So, I know I said in 2016 I was going to focus on 10K’s at least in the spring and choose a goal half or full for the fall. Half marathons last year were NO FUN. I was running but mostly on the treadmill, I wasn’t strength training, and 5 out of 6 of my half marathons were over the 2:30 mark, which is kind of my marker for how in shape I am. If I can bust out a sub-2:30 half marathon, I’m okay with my fitness level. If not, clearly something has been lacking lately.

But when I told my friend Ali I was moving back to the DC area and she told me she was running #RNRDC this year, we reminisced about RNR NOLA and I thought it would be fun to run with her again. But, I had promised myself I wouldn’t do a half, especially not another Rock ‘n’ Roll Half, which are so pricey.

Then Ali offered to sign me up, and how could I say no?!

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Which is how I found myself at the start line for the 2016 running of the Rock ‘n’ Roll DC Half Marathon.

When last I found myself at the start line of this course, I was in the best shape of my life. I had recently set my half marathon PR of 2:18:17 at Charleston Half Marathon, I’d done two more months of strong training, including serious hill training… and then I sprained my ankle right before the race started by stepping off a curb wrong. I proceeded to run the race, on track for a PR until mile 10 when my ankle was like “HEY GIRL REMEMBER ME” and I ran a 2:21, a time I was still very happy with, but after that nothing was quite the same. I messed up my ankle big time by insisting on running on it, and while I bounced back speedwise for a while during marathon training that year, but the injury lingered in throwing off my balance during the cadence of my running which resulted in bursitis which resulted in being sidelined yet again and BLAH.

So I was back for blood. I knew I wasn’t in the shape I was in when I showed up to the start in 2014, but after the rough year of halfs I had in 2015, and after that curb did me dirty in 2014, my goal was a) come in under 2:30, under 2:35 at most, and b) don’t sprain your ankle.

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Primarily I just wanted to run happy. I was back in my old stomping grounds. How many races have I run the streets of DC with the monuments as the view? How much did I take it for granted? A lot and a lot. I was just excited to be out there with my friend chatting the miles away on a breezy, cloudy morning – perfect running weather.

Above, Ali and I snap a shot in front of the Natural History Museum before we hurried to our starting corral. Ali had to pick up my packet for me at the Expo since I don’t get off work until 6 in Arlington and packet pickup was over at RFK Stadium/DC Armory and closed at 7. In reality only a few miles away but downtown DC rush hour? I’d be lucky if I had time to park. While I’m glad I didn’t have the chance to be tempted to blow a ton of cash at the Expo, I was lucky I was running with a friend I trusted with a copy of my ID. That would be my main criticism for Run Rock ‘n’ Roll for this race – if you’re going to insist on closing Expo at 7pm, know the city you’re in, and hold the dang race on a Sunday so you can have PPU on a Saturday too.

But enough logistics. Race time!

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For a pair of runners who’d jotted down their projected finish times between 2:25-2:30, it took fully 42 minutes after start time for us to cross the start line. We passed the time by dancing in our corral, which we commented on finding ourselves befuddled to be the only ones doing so. This was similar to NOLA – how you gonna run a rock ‘n’ roll themed race and be so serious?

(Later, getting on the metro after the race, a girl congratulated us on our race and said “you were the girls dancing in the corral! I wanted to join in!” If that is our legacy as runners, we’ll take it.)

When we began the race we were all cheers and smiles and happy shouts. Ali began updating me on her life — we’d specifically saved her telling the story because Ali is terrific at giving a lot of detail and it literally took from mile 1 to mile 5 for her to get to the end of the story. This is a great distraction for me – I’m not nearly as good at talking while running but I love to hear stories. (I need to try listening to podcasts once in a while, or maybe just practice relying less and less on music.) I say this because even though Ali was jabbering away, I was finding it hard to get my breathing right.

I told Ali at mile 5 I needed to put music in. Especially with the dreaded mile 6 hill coming up, I needed my pump up music. My legs felt great – my lungs knew we were running at a pace that for me was not sustainable. At mile 5 we were averaging something like a 10:15/mile pace – I could have held it out had we been running a 10K, but I knew if we kept it at that pace much longer I was going to crash around mile 8.

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Ali on Rock Creek Parkway around mile 5

So I slowed my pace a little and with Ali’s different intervals than mine we played leap frog for about a mile before we hit it.

The Mile 6 hill.

