Sunday, March 15, 2015

Race Report: Rock and Roll USA 5K, March 14, 2015

I ran the Rock and Roll USA 5K yesterday, winning the race on the female side.  So that was nice.

Running the 5K was a fairly late decision.  Several months back I had registered for both the Shamrock and RnrR USA half marathons, since I couldn't decide which of the two to do (they're a week apart).  Shamrock is the faster course, but it's a few hours away, and also the week before the Monument Avenue 10K, which means I can't race both.  RnR USA was local, and also a week earlier, so I could do it and the 10K.   Tough decisions.  But I decided to go with Shamrock in the end.

But... the nice thing about RnR USA was that it also had a 5K, and I was allowed to swap from the half to the 5K with no extra effort or charge - just grab my bib and show up at the 5K start line.  So I decided to do the 5K for the heck of it, rather than waste my registration entirely.  And it'd be fun, right?

Fun, in this case, involved leaving home at 5:50 am to grab a metro train that dropped me off at Stadium-Armory around 6:30 - an hour before race start.  Probably slightly early to get there, but I'd rather be early than late, and I also was worried about trains getting snafued due to the high ridership for the races (the half and full marathons had a separate starting line in downtown DC, though they shared a finish line with the 5K).

As it turned out, 6:30 am was not too early to get there at all.  I had naively assumed that once I exited the metro station, it would be clear where the start/finish/bag check, etc was.  I had done this half a few years ago, and I remember every thing being clear then.

It wasn't now.  Though there were signs guiding us as to where to go, they were black with small white lettering that was about impossible to read from afar in the darkness and the rain.  I wandered with others around the parking lots of RFK stadium, until finally (about 25 minutes) locating the promised land.

And what I could see of it in the dark and the rain was glorious.  Bag check, portajohns stretching as far as the eye could see, food vendors starting to warm their trucks, a big empty stage and a big arch that said "5K start".  Plus cones scattered across the lot (this is relevant later).  So that was nice.  I just wished I had found it sooner.  (I think Moses said that too).  I also wish it had been lit a bit better. (Not sure if Moses said that).

Of course, all this stuff in the parking lot, plus the puddles, made it a bit difficult to warm-up.  But I'm a veteran of the Whitehurst freeway workout - if the only running I can do is loops in a relatively small area, I can roll with that.    So I jogged around.  Rather than doing formal strides, I'd just pick up my pace whenever I saw a patch of pavement that was relatively clear of obstacles (again, vendors, pedestrians, puddles) and then slow up when I ran out of room.  After 20 minutes,they called us to the start.  I wasn't completely warmed up, but I decided I'd just take it out slow - tempo-ish effort, and then do a hard negative split.

The line up at the start was interesting.  You can never be totally sure from appearance - there were a few guys who looked like they would be faster than me, 2-3 women who looked like they might be about my pace (or faster or slower), and the "Ethiopian dreamer".  He wore a green "Ethiopia" singlet like those worn by Bekele and Gebreselassie in their Olympic moments, along with a bright red headband, Newton shoes, and body language that proclaimed his readiness to do battle upon the roads.

And his timing "D-Tag" shoe chip still on his bib, secured there by an extra safety pin.

I didn't want to presume to give him any advice on how to wear his bib and tag, so I just smiled softly and stepped back as he pressed his way ahead of me in the start area.

We paused to sing the National Anthem.  Rather than have a professional singer perform it, or play a recorded version, the announcer sang it - hilariously offkey, and encouraging all of us to join in.  Oddly enough, I think this was my favorite version of the National Anthem, and I wish more races would do it like this.

Then we were off.  I hadn't really reviewed the course that much - a quick glance had shown it as a flat out and back on East Capitol Street.  But, of course, we had to get to East Capitol Street from the parking lot.  And apparently we did that by following a path through the parking lot marked by cones.

Imagine the normal crowding and jostling chaos that is part of the first 1-2 minutes of a 5k.  Now imagine that while trying to follow a path marked by cones.  In a dark unlit parking lot.  In the rain.  While also trying (unsuccessfully) to dodge puddles.    Again, I was doing this 5k for the "fun" of it.  Runner logic.

Another female runner who looked potentially fast took the lead pretty quickly.  I just followed her for a minute or so, noting that my tempo-ish effort was keeping me fairly near her.  Then she dropped back a bit, and I pulled ahead slightly

This was a conundrum - if she was going to be my competition, I wanted to let her do the work.  On the other hand, I was running very controlled, at a tempo-ish effort, and I really didn't want to back off any more.  So I just decided to ignore what she was doing, and stick to my plan of holding a relaxed tempo-ish effort for the first mile or so.  As we merged onto East Capitol Street and ran towards a sun that I could barely see, I could hear her behind me.  Or rather, her keys jangling.

We ran this way for a while - I was a bit annoyed that she was so close behind me that I could hear her keys like that.

