Sunday, March 15, 2015

Rock 'n Roll DC "Dress Rehearsal"

A few weeks ago, when I received my training plan for the month leading up to the marathon, I noticed that there was a half marathon "time trial" scheduled for Saturday, March 14. My coach told me it would be ideal for me to run a half marathon at marathon pace so that I could practice hydration, nutrition, and pacing. The race would be great "mental" and "strategy" training-- with less of a focus on the physical training.

I tend to focus very heavily on the physical aspects of training, and it's important for me to remember that things like strategy and mental preparedness are also key elements of the equation.

So Greg and I registered for the Rock 'N Roll DC half marathon that was occurring on the day of the "dress rehearsal" run. Greg was excited because he recently bought a GoPro, and he was going to wear it during the race to film everything that happened. (Scroll down to the bottom to see the final product!)

My strategy for the marathon will be to go out at a pace of around 8:20 and then gradually speed up from there. I'd like my marathon pace to be somewhere around 8:10. Therefore, my strategy for this race would be the same. Of course, it's not's apples to apples because the RnR DC course is hillier, curvier, and more crowded than my marathon will be. I'm also not tapered, so my legs aren't as fresh as they will be for the marathon.

Before the Race- We almost missed the race
We left our house 15 minutes later than planned. And my original plan didn't leave much time for wiggle room. Normally in a situation like this my anxiety would rise tremendously, but since this wasn't a goal race, I stayed pretty calm.
We drove to the metro and parked, and realized that we might not have time to check our bags, as the gear check closed 10 minutes prior to race start. We had packed a set of dry clothes and towels because we knew we'd want to get out of our wet clothing as soon as possible. It was in the mid 40's and raining. I know from experience that this type of weather can feel colder than temps in the 20's and even cause hypothermia. We decided to leave our more valuable clothes in the car, and just bring our towels and dry t-shirts.

We arrived at the metro station just in time to see the train depart. We literally missed it by 20 seconds. The next train wasn't scheduled for another 12 minutes! This definitely meant that we wouldn't have enough time to check our bags, and we could potentially miss the start of the race. We started chatting to another couple who was in the same boat, only the woman wasn't running (she was spectating her husband) and she offered to hold our bags for us. We figured we'd probably never see her again, but at least we could contact her in the future to get our t-shirts and towels.

I didn't even want to think about getting to the finish line completely cold and drenched, with nothing dry to change into!

We boarded the metro, and by the time we arrived in DC, it was 7:25. We had only 5 minutes to get into our corral! We got there just in time for the National Anthem. I've only cut it this close two other times, and both were half marathons.

Miles 1-4
Mile 2, Memorial Bridge
It was crowded! We were in corral 5, which I was happy with because I didn't want to go out too fast. However, it was so crowded that we weren't able to go as fast as planned initially. As I started running, a former co-worker of mine spotted me and started chatting with me. It was nice to catch up with him and we ran together for almost the entire first mile. Greg stayed behind us for most of the time, capturing us on the GoPro.

Eventually we parted ways and I recognized the course as part of the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. My main focus was passing people because the race was still quite crowded throughout these early miles and it seemed as if most of the group was going at a pace of about 8:30.

Mile 1: 8:48
Mile 2: 8:17
Mile 3: 8:08
Mile 4: 8:10

Miles 5-9
Greg stopped to go to the bathroom during mile 6. We typically don't race together but since this was technically a training run, I was fine to stop and wait for him. It was hard not to cringe as I saw all the runners go by and I was just stopped, but I kept reminding myself it was just a training run! I stopped my Garmin so that I'd have an accurate record of my pace. 1 minute and 14 seconds later, he emerged from the porta potties and we were on our way again.

This was the hardest part of the course. The first four miles were flat, and there was a steady climb for a good chunk of mile 6 and mile 7. Mile 7 had a very steep hill. It was so steep I think I was running at an 11:00 pace at one point. I almost had to walk it. My legs definitely felt it and I was glad that I wasn't trying to go at half marathon effort!

Mile 5: 8:08
Mile 6: 8:10
Mile 7: 8:58 (the hill!!!)
Mile 8: 8:06
Mile 9: 8:05

Miles 10-Finish
Once I got to mile 10 I decided to turn on the gas. I had just finished my second Honey Stinger gel
Approach the finish, photo by C. Young
and I felt energized. Plus, that meant I was able to toss my water bottle (I always run with a disposable hand-held) and it felt great to not have to hold it anymore.

This part of the course wasn't nearly as scenic as the first part. I actually ran this half marathon back in 2007 before Rock 'N Roll took it over. Back then, the entire race was run in southeast DC, which isn't the nicest area of the city. Anyway, my main focus on this point was passing people. I wanted to run faster than goal marathon pace, because I had started out slow. This will be my strategy in the marathon: first 6 miles slower than marathon pace, middle miles at marathon pace, last 6 miles, faster than marathon pace.

Mile 10: 7:46
Mile 11: 7:54
Mile 12: 7:59
Mile 13: 7:31
Last 0.23: (7:22 pace)

My Garmin finish time was 1:47:50, with an average pace of 8:10 for 13.23 miles. This equates to a 3:35:40 marathon at 26.46 miles, or 3:34:07 for 26.2 miles.

Based on how I felt, I think this is totally within my reach. As long as I don't have digestive issues and the weather isn't ridiculously windy or hot, then I should be okay. Hopefully, on a flatter course with fewer curves and people to dodge, I will do even better!

After the Race
The walk from the finish line to the metro was over a mile! We were cold and soaking wet. It was so uncomfortable that we even started running! We didn't have any towels or anything dry to change into, so it would be a very cold metro ride.

As we entered the metro, we were very surprised and very happy to see Lara coming toward us! Lara is the woman who we left our bag with. She said she decided to wait in the metro where it was dry and she figured she'd see us. We were so grateful! We never thought we'd see her at the finish, given that this race has over 20,000 runners and probably twice as many spectators.

We hurried to dry ourselves off with the towels and I changed into my dry t-shirt. It felt so good to get out of that wet long-sleeved running shirt! Did I mention we were drenched and it was only in the 40's? After a 15-minute metro delay due to a track issue, we finally made our way back to the car where we cranked up the heat as high as it could go.

We're both very glad we ran this race as a training one. It was definitely fun and it was great to practice my race strategy and nutrition on a course that was more difficult than my marathon. Check out the GoPro video below. I would have loved to have stayed for Better Than Ezra, but it was just too cold and rainy to stick around outside.


  1. Congratulations on your time trial half! You did a great job and stayed on pace despite all the stress of getting there so it seems like the mental prep is helping. Glad you also saw the lady with your clothes again too! I would've worried about that the entire race, but I'm just anxious like that. Hooray for meeting your goals and another half in the book, bet your marathon will go great too!

  2. Oh my gosh, I would have been so nervous too cutting the time so close. The only time that has happened to me is when the portapotty lines were out-of-control long! And excellent work with negative splitting the race!