Saturday, March 26, 2011

Race Recap: The National Half Marathon

6:15 a.m.: I've never seen so much traffic this early on a Saturday morning. It's wall to wall cars, crawling through narrow Washington streets. Originally the Metro was supposed to open early enough for runners to use public transit to get to the race, but perhaps due to recent budget shortfalls, that's not an option, so we're all driving in. Very, very slowly. We're supposed to get to RFK stadium at least 45 minutes early so we have plenty of time to find our corrals and get ready for the start. But 45 minutes from the starting gun, the stadium isn't anywhere in sight. I've got ambitious goals for this race. I'd like to run a 7:30 pace, finishing in a 1:38 PR. It's a relatively flat course, so I think it's doable.

6:30 a.m.: Finally, I see the D.C. Armory, across the street from the starting line. Now if only I can find a place to park....

8:57 a.m.: I'm crossing the finish line. I look up at the clock and see a disappointing 1:52. That's an average pace of 8:17, worse than I've done on training runs of this distance. My chip time will be a little bit faster, naturally, but still, I wonder what I could have done if things had worked out a little differently.

8:55 a.m.: I finish Mile 13 in 7:32. I'm still passing people right and left. It's been like this for nearly the whole race, just trying to make my way through the crowds.

8:47 a.m.: Mile 12's split is 7:56. I think I just let myself slip in to a bit of a funk for that mile. I know I can do better than that.

8:39 a.m.: Mile 11, 7:26. That's what I'm talking about! I knew I could do this.

8:32 a.m.: Miles 9 and 10 are solid, 7:38 and 7:39. Still not what I'm capable of, but it's difficult weaving through people on these narrow streets. There are potholes everywhere. I've got to watch out for those potholes.

8:20 a.m.: I pass the 1:50 pace team. Yes! This is the designated group of runners who agreed in advance to pace half-marathoners to a 1:50 finish. Now if only I can catch the 1:45 pace team. That would be a pretty decent bit of redemption, all things considered. Some streets are wide enough that I can easily weave through the slower runners, but on others it's quite a challenge. People tend to run in little clusters, and sometimes you get caught behind a group and can't figure out a way to get by.

8:17 a.m.: Miles 7 and 8 are okay: 7:44 and 7:38. Mile 7 was nearly entirely uphill, and I passed a ton of people there; the street was just wide enough to give me room. Although Mile 8 was flatter, the roads were also narrower, so there were fewer opportunities to slip by.

8:01 a.m.: I complete Mile 6 in 7:40.

7:58 a.m.: I pass the 3:45 full marathon pace team -- that's a 1:52.5-minute pace for the half. A few years ago I would have been thrilled to finish a half at this pace. Now I'm thinking I might still have a shot at 1:45, but I'll have to really turn it on.

7:56 a.m.: Heading under DuPont circle, I'm looking for Greta, Pat, and Suzanne, who said they'd be here to cheer me on. Slightly behind me I hear Pat's voice: "Is that Dave?" I turn around to see my wife and friends. I try to give them a big smile and a wave; I don't want them to think anything has gone wrong.

7:53 a.m.: I complete Mile 5 in 7:49. The street ahead of me is just one vast sea of people, all of them running at what seems to be a sub-9-minute pace.

7:46 a.m.: I pass by the White House. I wonder if the Obamas are going to come out and greet the runners. I've just run through the most famous part of the Capital, with all the museums and monuments, and I barely noticed them. Too many runners to avoid.

7:45 a.m.: Miles 3 and 4 weren't good enough: 7:50 and 7:44. I've got to do better if I want to make up for all the time I lost...

