Back story: This is the third time I’ve registered for the Army Ten Miler. I’ve had this race in my sights for five years. In 2010 I got in but had to DNS because three weeks of ridiculously intense MBA orientation totally derailed my training. Last year I was registered and on target with my training until I got put into the walking boot – there was no way I could have
walked hobbled the race in my boot and still hit the time cutoffs. This year… this year nothing was getting in my way.
Last weekend was amazing. The end.
Okay, really, it was great. I stayed in Bethesda, outside of the District, because hotels are way cheaper, but also because it’s an area that I know well and am happy in. It’s urban but suburban, all American but very global (big French influence there). And I had a one-bedroom suite with a kitchen all to myself. Heaven! I am very happy that my parents graciously let me move back home last year when life got a bit rough, but there’s just something about having your own space – even if just for four days.
Maybe it was because I was bummed out from not running and just happy to be at the expo, but last year’s expo seemed to be a lot better than this year’s. It was super empty (not necessarily a problem, that’s why I went so early) and I didn’t really have any intentions of buying anything, but there just wasn’t as much to look at nor a lot of free stuff. I did “splurge” and get myself a logo-ed glass from the event, but it promptly got dropped and smashed to bits by the valet guy at the hotel. Sad face. To make myself feel better I drove out to my favorite Japanese place in Rockville and got myself takeaway dinner. A big pile of rice counts are carbo-loading, right??
I stayed up far later than I ought to’ve Friday night watching the O’s game then went to a job fair on Saturday morning down in Crystal City. The job fair wasn’t exactly a rousing success, but it did give me an opportunity to see the race area before hand, which always helps to calm my nerves before a big, new race. Afterwards I came home and made myself some fettuccine alfredo, watched the second O’s game, and foam rolled until I could foam roll no more. Saturday evening I enjoyed some apricot chicken with rice that I made earlier in the week and brought with me. Super yum. Yes, it really is all about the food.
Saturday night I got everything ready – and quadruple checked everything – and set my alarm for 4:45am. The metro train left at 6:06am and I was paranoid about missing it, even though the station was only two blocks away. I know.
So naturally, I was wide awake at 3:30am. After checking the news, facebook, and twitter on my phone I admitted defeat and rolled out of bed at 4:10am. At least I could enjoy a leisurely morning? I was admittedly a bit apprehensive about going to a big race by myself – this would be the first time I’ve ever done that – but it turns out that’s something I’ll have to worry about some other time. My ex and I are on good terms and are trying very hard to be friends, and he came down and surprised me so I wouldn’t have to be alone on race day. It was nice to have someone to talk to who knows my race day routine and moods.
It was a quick and easy ride to the Pentagon for the race. If you’re not familiar with DC, the Pentagon is on the other side of the river from DC and when you ride the yellow line to the Pentagon, the track goes over the water. It was so dark still when we popped out of the tunnel that I actually had to stop and focus to see that we were, in fact, above ground. Off to the east you could see the slightest hint that sunrise was approaching, but it was still pitch dark. Just a few minutes later, after arriving at the Pentagon, the sun decided to join the party.
This was the first time I had ever been to the Pentagon so it was super awe-inspiring for the foreign policy/strategy nerd that I am. After taking in the location for a few, we walked over to the race staging area. I have never seen so many ports-pots in my life. Truly. It was like a runner’s dream come true. Every where you looked – porta-poties. Every corral had them. The non-secure area for the public had them. They had them lined up by the starting line. It was truly amazing. Kudos to whomever placed that order! Job well done.
As part of the morning ceremonies several men parachuted in.
Then I made my way over to my corral to begin the long wait. There were a few announcements, a prayer for the Army and the runners both here and abroad, and the National Anthem (I have never heard such silence during the Anthem – even the porta-pot line stopped) and before we knew it the wounded warriors and the first wave were off! There were 8 waves in total, 8 minutes in between each wave – and I was in wave 6. The soldiers escorting us did a great job of keeping everyone in order and keeping us moving. I didn’t get a really good warm up in, but at least I got something in. Before too much longer we were lining up at the start. I was three rows back – the farthest up I’ve ever been! And with the heart-stopping boom of the Howitzer, our race was under way!
The race starts on a highway and runs along the highway for the first mile, just near the corner of Arlington Cemetery. I was trying my best to run by feel rather than by Garmin, but I must admit I was surprised to see how quickly I was moving without even realizing it. My side stitches came back just around this point, but they weren’t nearly as painful as they were at the track on Tuesday.
The second mile was spent crossing the Potomac, running right towards the Lincoln Memorial, then we veered off towards Constitution for a bit before running up 21st St. past the State Department. Having worked in this area of DC it was bittersweet being back “home.” It made me smile to see my old haunts, but I wish I didn’t have to refer to them in the past tense. After running around State we made our way over to the Watergate Complex and down the Potomac towards the Kennedy Center. If you’ve never had the opportunity to run along the riverfront, I highly recommend it. It is surprisingly serene and the view is amazing no matter which direction you turn.
