I ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon yesterday. At 8:35 a.m., on a 30-degree day, surrounded by thousands of others, I was literally chasing minimalism down the middle of a downtown DC street.
This was my 10th half marathon, and my second time running the Rock ‘n’ Roll DC. I’ve written before about why I run, and all those words from last year are true. But a few hundred feet out of the gate during yesterday’s race, I had the clearest vision yet of something very simple. When I’m running races, I have only one job. Put one foot in front of the other until I cross the finish line. There are no emails and instant messages and phone calls. There’s no work, at the office or at home. There’s no parenting, taking care of the dog or being a husband. There aren’t even any house or car keys. There is only running.
I run for these moments of clarity, and for the kinetic energy that seems to propel me forward when the race actually starts. There’s the countdown over the speakers, the other runners around me bouncing up and down and the feeling like I’m being shot out of a cannon. I set my running music mix to random, so I never know exactly what I’m going to get. Yesterday, I started with Katy Perry.
A fair amount of preparation goes into running 13.1 miles at race pace. This time, I used Hanson’s training program. Work and home duties, plus dark early mornings, meant I didn’t do about half of the training runs. But it’s still a lot of mileage. Yesterday’s race was also the coldest one I’ve ever run, so I had to prepare for standing in the cold waiting at the start, while getting progressively warmer during the course.
I left the house early on foot for the Metro, toe warmers in my shoes and hand warmers inside my gloves. XY and I had gone to the local Goodwill the night before and bought a disposable sweatshirt. This is a trick I discovered a few years back at an October race with a predawn, 34-degree start. When it’s cold out, you can stand in line to check a bag with your coat in it and shiver through the rest of the time before the start. Then you repeat the process in reverse after you finish the race. Or you can wear an extra layer or two that you can bear to part with, and leave it behind before you start running. Most large races collect the discarded clothing and give it to charity. In the case of my bedazzled 2009 Obama inauguration sweatshirt, the round-trip to the donation bin would be shorter than most. It was an excellent choice and kept me very warm for the hour or so I had it on.
In fact, I was starting to sweat a little by the time I got off the Metro. It was then that I noticed the hole in my careful preparation scheme that started the night before. I’d laid out my layers of clothing, pinned the bib on my shirt, attached the timing chip to my shoelace, put aside my Metro card and credit card. I did everything I was supposed to do in the morning, except I forgot to put on deodorant. Oops.
I passed a Walgreens on the way from the Metro to the race, stopped and took care of business with a travel sized sample. Problem solved, but it wasn’t my usual brand. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I smelled like some other dude the whole time.
The other thing that went wrong was with my phone: I couldn’t track time during the race. I literally had no idea how fast I was running from one mile to the next. There were clues: timers on the course listed the time since the marathon had begun an hour and a half before we started running the half. But I couldn’t do the math fast enough in my head, being a journalism major and all. I ran behind the 1:45 pacer for about a half mile but couldn’t catch her. And the 2:00 pacer blew past me about two miles before the end, which I knew couldn’t be right.
The Rock n Roll DC Half course is a neat one. You run through monumental, ceremonial Washington before heading up toward the Kennedy Center. There’s a monster hill going up the Rock Creek Parkway, and you have photos of fallen servicemen and women along with their living colleagues encouraging you on the way up. Heading across town, you run through the neighborhood where we lived for 13 years before moving to Maryland. Back downhill, across H Street and toward RFK Stadium. About a quarter mile before the finish, we merged with the full marathon course. I was chugging along, trying to use my last drops of energy while running next to people who had covered twice the distance I had just run.
Across the finish line, into the scrum for medals and Gatorade and snacks. I grabbed a heat blanket as it was still only 34 degrees outside. During the race, my gear performed perfectly. I had a hat and gloves that I took off about 2/3 of the way through. I had Columbia long underwear under my New Balance running pants, and just layered two long-sleeved running shirts from past races on top of each other. But I was very glad when I found my family and they gave me my coat.
In the end, I hit 1:53 with pretty consistent pacing throughout. Not a record, but a minute faster than the same course I had run a year earlier. On a very, very cold day. My reward was a nice warm nap later that afternoon.
Next race will be the Poplar Spring 5K, followed by the Nationwide Half in Columbus, Ohio in April!
Also published on Medium.