Saturday, March 12, 2016

Race Report: RNR DC Half Marathon, March 12, 2016

I ran the Rock N Roll DC Half Marathon this morning, finishing in a time of 1:30:52.

This is slower than I had expected to run (I had guestimated 1:27 ish on a good day, 1:29 ish on a bad day), but I'm at peace with it.  I gave everything I had to give today; I just didn't have a faster race in me. 


Rock and Roll DC used to be known as the "National Marathon/Half" about 10 years ago.  In fact, I ran it as my first and second half-marathon.  The National Half was a race with a lot of potential, and also a lot of mismanagement (misplaced mile markers, water cups that shattered when you grabbed them, etc).  When Competitor purchased it a few years back, the quality of the race dramatically increased (as did the price).

The last time I ran this race, 4 years ago, they still ran the former course, which included a decent climb over about a mile and a half, running up Connecticut Avenue.  In the time since then, they revised the course, shifting that part to nearby Rock Creek Parkway and Calvert Street.  This meant that the same elevation gain that occurred over 1.5 miles before was now condensed into a bit more than a quarter mile in the middle of the race  A very painful quarter mile at a 6.5% incline.  So I knew that would suck.  But otherwise, I thought the course might be a good one for me, given the rolling downhill nature of the second half, reminiscent of the 3M half.

So my race plan was to run the first 6 miles of the half like a normal half, then turn race mode OFF for the hill.  I'd try to get up the hill with as little energy expenditure as possible, including power walking if appropriate, and then turn race mode back ON at the top.  From there, I'd let the rolling downhills work for me, making up any time I had lost going up the hill.


The race starts in downtown DC, at 14th and Constitution Avenue.  We were encouraged to use Metro and get off at the Federal Triangle station.  I partially followed that advice.   I've learned that when metroing to DC races, it's always best to get off a station early and walk the rest of the way - it's faster than spending 20+ minutes with the masses exiting at the specified station.  So I got off one stop early at Metro Center, and walked the quarter mile downhill, stopping at a 24 hour CVS on the way to buy a banana (I was still a bit hungry after breakfast).  As it turned out, when I got to the race start, they had a tent with free bananas, so that was 99 cents wasted.  At least it was a damn good banana.

Bag check, then 2.5 miles of mostly easy running, plus some drills and 2 minutes of running at half-marathon effort, and I got into my corral.  Nicely, the corrals didn't close until right before race start.  The weather was close to ideal - overcast and in the 50s.  Maybe ever so slightly warm for my tastes, but that's just nit-picking.  Said hi to some friends, listened to the National Anthem, and we were off.


Per my plan, I kept the first mile very conservative, and then slowly started building.  While I rarely feel great at the start of a race, I didn't feel too bad here.  I just worked on finding a rhythm and then holding that rhythm while gently increasing pace, but also staying relaxed.  And yes, that's a mouthful.

For the first 6 miles I felt good.  And then we hit the hill.  Pursuant to my plan, I did a combination of jogging and power walking to get up it, channeling my inner ultrarunner  (based on the reading I've done, most ultrarunners believe that steep hills are best tackled by power walking, rather than running).  My reasoning was that attacking this hill would only run up oxygen debt and fry my legs - I was better off conserving energy to spend later on downhill sections. When I got to the top, I picked up the pace again, trying to pick off those who had passed me on the hill.

I think this is the one mistake I made - getting too aggressive right after the hill, especially since we still had some rolling hills ahead of us, with decent climbs.  It would have been much smarter to ease my way back, and chase down people over a few miles.

At this point, I also tried to take a gel, but for some reason I wasn't tolerating it well.  Since I don't consider gels absolutely necessary for a half, I decided not to worry about it too much.

Around mile 9 or so, the course has a long downhill stretch.  The last time I ran this race, I was able to fly and really make up time.  This year, however, my legs weren't responding as well.  And when the descent ended, so did my battery.  I was out of gas.  This was unfortunate, as I still had 2+ miles to go, including another decent climb in mile 11.

