2017 Alexandria Running Festival Half Marathon

2017 Alexandria Running Festival Half Marathon - Banner

Scroll all the way down to the end of the post for the tl;dr version.

Prologue

It took me a while to feel like running again after the Eugene Marathon.  I took a week and a half off and then forced myself back into the habit.  After months of marathon training, I thought switching gears and racing more this summer would help motivate me to run.  I ran the Capitol Hill Classic 10K last weekend and 40 miles total for the week.

RRCA VA HM Championship 2013

RRCA VA HM Championship 2013

This would be my second time running the Alexandria Running Festival Half Marathon.  I ran it a few years ago when it was the Road Runners Club of America’s Half Marathon Championship race for Virginia and won the master’s category!  I got a cute coaster as a trophy.

Goals

Personal Records:

  • Half Marathon PR: 1:32:19 (7:03 pace), 2014 Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon
  • Course PR: 1:36:14 (7:21 pace), 2013 Alexandria Running Festival Half Marathon
  • Most Recent Half Marathon: 1:42:11 (7:49 pace), 2017 Rock n Roll DC Half Marathon

Achievable: Sub-1:46 (8:06 pace).  Given how hard I’ve been running this week, I thought this was in my range.

Stretch: Sub-1:42 (7:48 pace).  Since I’ve been punishing myself hard lately, I thought it might be interesting to see if I could run PR marathon pace.

Strategy:  Start out at 7:45 pace and see how long I can hold on.

Course

I don’t love this course.  There are a lot of turns and different surfaces.  I’m not even going to try to describe it except that it starts at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia and goes west through parks and trails.  The course is mostly flat with the exception of the overpass crossing Telegraph Road.

2017 Alexandria Running Festival Half Marathon - Map

2017 Alexandria Running Festival Half Marathon – Map

Playlist

I arranged one hour and 45 minutes of music.

Pre-Race

2017 Alexandria Running Festival Half Marathon - USPTO Foyer

2017 Alexandria Running Festival Half Marathon – USPTO Foyer

I didn’t set an alarm but woke up at about 5:15am.  I brewed coffee and got ready pretty quickly.  I’m trying to lose a few pounds so, I didn’t have breakfast.  I had a pasta dinner the night before and hoped that would be enough to sustain me.  Waze told me it was only a 15 minute drive to the race site, so I wasted a little time before leaving the house.  I saw Rolling Thunder motorcyclists on my way, but I was heading away from downtown.

I parked at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  Registration was quick and I was happy to use the bathrooms in the building.  The old school timing card that I had to attach to my shoe brought me back.

With about a half hour before the race start, I did a light jog.

Before the race, the organizers requested a moment of silence in honor of Memorial Day and then played the National Anthem.  A minute or so later, we were off!

Weather

Pretty good racing weather but a little humid at the 7:30am start.

2017 Alexandria Running Festival Half Marathon - Weather

2017 Alexandria Running Festival Half Marathon – Weather

The Race

Early Miles – Miles 1 to 5 (Eisenhower Avenue)

Even though this was a small race, I thought I lined up far enough back that I wouldn’t be in the way of faster people.  But, I found myself passing several runners from the start.  I think I was one of the top 20 runners for a while!  The pace felt pretty comfortable, though.  The course was flat on Eisenhower Avenue except for a fairly steep overpass.  When I first glanced at my Garmin, I saw I was running close to 7:00 pace!  It didn’t really register with me that I was going out too fast and didn’t slow down.

2017 Alexandria Running Festival Half Marathon - Early Miles

2017 Alexandria Running Festival Half Marathon – Early Miles

The first water stop was right after the first mile mark.  The woman ahead of me mangled the hand-off.   I finally realized the pace was too fast and consciously slowed down.  I was still running around 7:30 pace, though.  I reminded myself how great it felt to negative split and pass people at the end of Boston and Eugene.  I should try to do that again.

I thought about taking water at the next stop – about 2.5 miles into the race – but the woman ahead of me stopped and walked through it.  I passed by her but she passed me again.  We went back and forth that way for a while.  She looked like Desiree Linden to me – short with long brown hair.

The front runners passed me on their way back down Eisenhower Avenue.  I clapped and cheered loudly for them, which I normally don’t do.  There were two guys running close together vying for first.  The third place guy was pretty far behind but I still yelled, “Go get ‘em!”  I’m sure he wanted to punch me.  I also started counting the female runners.  At the turnaround, I thought I was in 8th place.

I felt great and noticed the incline was a little downhill, so I stretched my legs out a bit.  “Desi” and another woman passed me again around the 4 mile mark and I was in 10th place.  About a half mile after that, the course went left onto the Holmes Run Trail.  There was a small incline that I really felt.  Only a quarter mile later, we went off the trail to the right.  There was a water station ahead and I noticed “Desi” had a clean exchange.  I took water, too.