I think I made two fatal mistakes for this race. I say fatal lightly, because it really turned out to be a good day and I was really happy in the end. But I think I would have run an even stronger race if 1) my shakeout run the night before hadn’t been so fast – I ran the first .95 miles in 9:15 before my dog planted her feet to sniff and I couldn’t finish out the mile for another minute. I hadn’t meant to run that fast! and 2) Mile 6’s hill. I went about it all wrong.

Here’s the thing about The Mile 6 Hill. I ran Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville Half, known for being RNR’s hilliest course. In Tyler there’s a hill known as Heartbreak Hill. I am no stranger to hilly courses, and overall, #RNRDC is about average for an east coast race on the hilly factor. Hilly, but it’s forgiving for the most part. You go up, you come down again. Nashville is much harder over the course of the whole race… but DC?

The mile 6 hill is not a hill so much as it is a wall.

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It feels like trying to scale the side of the Monument, NBD.

I think back when my legs were more accustomed to hills and I ran it in 2014, I hadn’t run that many races yet. So I had forgotten just what a monster this thing is. It doesn’t belong on a road race. It belongs on the side of a mountain.

So when my dumb little brain got really excited as Ali and I screamed “it’s not a hill! It’s A BEASTMAKER!” over and over again, I decided to uh, to charge the thing.

That lasted all of about 10 seconds before my legs went numb and I lost Ali.

Oops.

Yeah, hill training is going back in the weekly routine. Also, next time, remember how I normally attack hills – slow and steady and breathing evenly. Not like a warrior storming a castle.

I lost Ali at this point – I kept her in my sights for about another two miles but just could never quite catch up. Even when I could bust out a sprint, I’d close some distance but not quite catch up before having to even my pace out again. She got me on my phone saying she thought she might be able to PR and would I be mad if she left me behind? Of course not! I have zero issues with running races alone and the whole point of me signing up was for Ali! She better WERK! (But I did say I wanted a burger* and a Diet Coke when it was all over.)

Once that beast was behind me, I knew the rest of the race was mainly through the neighborhoods of DC. DC’s neighborhoods have their own kind of local charm – there were a lot of recent post-grads out morning drinking, and mile 9 is known as the Guinness mile – you can smell the beer being handed out for about a quarter mile. The neighborhood residents have a lot of fun spectating the race and there isn’t an empty stretch of road after you crest The Mile 6 Hill for the rest of the race. Crowd support really rocks in DC.

I did mental math when I hit mile 10, deciding how worth it was to keep pushing to get that sub 2:30. I hit mile 10 at 1:50 – all I had to do was keep a just under a 13 minute mile for the last 5K and I could do it. But at this point my legs felt dead.

I just reminded myself of the last two miles of the Annapolis 10 Miler, when I also found myself needing to keep a 12:30 mile for the last two miles to PR and remembering that if I’d kept in the 10’s this long, a 12 minute mile was going to feel slow, so not to panic if it felt like I was shuffling. Just stay steady, I told myself, and you can do it.

At mile 12, a glorious little lady dressed all in red with the word Oiselle printed on her top jumped out of the crowd and I almost attacked her. It was Courtney!! I almost burst into tears, not just because I needed her in that moment to keep me from giving up and walking with my dead legs, but because I hadn’t seen her since over a year ago, before I moved to Texas! I told her how I was struggling and very calmly and matter-of-factly she told me my legs were lying and all I had to do was finish strong and that’s exactly what I was going to do.

She ran me to the half-full split, I headed left for the half, bid her adieu, and kept going.

And I did it.

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I was THRILLED! The last time I ran under a 2:30 was January 2015 at the all-flat NOLA course. This was a challenging course and I did it! I felt like I was finally BACK.

My official time: 2:28:15

Ali was still in the finisher’s area, having finished a few minutes before me in 2:21, a huge PR for her! (Our NOLA time was her previous PR.) We were gloriously reunited and freaked out over how happy we were to be done and how happy we were with how we’d done. Then it was seriously business time – we ran a total scheme to get two chocolate milks each instead of the single one allotted to us.

After we stretched out and collected our bags from the UPS trucks, we needed FOOD. Metro actually had its ish together and I didn’t need a golf cart escort out of the Stadium Lot this year like in 2014, so we were on our way to brunch swiftly!

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Two very satisfied runners.

Two mimosas and an incredible black bean-quinoa veggie burger later, I could not have been happier with how my Sweet 16th Half Marathon went. I was already doing the planning for how I would train for #17… so much for focusing on 10K’s. I want to break my PR!

Congrats to everyone who raced this weekend, especially all of us who took on The Mile 6 Hill! It is great to be home 🙂

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