Saturday, March 14, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Rock N Roll DC Marathon

Today, I ran the Rock N Roll DC Marathon in Washington, DC.  This was the first time I did this race since it became a Rock N Roll Marathon.  Five years ago, I ran the National Marathon, which was the predecessor of this race.

I waited a long time before booking a race for this weekend.  I was originally keeping this weekend open.  The Barcelona Marathon was also this weekend, and I was hoping Deb and I could make that part of a long European vacation.  That trip got put off to the future, leaving me without any plans.  I looked at a number of races, but kept finding that hotels were booked or the airfare was too expensive.  Then I looked into this race.

I was able to get a good airfare on a non-stop flight to DC.  More importantly, I got a flight into Reagan National Airport (DCA).  There are other airports serving this area, but there’s a subway station in this airport, making it easy to get by without a car.

After verifying that there were subway stops near the start, finish and expo, I started looking at hotels.  All I needed was a hotel that was close to a subway station.  I did better.  I found one that was also within walking distance of both the starting line and the expo.  It was close to the National Mall, making sightseeing easy.

Deb and I have been to Washington three times, usually combining sightseeing in DC with visits to cities in Maryland or Virginia.  Each time, we’ve seen different things.  You could spend a month in DC without running out of things to see.

I packed light (by my standards), knowing I would need to carry my bags on the trains.  I stayed at Hilton Garden Inn, which is right next to the McPherson Square station.  This station is on the same line as the airport, so I didn’t have to change trains.

After checking in, I walked over to the expo, which was held at the Washington Convention Center.  I had some free time before dinner, so I did some sightseeing.  I was near the Washington Monument and the White House, so I walked over to the National Mall to take pictures.

Next I went to Museum of Natural History.  This is one of the many Smithsonian Museums.  Deb and I saw a few of the other museums on our first trip to DC, but never made it to this one.  Even with two and a half hours, I didn’t have time to see everything in the museum.

Later, I had dinner with my friend Scot at Ella’s Wood Fired Pizza.  This is a restaurant that Deb and I discovered on our last trip to DC.  Conveniently, it’s also within walking distance of the hotel.  There was a large group of Marathon Maniacs meeting for dinner, but they weren’t getting together until 7:00.  I didn’t get much sleep Thursday night, so I needed to have an earlier dinner and get to sleep early.

When I did the National Marathon in 2010, it started and finished near RFK Stadium.  Rock N Roll DC still finishes in the same place, but the start is now on the National Mall.  I was able to walk to the start from my hotel.

I got about six and a half hours sleep.  Normally, I’d be happy with that, but I was struggling with lack of sleep for the last week.  On average, I’ve been getting about five hours.  The worst was Thursday night, when I only slept for an hour and a half.  I was feeling tired and run down.  I’ve had good races in spite of a sleep deficit, but this time I could see the handwriting on the wall.  I suspected I might have to moderate my pace.

In the last five months, I’ve had more than my share of races with cold, wet and/or windy conditions.  This one was no exception.  When I woke up, it was 44 degrees and raining.  It was supposed to warm to 48 by the start of the race and continue warming into the low 50s by the time I finished.  According to the hourly forecast, the chance of rain would hover between 49 and 66% for the rest of the morning.

I know how to dress for 50 and rainy.  At least I know what’s worked for me in the past.  Lately, it seems I’m more sensitive to cold conditions than I used to be.  I wore tights, a long sleeve polypro shirt, a singlet, polypro gloves and Gore-Tex mittens.  I was originally going to wear a warm headband, but opted for a regular running hat at the last minute.  I was worried I’d be way overdressed if the rain stopped.  I also brought a plastic rain poncho, which I kept in a fanny pack.  I didn’t plan to wear it, but wanted to have an extra layer – just in case.

There are several subway stations within walking distance of the start, and they’re served by different lines.  Even still, with thousands of runners trying to get to the same place at the same line, the trains can get congested.  The race organizers recommended arriving at the start an hour early.  Standing around in the rain for an hour isn’t my idea of fun.  Fortunately, I didn’t have to.  I could walk to the start in 12 minutes, so I waited until 7:00 to leave.  The race started at 7:30, so I was still 18 minutes early.  I should have waited another 10 minutes.  To save time, I didn’t check a gear bag.  That would also save time later, in the finish area. 

