Tuesday, March 14, 2017

2017 Rock 'n' Roll DC Marathon Race Report

I finished the 2017 Rock 'n' Roll DC Marathon on Saturday. It wasn't pretty, I wasn't fast, but I got it done. This was my first time running this full marathon. In past years I did the half marathon three times and the 5K once. I'm not normally a big fan of Rock 'n' Roll races; they're just too expensive and over-hyped. But when it's local and you can get an early-bird registration, why not? I registered for this one last year before I knew I was moving.

Nice medal

This was a quick weekend trip. I booked the travel before my move and was lucky enough to use Southwest points for my flight and to redeem a free Hotels.com night for my hotel, therefore only paying for one of the two nights I stayed. I needed to stay near a Metro station since I wasn't going to have a car. I chose the Ballston neighborhood.

The night before the race I didn't sleep well. I kept waking up about every hour. I was not comfortable, and I was also nervous about the cut-off time for the marathon. Rock 'n' Roll DC advertises a cut-off of 5:30 and has intermediate reroutes or detours for runners at the back of the pack who fall behind. I was undertrained and out of shape, and I knew this was a hilly course, so I was worried.

Race morning I got dressed in layers. The temperature was in the 20s fahrenheit. It wasn't going to get out of the mid-30s all day. And there would be wind. Cooler temperatures are good for running, but not quite this cold. I don't do well in very cold temperatures; my muscles never seem to warm up. I wore tights, a running skirt, a winter-weight mock-neck shirt (thanks, Marine Corps Marathon), a sweatshirt (which I thought I might toss at some point), a lined windbreaker, two pairs of socks, an ear-warmer and a fleece hat. I was bundled up for sure! I took a taxi to the start because Metro was not running early enough to get the full marathoners there.

Walking to the start, the Washington Monument looks great in the pre-dawn sky

The starting line on Constitution Avenue

I got to the start about an hour early and stayed warmish by walking around, having some hot chocolate from the Dunkin Donuts truck (thank you, DD!), and looking for friends. I saw Melissa and Peter and said hello as they were on their way to bag check, then I found Kristen, and later we found JC. I didn't see everyone I was looking for, but it was hard to recognize people all bundled up. Many runners were wrapped up in blankets and had their faces covered.

With Peter and Melissa; yes my ear warmer AND hat look dorky, but I didn't care, and both stayed on for the entire race
With Kristen and JC

This was the first year that the full marathon started before the half marathon. In the past all the runners shared the same corrals and went out at the same time. The new arrangement was an attempt to get the full marathon started early but allow half marathoners to use Metro because they were starting an hour and a half later. There are many more half marathoners than full marathoners, so the start corral looked rather empty compared with previous years. Kristen and I started out together but I knew I wouldn't be able to stick with her because I was slower and needed to do my walk breaks. We said goodbye on Independence Ave.

So, here I was, not alone per se, but also not running with any friends. My face was freezing, my toes were numb, and I was less than a mile into the race. I had left my Garmin charging back at the hotel. That meant not only would I not know my distance, but I wouldn't know what time it was, and I had no device to signal me for regular walk breaks. I was on my own to pace myself and to figure out when to walk. I was worried that I would be too lax. The one thing I did know was that Kristen and I crossed the starting mat about 3 minutes after gun time, so I could check my time at each mile marker on the official clocks, subtracting 3 minutes.

Blurry pic with Eddie on Rock Creek Parkway
Lien got this pic of Eddie and me without realizing it was me; I've got a sweatshirt and a jacket around my waist, and I'm glad I had all the layers because I made multiple wardrobe adjustments depending on wind conditions

On Rock Creek Parkway I found Eddie, the Barefoot Bandito. It had been a while since I saw Eddie. I didn't run very many marathons last year, so I couldn't remember when I saw him last. He was running barefoot, as usual, and I felt bad for his frozen feet. After I saw Eddie, I came upon the Blue Mile and the long and steep hill that led us up and out to the Woodley Park neighborhood. This was the worst hill on the first half of the course, and it was a doozy. I planned to run/walk it, but I didn't have it in me. I had to walk the steep portion. Then we got into Columbia Heights and the rolling hills. In the past, Harvard Street had been the party street during this race, with lots of neighbors out with beer and shots. Today I only saw one group of people passing out champagne, and because it was so early in my race, I had to tell them "thanks...but I can't".

