Back on March 11th, my wife and I were in Washington D.C. to run this year’s ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ D.C. Marathon. This was our first ‘RnR’ race outside of Philadelphia where we have run the Half Marathon each of the last few years. This was our chance to run multiple ‘RnR’ races in one year and earn one of the extra medals in their ‘Heavy Medals‘ series.
We had signed up for this marathon with the added incentive that Marathon Finishers were to receive a special jacket for completion of the race. We are pretty easily motivated by free swag and so that was the mantra for our all the winter training to be ready for the early (or just pre) spring race.
Our big fear training through the training was that it could be a bad winter. Actually, it was pretty mild. We did lose a couple of days of training due to snow and ice but for the majority of the workouts we were able to run outside, especially on some of the longer runs. In fact, the last long run for this marathon occurred in February when we were able to dress in t-shirts and shorts as the weather was so good.
During our last long run together I said we had been incredibly lucky with the weather which was when my wife yelled at me for jinxing us. Just because I had said this she started to say she would blame me if the weather turned bad. Oops.
As we got closer to race weekend the forecast kept getting colder and conditions worse. I felt a little unsure of my safety…I had to keep reminding my wife about the jacket…it’s all about the free jacket. In fact, the day we left for the race (Friday morning) there were a couple of inches of snow on the ground and the weather driving down to D.C. was pretty bad until we got to Maryland where it cleared up. As you can see from the screenshot below, it wasn’t going to the kind of weather for t-shirt and shorts.
We arrived at the D.C. Armory early in the afternoon and were fortunate enough to find a parking space right outside the building. While the sun was still shining, it was far from nice weather. It was cold and windy. There was quite a lot of security to get into the building (every bag was checked and we were all scanned by a security wand). This led to waiting lines outside the building and it wasn’t exactly good weather for queuing up either. In fact, I had to run back to the car to grab some jackets as we were standing in line for a while.
Once inside the expo we were led downstairs to bib pickup. We also had the chance to try on the Marathon Finisher jackets to make sure we had selected the right size. Bib pickup was fairly simple and t-shirt exchange was easy.
Once we were done with pickup we headed up to the main floor for the expo. This was typical Rock ‘n’ Roll series expo where Brooks Running had a significant presence followed by the general expo out on the rest of the floor. We didn’t pick up anything at this part of the expo but I did get to see the special edition Brooks Adrenaline Rock and Roll shoe. This happens to be the shoe I run in so I’ll keep my eye out for some discounts.
We then headed out to the main expo. Interestingly it was quite a small affair than what I had expected. We were quickly through the floor and didn’t really see anything unique that caught our eye.
Just before the exit to the expo Rock ‘n’ Roll had some race merchandise set up. Both my wife and I bought the same cool shirt, me the long sleeve and my wife the tank t-shirt.
I had signed up on the website to reserve spaces on the bus that would return us from the finish line back to the start line (this was a point to point race). I asked the information booth where to pick up the tickets. I was told all I needed to do was to show my receipt (the email) to the driver the next day. Sounds easy, so off we left for our hotel.
Outside the expo we bumped into my friend John who hosts the Runner of a Certain Age podcast (we recorded a race recap a few days later which you can listen to with this link). He was running the half marathon the next day. We probably wouldn’t see him the next day as the marathon started at 7am and the half marathon at 8:30am so we wished him luck and will probably catch up with him again at another race.
We then headed to check into our hotel and then meet up with a friend for a pre race dinner. We made a reservation at a restaurant near our hotel in Dupont Circle which was recommended by a fellow Mickey Miler teammate who works nearby. We met up with our friend Robyn and it was a nice relaxing meal. It was obviously a popular place pre-race as more runners seemed to check in for dinner (we figured that with the sneakers and their Rock ‘n’ Roll gear bags they were runners).
After dinner we stopped into Starbucks for my usual pre-marathon cookie. It’s a tradition I work hard to maintain 😉
As the weather was not expected to get above the mid-20s the next day I set out warmer clothes than I would normally run a race in. I used a jacket that I could zip open or closed depending on the conditions. It was more worried about waiting around at the start but I did have a plan for that.
As we were close by to the start line we were able to walk from our hotel. We got up at a reasonable time (my wife would tell you too early) and made our way to the lobby (she refused to leave until she saw another runner pass through the lobby). My wife was wearing her New York City Marathon finisher blanket and I was wearing my father’s old dressing gown that he left on his last visit from the UK. It was nice and warm and worked perfectly (although I looked like an escaped mental patient walking the streets of D.C.).