And then I remembered that I had my house keys in the rear pocket of my shorts.  Reached back, and yup - that was what was jangling.   Cue self-directed eye roll.  And I resumed tempo effort.  I knew we'd hit a turn around point in another few minutes - at that point I'd see how much of a lead I had and decide when to drop the hammer.

I hit the turn-around, and started counting.  About 20 seconds later, I passed her, meaning I had a 40 second lead a bit more than a mile into the race.   And the third placed woman was way behind her.

I looked ahead, and there really wasn't anyone ahead of me - one guy about 20 seconds ahead that I could chase down (and did, later).

At that point, honestly, I just put the hammer back in the shed.  5K pace really hurts when held for that distance, and I just couldn't find any motivation to up my effort to that level, given the circumstances.   I had a big lead, it was dark, it was rainy, and I was congested as all hell.  So I just cruised at a hard tempo-ish effort (which was still plenty of work).

This is my bike.  There are many like it,but this one is mine. 
Except I guess it technically belongs to the owner.
Or rather, I and "my bike" cruised.  When she showed up I had first been briefly annoyed that someone was actually riding a bike on a closed race course.  And then I realized that they were doing a separate bike lead for the leading female.  Who was me.  Neat.

The next mile or so was pretty fun.  Since it was out and back, I was basically running past a crowd of people cheering for me, while being led by my very own cyclist.  Kinda a "rock star for a day" moment.  I did listen to the cheers pretty closely - if I started hearing "go ladies" or "go get her" then I'd have to pick up the effort.

Some point past the 2 mile mark I passed the only guy I could see.  It was me and my bike again.  And hopefully the finish line, somewhere.  Visibility was still pretty poor in the rain and the dark, but I could see what I thought was the finish line in the parking lot - only to realize that it said "start" and we were NOT turning towards it.    Once again I lamented my failure to review the course ahead of time, and appreciated the fact that at least I had a bike to follow.

Then I saw a big inflated arch in the distance - OK - so that had to be it, right?

Nope - Rock and Roll likes to have a big inflated arch about a quarter mile from the finish.  As I got closer and then ran past it (weird course), I realized that there was no mat and no big crowds there.  So it wasn't the finish.  It was just mean.
Me, just behind my cyclist.  Huge thanks to Cheryl Young
for the great photos.  Also note my brand new snazzy singlet.

Then we circled back, passing underneath the arch of meanness.  Soon after, I saw the 3 mile marker and the finish line behind it.  I kicked hard both for the practice and also in case someone had been sneaking up (and also to show off, honestly).  And then I ran through the biggest freakin finishing tape I've ever had the opportunity to break.  You better believe I'm buying that photo.

It was fun.  Since the 5K finish line was also the half and full marathon finishing line, it had the same set up.  Rows of finishing medals (yes, for a 5K), space blankets, chocolate milk, and all sorts of other goodies.

Yep, bought the photo.
Made my way through the gauntlet, thanked "my" cyclist for the lead (honestly I would have gotten very lost without her).   Than started my "cooldown" jog by basically running the 5K course again.  It was arguably a bit obnoxious, but it was either do that or run 3 miles of laps in the parking lot, and I was done with that.

Mile 1: 6:39
Mile 2: 6:40
Mile 3: 6:31
last bit - 39 seconds (~5:55 pace)

Other notes:
  • Interestingly, though the course looked flat when mapped out, it actually seemed slightly hilly when running it - there are several overpasses/underpasses on course.  Still seemed like potentially a very fast course.
  • When doing this race, factor in an additional 10-15 minutes walking time from the metro to the start.
  • I finally got to wear my new singlet, which I had sent to the screener last fall in hopes of getting it done for Army 10 Miler.   Really long wait to finally get it back (and yes, they did waive the charge).  It was worth the wait though.  And this was a fun way to break it in.
  • Tried Zyrtec for my congestion.  Didn't seem to help, and had me dozing off on the metro on my way to the race (I woke up once I started my warm-up jog).  Mental note not to take it next week at Shamrock.
  • Yes - I did just run a 5K at a pace slower than the pace of my 10K two weeks ago.  Which was in an ice storm while I was suffering from a head cold.  Oops? 
  • I brought dry clothes to change into post-race (rather than heading home, I ran a bunch of errands in the city).  Of course, the Armory wasn't open.  So I had to change in a porta-potty.  That was hilarious.


  1. Congrats on the win, despite what sounds like a fairly frustrating situation on the course at times. And if you have a half this weekend, going at about your 10k pace for a 5k is probably the smart way to go when you have the win locked up from almost the beginning.

  2. You always seem to have a grand adventure at your races. Congrats on the win!

  3. Love the way you think in races - I can really relate (like thinking that the jangling keys were someone behind you, or listening for cheers on the course - best way to find out if there are girls on your heels!). Nice win. Congratulations!