As mentioned in yesterday’s post, not only did I run the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Half Marathon on Saturday, my 4th half marathon, but I did it on a sprained ankle. Not wise, I know. But this race meant a lot to me. It was the first half marathon I ever signed up for – 9 months ago. I thought I would need 9 whole months to get ready for it, just to be able to cross the finish line. As you know, I clearly underestimated myself, but still, the memory of taking the leap to sign up, to have enough confidence that it was possible for me to do it, meant a lot to me and I was excited for this race.

So when I sprained my ankle moments before the race began, there was no question: I was running it anyway.

6am on the National Mall. Been here countless times, but never at 6AM!
6am on the National Mall. Been here countless times, but never at 6AM!

Yes, it’s gonna cost me recovery time leading up to Cherry Blossom, but there was no way I was sitting it out. This was my first Run Rock ‘n’ Roll race, and it was my city. I wasn’t sitting out.

My friends Jill, who you’ve met in some of my Potomac River Running race recaps, and my friend Alan, who I’ve run Army Ten and Richmond with, were lining up in the corrals that day too. We were all spread out, but part of the reason I was rushing and fell off the curb was to be able to find Alan before his corral set off – he’s a speedster and was in Corral 6. I was slated for Corral 23, but after my fall and our quick meetup at a middle-ground Corral 13, that’s where we both stayed for fear of no time to get back to our assigned corrals. Jill came with as well, but being her first half-marathon, decided to hang back in her assigned corral after joining us for a quick pre-race photo op.

Spoiler alert: Both Jill and Alan rocked their races.

Jill peaced out and Alan and I readied our earbuds, I started up my watch and continued trying to stretch and circle my ankle around to bring some bloodflow to it. I was hobbling, and at this point, crazy laughing that I was about to actually do this. “Well this will be a story,” was pretty much my way of looking at it. I figured worst case scenario, I was gonna get as far as I could. I definitely wasn’t going to not even start. Maybe poor logic, as the smartest thing to do would have been to not exacerbate the ankle at all immediately after falling, but what can I say. I wanted my fourth 13.1.

I snapped this right before our corral got let go. Sometimes, I love my town.
I snapped this right before our corral got let go. Sometimes, I love my town.

Corrals were released only about sixty seconds apart, no 2-3 or 10 minute wait time like at Disney. I was so down with this. My ankle was still throbbing a little so I started out with a 2:00 pace group at a shuffle (sorry everyone who had to skirt me). This was good for my endurance though – I’ve been trying not to go out too fast and usually my first mile in a half marathon or 10 miler is under 10 minutes.

My goal pace for the race had been a 10:20 overall pre-ankle incident, and I clocked my first mile at 10:20 on the dot. Still too fast to negative split, but better than being under pace just to start out.

After the first mile the pain in my ankle was gone and I focused on keeping good strong form and breath support. We approached the Arlington Memorial Bridge and at the 2 mile marker I saw those ahead approaching the 5K mark going in the opposite direction on the bridge. Along the bridge I even saw Doctor Dribble headed in the opposite direction, less than a mile ahead of me on the course.

Circa the 5K marker?

My splits were still looking good by the 5K mark. Maybe a little fast but I felt great and it wasn’t as fast as I normally start out. I crossed the 5K marker at 31:34, a 5K time I’d be happy with even if I wasn’t trying to pace myself for 10 more. For once, running felt pretty easy.

I continued to stroll along for the next couple of miles. We passed under the Kennedy Center going the opposite direction from which we’d come during Army Ten Miler, but whereas during that race I was just focusing on finishing and allowed myself to snap some pictures of the water beside the KC, I was focused on running a strong time for however much my ankle had left for me. So I motored along. Mile 4 arrived a little over 42 minutes, again keeping pretty happy with my time.

My mantra for the race was to run the mile I was in. There is a lot of talk when it comes to the DC Rock ‘n’ Roll Half about the dreaded Mile 6 hill. I knew it would be steep, steeper than what I’m used to running even with my hills at home, but I also knew from there it was mostly rolling downhills. I mentally prepped myself that I could make it up a steep hill with my hiker’s legs, and promised to run it if my run:walk interval called for it.

Rock Creek Parkway. Headed toward The Mile 6 Hill. (I did the rock sign a lot. Felt only natural at a Rock ‘n’ Roll race wearing a Johnny Cash shirt.)

The hill made itself known after passing the 5 mile marker. I could see it ahead before I could see the mile 6 marker. And it was pretty oppressive looking. I hadn’t bothered to worry about it – I knew I’d trained and I knew it would be tough but worrying would make no difference. Instead I had psyched myself up to crush it. Well, I did run the whole monster but by the time I crested it I was pretty rough.

