Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Navy/Airforce Half Marathon - pacing to a PR

Joanna, Kristin, me, Jackie, and Lauren

This year marked the 4th year that DC has hosted the Navy/Airforce Half Marathon (and Navy 5 miler). Someone posted that they are the little brothers of the Marine Corps Marathon and Army Ten Miler, and I would have to agree! It's still a relatively small race compared to the other two services races held in October, but it was remarkably well run/staffed for the size of the event. I would compare it to earlier Cherry Blossom Ten Miler races, though the CB10Miler has gotten bigger in recent years.

All in all, the organization of this race was great, but here's a recap of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good: This was, hands down, the best half marathon course I have ever run in DC. I didn't look at the elevation chart, but I am fairly certain it's a net flat course. None of the hills are that steep and it feels like you have more downs than ups. It was also staffed very well. Usually I run in the sub 2 range, so I personally have never encountered this, but my back of the pack friends (2:20 and slower) have told me that a lot of races run out of water towards the end of the race. This was not the case this weekend. The Navy/Airforce Half was fully stocked even on the last water stop.

The Bad: They did a mass start at 7:10 and had everyone line up based on their own predicted time. With this course starting on Haines Point, it meant that the course was REALLY crowded in the beginning. It was hard to keep our pace for the first few miles, even though we lined up with the 11 minute milers. (most of them were running 12+ miles) This race would be FANTASTIC if they went to 4-5 starting corrals with a 5 minute stagger start. (Seriously, no one does a race start better than Competitor! That's why I keep coming back to Rock'n'Roll races!)

The Ugly: Medics, medics, medics! I only saw one medic station at mile 9 and ZERO running medics on the course. Maybe I am hyper sensitive to the issue because I have witnessed several deaths at races (not just been at the same race, but witnessed the person being given care or put into an ambulance myself), but I just think that all races should have a marked medic at every water stop and several running in each pace range. We did witness someone go by on a golf cart with a bag of ice on her ankle, so there was some support, but who knows how long it took to get her. Long story long, I'd like to see more visible medical support during the race, as well marked aid stations on the course map.

Bottom Line:
This is a great race to prep for other fall races in DC or to race, since the course is amazing! The good definitely out weighs the bad here, and I think with the feedback from the survey they sent out, it can only get better!


As per usual, I wanted to arrive in DC "butt ass early" to make sure that we got a good parking space and could make a quick escape from the city after the race. Kristin came over at 4:30, just in time for me to walk the dogs, Lauren to get ready, and for us to hit the road at 4:45am to head into DC. We arrived just as Joanna was parking, so it was perfect timing!

We had time to walk to the porta potties, back to the cars, move the cars even closer, and then meet up with LB and her friend for a 2 mile warm up run (since we technically had 18 on our training plan this weekend). As we were running down Constitution Ave, Amanda was able to join us, being dropped off by her husband just after 6am. Apparently we were easy to spot in our sparkle skirts!

We then took a running tour of the monuments. There is nothing better than seeing the monuments in the wee hours of the morning. It's dark, so they're all lit up, and there really isn't anyone around! It's incredible!! It seems like everyone was feeling pretty good about how they were feeling that day, and if I have my way, I'd love to make a 2 mile warm up a tradition for all my races (except maybe marathons) in the future!

Me, Joanna, Julie, Amanda, Kristin, Lauren, Jackie, and LB

So here we all are, grouped in the starting corral for the race. We lined up right in front of the 10:00-11:59 pace group sign, so we should have been starting with people running right below a 10 minute mile, but that wasn't really the case...

Since my injury, I have felt really out of it mentally. I go back and forth over what I think I'll be capable of, and if I want to risk setting myself back. Right now my leg is holding at about 85%. It's sore, but it's not getting any worse. Conversely, it's also not getting any better. Kristin had also been talking about how THIS race was going to be the one where she was going to get into the 2:30s. Kristin had talked to Amanda about pacing her, but with my injury, I decided I would do it. I have been ROCKING pacing recently - I set out to run a sub 2 half in training, got ahead of my pace and was able to ease off when I caught up with Allison and Stacy - then knew when to speed up and how fast to go to hit a 1:59:11. I just seem to REALLY been in tune with paces and efforts recently, and so I thought it would be a fun challenge to pace Kristin!

So last weekend we had an 8 mile training run with team. We were supposed to do 2 miles easy, 4 miles at pace, and 2 more easy. I decided I would just see where Kristin was, so we played around with some strategies - longer run intervals mixed with shorter ones and then alternating "push" intervals with "comfortable hard" intervals. She averaged 11:09 for those miles and said she felt better doing the same time intervals, but alternating effort. Based on those 11:09 miles, I made a decision that I wasn't going to pace Kristin into the 2:30s, but to a 2:29.

