday. When the Marine Corps Marathon expo is held there, it is packed wall to wall with vendors, activities, and people. Last year's Navy-Air Force expo was held at Nationals Park, which I thought was an odd location. The Armory is a better location, but the vastness of the Armory highlighted just how small the Navy-Air Force expo was. There were very few vendors and no lines. That was fine with me. I got in and out quickly.

The Armory, almost empty for this expo

On Sunday, I parked at the Courthouse Metro station and rode the train to Smithsonian Station. Most of the people on the train were running the race, but it wasn't nearly as crowded as it is with races like Marine Corps Marathon or Cherry Blossom Ten Miler.

I found Letty and Nick and said hello while we took a quick photo. Then I checked my bag. I don't always check a bag, but I wanted to have my protein powder so I could add water and drink it after the race.

Before the start, the sun not quite out

Pre-race selfie with Letty and Nick

The starting line was by the Washington Monument. The Navy-Air Force Half Marathoners were to take off first, then the Navy Five Miler runners would have their own start after ours. The colors were presented and the national anthem was performed, and then we were off.

At the start, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture is really coming along and will open in 2016

At the start

Almost immediately after crossing the starting line I realized that I had made a big mistake. Remember that bag I checked? Well, it contained the Gu energy gels that I was going to need during the race. I forgot to take them out of my bag and put them in my pockets. That immediately had a negative effect on my mood. I knew that this race would not have gels or other food on the course, and I needed mine. I never run a 10 miler or more without at least one gel. It's what my body is used to.

I started to devise a new strategy. I never drink the on-course Gatorade because I bring my own electrolyte drink. But my drink is sugar-free and therefore calorie-free. It's good for the electrolytes but not for energy. I would need to drink the Gatorade from the aid stations to get some sugar. And hope that maybe some gels showed up on the course somewhere. I also decided not to stop and take many photos. I didn't want to lose any time or momentum to photography that day.

I was doing OK early in the race. It was a beautiful day on a nice course. It could have been a tad less humid for my taste, but the temperature was OK and it was otherwise very nice. On Hains Point I ran into Kristen and met her friend and fellow Marathon Maniac Michelle. They would both be doing Berlin the following weekend. We didn't run together, but I saw them again later on an out & back section of the course. By then I was on Rock Creek Parkway. That was a long stretch with a couple miles out and a couple back. I was wishing I had a gel or two. I was even looking for gel packs on the ground, because very often people drop unopened ones. I was not above using someone's lost gel, as long as it was sealed. But I found only used gel packs on the ground. I took Gatorade from every aid station that offered it, but that was only about every other aid station. Half of them had only water. I believe I overcompensated by drinking too much of my own electrolyte drink and too much water. I had plenty of fluids, but very few calories. I was feeling bloated. The outward bound section of Rock Creek Parkway was uphill, so my energy was starting to wane. After the turnaround we got to go downhill, but I was already zapped.

Michelle and Kristen (middle and right) on Rock Creek Parkway

In the last 5K of the race I did a lot of walking. I wasn't in any danger of missing the course cut-off, and my goal was to finish in good shape for Berlin. I'm not sure how much of my energy issues were physical and how much of it was mental. Just knowing I didn't have my gels was certainly a factor.

In the last mile I saw Kate. She had run Air Force Marathon the day before in Ohio, and Scot had been there. She was also going to be running Berlin. Kate was ahead of me, and I was taking my time, but I did find a little energy for the finish chute. I collected my medal and found Kate. We chatted for a while as we waited for Kristen and Michelle to finish. Then we all walked back to the metro.

Post-race selfie with Kristen and Kate

I learned something at this race. I CAN indeed complete a half marathon without energy gels or chews. But I don't want to. I will not forget them again. Still, I finished faster than two weeks prior at Rock 'n' Roll Virginia Beach, where the mugginess completely ruined me (and where I did have my gels). This race provides a nice snack box at the finish containing items such as crackers and cheese spread, cashews and an apple sauce squeeze pack. We also got a banana, a bottle of water and a Red Bull if we wanted it. They did such a good job with the post-race food, but not so well with food on the course. I realize that not all half marathons have gels or food on the course, but it's a good idea to have these for the runners. I received a post-race survey, which I filled out and made this suggestion. This DC race is still in its infancy, only being 4 years old (the Navy 5 Miler is a little older than the half marathon). It is not as established as bigger events such as the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler, the Army Ten Miler, or the Marine Corps Marathon. It is not poorly run, but it can still take some suggestions from these bigger races. Some on-course entertainment would have been nice, for example.


  1. Sucks not having fuel... But good to know your body can do it.

    I'm noticing that expos are getting smaller & smaller. Guess that as we all shop online, less reason to bring stuff to expos... Or give nice sales for runners. (Or is it that the egos booth is just too expensive ??). I miss the hall full of stuff to touch & feel.. Figure out what I want to spend my limited 'stuff' budget on.

    1. Interesting. I don't mind the minimalist expos. I do so many races that I'm happy to get in and out quickly.


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