DC Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon: My Negative Splits PR Race

dc_athletesforequality_2013_blogSomewhere between mid-January and early February I decided I wanted to do a half marathon in March. I had been intentionally maintaining long runs in the 6-8 mile range knowing that I hoped to run 13.1 in March. But I hadn’t settled on a race and hadn’t settled on a training plan. Finally, via Facebook I learned about the March 16 Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon in Washington, D.C. and promptly signed up. At the time I think I had something like 5-6 weeks left to train.

Informal Half Marathon Training

I’m not sure why I didn’t post a training plan to the fridge like I have for every other race, or document every single run like I did for the Baltimore Half Marathon. I think it’s because I initially felt like this spring half marathon was just ‘to run it,’ to see how I’d do. I also knew I’d have a challenging work schedule that might make it hard to stick to a specific running plan. Or maybe I was burnt out on the rigor of training. And so for Jan-March, I just ran. I ran 4 days a week with long runs on the weekend. I wanted to maintain at least 20 miles a week and long runs were 7, 8, 10.5, 10, 11, 13 and my last long run was 6 miles. I successfully tapered the last two weeks before the race with the last week consisting of only two 3.2 mile runs. And by race day I felt fresh.

Race Day, Logistics

The forecast all week for race day was to be chilly, rainy and probably windy. I mentally prepared for this nasty race weather and obsessively checked the hour by hour forecast the night before and morning of the race. I was up at 5 a.m. to get ready and out the door by 5:30 to head to the metro. So far so good. I had hoped to be at the Smithsonian race area by 6:30, one hour before race start, but apparently I would have had to have caught a much earlier train so by the time I got to the longest porta-pot line ever it was more like 6:45. On the up side, I had a great train ride conversation with fellow runners: one veteran and one woman running her second half. I think perhaps one of my favorite things about races is meeting other runners, learning what motivates them, what races they’ve done and what they’re looking forward to in the race of the day.

Long story short, I got to my corral as it was moving to the start and caught the energy buzz of great announcers and start line music. And, the skies were clear, no rain!

The Race, 13.1 Fast Miles Through DC

We started with the Washington Monument in sight and I knew the course would be relatively scenic and in different areas than where the Marine Corps Marathon route took runners so I was looking forward to running new areas of DC. I had checked out the elevation map the night before and saw there was a slight hill around mile 6 but otherwise the course seemed flat. I started out fast, in the 8:20 range. I had set my goal of wanting to run 8:30 miles and finish around 1:50. When my fast pace continued through the first 3 miles and I felt really good and strong I started to consider riding out the pace to see what would happen.

usa13-elevation-halfVery quickly I made a decision that I wanted to have negative splits in the race while at the same time realized I could run faster than my 8:30 goal. I was very comfortable hovering around 8:00/8:15 and then mile 6 hit. I looked up and said ‘oh shoot’ as I saw the hill. The guy next to me said he thought it only lasted a half mile. It was a hill not unlike a hill in one of my running routes but still gave me a quick mental pause. My approach to running hills tends to be to power through them which is what I did with this one which fortunately was just about .2 miles but I was very glad to be at the top.

The rest of the race was mostly flat with a few tiny changes in elevation but unlike other flat runs I’ve had, this race was fast. I can’t explain it. Maybe I was just so glad it didn’t rain that I was motivated to run faster. All I know is that after mile 8 I started to dip below 8 minute miles, something I’ve only done in 5k races and training. But, I did not train for speed for this race. With the exception of a few fartlek runs I did no speedwork. I was loving the pace but not sure what I could maintain. I decided I’d try to hover around 8 until the last 5k and then pick it up from there. It might have been around mile 9 that I realized I could significantly beat my previous PR of 1:52 (which I for some reason thought was 1:48, oh well). I was well under 8 minute miles, definitely achieving negative splits and just hoping I could still have enough ‘umph’ left to sprint through the finish line which I love to do.

Right before mile 13 I dug for my extra gear and found it. I might have been below 7 minutes but it lasted for a fleeting moment. For the last stretch to the finish I was running hard but by no means at the sprint I’ve had in other races. Nonetheless, crossing the line at 1:46 was AWESOME!!! I did not expect to run that pace or that finish time and couldn’t have been happier.

What’s Next?

I talked with various runners at the finish, waiting for the metro and on the train. Even in conversations before the race started there was a question among these runners that I just don’t recall having been so prominent at other races and yet makes perfect sense. They all asked, “what’s your next race?” So glad you asked!

April 6 is the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston and I have no adjusted my goal of running 8 minute miles to 7:30s and will be busting my butt over the next few weeks with actual speedwork to try and nail that pace. It would be another PR.

After that I’m debating a couple metric marathons, a 16 mile distance that I’ve never raced before. One is on Kent Island on the Eastern Shore and would be nice and flat; the other is in Baltimore and quite likely more of a rolling hill challenge.

I’ll probably do the St. Michael’s Half Marathon in May. And then I will be pacing in Annapolis at the Zooma Half Marathon for the 2:20 group.

So it’s a busy spring and probably the year of the half marathon for me. And as I asked those same runners back, what’s next for you?

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