Splits (by course): 7:04, 7:40, 7:41, 7:36, 7:42.

Middle Miles, Miles 5 to 9 (Eisenhower Avenue, Wheeler Avenue, Holmes Run, All Veterans Park)

Exiting the trail, the course went into an industrial park for a stretch.  I noticed Port City Brewing was in this area.  I still felt good.  And, I thought Desi was still in striking distance.  At the 5.3 mark, we turned around in the parking lot, ran a half mile, and then double-backed.  I started a Crank Sport e-Gel at the 6 mile mark just before the course returned to the trail.

I felt my feet sinking into the gravel.  I checked my Garmin and I was running over 8:00 pace.  I thought, That’s okay.  The gravel slows you down and so does eating.  I grabbed water at the 6.4 mile mark before going back on the Holmes Run Trail.  As the front runners came back, I could tell Desi was pulling away.  I focused on a few of the guys running ahead of me, instead – a guy in a Union Jack singlet, one in a grey shirt, and one in the pink race shirt.  I was smiling and enjoying myself even though I was slowing down a little.

Around the 8.1 mile mark, the course went into a park.  I passed the runner in the Union Jack jersey and closed in on a runner in a black top.  I looked ahead and Desi was completely out of reach.  The course wound through the park and then dropped us off in a neighborhood.  We ran on Duke Street for a little bit before going up an overpass.  I could tell the chaser was right behind me and I tried to run the hill well and then press on the downhill.

Splits (by course): 7:58, 8:13, 7:53, 8:39.

Later Miles 9-13.1 (Ben Brenman Park Eisenhower Avenue)

I had a little bit of a second wind going through the park.  During the turn at mile 9.5, I could see two women behind me out of the corner of my eye – the woman in green and now a woman in blue.  Heading towards mile 10, we took a sharp turn, went for maybe a quarter mile, and then ran around a volunteer on a narrow section of trail.  I estimated the women were only 20 seconds or so behind me.  Not only was I not going to pass Desi and move into 9th place, I might not stay in 10th!  I start reeling in the guy ahead of me in grey.  The course turns right and over a foot bridge.  The trail opens up and I guess I’m about 10 steps behind the guy in grey.  The course turns right and a few steps later, we take another right back onto Holmes Run.  The man in grey and I pass the guy in pink.  There’s an incline on the trail and I slow down a little bit.

Passing mile 11, the course returns to Eisenhower Avenue.  I can feel I’m about to be passed.  I go to the far right side of the road.  A woman pulled up beside me.  She gave me a thumbs up as she prepared to pass me.  I didn’t like that and I sped up.  She moved to the other side of the street.

At the 12 mile mark, I couldn’t believe I had to run for another mile.  I was exhausted and didn’t understand how my legs were still moving.  At the finish line, one or two women out kicked me at the line.  I didn’t like that, either.

Splits (by course): 7:48, 7:47, 7:46, 8:16, 0:53 (7:55 pace).

Post-Race

I took some water and Gatorade, and immediately sat down on the sidewalk next to the finish line.  A volunteer came over and gave me my medal.  I felt sick and went inside the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  I felt better after a few minutes and concluded I was overheated.  I stayed around for awards (a $15 gift certificate to Pacers Running Store for 2nd in my age group) and random prizes.

Result

My time was 1:42:55 (7:52 pace) [Log Details].  I was the 50th finisher out of 474 runners (top 11%), 13th woman (top 5%), and 2nd in my age group (top 4%).

Epilogue

This is a nice race.  It’s a great time of year for a half marathon, it’s well supported by volunteers, ample water stops, and prizes.  But, the course itself could use improvement.  I wonder if that’s why it’s not more popular.

As far as my race, I stewed about how much I faded at the end of the race for a few hours.  Occasionally, I reminded myself that I actually ran well for most of the race.  My Garmin read 13.3 miles so I ran 7:43 pace on the course.  And, I placed in my age group!  It’s been a while since that’s happened.  I think a fire in my belly was stoked…

I’m actually looking forward to racing something shorter next weekend.  It’s been almost a year since I’ve danced with that distance.

Next race: 2017 Belmont Bay 5K on Saturday, June 3rd. (My Complete Racing Schedule.)

Abridged Version

I ran 1:42:55 (7:52 pace).  It was nice running weather but a little humid.  I had a quick first mile and then settled into a good pace.  I held onto it until the last mile where I faded pretty hard.  But, I still placed 12th woman overall and 2nd in my age group!  It’s been a while since that’s happened!  Overall, I enjoyed the race but wish they would change the course.

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2 Responses to 2017 Alexandria Running Festival Half Marathon

  1. The course is not fun in those park miles. And its usually hot and gross. Other than the fact its too expensive, I can’t figure out why more people don’t run it (I’ve done it twice ? )

    • JT Running DC says:

      I forgot – it was expense. I registered late, so… But, I think it was in the RnR range without the frills.

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