Sunday, April 28, 2013

Inaugural Nike Women's Half Marathon in DC

I'm going to start this blog with a key lesson learned: there is no correlation between race performance and race organization/management.

I was seriously impressed with the organization of the inaugural Nike Women's Half Marathon in DC this morning. Everything went as smoothly as you could possibly imagine. Most inaugural races have noticeable hiccups, especially larger ones. But after years of experience with the San Francisco race, Nike has it down and gets an A+ for race management and organization. Well-established races that have been put on in DC for years (Army Ten Miler, Cherry Blossom Ten Miler, Marine Corps Marathon) cannot compete with how well executed both the expo and the race were.

I have to admit I was skeptical. Having an expo on the Georgetown waterfront where there is very limited parking and no metro seemed like a bad idea. They didn't even have a real web site. Just a Facebook page. Their corral system seemed awkward in that 3/8 of the corrals were reserved for runners faster than a 7:30 pace. But every step of the way, I was pleasantly surprised. This was probably the best organized race I have ever run. And I've run over 75 races. If only stellar organization made for stellar performances! Even though Nike made it very easy for runners to run well, my body was not up to the task.

By contrast, I think of the Love Rox half marathon that I ran in February. Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong-- Nobody was directing the leaders on where to run, the course was mis-measured, a defunct timing system failed to time many runners, a narrow course for half marathoners to pass 10K runners presented a safety hazard, there were six large staircases to run up and down, and the list goes on and on. Oh yeah, and it was 37 degrees with wet snow. And yet, I killed it! Despite all of that- I ran a 1:43:xx for a course that was actually 13.5 miles.

When comparing the two races, I can instantly see that my performance is not related to how well the race is organized. We all want to run well-managed races, no question. But if I race doesn't have its act together, I doesn't mean that I can't. And vice versa!

The Expotique
Nike calls their Expo an "Expotique" in that it is tailored to women. You can get your hair and makeup done,
The course route is highlighted over a map of the city
and the theme is all about celebrating the strength and power of women. I got there right when it opened at 8:00am on Saturday to avoid crowds. I parked easily, waited in a short line, got my number and headed for the expotique. The energy there was contagious. Not only was it a unique expo in terms of the vendors and what was offered, but all the staff were so extremely welcoming and all the runners were so excited. I kept hearing choruses of "woo" everywhere and everyone was so extremely hyped up about this race. It was a really unique vibe that I hadn't experienced at any other expo.

At first, I didn't understand what the big deal was about an all-women's race. I didn't get why so many women had their heart set on running this. Was the Tiffany necklace really that much of a motivator? But now I do see. And I actually can't really articulate why specifically- just the feeling that I had when walking around the expotique and interacting with everyone there. I'm sure the expo was jam-packed later in the day and my good experience was partially because there wasn't a crowd. But the fact that they had 3 full days of packet pickup (as opposed to 1.5 for other large races) definitely helped.

In the photo above, they had a guy standing there whose only job for the day was to take your photo. Many expos have "photo ops" but this was the first time I saw someone staffed to actually take the photos. I went to the expo alone and I was lucky to get my picture in front of this cool backdrop.

Closeup of my name on the We Run DC wall.
One of the coolest things about the expo was the wall with everyone's names on it. It covered an entire city block. I was surprised at how excited I was to see my name on this wall. I guess it's because it makes you really feel like you are part of something special. Nike celebrates YOU. They make everyone feel special because they build up their event so much.

It's a good thing I liked this expo so much, because I had the pleasure of going there twice yesterday. After the expo, the plan was to go grocery shopping. I drove 20 miles outside of the city, parked at the store, and decided to check my Nike bag. This would have been smart to do before leaving the city. But I guess I just wasn't stressed or worried about not having everything. I noticed my corral bracelet was missing. This is the paper bracelet that you need to wear on your wrist to get into your assigned corral. Without it, you start with the 14:00 and slower group. I searched every corner of that bag but the little slip of paper was nowhere to be found. I definitely saw the person grab a bracelet, but it must have slipped out of her hands and never made its way into the bag.