The entire week I studied pace charts. I wanted to know what our expected finish time would be based on every pace we were hitting, so that even if we missed my goal, I could keep Kristin on track to get into the 2:30s. I thought to myself "11:25, we can do this, 11:25" over and over and over. I knew that we were good up to a 12 minute mile, but I really wanted to keep Kristin under a 12 minute mile average. I didn't want to have a pace chart with me, so I tried to make sure I knew where we should be at the 10 mile, since sometimes a half feels like a 10 miler with a 5k on the end! I knew were were golden if we hit the 10 mile mark between 1:55 and 2 hours.

The beginning of the race was pretty packed. Lauren, Amanda, Kristin, Joanna, and I all tried to stay together. It was pretty tough, since we needed to run faster than the crowed during our run intervals. We started with a 45:30 second ratio, and attempted to push every other interval, but it was just too hard. Lauren also started running up with me, and I was having trouble gauging where Kristin was, so I had to ask her to run either in front of me or behind me, so that I didn't get us off pace. I tried to say it nicely, but I'm worried I snapped it a little at the moment. It was just so crowded, we were still so early in the race, and I was really nervous about my job as pacer!

Lauren fell back and ran a bit with Amanda and Joanna, but about 2 miles in we lost Joanna. Her stomach wasn't feeling our pace, and she had told us at the beginning that she might have to drop back from us. We hit every mile right around pace, though I think the mile marker for 2 was early and 3 was late, our average was right on. It seemed to me that the first 6 miles flew by! I actually almost missed the 6 mile marker because it was facing the wrong direction on the course. That was about the time when we saw Ryan as well. I encourage Kristin to go give him a kiss. Because, lets face it, nothing helps you get through a run like a kiss from your sweetheart!

About mile 5, Kristin asked to switch to 30:30 intervals when we got to mile 7. I knew we were below 2:30 pace and said okay, but also reminded her that we would have to do pushes. She agreed, so that's what we did when we hit mile 7. It was also about that time when both Kristin and Lauren were starting to chafe. Luckily, just after we made the turn on Rock Creek Parkway, I saw a medical tent. I ran over and got Kristin and Lauren some Vaseline and they immediately felt better! Mile 9 was also our slowest on the course, but with it being uphill and the chafing, we were still holding a great average pace! But it was at this point that I think Kristin was feeling some mental exhaustion and asked, very nervously "are we still on pace?" I told her that we were fine. In fact, we easily made up the time we added during mile 10, with it being mostly down hill, we clocked in around 11:09. We even picked up another runner, Katie, to do 30:30 intervals with us!

Kristin didn't want to know anything about our pace, other than her question about where we were, but I let it slip at mile 10 that she had just PRed the 10 miler! It was at this point in the race that I knew for a fact that Kristin would make her goal, even if we fell off of my pace. But Kristin's runs seemed strong and evenly paced, even though she started complaining a little more about being uncomfortable. She started expressing how much she hated me around mile 11, and both Lauren and Amanda chimed in about all the times they felt exactly the same way, but that it was always worth it at the end! We saw Ryan just after 11, but this time Kristin said she had to keep going and couldn't stop for a kiss. I don't blame her, it was a pretty hard effort for her at this point.

Around mile 12, Kristin hit a huge mental wall. I say that it was mental because her pace didn't slow at all. She said her stomach was bothering her, but the upside was that it was distracting her from her foot pain! We plugged along, at a very even pace until the turn right before the finish. We ran around the turn, hit mile 13 and Kristin could see the clock - 2:30 - in front of us. I offered her another walk break, but she kept barreling towards the finish. It was incredible! We crossed the line and she put her hands over her face and bent over. I had stopped my watch at 2:28:23. A PR by 13 minutes!


Unfortunately, Amanda had to jet before we could get a picture, but here is our finisher photo. Kristin said she had to keep her sunglasses on because she had tear face! But she earned every single one of those tears!! She pushed so hard; it was incredible! To put this in perspective, this race wasn't just Kristin's half marathon PR, but it also beats out all of her other race distance PRs. (looked them up on athlinks)

distance race previous PR Navy/Airforce split time drop
5k 2014 Firecracker 5k 37:18 34:14 -3:04
4 miler 2015 Mother's Day 4 Mi 48:27 44:04 -4:23
10k 2015 For the Love of it 10k 1:11:34 1:08:52 -2:42
10 miler 2015 Reston 10 Miler 2:06:10 1:53:14 -12:56
half marathon 2015 Rock'n'Roll DC Half 2:41.16 2:28:20 -12:56

Talk about a truly amazing performance! I am so proud of Kristin for her amazing PR, but I am also pretty proud of Amanda and Lauren too. They both really hung in there, helping Kristin along the way! Amanda was even checking in with everyone to see how they were feeling. It was cool to see Amanda feel comfortable in a pace she thought was her max effort, just a few months back! (See the R'n'R DC post from this year for that story!)

All in all the whole Out for Blood team really rocked the Navy/Airforce Half Marathon! The race was all in all a pretty positive experience and I'm excited to make it a regular part of my fall racing line up.


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