Determined not to mentally give in like I did last week, I kept one foot in front of the other.  It felt exactly like the last miles of a marathon (which wasn't what I intended on experiencing when I signed up for a half-marathon).  But I kept plugging.  Then down another hill (which didn't feel much easier) and then the final painful climb to the finish.   And I felt horrible after I finished.


Splits were:
Mile 1: 7:08
Mile 2: 6:41
Mile 3: 6:48
Mile 4: 6:41
Mile 5: 6:53
Mile 6: 6:53
Mile 7: 7:47 (power walking)
Mile 8: 6:53
Mile 9: 6:54
Mile 10: 6:35 (nice downhill stretch)
Mile 11: 6:54
Mile 12: 7:15 (uphill, sucked)
Mile 13: 6:45
last bit: 44 seconds.


As for why I ran out of gas?  I was sick earlier this week, with fatigue and an elevated heart rate.  I felt better by Friday, and my resting heart rate was back to normal, but my hunch is that I might not have completely kicked it.  Or alternately I might just still be a bit short on reserves from being sick.  I don't think it's a overtraining issue, simply because I've been pretty restrained the last few weeks.  I also don't think it's an undertraining issue, simply because my training was still adequate.

Or maybe it was just a bad day.    They happen too.  For whatever reason, I just didn't have my A Game today.

Regardless of the reason for the lack of A Game, my coach and I agreed to stop the running for a few days - I'll do some easy pool-running, but no real exertion.  Then we'll see where we are.  Something's clearly going on, and shutting things down can't hurt.

Other notes:
  • Left my house at 5:55 am to get on the metro.  This got me to the race around 6:30, which was the perfect amount of time to buy a banana (and eat it), check my bag, pee (twice), warm-up, and get in the corral.
  • Asthma meds were Dulera in the morning, and a pre-race puff of albuterol.  Breathing was fine.
  • Temps were in the low to mid 50s, with overcast skies.  Pretty good weather.
  • Ran with a handheld water bottle, which I tossed at 10.5.  
  • Took a Vanilla Bean GU pre-start.  This only has half the caffeine of my preferred pre-race GU, but since my heart rate's been elevated recently, I thought it made sense to back off.  Tried to take a Maple Bacon GU halfway through, but it wouldn't go down.
  • My heart rate was really jacked up for this race.  A few weeks back, I was commenting about how couldn't get it out of tempo range during a 5K.  Opposite issue today - my heart rate today for the last two miles matched what I normally see during mile repeats on the track (which explains why the last two miles sucked so much).  My best guess is, again, that I'm still fighting off whatever bug I had or have.
  • I saw the weirdest thing at the race expo this week.  A booth where people could have blood drawn to be tested for various things.  And people with gear bags and numbers (implying that they were racing this weekend) were sitting down and having blood drawn.  W.T.F. point 1: why the heck would you let a random stranger in a non-lab setting jab a needle into your arm?  It just screams sketchy.  W.T.F. point 2: why would you let someone take blood from you right before your half or full marathon?
    One of the booth people tried to recruit me; it took a lot of self-restraint not to pronounce in a way too loud voice "you have got to be f-ing kidding me.  Hell no!"


  1. There were definitely a few really fast runners that you passed in the second half. I saw some folks ahead of you at 7.5 and you finished ahead of them. And your splits don't indicate that you fell off, but it sounds like you were trying to go faster during that second half. Anyway, I hope a few days off does the trick and you are back at it again soon!

    1. Yeah - I went out pretty conservatively, expecting to be able to really fly on that downhill second half. So when I ran out of gas, the downhill still helped me enough that I ran even splits overall. I'm definitely glad I didn't go out any harder!

  2. At RNR New Orleans this year, there was a booth at the expo where you could DONATE BLOOD. The day before a marathon. Yeah, sure, that sounds like a great idea.

    1. OK - that's INSANE. I wonder if there's such a thing as malpractice in race management.