The Rock ‘n Roll USA Half Marathon in DC is one of my favorite half marathons that I’ve done. I love that it’s just a quick Metro ride to the start line, it’s well organized, the Brooks finisher’s shirt and that the course winds through DC neighborhoods. This is the third year Rock ‘n Roll USA has been in DC and the kinks seemed to be worked out pretty well this year.
Mike and I went to the expo at the DC Armory on Thursday (2 days before the race) to hopefully beat the crowds. Unfortunately the expo is only open until 7 pm so it’s a little tough to get there after work (outside of downtown area but still metro accessible) and be able to browse and be out by 7 pm. The expo was HUGE this year with a new and more efficient set up and much better flow. There was NO line to get our bibs or t-shirts. The Brooks shirts run small so I always choose a size larger than my usual size. I typically don’t like black t-shirts (hot running when it’s sunny out) but this one is pretty cute:
The expo was very large and well-laid out. Some highlights:
– bought a new navy blue Bondi band (love Bondi bands – review to come)
– The Brooks section was huge with a great selection of RnR branded and plain gear. Teal seems to be a trend in women’s running gear. I bought a new pair of arm warmers (in teal!) because I wear my pink Brooks arm warmers ALL the time.
– nuun flavor tasting – the iced tea and cola ones were surprisingly good!
– Westin spin the wheel for a prize game – everyone wins!
– Run Disney booth with all the Disney medals on display; It’ll be so much fun to do a Disney race one day!
– Free food samples – Food Should Taste Good chips, mini Lara bars, Jelly Belly energy beans
I was excited for carbo-loading the day before because…well I love an excuse to have some extra carbs. I’m always careful with what I eat the day before (actually a few days before) because I have IBS and I often have stomach issues after races. So I cut out dairy and fiber a few days before.
I woke up around 5:00 am on Saturday morning, braided my hair (I hate when it bounces when I run), had a Larabar, coffee and water. Although the weather was going to be in the 60s later in the day, it was only in the 40s in the morning. I’m not a very good dresser for races because I hate being cold before and at the beginning of the race. So I decided on a Run Swiftly tee from Lululemon, new Brooks teal arm warmers, Nike capris, CEP calf sleeves and Saucony earband (pushed back at mile 4). I think I could have gone with shorts but was pretty comfortable for the duration of the race.
We metro’ed to the start area around 6:40 am. Pretty early! But we had to check a bag and wanted to allow plenty of time (debacle last year). Portapotty stop #1 = zero line! Checked bag with the UPS bag check area = zero line this year (last year without UPS the lines were extremely long!). The UPS trucks were designated alphabetically by last name. So we had more time then we had planned. Portapotty stop #2 = VERY short line. AMAZING. Granted, we did find a line-up of portapotties a little more out-of-the-way than the mainstream portapotties. Then into the fourth corral, with plenty of time to spare. It’s exciting to start on Constitution, right by the Washington Monument, at sunrise.
And we’re off! It’s nice to be really familiar with the race and know what’s coming up (hills, etc.). Many people ask me if Mike and I run together during races. Sometimes. Not for 5Ks – Mike is much faster than I am! But for half marathons we usually run together, with the understanding that we don’t NEED to stay together. While we were running, I realized we haven’t started a race running together since RnR Half Marathon last year in DC, for various reasons.
There were a few things that didn’t go right during this race, for me. One, I had made a new playlist for the race with a good mix of songs that I was excited to listen to. The problem with the iPod shuffle is that the name of your playlist isn’t imported, so if you want to change the playlist you have to know the corresponding playlist number. I thought this one would be #3 since it was my third iPod playlist. Anyway, I accidentally had my 5K super-fast playlist on with only 5 songs. It’s not easy to change the playlist while running but I was finally fed up with Pitbull by mile 7 and changed it to All Songs. Kind of annoying.
Second, my stomach started really hurting around mile 6. Usually, I just have problems after races. But I was concerned I wouldn’t even be able to finish. I also didn’t want to hold Mike up. This was also a big hill area. I slowed down at mile 8 (still uphill) and lost Mike at that point. I knew I could pick up the pace downhill, a majority of the latter half of the race (nice!) and thought maybe I’d catch up to him.
My stomach did start to feel better after I had my Accel gel at mile 8. And the sun came out! That always gives me a boost of energy. I carried my small Nathan quick-shot plus water bottle that I got for Christmas. Full review to follow. It’s nice to have the pouch on the bottle (the “plus”); I stored my Accel gel, extra gum, ID and Metro cards.
H Street, NE is always a fun area to run through and comes at the perfect time around mile 11 – lots of crowd support, restaurants/bars, bands. But those last couple of miles after the turn off H Street were rough. My legs felt so tired and I really needed a Pitbull song at this point. But the last half a mile is actually FUN with crowds lining the course by the finish. The energy is contagious. I did one big push to the finish line. It’s always an exciting moment, no matter how many races I do, to cross the finish line.
The good thing with Rock ‘n Roll races is that you generally know what to expect. The races are professionally run and the finish line areas usually have pretty good snacks and chocolate milk (!). Runners were ushered through the finish chute to pick up medals, get photos taken and pick up food. It’s always a little tricky to carry everything because you don’t have a bag. I picked up a Gatorade, water, chocolate milk, clementine (nice surprise – but no bananas!), small hard pretzels. There seemed to be less variety than at other Rock ‘n Roll races or half marathons in general – no bananas or bagels. Cookies are usually nice post-race too. Also, you get one chance to get your drinks and food. After you’re out of the Finish Chute, you can’t get back in.
I had no problem picking up my bag from the UPS bag check – HUGE improvement from last year! I waited for Mike for awhile there, used the portapotty and headed to the “L” family meet up area. No sign of Mike. Strange. I had my iPhone (checked it) but he didn’t bring his. I stayed there for awhile and then got worried so went over to one of 4 or 5 (!) medical tents. Mike and I didn’t really discuss a post-race meet up plan. Anyway, lesson learned to always make a plan for that. After some panicked moments, I went back to “L” and Mike was there! He actually finished a few seconds after me and waited for me by the Finish Chute, thinking I would finish after him.
We met up with some friends and went into the Beer Garden/Concert Area. Great post-race band – The Head and the Heart. They frequently show up on my Mumford & Sons Pandora station. My stomach started hurting (no surprise), so I popped an immodium (new post-race routine) and laid on my stomach…yes, in the beer garden… Other people were sitting on the ground so it wasn’t too weird. I felt immensely better. A surprisingly mild post-race IBS (I think immodium really helps!).
Overall, perfect weather and really well-run race! I was really impressed with all the improvements from last year’s race in DC. I was a few seconds above my goal time (under 1:45) – still a PR though!