Wow. What a race.
I wanted to see where I was fitness-wise, and I got that and a lot more.
My A goal for this race was to run a sub-2. In retrospect, I should have made that top goal to sub-2 or run a new half marathon PR.
I didn’t get that sub-2 this time around — the hills cut down my pace too much. But I did a get a brand spanking new half marathon PR of 2:00:48. That finally bests my old PR of 02:01:35 on the same course during my first half marathon two years ago — by nearly 50 seconds.
Saturday’s time is also more than 2 minutes faster than my last half at Rock ‘n’ Roll Philly in October and more than 6 minutes faster than my effort at Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. in the pouring rain last year.
More than any of those stats, I gave this race my absolute all. I poured my heart and soul into it, and there was nothing left in my legs by the end. I could feel the muscle fatigue — that little shaking it gives you — when I stopped after crossing the finish line.
So let’s break it down.
Miles 1-3: My focus the first mile was simply to not go out too fast. I had to check myself back a bit. I’ve found I do better when I keep that first mile in check, and I did that. The next two miles I focused on picking up the pace a bit and enjoying running over Arlington Memorial Bridge. The weather was absolutely perfect — low to mid-50s — and I started out in a T-shirt, so there was no stripping of layers to deal with.
Miles 4-6: These were key miles. I was heading to the hill at mile 6 and wanted to pace myself well. I threw down a good mile 4, then waited as the rolling hills of Rock Creek slowed me down slightly. I remember a friend telling me to not focus on the watch too much until the halfway point before figuring if I could possibly sub-2 — sound advice. I hit mile 6 right on target for a sub-2 — which I knew thanks to the Pacebands I bought for a 2-hour half marathon — but I still had most of that big hill to climb.
Miles 7-9: Mile 7 was the slowest mile of the race — just as I knew it would be. I ended up walking a bit up that steep hill, because it just didn’t make sense to run. After I crested, it still took a couple minutes before my breath returned back to normal, and I focused on trying to get back to my previous pace. The hill cost me a full minute on a sub-2 pace. By mile 9, there was enough downhill that I was able to pick up the pace.
Miles 10-12: Mile 10 was the fastest of this race, which is fantastic. I was hitting the downhills hard to make up for that hill at mile 6 and my effort shows here. By this point, I had reduced that 1-minute off a 2-hour pace down to only 7 seconds. That’s amazing. But the hills got to me by mile 12, even though they were nowhere near as steep. By this point, I knew a sub-2 wasn’t possible, but I could PR significantly — I set my sights on a time under 2:01.
Finish: I focused on picking up the pace back to sub-9s the last mile+, mostly downhill with a slight uphill to the finish line, which was moved this year because the normal lot was still filled with snow and trash. I tried to pick up the pace after I saw the 13 mile marker, but there was little left. Still, I crossed the finish line feeling triumphant at my new PR — 02:00:48 and knowing that a sub-2 is just around the corner. My total mileage per my Garmin was 3.28. On a less hilly and narrower course, I would definitely have hit the sub-2.
Despite the whole no new things on race day, I wore a D.C.-branded Sparkly Soul headband I got at the We Run Social meetup at the expo the day before. I forgot I was wearing it within two seconds and it didn’t move the entire race. So basically I am sold on Sparkly Soul now.
As part of the Rock ‘n’ Blog team, I get to pick one race for a VIP pass. I chose D.C. since I knew I wouldn’t be running with anyone else and because I had a long-ish Metro ride. I woke up at 5 a.m. and was out the door by 5:25 to make the 5:43 train from Vienna. That got me to Metro Center — the closest stop to the VIP area by about 6:15.
The VIP package for this race — $89 for pre and post-race and $59 for post race only — includes a parking pass, indoor area pre-start, breakfast, catered lunch, private restrooms (indoors at the Willard — fancy!), private changing rooms, private gear check, massage, VIP bar with unlimited beer, shuttle back to start line and a few additional benefits.
For me, the biggest pluses were having an indoor area — with indoor restrooms — before the start, an additional breakfast to top off the tank and private gear check. There was still quite a long line for the restrooms around 7 a.m., but I’d rather wait in line inside than outdoors for a porta-potty. The continental breakfast helped me top off my tank so I ended up needing no nutrition during the race, and the private gear check was a real plus. I normally avoid gear checks like the plague, but this time I was able to cart along a few extra things for post-race, mainly extra layers to stay warm, plus a place to stash my keys and metro card so I didn’t need to carry them with me. All those things add up to a huge bonus.
The post-race buffet was incredible, but I’m never hungry right after a race, and I wanted to get home since I was getting chilly. I had my chocolate milk and one beer and called it a day.
I can totally see the advantage of VIP if you’re doing it with a group of friends who want to hang around after or for warmer-weather races when you don’t mind sticking around for a few hours, especially after you’re able to hit up the changing tents. I actually meant to change into fresh clothes but stupidly forgot spare underwear and a bra.
There’s little to put here. I’ve reviewed this course and its support twice before. Both are great. Just know there are hills — that huge one at mile 6 and some 540 feet in elevation gain overall, but lots of downhill to make up for it — and plan accordingly. There are bands on course about every mile, and after you get over the huge hill, the crowd support really picks up. The course support is always fantastic — six water stops for the half, with Gatorade every other stop.
I went into this race totally calm, cool and collected. I typically get a bit nervous/anxious in the days leading up to a big race — especially when I set a time goal — but this time around there was none of that. I took Friday off work to deal with the expo logistics, and that was pretty much the best decision ever. I slept in until 10 on expo morning, which is crazy especially since I had been sleeping well all week.
On race night, I felt tired and went to sleep around 10. I slept pretty well throughout the night — only a little bit of tossing and turning — and was awakened by my alarm at 5 a.m. Typically, I start waking up in anticipation of my alarm up to an hour and a half before — but not this time.
This race shows me what a chill attitude can do to your race day — amazing things. I never once felt stressed or like I had to hit a sub-2, even if I really wanted it. I have three more half marathons this spring — two of which are flatter, narrower courses. I’m hoping to sub-2 at one of those if everything works out right.
I thought the Pacebands on my wrist might discourage me if I realized a sub-2 wasn’t in the books, but instead it helped motivate me to push a bit and helped with runner math the last few miles to know if I pushed just a little I could finish under 2:01.
Part of me wanted to be disappointed I didn’t sub-2 at Rock ‘n’ Roll D.C. But I refused. I beat my half marathon PR by a lot, ran a great race in perfect weather and gave it my all. This race shows I am capable of achieving that sub-2 goal — I just need a little more practice or an easier course.
Check out these other awesome Rock ‘n’ Blog D.C. Half Marathon reviews:
- Mile Posts
- Run with No Regrets
- Run Steff Run
- Mat Miles Medals
- Bit By the Running Bug
- Jason Knight Life