Runner's Resource - A Running Blog
Navy - Air Force Half-Marathon
September 26, 2016 Lindsey N. Dyn
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Last Sunday’s (9/18/2016) Navy - Air Force Half-Marathon served as a tune-up race. Right now I’m deep into marathon training and after the multiple 16+ milers these past few weeks, I started to develop running route fatigue. Part of my scheduled 20 miler, I couldn’t resist adding some more bling to my wall, running a new route with thousands of my closest (i.e. sweatiest) running comrades, and getting caught up in all the awesomeness that epitomizes races.
Sun rising behind Washington Monument on my pre-half-marathon warm-up run
Runner’s Expo & Packet Pickup:
Held at the Nationals Ballpark in downtown D.C., initially the expo seemed promising as they advertised tours of the ballpark. Tours were only offered once every hour and since we hit traffic on our way into the city, we missed the timeframe I was shooting for. Free parking was offered in a garage right next to the stadium, which for anyone who has ever been in D.C. knows is nice. We arrived at the parking garage approximately an half an hour after the expo opened and already I saw numerous people with swag bags walking back to their cars. To me, this was not a good sign. While packet pickup was well organized, the number of vendors present was extremely small and for the most part not targeted to runners. Obviously the race course nutrition sponsors (UCAN) were there and I had an opportunity to sample their products, which were good, but the remaining vendors were in the realm of transportation providers (a ride share service, Lyft), a credit union, etc. A small amount of race merchandise was for sale but only two people were manning the registers, resulting in long lines. We were able to explore a limited area of the park with close views of the field when it became clear that being able to walk/run the field was not part of the advertised ballpark tour. That was really the only interest I had in the tour, so after seeing that, I wasn’t upset that we missed our tour window. Overall, I was less than impressed with the runner’s expo but I didn’t let that dash my excitement about the next day’s race.
Race Day Parking/Transportation:
The Navy - Air Force race events started at 7 AM so Metro was not an option. I parked at the garage underneath my work building and ran to the starting line since I had extra miles to get in anyway. As I was getting my additional miles in, I saw several people take advantage of street parking. Another option for parking garages was Parking Panda, which apparently contracted with several garages within a reasonable distance of the start. If you didn’t want to drive to the race, other advertised transportation options were Lyft (which is a carshare service like Uber), and also bikeshare services such as Capital Bikeshare and Two Wheel Valet. Obviously since I drove in, I can’t vouch on the quality of the aforementioned services, but they sounded like nice options (because hey, variety is the spice of life).
Course & Course Support:
Both the half and the 5 miler started with a patriotic backdrop, right next to the Washington Monument. Standing in the starting corral with my trusty Camelbak, stuffed with gels, keys, ID, phone, and headlamp, in addition to at least a liter of water, I felt like such a high-maintenance runner. That soon washed away, though, as our united running community stood proud as a member of our military sang the National Anthem. I was overcome with humility, watching the thousands of military and civilians that support them, with hands above hearts, publicly recognizing what makes this country great. Before the starting bell, the race organizers honored each branch of the military, which was met by applause and several ‘Hoorah’s. The first wave started with the wheelchair and Wounded Warriors athletes, followed by two waves of runners. A self-proclaimed ‘middle to back-of-the pack runner’, I started in the second wave. The entire first 3 miles was a solid mass of runners. Having run in a number of larger races, this was pretty much what I had come to expect, but the constant weaving in and out of runners, and jumping on and off sidewalks was a little annoying (but again expected).
While the mass of runners thinned out to where I could maintain a manageable pace, the entire race was still very runner heavy. The course was well marked, even when the half-marathon and 5-mile runners diverged. Relatively flat and fast, this is a course with the potential of a PR (spoiler alert) if you can navigate the other runners (aka obstacle course). The race route featured some picturesque views of the Washington Monument, shoreline of the Potomac River, and on the last stretches of the race, Arlington Cemetery and the Air Force Memorial. The course hit some of the patriotic highlights of Washington, D.C., but I think a different route had the potential for more.