I didn’t line up with a pace group.  I started running at a pace that felt sustainable, but wasn’t too casual.  It wasn’t long before most of the runners around me were going the same pace, so I was running with the pack.

The first mile is mostly along the National Mall.  We started near the Washington Monument and quickly passed the White House.  I had to watch out for puddles, so it was hard to watch for landmarks.  The Lincoln Memorial is hard to miss, because we were running right toward it as we reached the first water stop.

At two miles, we reached the Arlington Memorial Bridge, which we would cross twice.  I enjoyed this part of the course.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever been on this bridge before.  The two mile mark was also the first place where I checked my pace.  I ran the first two miles in 16:10.  That’s just a bit slower than my usual marathon pace, but I wasn’t inclined to pick up the pace.  I maintained my effort.  For now, I wasn’t committing to any time goals.  I wanted to wait and see how I felt.

We made a quick loop on the Arlington side of the bridge and headed back across.  As we started our return trip, it brought back a childhood memory.  My earliest memory is seeing TV coverage of John F. Kennedy’s funeral procession.  I can still recall the images of his casket being transported across this bridge.  I was only two and a half years old at the time.

As we reached the Washington side of the bridge, we came to the three mile mark.  Although I made no effort to speed up, I was now slightly ahead of an 8:00 pace.  I continued to run with the crowd.  In the next mile, I started to feel slightly warm.  The feeling wouldn’t last.

Next, we turned onto Rock Creek Parkway.  This was my favorite part of the course.  Even though there weren’t any leaves on the trees, I enjoyed the scenery.  I continued to run slightly ahead of an 8:00 pace until we reached a steep hill at six miles.

Not wanting to tire myself out, I took the hill at a conservative pace.  When I reached the top, other runners started to pull away from me.  I wanted to make sure I recovered from the hill before resuming my previous pace.  From that point on, I was listening to my body and running my own pace.  I was no longer influenced by the runners around me.  I was willing to let people go by.

At seven miles, I saw that I was now about 45 seconds behind the pace I would need for 3:30.  I wasn’t going to worry about that.  I didn’t think 3:30 was in the cards.  If it was, I could try to make up the time in the second half.

For the next few miles, we ran through the Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and Pleasant Plains neighborhoods.  Even though I was letting other runners go by, I was only a few seconds per mile slower than my pace before the hill.

Next, we turned onto North Capitol Street.  I could see the dome of the U.S. Capitol in the distance.  We were going into the wind now.  It wasn’t a strong wind, but it was cold.  Even with two layers, my hands gradually became numb.  I’ve lost count of the number of recent races where I’ve had numb hands for two or three hours.

It was somewhere along this stretch that I felt the insole move within my right shoe.  That’s a problem I often have when my shoes get wet.  Once it start, it gets worse quickly.  For the rest of the race, my insole would be bunched up under my toes.  There was no cushioning under my heel, and my toes were uncomfortable.  That wore on me psychologically.  I was already resigned to the fact that I was feeling tired today.  I was resigned to being cold and wet.  On top of that, my toes would be in pain.  I still had over 15 miles to go, and every step was going to hurt.

Around 11 miles, a pace group caught up to me.  It was the 1:45 group for the half marathon.  I stayed with them briefly.  Then we started up a gradual hill, and I let them go.  As they went by, I saw that one of the pacers had a 3:30 sign.  The marathon 3:30 group and the half marathon 1:45 group were running together.  That made sense, since it’s the same average pace.  I was initially surprised that they were behind me until now.  Then I realized they must have started in a different corral.

After another mile, the two courses separated.  The half marathon route continued east toward the finish at RFK Stadium.  The marathon route made a couple turns and approached the Capitol from the back.  I reached the halfway mark in 1:46 and change.  I wasn’t that far behind a 3:30 pace, but I could see the 3:30 group gradually pulling away.  My only concern was finishing.  The second half was going to be tough.

Before long, we turned into the wind again.  I wondered if I would need the rain poncho.  I was already wet, but a layer of plastic would help me retain more body heat.  Putting it on wouldn’t be easy.  Just getting it out of my fanny pack would be difficult, now that my hands were numb.  I didn’t know how long it would take, and I didn’t want to stop.  I tried to reassure myself that we would have the wind at our backs later in the race.