Up until this point the crowd support had been fairly modest, much less than I would have expected for a race of 30,000 and I felt like I was doing a lot of dodging and weaving of walkers and super-slow-motion runners. I thought the wave start wouldn’t helped thin that out a bit, but it just never ended.
Just as we came to the Washington Monument we hit the halfway point – and I did it in under 50 minutes!! Woohoo!! Once I hit five miles I stopped to take a Gu and get a good drink of water (and catch my breath). I truly had no idea just how fast I had been running. Luckily we had had some shade, but that was about to change. Running along Independence Ave we gained a lot more crowd support, but the majority of the road was in the sun at this point. Just after mile 7 we began the surprisingly long journey back to Virginia – I never knew the river was so damn wide!! It isn’t really, but the bridge was easily a mile and a half long. In the direct sun. With no breeze. And no crowd.
Somewhere around 7.5-7.75 mi my mind started telling me “it’s okay to walk.” I had to beat it into submission sooner rather than later before it got the best of me. I did take one short walk break, about a minute, half way across, but stubbornly pushed onward as hard as I could. As I was ascending the third hump of the bridge, I could finally see the exit point – which meant the race was almost over! I didn’t know exactly what the distance was, but I knew 9 miles wasn’t too far beyond that. We finally worked our way down the off ramp, enjoying what little shade there was and turned left back towards the Pentagon. I didn’t know these roads and was having a hard time playing the mental games you sometimes have to play in a hard race, but I kept telling my mind to shut up and commanded my legs to keep moving. There was one bridge (!!) to get over and then we were all but home free. Just after crossing that bridge I could begin to see familiar sights. Then a little bit further, I saw the black Army flags lining the home stretch. Yes! We’re really almost there!!
For the last half mile I battled my mind and my legs. My hip was getting tight and it took all my willpower to keep my feet moving. But I couldn’t stop. Not here. No matter how dizzy I was, no matter how tired I was, I wasn’t voluntarily stopping at 9.5 miles. If my body wasn’t to stop that badly, it’d have to take some drastic measures.
I remember passing the photographers and forcing a smile for one, but then saying to myself “fuck it – it takes energy to smile, energy which my legs need. I feel like crap, let me look like crap in the pictures.” Plus, the pictures are so horribly over-priced it’s not like I was going to be buying one anyway. Just a few more steps. As soon as the finish line was in sight I turned on the afterburners. Finally! I did it! I ran and finished the Army Ten Miler!!
This was one of the first times I truly raced. I raced myself, I raced the voices in my head telling me to walk, I raced the person I used to be. And I beat all of them. Last year, before breaking my leg, my goal was going to be 2:00:00. My goal going into the race this year was 1:45:00. I smashed both of them and finished in 1:41:35!! It was my second fastest race ever.
There was a seemingly-endless death-march from the finish line to the finisher’s coins and food. Fortunately they had several water stops along the way (seriously) and an area for us to greet friends and family from across the barriers. I stopped to stretch out my super tight hip and get my feet up for a few before gathering a plethora of food. It was truly one of the best food tents I’ve seen – muffins and cookies and bananas and hummus kits and I’m sure a bunch of other stuff I’ve forgotten. People were given boxes to carry their food in there was so much of it.
Aaron and I hung around for a while, taking in all the sights, and then began the long, slow walk back to the Pentagon metro station. Along the way we could see something glistening off in the distance. Everyone walking back seemed to notice it about the same time – the slow walk slowed even more and everyone was pointing up. As they got closer, I realized what it was – there was a flyover of WWII planes scheduled for Saturday which had been postponed due to poor weather. They flew in bomber formation over the Pentagon, which was a bit eery, but I’m so glad I got to see it.
It took a while to get into the metro station, but once we got through a ghost train came and entered service just as it pulled onto the platform – perfect timing.
While I was showering Aaron ordered pizza for us – a wonderful treat after a hard-fought race. We watched the Ravens wallop the Buccs (even as a Raven’s fan that game was hard to watch), then he went home and I napped until my parents came down for dinner. We went to a wonderful tapas place, Jaleo. I highly recommend it in you’re in the DC area (they have several locations) – it’s one of my favorites. We had so many dishes and so much food, but didn’t leave feeling stuffed. And their hazelnut ice cream is to die for. I spent one more night at the hotel and then went home the next morning happy as a clam.
Yesterday I visited my PT to get my legs and hips worked on – because I have another race on Saturday!! Between his massage and the epsom salt bath yesterday, my legs feel about 97% today. Despite a bit of discomfort in my achilles, that makes me feel good about Saturday’s half. Today I went to get my bib, shirt, and packet and tomorrow I rest! *phew*