So, I drove 20 miles back into the city, paid $10 to park for 15 minutes to get another corral bracelet. I was glad I had it, but definitely annoyed at the extra driving and parking fees. Thankfully, the goodie bag was a true goodie bag, so I had a Luna bar and other small snacks to hold me over until I got back to the grocery store.

Before The Race
I only slept two hours the night before the race Maybe even a little less. I simply wasn't tired. I tried every technique in the book to fall asleep but it wasn't happening. I didn't think it would really affect my race because I had gotten six hours the previous night. But, the night before that and the night before that were both 5 hours or less. I think Tuesday night was only 4 hours. I had proven that I could run well on little sleep and I knew that stressing about it would only make things worse. So I honestly went into the race expecting there to be very little impact.

I think my inability to sleep the night before the race had something to do with my excitement. That expo got me pumped up and I was just raring to go. But Tuesday-Friday nights, the lack of sleep was driven by other things. On Wednesday night, the wind was extremely noisy and impossible for me to sleep through. Also, there were other major things on my mind that I won't expand on here, but that were certainly making my mind go a million miles a minute.

The week before Cherry Blossom, I felt so extremely drained and was sleeping 9 hours a night. I came to the start line feeling lethargic and not peppy. And I surprisingly ran well. This week, I had very little sleep but was extremely energized- probably all anxious energy and adrenaline. I felt great at the start line.

My sleep was from about 1:00-3:00am last night, so by the time I was supposed to be up, I was already out of the bed and deciding on my outfit.

Greg and I got to the race at 6:00, which was an hour before the start time. I wondered how many porta-potties there would be for an all-women's race, since women tend to take longer then men. It was porta-potty city. There were no lines. I had my choice of like 50 porta potties to go into. All of them empty. I've never seen a race with so many porta potties relative to the number of runners. It was awesome! I ran into my friend Linda and we did a short warmup. The warmup didn't feel good. We were going very slowly-- probably a 10:30 pace-- and yet it felt strained. I dismissed it because my warmups often don't feel good.

I handed Greg my jacket, got into my corral, and shortly after there was a huge surprise. They brought Shalane Flanagan and Joan Benoit Samuelson on stage!!! They were both wearing shirts with "B's" on them in honor of Boston. There was a moment of silence for the Boston bombing victims and then the national anthem started.

The weather was quite nice for late April. Sunny and mid 50's at the start. When I registered, I considered the possibility that the weather could be in the 70's, but we lucked out.

My plan for this race was to go out at around 7:45-7:50 and then speed up after the first 3 miles. I was targeting a 1:40. I knew I was a bit out of shape for not having run much since Cherry Blossom, but I figured a 1:40 was realistic since I wouldn't be facing the wind that I had in Cherry Blossom.

Miles 1-4
In all my years of racing in DC, I have never gotten to run through the tunnel that goes underneath the national mall. It was so cool! I had been looking at the map and wondering how they were going to get us across the mall, but then I realized we were going underground! These first miles were uneventful. I didn't feel 100%, but I know from experience that it can take me 5-6 miles to start to feel good in a half marathon. I saw my coach during mile 4, which was a real pick-me up.

Mile 1: 7:52
Mile 2: 7:43
Mile 3: 7:59
Mile 4: 7:43

Miles 5-9
By the time I hit mile 5, I knew this wasn't going to be a PR day for me, and I was okay with that. I was
10K mark, Photo by Kim Platt
starting to feel really crappy and tired and I wasn't even going very fast. I figured I would be lucky to just hold on to that pace for the rest of the race. I reminded myself that my primary goal was to put forth my best effort-- whatever the pace. I asked myself if this was my best effort or if I was going soft, and it truly was my best.

