Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon Race Report

Breaking my blog hiatus to write up some really quick thoughts on the Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon, which was yesterday. I felt really, really bad about how I did right after the race yesterday, but as the afternoon wore on I realized I was being ridiculous and it was a really great learning experience, and then this morning I looked at what I wrote about running that marathon and I felt even more ridiculous. So, actually, I think I did pretty well.

Even so, the long and short of it is that I absolutely hated running this race. I was MISERABLE. My time was fine, it was 1:43 or something. It was a PR and all that, and on a much hillier course than my previous half marathon best (which was the first half of the marathon I ran), so I suppose I should be proud of that. But a lot of things went super wrong, and so I’m trying to take the lessons of this race and apply them to training going forward.

Most important things first: fauna sighting for this race were entirely dogs. I saw a dalmatian (!!!), a really great german shepherd, and lots of labradoodles and bernadoodles. I thought I saw an owl on the walk over, but it wasn’t an owl. Also I hate birds so I didn’t even want it to be an owl.1

Before the Race

I screwed up a lot of things WAY before this race. I went for a swim that nearly killed me two days before. I was trying so hard to hit a number that I almost ran head first into the wall of the pool. Not good. I hate the feeling of not working out, and so the temptation to go running was also super high. I pulled back on running but unhelpfully went for a pretty challenging spin bike ride. It was less than my normal load, but obviously not enough, because on Saturday I was still really sore.

I also decided that Saturday morning at 5:00AM, when I should have been eating breakfast and stretching and stuff, was a really great time to finish a chapter on the book I was working on. Inspiration hits at the worst possible time.

And, of course, right before the race is was SO FREAKING COLD and I was just dying. Gear check was near the Natural History Museum’s front entrance, while the starting line was all the way down on Constitution. I surrendered my coat to gear check as late as I could, but I still had half an hour to kill. It was so cold that, even though I knew this was stupid as I did it, I kept my gloves. Down near the starting line, everyone was huddled around a piece of machinery that happened to be generating a tiny amount of heat. I hid next to a Dunkin Donuts truck exhaust pipe trying to stay warm. I hate being cold. So I was in a really shitty mood.

it me

The Race

I knew that being in a crowd was going to be really hard for me, and so I waited a really long time before I went up to my coral. I was in Coral 2, and I got really intimidated because there were a lot of people who looked like they knew what they were doing, and more than one person with Ragnar socks and Ironman tattoos. I wore my fancy Adidas pants and my favorite Oiselle shirt, so I probably fit right in. I don’t really feel out of place at events like this any more; it’s more of a memory of panic than actual panic that I’m “not supposed to be here.” If you don’t know: in a big race, the race organizers put you in corals based on your estimated finish time, in order to spread out the race. Faster people go closer to the front, and it gets slower towards the back. So, theoretically, I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I still felt really self conscious about it though.

As I was saying, I started off pretty close to the front, but at a big race like this, it’s still just completely choked with people. In my limited previous experience, I’ve been so hyped up from being terrified of crowds that I just charge to the front and get the hell out of there. I had kind of depended on that to get me sprinting out of the gate. In a race this size, though, what happens is you get squished between people and you just can’t pass without zigzagging all over tarnation. And everyone else is doing the same thing, trying to sort themselves out, so it’s really difficult to make choices about how fast you’re going to run. You’re mostly just avoiding other people. So even though I ran pretty fast that first three miles, I still felt like I was just running so, so slow. I also couldn’t feel my feet literally at all from the cold. It felt like running with ice boots on. I was worried about that, because when I did a marathon, I gave myself tendinitis in my feet, and so I’ve tried to be really attentive to the difference between good pain and bad pain. But, like, if you can’t feel your feet, you just have to kind of hope for the best.

I was not at ALL into this race for the first three miles. I was tired and sore and I really just wanted to go home. We went under a highway that seemed like it lasted forever, and I was just miserable and bored. Early in the race (but not early enough) it occurred to me that maybe I should, you know, eat something, or drink something. And–shocker–I started to feel better pretty soon after. So even though I was running slower for the middle of the race, I was choosing to run slower, because I was making a really poorly executed attempt to pace myself.

