I ran the Navy Air Force Half Marathon this weekend, my first long race since April. The race was well organized and I really enjoyed the scenic course. I loved running the race and my legs felt great, and while I didn’t get the 2:00 finish I was hoping for, I have one more shot this year at Long Beach! Here follows a detailed review, in case you’re thinking about adding this race to your 2014 schedule :)
Packet pick-up was available on Thursday and Friday, and I decided not to procrastinate and went after work on Thursday to pick up my packet straight away. The only thing I disliked about the race logistics was the location for packet pickup, which was Anacostia-Bolling Air Force Base and not that convenient for people coming from Virginia/ using the metro. Thankfully, we have a car (the base is not close to any metro stations that I know of), but I was still sitting in traffic for over 45 minutes to get there. It didn’t help that it was pouring that evening. Once I arrived at the base, there were plenty of signs directing me to the expo and packet pickup. The expo was very small with just a handful of vendors (Spibelt and a few others), but I think this race is only in its second year and is expected to grow quite a lot over the next few years; people like to use it as a training race on the way to the Marine Corps Marathon in October. There was no line to speak of, so it took me only minutes to get my bib and t-shirt. BTW, these t-shirts (long sleeve cotton) run pretty big; I ordered a small and definitely could have gotten an XS. Or XXS. Seriously, I feel like I’m wearing my dad’s shirt. Another stylish picture for the record.
The night before the race, Mike and I went to Duangrat’s, a fantastic Thai restaurant in Falls Church. It’s not as cheap as your basic Thai restaurant, but their menu is authentic and their food delicious. We ordered fresh rolls with Chinese BBQ sausage to start, and shared beef pad see ew and a garlic-crusted rockfish for our meal. So good.
Before going to sleep, I laid out my clothes (I opted for a long sleeve shirt and shorts, since the weather looked windy and a little cold for Saturday) and pre-race fuel for the next morning. I got up at 5:30 AM, and I quickly downed a bottle of water while eating my banana with PB, my typical breakfast before a long run. I added a cup of coffee for good measure, and drank some more water. My goal was to start the race properly hydrated to prevent my feet from swelling and creating blisters. For additional blister protection, which has been a MAJOR issue for me this year, I opted to use a combination of moleskin on existing blisters, and try a blister spray instead of my usual vaseline or Body Glide, with the expectation that my new “anti-blister” double layer Wright Socks would protect my feet. This assumption would prove to be terribly inaccurate within a few hours. Dun dun dun.
I got to the start line via metro in plenty of time to take pictures, use the bag drop and the all important port-a-potty. It was chilly, so I was happy with my choice to wear a long sleeve shirt and a jacket on top, which I stuffed into my bag for the bag drop about 10 minutes before the race. Of the 10,000 pictures I took of the Washington Monument that morning (nothing better to do), this one came out the best!
The race started pretty much on time, and with only a few thousand runners, it didn’t take me that long to cross the start line. By 7:30 or so, I was off! I decided to follow a “by feel” pacing strategy for this race rather than trying to stick to a single pace the whole time. I followed the yellow-orange-red strategy more or less, deciding to run my first 5 miles at a conversational pace, dial it up for the next 5, and then my best effort for the last 3.1 miles. I really liked this strategy, because it let me feel relaxed going into the race, rather than feeling like I had to meet a goal pace right away. I drank water/ Gatorade at every water station, and I ate two gels – one around mile 4 and one around mile 9.
Miles 1-5 “easy miles” – 10:20, 9:21, 9:11, 9:28, 9:20 – avg pace 9:32
The race started from the Washington Monument, did a short pin on the Memorial Bridge, and traveled up on Rock Creek Parkway. I was really happy with these “easy” paces, with the exception of the first mile, where I had to veer off the course to make a restroom stop! Maybe a little less water next time, or go right before the race starts. By the second mile, I was really regretting my choice of the long sleeve shirt because I was already warm.
Miles 6-10 “focused effort” – 9:12, 9:05, 8:55, 8:55, 8:59 – avg pace 9:01
We continued up Rock Creek Parkway and turned around after hitting the 5.5 mile mark, then continued south towards Hains Point. I was also really happy with these paces, because I had been struggling with my pace runs (~9:10 pace), so it was nice to see 9 min miles coming easily to me. All that race day energy helps!!
Miles 11-13 “all out” – 8:50, 8:52, 9:17 – avg pace 8:59
So this was where I wish I had pushed a little harder, as we looped around Hains Point and ran back towards the Washington Monument. But by mile 13, my blisters were killing me! I stopped to walk a few times, but with about half a mile left to go, one guy turned around and made it his mission to get me to the finish line running. He kept yelling at me, “you can do it, you’re almost there!”, and I started running. And stopped when he turned back around. But 30 seconds later, he turned around and saw me walking again and said, “no, don’t quit, you’re almost THERE!” So at that, I started running again and resolved to finish the race at a run.
Final time: 2:02:15, just 30 seconds off from my first half marathon in February.
After crossing the finish line jubilantly, I got my command coin (the military races often hand out command coins in lieu of medals, they’re pretty cool) and I forced myself to drink 2 bottles of water and chow down a banana to start my post-race recovery. I find that when I don’t replenish fluids and carbs right away, I tend to get a headache that can last until the next day!
Thoughts on the Race Organization: There were plenty of water and Gatorade stations, and the course was shaded and mostly flat, with a few tiny hills here and there for a little variation, which I appreciate in a long race. The race trail was really similar to the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, and I liked knowing what came next and where to save my energy! There were volunteers and spectators on the course, but there’s also plenty of spots (Hains Point) where you just have to push through without folks cheering you on. Post-race spread included the usual bananas, muffins, apples, water. Overall, I really enjoyed this mid-size race (~3000 runners) and would consider running it again next year!
Lessons Learned: I think I could have easily earned a 2:00 if I had used better blister protection and didn’t veer off course to use the restroom in the first mile. I’m definitely going with the short sleeve shirts from now on in all non-winter races. What I did right: I really liked using the yellow-orange-red pacing strategy and I intend to use it for Long Beach in a few weeks! Also, the post-race banana and water prevented me from getting my usual headache, and after a yoga class for recovery on Sunday, I pretty much fully recovered by Monday. Success!