Event: 2015 Navy/Air Force Half Marathon
Event Date: September 20, 2015
Event Location: Washington, D.C.
Why I decided to run this race.
As mentioned in my 2014 review of this race, the 2013 Navy/Air Force half was my first half marathon. It’s also the course where I set my PR. And it’s a course that hits all of DC’s high points but hasn’t yet grown to such overwhelming crowds as other well-known races like the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler and Marine Corps Marathon. All in all it’s a great course in a great town at the right time of year.
Getting there/the lead-up to the race
When I renewed my coaching with Jeff Galloway, this race was supposed to be my goal race to set a new PR. My training plan called for a lot of speed drills each week and super-long weekend runs to build my endurance and tear down my mental block as I near the final miles of a race.
Due to injuries and laziness I wasn’t as diligent about doing all of the training that I should have. After reviewing my training and my health after completing the Dumbo Double Dare in Disneyland earlier in the month, my coach and I agreed on a race plan that has me pushing my limits a bit but allows flexibility to adjust if my foot and ankle started to hurt.
The race Expo
The race expo was held in a different location than the previous two years, and for me it was much more convenient. In 2013 the expo was held in a conference center at the Navy Yard, in 2014 it was held at Nationals Park, and in 2015 it was held over two days at the DC Armory (the first being a Friday, so I could hit it on my way home from work since the DC Armory is located on the same metro line that I take every day for my commute).
The expo was set to open at 3:00 PM on Friday. And when they say 3:00, they mean it. I arrived about 2:45 and there was a line of people standing outside the doors waiting to get in. Once they opened the doors at precisely 3:00, everyone had to go through bag check and be wanded by a security guard. I’m not sure if the security checks are a result of requirements imposed by the venue or out of an abundance of caution since the military is putting on the race, but we had to go through them at the last two expos for this race.
The expo itself was set up much more traditionally than the last one. The bibs were along the back wall, and there was a wide walkway to get from the front entrance to the bibs. Improving on last year, this year they both assigned bib numbers in advance (rather than manually keying them in as people picked up bibs), and they had more windows. They also allowed you to pick up bibs for up to 4 other people, which was helpful since my husband could not have made it down to DC to pick up his own bib. I arrived early, so the lines were relatively short and they seemed to move fairly quickly. I was probably out of the line within 5-10 minutes.
The event shirts were on the wall opposite from the bibs and you were routed through the small vendor section on your way to get your shirt. There were just two people in front of me to get our shirts, so again I was done in just a few minutes.
There were fewer vendors at this expo than they had in previous years. I took a quick look through what they had but I really didn’t need anything and I had something I had to get home for that night, so I didn’t stick around very long. I was probably completely done with the expo by 3:20, which was important because I had to still catch a train to get home and get ready for the Air Force Ball that I was attending that night.
As in years past, the swag was pretty limited for this race. Everyone received a long-sleeve tech shirt that bore the winner of the logo design contest. I wish they would stop doing unisex cuts for the shirts, but I’ll still probably wear it when I need an extra layer for warmth before a race or for lounging around the house in the winter.
Since I was planning on running this race for time I didn’t want to worry about my clothes. I picked some tried and true items that I knew would not give me any problems. I wore: my grey digital camo print Sparkle Skirt with built-in shorts, royal blue Nike dri-fit tank top, blue Adidas sports bra, dark blue Bondi Band headband, Injinji socks, Brooks Adrenaline GTS 14 shoes, Garmin Forerunner 620 and Gymboss interval timer, and Camelbak Marathoner hydration vest.
We arrived in downtown DC about an hour before the race and parked in the same garage I did last year. Since I was familiar with the garage and the building on top of it, I knew there were bathrooms that wouldn’t be terribly busy. So rather than having to rely on the port-a-potties near the race start, we made a lengthy stop at the real bathrooms right after we parked. We then walked a couple of blocks to the start/finish line and hopped into the port-a-potty queue just in case there was anything we needed to get out at the last minute.
There is one big corral for all runners with some pace marks so you can seed yourself appropriately. I personally like this as it gives me a chance to choose how I’m feeling that day. The only problem I have with the corral at this race is that we were all supposed to enter the corral from one entrance that was kind of in the middle. This created a big back-up as people tried to push their way in past people who were seeding themselves into the paces near the entrance. After a while, people started moving the barricades and letting themselves in wherever they wanted. The mid-corral entrance created another problem after the gun went off when we were all trying to move up to the starting line to begin our race; the people stuck outside the corrals decided to continue merging in as the folks in the corral were moving forward…which meant those of us in the back of the corral didn’t actually physically move until about 5 minutes after the gun went off.
Along the course
Due to construction, they actually had to change the race course a bit. We essentially ran the course backwards from previous years, starting with the lap around Haines Point instead of finishing with it. We also had to skip most of the out-and-back to Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Bridge and instead ran further into Rock Creek Park. Although this put the hillier Rock Creek Park section further into the race, going into the race I was actually happy to get the Haines Point section (my least favorite part) out of the way right at the beginning.
I had a really great first 5 miles of my race. I was feeling good. I was happy to be there. I was optimistic that, while I knew my pace was not good enough to get a PR, it was still respectable. But then I stopped to pee shortly before mile 6 and never really got back into my groove. I did push through my intervals for another couple of miles, but my heart wasn’t in it. And then the long sustained uphills heading out on the Rock Creek Parkway just killed my spirit. By about mile 10 I was done. I pretty much walked the rest of the race from that point on. I tried to make the best of it by meeting the runners around me and talking folks who were on the brink of quitting through their rough spots. But this ended up being a really disappointing race for me. Not because of the race itself, but because I’m not proud of how I ran it. I know I can do better. I should have done better. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t do better.
Leading up to the race, I learned that one of the people I most look forward to seeing on the course would probably not be there. Sid Busch, a former US Navy Senior Chief who runs in honor of fallen service members, was scheduled to run his 200th full marathon at the Air Force Marathon in Ohio that same weekend. While I commend Sid for hitting this milestone, I was sad that this meant he wasn’t running the Navy/Air Force half as he had in previous years. Seeing him running while carrying a full-size American flag and wearing the picture of a service member who is no longer with us…honestly, it’s one of the most inspiring things I ever see on any race course. I hope I’ll see him at another race later this year.
I still kind of miss the coins we got the first time I ran this race, but this year’s SMO really won me over.
We got nice, heavy metal medals that represented both the Navy and the Air Force. And one of the planes is a spinner! When I first got it I didn’t really look at it because I was so disappointed in myself. But now that some time has passed and I’ve come to terms with my performance, I’ve taken the time to really appreciate the medal and it’s moving up the ranks in the “my favorite medals” ranking.
The post-race experience
My husband finished long before I did, so he was pretty much ready to go by the time I finished. I grabbed water and a snack box and then we headed to the car. The only problem parking where I do is that we have to go through a metal detector before entering the building, and we have to enter the building to get to the garage. So there’s always a line of tired runners trying to strip out of their hydration packs and medals waiting to get in.
I used my normal playlist on shuffle for this race. Unfortunately I waited too long to write this review and I can’t remember if there were any memorable songs.
Looking back now
I’m still disappointed in my performance at this race, but I’ve come to terms with it and moved on. This race course is still one of my favorites and there’s a good chance you’ll see me out on it again next year. I love the camaraderie of the runners who cheer each other on during the out-and-back part on the Rock Creek Parkway. I revel in the enthusiasm of the military folks who man the water stops and aid stations. I appreciate that even though I was in the way back of the pack, there still seemed to be enough on-course support for us. I hope to see more Casual Runners learn to love this race as much as I do.
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