This weekend Max and I ran the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon through Virginia, DC, and Maryland. Pretty cool! The race was originally scheduled for October, but was moved to November due to the pesky government shutdown. Luckily for Max and I, this fit right into our schedule. After watching Amanda run the Marine Corp Marathon we were inspired to sign up for a distance race as well.
The race is small in size (capped off at 5,000) and is young as far as area races go (in it’s 4th year). The half marathon starts at the beautiful Mount Vernon Estate of President George Washington and heads down along George Washington Parkway and over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge before coming into National Harbor for a big finish.
Max and I stayed at the race hotel the night before to make parking and the morning transition a little easier. We checked into the hotel on Saturday and were excited to receive a cute gift bag from the hotel with popcorn, water bottles, and a cookie when we checked in (hello, Holiday Inn Express points!) to start the day off. We then went to the mini-expo and picked up our race packets and bags in the hotel lobby. All of this took under 15 minutes — very efficient!
We hung around the hotel relaxing and watching Lockdown on TV before our dinner reservation at Bonefish grill that night. We love their food and the hotel was so close! They give you crayons to draw on the table with and we got a little creative (ok…maybe I asked for them…) which included Star-wars, the Seattle Seahawks, and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon. The waiter got a chuckle out of our drawings.
We were hungry and devoured our jumbo coconut Thai shrimp appetizer, fish and chips (Max), and salmon and veggies (me) before finally saying “no thank-you” to the pumpkin cream brule. after dinner we stopped by Safeway and picked up a pack of water bottles before heading back to the hotel to kick-start the hydration process. I know I always cramp with distance runs and worked hard all week to overload with Nuun and water. Apparently I did not do enough — more on that later!
Our alarms went off at 4:30 AM the next morning and we ate our Cliff bars and bananas for breakfast (mmmm the delicious life of a runner) and by 5:30 we were walking out of the lobby to board on of the race shuttles. The ride from the hotel to Mount Vernon has to be one of the most terrifying parts of the race. It was pitch black and felt like it lasted forever! The whole time I kept thinking “oh gosh…I have to RUN back here…and that’s 8 miles?! I’ve got how many after that?!” but I knew it was just my nerves getting the best of me. Once we arrived at Mount Vernon we hit up the ever-so-lovely race porta-potties and stretched our cold muscles. A group of Ethiopian runners (who ended up placing 1st, 2nd, and 3rd) started stretching right next to us. We felt out matched but inspired at the same time!
7:00 AM was there before we knew it and we got in line with the 13:00/mile pace group and took off. Max started the race with me…but I really wanted him to PR so he took off running and ran closed to an 8:00/mile pace.
The course itself was absolutely beautiful! The first mile was almost entirely downhill before you hit a series of rolling hills and the bridge. Miles 1-5 flew by and mile 6 was the first mile marker I really noticed. I was in the zone and running a sub 13:00/mile pace and felt great! The view was stunning, the leaves were bright yellows and reds, and we ran along the Potomac River for the entirety of the race. Thankfully I had the view to distract me as my IHeartRadio App stopped working at mile 2!
At mile 7 I started to hit a bit of a wall and sucked down a chocolate Gu Gel with some Nuun and made friends with a fellow runner named Teri. I ended up running most of the next 5 miles with her and her husband and they were a ton of fun! I love meeting people along the course and helping out fellow runners who look like they could use and encouraging word or two. Along with Teri I met a group of 3 guys: 2 of whom had run the MCM followed by the NYG ING marathons back to back and were helping a 3rd friend finish his first marathon. Were they not in pain?
Mile 8 was the cut off point and you had to reach is by 9:00 AM (2 hours into the race aka a 15:00/mile pace). I was not too worried about the cut off, but was sad for runners who I had met along the way who fell back…and I am not sure if they made it to the cut off (aka “The Rude Awakening”) or not. I hope they did!