Between miles15 and 17, there was an out-and-back section with a few turns.  At times, we had the wind at our backs, and I was more comfortable.  When I turned into the wind again, I wondered again how long I could hold out without putting on the rain poncho.

After the out-and-back section, we turned onto a bridge. At first, I didn’t know where we were. Then I remembered that the late miles were mostly southeast of the Anacostia River.  We were crossing the river.

As we began following the river, we had some relief from the wind.  I was still cold.  I needed the poncho.  I saw that we were going under a large bridge.  That seemed like a good place to stop.  At least I’d be temporarily out of the rain.  There were some spectators watching the race from underneath the bridge.  I asked a couple to help me with the poncho.  I don’t think I could have done it by myself.

At 20 miles, I looked at my watch for the first time since the halfway mark.  My time was 2:45 and change.  I was slowing down, but no more than I expected.  At this point, my goals were keep running, finish and break four hours.  If I did the first two, I would do the third.

I expected the late miles to look familiar, since the National Marathon also followed the southeast bank of the Anacostia.  Some parts were familiar, such as the loop through Anacostia Park.  Other parts I didn’t recognize.

It took a few miles, but I started to feel warmer with the rain poncho.  My hands didn’t feel much better, but my core was warmer.

It wasn’t until the final mile that I could see where I was.  First I saw the roof of RFK Stadium.  As I got closer, I saw the river.  I forgot what the last bridge looked like.  Fortunately, it was flat.  As we approached the stadium, I could see the last turn and how we entered the parking lot.  I also saw a stream of people heading to my left.  They were wearing space blankets, so I could tell they were finishers.  Knowing there was only one subway station near the finish area, I realized that was the line of people walking toward the Stadium/Armory station.

I finished in 3:45:40.  Usually, I find any finish slower than 3:30 to be disappointing.  At the moment, I was just glad to be finished.  The design of the finisher medal included the Lincoln Memorial.

After receiving my medal and a space blanket, I moved past the food tables.  I only took things I could finish eating quickly.  My ability to carry things was limited.  I spotted the tent for finisher jackets and headed there next.  This is something new at Rock N Roll races.  Marathon finishers each get one of these.

Finally, I started following the crowd toward the Stadium/Armory station to catch a train.  It was nearly a mile away.  When I was two blocks from the station, the line stopped.  You can only fit so many people on each train, so a long line had built up.  It was cold, windy and rainy.  Now that I wasn’t running, it was harder to stay warm.  I was reminded of the gear check line at Little Rock, but at least this line was moving.

When I got into the station, I was glad I already had a Metro card.  The people who didn’t had another long line inside the station to buy their passes.  Once I was on a train, it was easier to stay warm.  After reaching my station, I only had to cross the street to get back to Hilton Garden Inn.  It took time to warm up my hands, but now they’re better.

This was my second marathon in DC.  While I wasn’t able to break 3:30, I’m glad I could break four hours.  I’m working on a second circuit of sub4 marathons in each state.  Now I also have two in DC.

I don’t know how many more cold wet races I can do.  Next weekend I’m in Atlanta.  The long range forecast calls for – you guessed it – 45 and rainy.


  1. Whoa - that finisher jacket is nice! Nice to see that RNR is finally making their full marathon participants feel welcome and not just like that race is an add-on to the half.

    I ran in Alabama this weekend and it was supposed to be pouring, but the forecast ended up getting better and better so in the end it didn't rain at all. Crossing my fingers for you!

  2. Sounds like the marathon I ran a few weeks ago - cold with some rain. Puddle hopping makes a race harder. Congrats on your great finish time!

  3. I was supposed to run the half marathon at this race, but I was sick and stayed home. I felt bad for Scot and all of you out there in the rain for hours. Interesting that you mention the distance from the finish to the Metro. Last year I did something interesting. I ran the RNR DC 5K, which started and ended at RFK Stadium. I ran through the finish chute and kept running to the Metro because I had another race in Arlington (a 4 miler) that same morning! The RNR 5K started at 7:30. The 4 miler started at 9:00. I made it there just in time for my second race!