Last Saturday I ran my second half marathon. When I wound up in the hospital two and a half weeks ago, I had no idea if I’d still be able to complete the race. By the time I was cleared to start running again only five days before the race, I knew I was under trained. However, my neurologist gave me the go ahead to not only start running but encouraged me to still run the race if I felt like my body was up to the challenge.
I decided last Wednesday that I was up to the challenge, but also told myself that I’d be okay with walking some, part, or all of the race if I felt like I had to. I’m very happy that I decided to go forward with the race, because if I hadn’t I know I’d be asking myself if I could have done it.
The night before the race we laid our race clothes out, and planned to leave our apartment by 6:00am. Just as we were getting ready to leave, our dog Riley threw up. Great. After we cleaned up the mess and calmed him down a bit (he has pretty severe separation anxiety), we were finally on our way. We parked in Clarendon and took the Metro downtown to the National Mall, where the starting line for the race was.
We got off the Metro at Federal Triangle right at 7:00am. We’d missed the Team Red White and Blue meetup, and only had 30 minutes until the race started. We both had a gear bag to check, which we quickly took care of, but when we saw how long the lines for the porta potties were Preston knew he had a choice to make: either start the race on time in his corral (he was in corral 4), or start whenever he happened to finally make it to the front of the porta potty line. We quickly wished each other good luck, and Preston headed towards the corrals while I got in line for the porta potties.
After standing in line for a couple of minutes, another runner shared that there was another set of porta potties about two blocks away. Off I and several other runners went. The lines were significantly shorter, and on my way to my corral I grabbed water and a banana from the pre race food area. I ate the banana as I made the rest of the short walk to corral 23, tossed the banana peel, and finished my water while waiting to start the race.
The race started at 7:30am, and finally at 8:05am my corral started the race. The start line was on Constitution Avenue in front of the American History Museum. We started the race running west on Constitution towards the Washington Monument and White House.
My original race plan was to run 2:1 intervals (two minutes of running, one minute of walking), which was the same interval I used at the Disney World Half Marathon. Last week I revised my race plan to run 2:1 intervals as long as I could, and then modify my run-walk ratio as needed based on how I felt during the race. Just like with past races, I found it unsafe to start my intervals until about five minutes into the race when the crowd started to thin out a bit.
Between the thrill of running my first major race in DC and doing so on a course that took us past some of my favorite DC sights, I felt really good for the first 5k. The crowd support down by the Lincoln Memorial and Memorial Bridge was amazing, and I found it very easy to maintain my 2:1 run-walk intervals.
Somewhere during the third mile I had the sudden urge to pee. After passing the 5k mark I noticed a set of porta potties at the first medical tent. I also saw a line. I briefly debated stopping, but decided that this would probably only be the beginning of porta potty lines during the race. The line seemed to take forever to move along, and I spent about 15 minutes waiting in line. I compared it to waiting in line for character pictures during the Disney races, and choked it up as a natural part of any major race experience.
Miles 4-6 of the race were on Rock Creek Parkway. This part of the race was one of my favorite parts of the course, as I thoroughly enjoyed running along the Potomac River and enjoying the scenery of Rock Creek Park. The crowd support for these three miles was very heavy, which distracted me not only from the time I’d lost while waiting in line for the porta potty but also helped the miles to quickly pass.
At the end of mile 6 stood the infamous Calvert Hill. I had read about this hill in 2013 race recaps, and had mentally prepared myself to tackle the hill. In order to conserve energy I walked the hill, and then resumed running once I turned onto Calvert Street in Woodley Park.
The crowd support started to pick up even more as we exited Woodley Park and entered Adams Morgan during mile 7. As I ran through Adams Morgan I had flashbacks to many exciting college nights out on the town in Adams Morgan. The streets were lined with young adults, some very eager to share beer and hard liquor with runners. I also passed somebody holding one of my absolute favorite signs of the entire race: “When does Jumbo Slice open?” Jumbo Slice is well known in DC for serving some of the greasiest, largest slices of pizza you’ve ever seen: perfect for young adults at the end of a night of heavy drinking.
As we exited Adams Morgan and headed towards Howard University during mile 8, I started to loose energy. It became harder and harder to maintain my endurance, and the only thing that kept me going was the crowd support. I also passed the all female drumline just before the mile 8 marker, right on the edge of Howard University’s campus, which helped motivate me to maintain running for another interval. After that, my energy dropped significantly.