Now, I was generally aware that there is a hill in this half marathon. But let me just pause here and say: fuck that hill. It is my new least favorite hill. It’s not particularly steep compared to Georgetown, but it is very, very long, and it’s right smack dab in the middle of the race. There’s a whole alley of cheering just for that stupid goddamn hill.

The hill was actually good for me, though, because one thing I know how to do is run up goddamn hills. “Up a hill” is basically the only possible run from where I live. So it was a nice reset in confidence, and I had a way better attitude about everything after that. Plus, someone shouted “Go Oiselle” in my general direction, and I decided they were cheering for me, even though they could have been cheering for any of the other 20% of coral 2 runners wearing similar shirts.

My original strategy was to try to hover around 8:00 miles and stay under 8:30 overall, because that would keep me well under 2 hours, and get me to my goal of 1:45. I did manage to hold to a pace under 8:30 for pretty much the whole race. I kept feeling like I could have gone faster, but I was really afraid to, because I had no sense of how much further I had to go. I kept looking at my watch and the mile markers, but then I would worry that I would burn out if I went any faster. More consistent training at the right pace would have solved this for me. Given that after the race I marched up the Woodley metro escalator like I always do, I think I could have pushed harder. One of my major takeaways is that I need to actually do tempo runs and race simulations, because otherwise I’m going to just keep being disappointed.

Here’s the thing, though: this was one of the big frustrations I had for that marathon too. Except, in my marathon, it was the same thing one minute slower. Then, I was shocked that I could easily run 8 minute miles. Now it’s being surprised that I can easily run 7 minute miles. I thought I got the time wrong, but it’s actually that I got faster. So the takeaway here is that I need to start doing benchmarks, because I just have no idea where this is going to plateau out for me, because I have never tried to do anything like this before. Can I run a 6 minute mile? I would have said no, but now I’m not so sure. Maybe I can. I guess I’ll see.

But, back to the race: after the Rock Creek Park hill you basically wind your way through Adams Morgan, down towards the reservoir, down H street, and through Capitol Hill. Which I’m sure, for most people, is really nice. There were a lot of really good dogs that I didn’t stop to pet. One of the things I thought about on this run, though, is how much I hate running on the road. I really, really hate it. I prefer running around where there are deer and trees and stuff. I think it’s supposed to be cool, all the deserted streets, but really it just made me think of errands I need to run and what I need to put on my grocery list. Running in the forest makes me feel like a bear loping through the woods.2 I tried pretending it was the zombie apocalypse and we were all running for our lives but some of us were zombies, but I just wasn’t into it.

So, the last few miles I mostly thought, “Maybe I should go faster? Can I run like hell yet?” and then kept saying no until pretty late. And then it was over.

After The Race

I was really disappointed in myself after this half marathon. I think it’s good to hang on to that completely artificial feeling of shame that you can only have for yourself. I know I could have done better, but every single person I know will only tell me I did a good job because it’s not like I’m a competitive athlete in the first place. Just trying is a good job. And that is absolutely true. I do think I did a good job, in that sense of ‘good job.’ But if you’re trying to get better at something, I think you have to be hard on yourself, because your friends and family will always try to let you off the hook and make you feel better, as they should.

I’m also aware that it’s a little weird to take things like this seriously when there’s no possible way I could ever be objectively good at it. It’s a hobby. I am not actually competitive. I’m never going to win a race. Ever. But I think taking things seriously is just how I enjoy things, so I guess it’s ok that it’s a little weird that I actually do care.

So anyway, I beat myself up about this until I got bored of beating myself up, and then got Nando’s and bought a bunch of books, and started figuring out how to do better next time.

The takeaways I have from this race are basically the same as last time: I need to pay way better attention to what I’m eating and drinking, I need to actually taper like I’m supposed to, and I need to fix the paces and terrains I’m using for training.

I’m not yet sure how to convince Future Me to actually do the first two tasks, but I’ve been working on number 3 by learning how to use Training Peaks properly to design workouts that are at the right pace for what I’m trying to achieve.

And actually…quick thought, since I have a feeling Future Me is the only person who will ever read this as she compares the horrible aftermath of the next race I do to this one in the past, here’s a message in a bottle: Hey, Future Me! Whatever race you ran that brought you back to this page, you did a good job.

Bye internet!

  1. I was totally disappointed it wasn’t an owl.
  2. Shut up bears can be fast.