Mile 8 led up to the foot of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and we were greeted by rows of balloons, a water station, and police officers cheering us on. This was where I planned to kick it into gear! I had made it to the bridge..I could see National Harbor…and I knew I had a 10k in me to kick butt and take names! This is where I grabbed that 2:30 PR!
I picked up speed from mile 8 to mile 9 and kept my eye on my Polar Monitor for a 12:00/mile…and then…BOOM! Calf Cramps! I was half way between mile 9 and mile 10 and my right cramp seized up. I let out a loud exploitative I will not share on this blog, apologized to the runner next to me for swearing, and used the bridge railing to stretch. I started to slow jog and made it to mile 10 before…BOOM…left calf cramps! This is when I cried (just a little) because I saw my PR disappear as I starred at the distant Gaylord Hotel.
Max sent me a text message to let me know what he had finished in 2:01 and I told him that I was coming in slow with calf cramps. I had to walk most of miles 10 to 13.1 and tried my best to smile and cheer other runners on as I hobbled along the course. By now my PR was gone…I watched my Polar Monitor tick past 2:30 while I passed mile 11 and kept a smile on my face (thanks to the wonderful volunteers who encouraged me along).
My mom and sister came out to see us finish the race and were having brunch at the Westin hotel when runners started coming in. They just watched a runner in little more than a swimsuit (hard core in that cold weather!) run by following the group of Ethiopian runners we stretched with…so they thought they had some time still! They were still eating when speedy-Max came running into the finish line! My mom jumped up with her iPad (yes, iPad) to head out and take pictures of him before he crossed the line. They finished up their yummy brunch and waited for me at mile 12. As I rounded the gravel heading into mile 12 I could see my sister and started waving. I was SO excited to see them! This was the first time my mom had seen my finish a race since my high school track days and this was the first time Alicia has seen me finish since my first Marine Corps 10k in college. Alicia jogged along in her boots and cringed at the site of my charlie horse cramps. Mom jogged for about 20 feet and was tired. Alicia joked with her that she needed a Gatorade and needed to run faster — the funny thought took my mind off of my calf pain. I knew the finish line was just around the corner now and Max was waiting for me there.
The crowd was pretty loud as I came in and I was happy to hear it! I think people felt bad as they saw me slow jog it in, draggin’ my rock-solid cramped right leg along with me…but I needed the cheers!
I may not have PR-ed…but I finished and I enjoyed the race, the beautiful course, the wonderful volunteers, my family, and the small size!
After the race, we headed back to the hotel to shower, grab some coffee, and head out to watch the Seahawks beat the Falcons at our favorite bar. We also started a new post-race tradition of Chipotle dinners 🙂 I see a lot of half-marathons in our future and am thankful for a husband who is as competitive as I am!
Lesson #1: Increase pre-race sodium intake and always run with salt tablets for distance running. This is the second half marathon where I have cramped at mile 9 and I could not be more angry with myself. I was on pace to set a PR and double calf cramps set me back. Salt tablets are little miracle workers for distance athletes and I should have taken my dads advice and run with them. This is why runners often eat pretzels or very salty snacks before a run. Salt tablets, like SaltStick, help replace electrolytes, enhance fluid absorption, and minimize muscle cramping. Next time round you can bet I will be taking one before the race and will carry one for mile 9! I also need to eat a more high-sodium diet leading up to a race. I was great about Nuun and EmergenC, but needed to eat a dinner higher in salt content.
Lesson #2: Ice after every race. Around mile 6 I felt a strange tingle on the outside of my knee. I shook it out and kept trucking along. The hip pain I had from two weeks ago has almost entirely subsided and I ignored it for the entire race. Turns out the 2 were connected –> IT Band! I iced immediately for the first 24 hours and foam rolled my IT band and the pain is almost entirely gone. I even experimented with a bit of KT tape and that seemed to have sealed the deal. The thought of foam rolling the pain away in the first 24 hours was brutal. I essentially started at my foam roller and considered it foam rolling…but now the recovery work begins (I promise)!
So what’s next? Turkey Trot 5k for Thanksgiving!
Keep finding your strong!