I saw Greg at mile 6 at the top of a hill, and that was energizing. Then it was onto Haines point- a very flat area that can be windy because it's near the water. I noticed a helicopter circling the area. I thought it was probably there for security and I realized that races would now be beefing up security post-Boston.

I slowed down quite a bit. I didn't judge and I didn't get upset. I accepted it and continued to push and put forth as much effort as I had in me. There were a bunch of inspirational signs throughout this part of the course and they helped to keep me focused and strong.

Mile 5: 7:55
Mile 6: 8:07
Mile 7: 8:22
Mile 8: 8:34
Mile 9: 8:52

Miles 10-13
At mile 10, I started looking for Greg but I didn't see him. I did see my coach, who was cheering for another
Mile 10, with my teammate Esther, Photo by Kim Platt
teammate. I called out his name, but he didn't see me because I was on the other side of the course and he was probably focused on the other teammate. I later learned that Greg was here too and they both missed seeing me. I actually thought that Greg thought he missed me after not seeing me around the 1:40 pace group and he had moved on without realizing I was still coming.

Shortly after, I heard my name being called by another runner. It was Alexandra, who I had met last fall at the MCM 10K. She's faster than me and I assumed she must be struggling as well. She said her legs were spent and that she was so glad I was there with her. I ran with her for a mile and it was great, but eventually I just had to let her go ahead. I was relegated to the survival shuffle. It took all the mental strength I had not to walk or stop. I just had nothing left in me and running two more miles seemed impossible. So many people were passing me, but I just focused on moving forward, one step at a time. Finally I saw the finish up ahead.

Mile 10: 8:26
Mile 11: Unknown because it was under a tunnel. Probably 9:15.
Mile 12: 9:33
Mile 13: 9:19
Last 0.2: (7:55 pace)

After the Race
I just wanted to collapse post finish line but I forced myself to keep walking. I got my Tiffany Necklace and my Nike finisher's shirt. Greg found me pretty quickly and walked with me over to my coach and my teammates. Both Greg and my coach had been worried about me, but I explained I was just having a really painful race after having slept just two hours the night before. My teammates confirmed that lack of sleep can really kill a race, so I was glad to have an immediate explanation for the crash and burn.

I started to see black spots and everything just felt really bad. I had over exerted myself and my body was not happy. Greg and I walked back to the metro, where I once again saw the spots. Ultimately I was okay and just very glad to be done with the race.

Official finish time 1:50:18-- about 10 minutes slower than goal time.

Before I do my final takeaways, I have to emphasize once again how well managed this race was, especially
Tiffany Necklace
for an inaugural event with so many runners. There was great signage along the course for mile markers, water stops, timing mats, inspirational quotes, etc. The start and finish areas were well well marked and nothing seemed to be overly crowded. It was nice to have Facebook updating my wall as I ran-- but without my actual splits so nobody knew I was bonking. The celebration was simply doing the race, and that's one of the main reasons I was there. For the experience. This race is about so much more than the Tiffany necklace, although the necklace is really quite nice!

Key Takeaways
I definitely got out of this race what I wanted most- the experience of running the first Nike Women's half in DC. And even though it hurt, it was an amazing experience and I am so glad I was part of it.