We walked to the starting area from our hotel as the sun was rising and noted other runners doing the same. As this was the National Mall where the Smithsonian Institute, the White House and all the other Governmental offices were situated I expected quite a lot of security around the perimeter. Certainly after how much there was at the Armory the day before. Instead there was none. There were no check points, nobody checked our bags. Really unexpected.
Once we were changed out of our warm gear (I decided to pack the robe rather than throw it at the start line) we headed into our corral.
The starting temperatures were in the low 20s. There were not many marathon runners and they brought the waves through very quickly. In fact, as they moved the waves forward we ended up actually on the start line rather than back of a corral so it was kind of weird to be right up front waiting for the word to go, but once we got the word we were off (and hopefully giving us a chance to warm up). We had been out of our plastic bags for a couple of minutes waiting at the start line and already I couldn’t feel the ends of my fingertips never mind my toes.
Here is the full marathon course map:
The first mile of the course took us around the Mall and a few of the surrounding Federal buildings. We actually passed by the White House within the first half mile (it was to our right). Again, I was amazed by the lack of any security…I wasn’t amazed by the lack of spectators as it was very early and very cold.
Thankfully it was a beautiful sunny day. As there were fewer marathoners overall and the half marathon wouldn’t start for another 90 minutes or so we had wide open space to run. When my wife and I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2015 there were 40,000 people running at the same time. This race had about 2,500 people running and this made it comfortable to run.
After rounding the Mall and the Federal buildings there we ran around the Kennedy Center and the Watergate Building Complex and onto a short out and back that took us along the back of the Lincoln Memorial and along the Potomac River. I can tell you from comparison of the both this race and the Marine Corps race that you get to see more of the District during this race. I think during the Marine Corps Marathon (technically starting and finishing in Arlington, VA) you only get 2-3 miles at the most in the District.
Between miles 5 and 6 of the course was the ‘inspiration – run to remember’ Blue Mile. It was all uphill but the side of the road showed pictures of all the fallen who have served our Country. As we neared the second half of the hill, members of the military and families of the fallen were holding American flags out for us as we passed by. It was a big hill but puts into perspective that it is just a hill and there are people who endure more on a day-to-day basis. For that reason, we could make the hill with no complaints.
We ran through some genteel neighborhoods in D.C. and the weather was sunny but still cold. The sun helped but you could definitely feel the cold when you hit shaded areas. It was nice running through the Howard University Campus around mile 8-9 and the drumline that was playing was pretty great. In one of the neighborhoods during the first half some spectators were handing out champagne and donut holes. Sweet.
As we run through the Capital Hill district just before mile 12 we got a beautiful view. It was a gorgeous looking area and the view of the Capital at the top was the only time during the race we decided we needed to stop and take a picture.
We rounded the corner into another nice neighborhood and we saw the markings where the half and the full were to split. The wind was picking up now and one of the directional signs blew down right in front of us. The split for the half occurred around mile 12.5 so we didn’t really see a glimpse of the finish line (actually it approached from a different direction than the full marathon). We still hadn’t seen any half marathoners as, although they would have already started, we were running a decent enough pace that even the leaders would have been a few miles behind us. We continued at a fairly decent pace. Pretty consistent actually and at this pace we would be on to beat my wife’s recent New York City Marathon PR from last November.
We hit the Washington Nationals Baseball Park just before mile 15 and the aid station before the bridge that would take us over to Anacostia Park along the river. This was the first time we saw that there were not enough volunteers manning the water stations. Most people were running the half marathon (13,000 vs 2,500) so we anticipated less spectators along the second half of the course but it seemed that also resulted in fewer people manning the water stops on the second half of the course. Don’t get me wrong, the volunteers were enthusiastic, there just were not enough to keep up with the runners. In fact, for most of the second half of the course water was the only thing available, no Gatorade, at many of the stops. You could see that the Gatorade mix was there in the boxes but there not enough volunteers to prepare the mixture let alone hand it out. It may have been something to do with the cold weather and I cannot fault Rock ‘n’ Roll because there were enough aid stations, just not enough people to manage.
The section from mile 15 to mile 18 is an out and back. Not much to see but you are always thankful when you reach the turnaround point. These are the tough miles in the marathon especially when it is an out and back. From mile 18 to around mile 21 we ran along the Anacostia River and a loop around the park. Although there wasn’t too much to see it was peaceful and thankfully all flat. The wind had again picked up and running along the water made the temperatures feel colder. We never really got warm during the race.