6:45 a.m.: I finally find a parking spot. Thank goodness! Do I have time to go to the bathroom? I don't think so. There are people everywhere, and long lines at all the porta-potties. Some guys are just taking leaks against trees. I'm not that desperate.  Off to the starting line. I've got plenty of time... I walk briskly and confidently towards the starting area... until I look down at my wrist and notice I left my Garmin in the car! Do I have time to go back and get it? I'm in the third corral, so they might not even start me until 7:10 or so. I decide to risk it. Fortunately it doesn't take long, and I arrive at my starting corral at 6:55. Plenty of time to spare! I decide to snap a picture of the crowd. It's just an immense mob of people (I later learn there were over 16,000 runners). This is by far the largest race I've ever been in:

It's a brisk morning, perhaps a couple degrees above freezing. For me, this is ideal running conditions. The wind is very light. I'm wearing my DART shirt, a long-sleeved compression shirt, the free gloves provided in our bag of goodies from the race registration, and compression tights. I'm also attempting to track my run with MapMyRun's iPhone app, but I'll save that discussion for a different post.

7:04 a.m.: The race starts, just a bit late. I'm amazed at how quickly we start moving, even back in Corral 3 out of 10.

7:06 a.m.: I cross the starting line and start my Garmin. I have my sights set on the 1:40 half-marathon pace team, just a bit ahead of me. I need to finish a couple minutes faster than them in order to make my goal of a 1:38 half-marathon, which would be a huge PR for me (my previous best is 1:42:56).

7:14 a.m.: I've caught the pace team and complete my first mile in 7:57. I need to pick up the pace a bit, but it's crowded and hard to negotiate my way through the crowd. Hopefully things will start to open up within the next mile or so.

7:15 a.m.: I notice a slight depression in the road just about the same time I step in it with my right foot. It's probably only about 12 inches wide and two inches deep, but it's enough to cause me to stumble. I try to regain my balance, but it's too late; I can't get my left foot under me in time, and I go crashing to the ground. I land on my left knee and elbow, but as I wave my right arm in a last-gasp effort to regain my balance, I feel my right arm pop out of the shoulder socket. I know this feeling; it's happened to me several times before: A dislocated shoulder.

Amazingly, several runners come to my aid and help me to the side of the road before others can trip over me. I tell one guy what happened and he offers to help me pop it back in. He seems to know what he's doing, so I let him try. We try a couple times, but my shoulder muscle is too tight. I tell him he should get going and I'll find a medical tent. Fortunately there's a water station just 50 meters away. I ask if they know where the medical tent is. They don't. I keep walking, and finally I see it, just past the end of the water station (which, to the first guy I asked's credit, extends over nearly an entire block).

"Can you help me out?" I ask the woman who's minding the station.

"Sure. What's wrong?"

"I've dislocated my shoulder. Do you think you could help me pop it back in?"



"I don't think we're equipped to do that." Their medical supplies don't seem much more extensive than a cot and a couple of clipboards.

Then the other guy manning the station says "Hey, we could ask the doctor."

I'm wondering why they didn't think of that right off the bat. The doctor turns out to be some guy who was standing next to the course taking pictures. Or maybe he really was manning the station, and just didn't expect to very busy only 1 mile into the course. In any case, he's happy to help. I tell him I've had this happen before but my shoulder is a lot tighter than usual and I think we should be able to pop it back in.

He seems a little perplexed, and asks me what happened. I tell him about the pothole and the fall, and he looks relieved. "Oh, you fell. I thought you meant you were just running along and it popped out." Then he shows that he really does know what he's doing, carefully positioning my arm so it pops back into place. They take down my name and phone number, but fortunately it looks like they're going to let me keep running. A minute or two later, I'm back on the course.

7:29 a.m.: Oh. My. God. My split for Mile 2 is 15:18. How am I ever going to do this? Is it even possible to make up this much time? Is it worth it?

Then I see a tiny yellow flag, waving about 100 meters ahead. Is that the 1:55 pace team?


  1. wow what an adventure! way to guts it out- you're definitely in good shape. Hope the shoulder's okay

  2. Excellent write up by the way. You had me guessing until the end.

  3. Between Dave and Chad I'm in awe. Between a stress fracture halfway through a marathon and a dislocated shoulder at mile 1, just wow. If it was me you would've found me curled up in a fetal position on the side of the road.

  4. Thanks for all the words of encouragement, everyone. It's definitely not the way I would have preferred to run this race, but it's good to hear that someone appreciates the effort.