And that’s when the ankle decided it was mad at me.

After Rock Creek Park the course heads into Adams Morgan, otherwise known as hipster town. The cool part of this route is that it’s a neighborhoody spectator feel instead of a tourist “family from out of town supporting out of town running family members” spectator feel which was what the first few miles around the big government buildings felt more like. Twentysomethings were out on the porches of their rowhouses and some dudes were already cracking open beers to cheer us along from their front yards.

I, however, was beginning to lose steam and debating whether to take a pit stop.

The later miles.
The later miles.

Here’s where the contributing factors to missing my PR stepped in:

1) before the race I had eaten two bananas instead of one, and a little too much fiber was doing its thing (you’re reading a running blog, welcome to talking about bodily functions)
2) the pain in my ankle was changing my gait a little bit, so not only was my ankle hurting but my hip was starting to feel a bit sore and I began to slow my pace to try and reset my form and mitigate the pain
3) I stopped at one porta-potty before deciding to try and brave going without a pit stop because of the line. It was the same time-waster mistake I made in Disney when I stopped to take a picture with Tiana before getting too anxious and venturing on, spending a few minutes just standing instead of keeping moving or getting what I stopped for.
4) I then, did, eventually stop for a lone port-a-john stall I saw standing alone and unnoticed off to the side of the road. Quick in and out and I felt MUCH better afterward, but precious minutes.

By the 10 mile marker, which ironically enough I broke my Reston 10 Miler PR by crossing it at 1:45:36 (how do I break a 10 miler PR when I should be pacing for a full 13 miles, I don’t know, but it happened, so that was cool.

This was back by mile 4 but it’s one of my favorite shots from the race. One thing running has done for me is finally give me the confidence to wear shorts and feel confident about my legs. Now I love to let them free and rejoice in their strength.

At that point, though, I knew to beat my PR I’d have to break 32 in the last 5K and I didn’t think I could do it. I had to take more frequent walk breaks because of the ankle, but I did keep on.

My pace slowed to about a 12 minute mile in the last 5K because of the more frequent walk breaks, but once I hit the 13 mile marker and only had that .1 mile left, I sprinted for it. I didn’t think I could manage sub 2:20 anymore but I was gonna throw in for the best time I had left in me.

762835-1142-0026sAs SOON as I crossed the finish line (at 2:21:17, EXACTLY 3 minutes off my PR from Charleston, an all-flat course), and got my medal, I scanned about for a medic tent. My parents had planned to come downtown to meet me at the finish line before I crossed it, but missed me by about 3 minutes due to metro traffic. (We live on the red line, and crossing over onto the orange/blue at Metro Center during a big downtown event means several stuffed trains passing them before finding a car with some room.) I didn’t mind, I was just so happy they had made it down at all. I would need all the help I could get.

The face of relief.

I grabbed my chocolate milk from the Got Chocolate Milk? volunteers (it was GLORIOUS, I’m on board guys, you’ve convinced me) and hobbled to the med tent, texting my mom my whereabouts. Once my ankle was wrapped and iced, my overhwelmed parents (who don’t come downtown from the suburbs as often as their twentysomething kids do) and their half-marathon fog-brained injured daughter tried to figure out what to do next. We had brunch reservations at Belga Cafe two metro stops away, but that meant getting up a hill to a metro. A volunteer driving a golf cart kindly got us closer to the metro stop but not up the hill, so we were left to try and hail a cab from all the other tired runners also trying to hail a cab on mostly shut off streets.

But eventually we made it. Crowded into Belga Cafe in Eastern Market, my favorite neighborhood in DC, with a plate of Belgian waffles with chocolate syrup and banana slices in front of me, whatever the fallout of running a half marathon on a sprained ankle felt totally worth it.

Half-marathoner x4.
Half-marathoner x4.

The race was fantastic. Run Rock ‘n’ Roll really did a good job with this one. From course support to start and finish line and gear check organization, to medal design, to the tech tee shirt, to all the other merchandise available for extra purchase at the Expo, to its choice in headliner – The Head and the Heart, a band I really like but only got to hear one song from before I was carted off as a casualty – everything was A+. I love running through DC. My emotions about DC as a city are mixed – I have hometown pride because it’s hard not to have hometown pride, but I also know it’s not a friendly city and is pretty stuck up. I value intellect but I can’t stand intellectual elitism, and I’d say that’s my biggest problem with DC. So when I heard the major complaint about the National Marathon coming to down were the Saturday commuters complaining about their super important jobs being interrupted, I was pretty much like…

johnny-cash-fingerRock, bitches. We run this town.