  • Sleep matters. If I don't sleep well the week before a race, then my performance will likely suffer. Given that, I don't want to go into sleep-deprived races expecting to do poorly, but I do need to be realistic about what my body can do when it's in such an exhausted state. 
  • I've raced a lot this year: 1 marathon, 3 half marathons, a ten-miler, and a 5K. Every month since January I have raced at least 13.1 miles. I think my body is worn out from the cumulative effects. I probably won't do so many long races so close together again, unless I am doing one of them as a training run.
  • It's possible to enjoy a race when you feel like crap and just want it to be over.
  • Running with teammates/friends helps. I spent about 3 minutes with the teammate I saw at mile 10, and about 1 mile with my other friend who I ran into at mile 11. Those were two high points for me.
  • If possible, I should avoid major life decisions in the week before a race. I bought a new car just one week before my marathon in March, and I think that added to my overall anxious state. Even though I had been planning to buy that specific car for a year, and I got a lower price than I had expected, it still put me on edge a little. 
  • Once I get my body into an anxious state about something, the physical anxiety lasts a lot longer then the time I actually spend thinking about the stressful topic. Even when I am no longer mentally stressing something, it takes my body awhile to "come down" from it's heightened state of awareness.
  • I'm very proud of myself for not quitting and for giving it everything I had. A year ago, I might have run/walked my way to the finish line or stopped pushing as hard once I realized that it wasn't my day. There is great deal of satisfaction and value to be had from giving 100%, no matter what the clock says. It's an important skill to have as a runner.
  • No crying for me! I brushed it off pretty quickly and focused on getting home and resting
  • I have the best husband ever. I woke up him up at 11:00 last night when I couldn't sleep, and again this morning at 4:45 to come with me to the race. And both times, he was happy to be with me. With all the black spots I was seeing post-race, I don't know if I would have made it home safely without him.
Thanks, Nike, for a unique racing experience!


  1. Great race report! I'm glad to hear that the inaugural Nike DC race was well-organized, but it sounds like they are mirroring the way they do it in SF. The first three years or so of SF were uneven in terms of pre-race stuff going smoothly, but the last five years have been smooth as glass. Love all the toilets!! Ha ha. This sounds like an interesting course, and even though you didn't hit your goal, I'm impressed at your thoughtful analysis of your performance and your ability to let it go because it's in the past. Awesome. Can't wait to see a photo of the necklace!!! Congrats!

  2. Nice job gutting it out on a less-than-stellar-sleepless-night. I have an intimate relationship with insomnia, so would agree that it can really kill a normal day - never mind a race. The experience sounds like it was still a good one. Good for you for focusing on the positives! When I have a bad run or a disappointing race, I try to remind myself that "finishing is not always a given". So congrats on finishing. Happy recovery!

  3. We all have good races and bad races. I think it's easier to have a good race at a well-organized race, but yeah, it's not a given! You'll get your sub-1:40 soon, I'm sure!

  4. Sleep problems can also come from over training and too much racing, whatever your sport. I find that breaking up my training regime occasionally with a day of indulgence (I usually go shopping with friends and have a nice lunch including chocolate!!)
    Having good marital support is absolutly essential to success.

  5. I feel your pain with the exhaustion. I was supposed to run IronGirl Half yesterday, and I bailed on it because I hadn't gotten good sleep. I knew that it was just going to be a death march, and like you I've been racing non-stop since January. So good for you for toughing it out. I'm looking forward to a full month with no real races.

  6. Cool race! Would like to do this one next year.

  7. Once again, I am inspired by your positive outlook and takeaways on your race, even when it didn't go your way. I'm wondering, though, if you have tried melatonin. I am not trying to be pushy in any way, but I used it a few years back when I was going through a lot of life changes and could not sleep to save my life. If you do some reading on it, you will find that your body naturally makes its own melatonin. However, stress hormones can often interfere with that, causing sleep problems/ The supplement is non-habit forming, and I was able to take it as needed with a lot of success.

    Hope life settles down for you soon!

  8. Love your takeaways from this event!! I think it's great to spend time reflecting like that. Also, you still ROCKED it girl!!

  9. This sounds like it was a lot of fun. :) I might have to join you for it next year (obviously running much more slowly). :P

    Glad you were able to keep perspective on a race that sounded awesome, even if the time wasn't what you wanted.

  10. Sorry sleep issues got you on this, ick! I think sleep was an issue for my recent race too, the Zzzzzzzs are important! Great that your significant other was such good support. It really helps having that. Glad you're recaping this in a very positive mind-set.

  11. This is really an awesome update that you have shared for us and I am really impressed by this athletic apparel.