Okay then, here we go. As you leave the Anacostia Park area you enter Fort Dupont Park where there is an unfortunate hill, the second such hill of the day, however it was not a pretty sight at mile 23! It is both long and steep. We were becoming a little slower paced (still on for the PR) but we had managed to be caught by the 4:15 pace group. We watched them ‘attack’ the hill. The only thing I can tell you is that less than half of the group was still together at the top of the hill. It took a lot out of everyone. Unlike the hill around mile 5-6 there was not much to inspire, this was just a gutsy get to the top effort. We had to remind ourselves again about the jacket at the finish line 😉
Here is the elevation chart for the race. You can see both hills.
That last hill, positioned where it was on the course, took a toll. We slowed down quite a bit. My wife began to feel some discomfort in her knee. I could feel my calf muscles twinge from the elevation. As we made our way back to the finish we had to walk a bit. My wife told me to go ahead but I was not intending to leave her so we walked probably close to half a mile or so until we saw RFK stadium rise up in the distance. It was then a run/walk to the finish (we had run straight through until the hill and were making good time). By now we had slowed down and the PR was out the question, still I knew we would still get to the finish around four and a half hours which was just a few minutes slower than my wife’s New York City time.
The stadium was on the horizon but it was like a wind tunnel running up to the finish line. The wind had picked up again and it was just cold. Slowing down had allowed us to cool down which didn’t help either. Nevertheless we sucked it up and made a run to the finish. We rounded a small hairpin turn within the last quarter of a mile which is where the half met up with the full. The finish line was divided into two different sides and the finish chute for each race started as the two races met up. We crossed the line in 4:31:16 which considering our big slow down over the last 3 miles was not a disaster.
We stopped for a quick picture before looking for a mylar blanket to keep us warm. It was still only 26 degrees at this time of the day even before the wind chill. Brrrr….
This was my 18th full marathon and my wife’s 9th. It was, despite everything, a good day.
We made our way through the finish line area to pick up some water and other refreshments. I like Rock ‘n’ Roll races as there is always chocolate milk at this finish line. This race was no different. However, as it was so cold it was like drinking a milk shake. I got brain freeze. My wife was so cold she couldn’t drink it. Our mylar wraps were blowing around and not really keeping us warm so we hurried over to the bag check to get our warm gear out again.
We then had to line up for our Marathon Finisher jackets. After all, this is why we did this, right? Apparently, so did everyone else!!! Long lines but they moved fairly smoothly.
Once we had the jackets it was a matter of finding the shuttle back to the start. I had my tickets so I headed to the information booth. The lady at the information booth said that there were no shuttles and didn’t know what I was talking about. The map did however show a VIP shuttle area so we headed over to the VIP area to ask about the shuttles to the start line. No one had any idea what we were talking about. The map did say where they were supposed to be so albeit with little help from anyone who knew anything about RFK stadium we made our way to where the shuttles were said to be parked. There was a lot of walking involved….and stairs. We were not happy (or optimistic at this point).
The only problem was, no shuttles. Any empty parking lot. Ugh. We made our way to where the roads were open to traffic and decided to call for an UBER (this would be my first!!!) We had no money so the taking the Metro was out. This was not smart and totally my fault. I had four fully loaded Metro cards back in the hotel but I was relying on the shuttle so I didn’t bring them along. As we approached what appeared to be every UBER users’ rendezvous point we stood and waited for ours to arrive. Luckily ours seem to arrive ahead of everyone else and so we took it back to the hotel which was better than the shuttle would have done for us anyway. The driver even cranked up the heat for us in the back. We were very grateful.
We made it back to our hotel and grabbed some coffee to warm up. We showered and got ready to head out for a late lunch. We took time to admire that darned jacket!!!!
So that we didn’t stiffen up we decided to take a walk from our hotel around the local area and grab a bite to eat. We filled up on warm yummy food and indulged in an awesome peanut butter milkshake (which we did share). Notice my wife is wearing her marathon finisher jacket 🙂
We took another UBER into the District and spent the afternoon at the National Museum of American History. Specifically the Armed Forces exhibit which we didn’t get to fully see when we came with the boys last summer. We were in the museum until it closed around 5pm and then took the rest of the day walking through the Mall and back to our hotel where we were pretty much beat for the day.
The next morning we had brunch plans with a friend of my wife. We did have a reservation but it was still an hour or so wait for a table. We gave the restaurant manager our cell number and he said he would call us around 15 minutes before our table would be available. We took advantage to walk around the George Washington University Campus where we were and then headed over to the Lincoln Memorial. It was a glorious sunny morning (still not warm but warmer than the day before). What a great finish to our weekend.
Despite the cold we really enjoyed the race. The course was beautiful but the hills were tough. It was definitely worth more than just the jacket.
Thank you for reading (I know this is really really late).