I started walking for a few minutes, and noticed that Preston had texted me to report that he had finished the race. Since he was going for a PR, he ran the race at his own speed, and successfully PRed, finishing the race in 1:57:15. He encouraged me to keep going, telling me that he knew I could do it, and that he’d see me at the finish line.
His words of encouragement were exactly what I needed at that moment, and after a few minutes of walking I resumed my run-walk intervals. Some intervals I found that I needed to walk for two minutes after running for two minutes, and I was okay with that. His encouragement got me through to the Gu and water stop just past the mile 9 marker. After using another porta potty, I slowly took the Gu packet and gave it a few minutes to kick in. I then tried to start running again, but a slow jog was about all that my body could handle at this point.
During mile 10 my friend Kristen texted me to tell me that she was at the finish line. She shared how proud she was of me for pushing through, despite the obstacles that I’ve faced recently. Her text, in addition to another one from Preston, gave me the encouragement to keep going with jogging and walking intervals, despite the fact that I was completely and utterly exhausted.
I slowly made my way through the last 5k. Every now and then I kept checking my time, realizing that completing the race in under three hours (my B goal), could still be reached. I knew I had to push myself to keep moving towards the finish line, no matter how much I had to walk.
Shortly before the mile 13 marker I saw the finish line off in the distance. This sight gave me the final burst of energy I needed to push myself across the finish line. I slowly jogged across at 2:55:26, and realized that I’d PRed by 20 minutes!
Despite how tired I was, despite how much I’d had to walk, and despite the fact that I had been in the hospital two weeks prior to this race, I’d still managed to knock 20 minutes off of my Disney World Half Marathon finish time. (Yes, we did stop for several pictures with characters during the Disney race, but still, I finished my second half marathon faster than I finished my first half marathon.) Despite how crappy I’d felt during the second half of the race it felt amazing to know that I’d completed a sub-three hour half marathon!
After crossing the finish line, I received my medal and slowly made my way through the finisher’s chute. Unlike at Disney where the food is prepackaged into one box, the food at Rock ‘n’ Roll races is not. Given that my left hand is still very weak and I’m really only able to hold things in my right hand right now, I had a lot of difficulty holding onto my water, Gatorade, and food.
Before exiting the chute I spotted Kristen, and quickly made my way to her. She gave me a huge hug, and shared how proud she was of me. We then found Preston, and chatted for a few minutes before Kristen said goodbye. Preston and I spent some time in the finish area at RFK Stadium, which allowed me time to stretch and eat some of the food. Neither of us took advantage of the beer included in our race entry, as Preston wasn’t feeling it that morning and I haven’t had a sip of alcohol since before I was in the hospital.
This race reminded me of just how resilient our bodies are in bouncing back from illness. I may not be 100% healed yet, but I’m definitely leaps and bounds from where I was a couple of weeks ago. This race also reminded me that I need to trust my training. I questioned my ability to run this race based on how little I’d run in the last weeks leading up to the race, but this race reminded me that missing a few runs didn’t put me as far back in my training as I had feared it had.
Overall, this was a very positive race experience. Some of the positives of Rock ‘n’ Roll USA included:
- A start line well placed within walking distance of several Metro stops, which made it very easy to get to the start line
- Plenty of pre race food and water
- A race course that takes runners past some of the DC highlights (Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Capitol Building, as well as many others), as well as into some of my favorite DC neighborhoods
- The crowd support was amazing
- The bling!
The few negatives I experienced with this race included:
- The corrals were not enforced. There were 31 corrals for this race, and both Preston and I noticed that there were several people in our corrals that were wearing bibs with higher corral numbers.
- Not enough porta potties along the course route. Having to wait 15 minutes to use a porta potty at a medical tent seems a bit excessive and a sign of poor planning in regards to porta potties.
- The lack of pre packaged food. Like I said, maybe I was spoiled at the Disney races, but it would have been much easier to only have to hold a single box full with food instead of juggling individual items.
The positives of Rock ‘n’ Roll USA definitely outweighed the negatives, and I’ll definitely consider running this race again in the future. And at half marathon #3, I’ll definitely be striving to break my 2:55:26 finish time!
QOTD: Did you run Rock ‘n’ Roll USA? If you did, what are your thoughts on the race?