On course support was manned with hundreds of volunteers handing out water and nutrition (UCAN) at regular intervals. I had never had UCAN before (I typically rely on gels) but I violated one of the race day rules and tried both the UCAN Superstarch and Hydrate varieties. The Superstarch was very liquid-y, with just enough sweetness (but no added sugar) to make it palatable. The on course Hydrate was Berry flavored, quite tasty and refreshing. During my entire 20 miles I only took in one gel, along with the Superstarch and Hydrate drinks. And…no bonking! I was pleasantly surprised that not only could I make it through 20 miles with only one gel, but also that the UCAN didn’t cause any stomach distress. I’ll have to check it out on some additional training runs, but I may be a UCAN convert!
I typically don’t run races with my phone but the hubby wasn’t there, I was running the race alone, and I wanted to track my miles with CharityMiles to earn some easy money for charity. At least two times during the race I kept hearing my phone going off with text messages. Who in the heck is texting me this early? I didn’t check it until after the race (because who wants to break stride?), but it turns out I was tracking myself through ChronoTrack Live. I’m aware of runner tracking, but have no idea how I ended up tracking myself.
A decent portion of the race felt like a struggle, but I must have been doing something right, because even with a few brief walking periods and a 4.5 mile ‘warm-up’ before the half, I’m super excited to announce that I set a new PR (personal record)! 2 hours, 17 minutes, and 51 seconds.
We had a break in the heat, but not the humidity. Partly sunny, or cloudy depending on your perspective, we had enough sunshine to make the race cheerful but not so much that you needed sunglasses. I was running behind a few guys sweating so much it looked like they had just jumped in a pool with their clothes on. I had been training in equal or worse weather all summer so it didn’t seem too horrible to me. Not ideal, but doable.
Swag Bag & Medal:
Overall the swag bag was OK; not the best I’ve ever had but definitely not the worst. Included was the race T-shirt, a coozie, a headband/buff, and a few advertisements but nothing that jumped out at me. The long-sleeved T-shirt was well designed and fit well (men’s sizes). Perhaps the physical swag bag was light because the organizers opted for a virtual iGift bag. This was emailed out to race participants a few days before the race. I’ve had a few virtual gift bags before, but was disappointed with this one’s contents: a discount for UCAN, reduced entry to a half-marathon in West Virginia, and the remaining discounts were for the ride/bikeshare/parking services the race had partnered with for race day transportation. Where the swag bag lacked, the medal rocked! Measuring a respectable 3 inches, it featured red, white, and blue, the Washington Monument, and icons representing our armed forces.
I didn’t stick around too long for the post-race festivities since I had a few more miles to finish and if I got home before the hubby left for work, I was promised stuffed French toast. Bottles of water and samples of UCAN protein were available. I also grabbed a food box and banana to take with me. The goodies inside were pretty tasty/tasty looking (I still have some stashed away). Tons of people were scattered around the Washington Monument, recovering, eating, and taking in the music.
While the swag bag and expo left much to be desired, overall I would rank the race 4 stars. The physical course and the course support were great, the weather (which the organizers have no control over) was tolerable, and the medal was stylish, pretty big, and added to my sense of accomplishment. The patriotic vibe reverberated throughout the entire race: from the runners in costume (Captain America), the patriots running the entire race carrying the American flag, to the military personnel competing, some Wounded Warriors. Well planned, well executed, overall a great, enjoyable experience.
All images copyright by Lindsey N. Dyn, 2016.
Looking for your next race? Sign up for the Beat the Beast virtual race series in October. Our Halloween-themed race is supporting the Melanoma Research Foundation and spoiler alert: our medal is even bigger than the Navy-Air Force Half-Marathon medal. Register by clicking on the link above.
Until next time, happy running!