Just after Mile 12 the full course split off from the half course, so I was in uncharted territory for this race. I knew that the back half of the course wasn't as nice as the first half, but I had never experienced it for myself. The last scenic view was a nice peek at the Capitol.

Nice view of the east side of the US Capitol
Nationals Park

We ran past Nationals Park and then over to Anacostia. I had to make a port-o-potty break before hitting this bridge, and with all those layers on, this cost me 5 minutes or more; I don't know because I had no watch. After that, we started on a long out & back section of the course adjacent to Bolling AFB (or should I say Joint Base Anacostia Bolling). I saw Eddie again, but he would be the last familiar face I saw all day. This stretch of road was concrete, desolate, no spectators, boring, hellish, need I say more? It sucked. And it really sucked when I was heading "back" on the out & back section and saw the sweeper vehicles on the "out" side of the road. They were a couple miles behind me, thank goodness. I knew that there were some spots where course officials would reroute slower runners who were behind pace, but I didn't know exactly where these were. Without my Garmin I had no way of knowing my exact distance. So I made it my religion to count every mile marker and 5K marker. Several of the timing clocks had blown over and had no power, so that meant I didn't know my time. But I saw every sign, so that was good, and they seemed like they were spaced properly, so that was a relief. That meant I was running the certified course. I knew that there was a lollipop-shaped mile at the Anacostia Skating Park, and this was one of the loops that was coned-off for slower runners in past years. I was so relieved to have made it to this part of the course without being detoured. I was frozen, sore, in quite a mental state, but I was on the right track. This was between Miles 20 and 21.

After the lollipop we ran through a neighborhood and then into Fort Dupont Park. I had no idea that a national park existed in this part of town, I bet it's a pretty park when there are leaves on the trees and the community garden is blooming. But to me on this day, the park was hell. It was super hilly, and there was even a steep hill like the one in Woodley Park. The park without greenery was drab and boring. I walked a lot up these hills and ran as fast as I had it in me for the downhills. Eventually we made it to Mile 24 and I knew I had run the certified course and was no longer in danger of being rerouted. I felt a little lightheaded, so I walked the last mile and a half. There were quite a few of us trudging along at this point. We were slow, but we were determined. There was a long bridge in the last mile and the wind kicked up. The last mile sucked, but at least I knew it was the last one.

Finally, the finish chute was in sight, and just before the finish line was a corridor of spectators that I ran through, getting high-fives on both sides. And then it was over. I got my medal. I needed food; I hadn't had enough calories during the race, and that's why I felt lightheaded. I never drink the chocolate milk at the end of races, but I did on this day. That, and the Popcorners chips helped a lot.

A couple years ago the Rock 'n' Roll series began giving out Finisher Jackets for full marathoners only. I earned one this year, so I went off to find the jacket tent. It's not a super high-quality jacket, but I wanted mine. I didn't realize until I got back to the hotel that they gave me a men's large. I don't know if they ran out of women's sizes or if this was a mistake, so I'll send an email and find out if there's any way I can exchange my jacket.

I went over to the beer tent. Even though it was freezing - literally (proper use of the word "literally") - I still wanted my watery Michelob Ultra beer. I earned it. I drank my beer while chatting with a couple from San Antonio; they were definitely not used to running in cold temps!

With medal and finisher jacket on the Metro

I didn't finish my beer, but that's OK. I needed to get to the Metro, back to the hotel, and get some real food. The warmth on the Metro car was such a relief! I had a direct ride back to Ballston. I passed Potbelly on the walk to the hotel, so I grabbed a sandwich to go. And I ate my sandwich while soaking in a hot bath.

This will very likely be my last Rock 'n' Roll DC race. I know I don't ever want to run the full marathon again. There are so many other marathons I'd rather do. And I may not ever run the half marathon again, since I no longer live there. I'm glad I did the marathon once though, and I'm giving myself extra credit for doing this one while undertrained and in the awful cold. I did not finish in under 5:30, but they were generous with the time limit on this day. Apparently they didn't start the cut-off clock ticking until a full hour after gun time. I checked my results and there is a record of me crossing all the timing mats, and I saw all the mile markers, so I know I did it. This race was a training run for other spring marathons I have on the calendar, so I met my goal.

2 comments:

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    1. Thanks! It wasn't an easy day. I was on pace for 5:30 at the half, but then things unravelled. Got it done though.

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