Robin wins despite wearing waayy too many clothes

Robin wins despite wearing so much stuff

I got a text from Robin the night before the VHTRC Women’s Half Marathon:

‘Any last minute WHM tips?!’

I replied:

‘Have fun and don’t get wrapped up in how other people are running.  Remember that many of them don’t know the course as well as you do~’

These lines would prove to be prophetic, as Robin’s ability to stick to her guns and run her own race won out when Holly went off course shortly after mile 8.

I thought that I would feel conflicted about not running the VHTRC Women’s Half Marathon this year.  That a little piece of my heart would ache to be out there, bounding along from the Clapons’ Do Loop AS to Juanita’s Canteena, high-fiving friends and tearing up trails.

the volunteer vests were not really made for rabbitting

the volunteer vests were not really made for rabbitting

I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The reason why I never really liked volunteering is because I always felt like I didn’t know what I was doing and was mostly in the way.  Like tagging along with Aaron, taking crappy under-exposed pictures.  But no one knows their way around the Women’s Half like I do.  After rabbiting the opening half-mile (‘Robin, meet Holly.  Holly, meet Robin.’), I went straight to work on the Fountainhead aid station.

‘Did you run this race two years ago?’ one of my co-Fountainhead volunteers asked me.


‘Yeah, I remember you.  You came flying in before we were ready with any cups.  You were pissed.  We were all like, Well, guess we dropped the ball on that one.

‘Yeah, with your table placed 20 feet off the trail and no one holding out a cup.  While I’m all sweatin’ beads out there.’

So this year, I made it my personal mission to rectify the Fountainhead AS.  The tables were moved right down next to the trail so runners didn’t have to patter up the hill to get some food and drink.  JLD and I took on scouting duties, heading into the woods to call out the leaders so everyone could be ready.

Aaron captures women's reactions to the 'bouncy bridge'

Aaron captures people’s reactions to the ‘bouncy bridge’

I was wide-eyed as the streams of women came through.  Everyone was giving so much heart!  For some reason I had always imagined that just the top 8 or 10 women were busting their guts, and that the middle-of-the-packers were more kind of fun-running it.  It couldn’t be further from the truth.  It was just wave after wave of blood and sweat and heaving lungs, and we scampered as fast as we could to get them water and gatorade and direct them back on their way.

man, holly is ripped!

man, holly is ripped!

Satisfied that Fountainhead was now a model of well-oiled aid-stationing efficiency, I headed over towards the second loop to see the finish.  I ran into Q and Stephanie, who told me how Holly had gone off course.  What a punch in the gut.  Holly’s such a talented runner, and has so little time to race these days with two little-uns.  For her to make the trek up here to race and then deal with that kind of frustration…..  I was bowled-over thrilled for Robin, who ran a smart, tough race and deserved every ounce of her victory.  But the only way I could deal with my vicarious frustration for Holly was to grab some tape and go double/triple mark the hairpin turn where she’d gone astray and make sure no one else missed the spin.

verifying that, yes, even lame non-runners get smoothies

my oversized navy air force race shirt paled in comparison to the spanky Patagonia tanks the WHMers got this year.  i think tracy seriously upgraded all the swag this year just to tempt me back!

The finish area of the WHM is always an especially happy place.  And not just because of what WHTom and Mario put in the smoothies.  Sure, this year I had to explain a bit why I hadn’t run.  I had different explanations for different people, all of which were at least partially true.  Some I told that it was just time to step aside, to have a more exciting race with a new exciting winner.  Fresh blood.  To others I said that it was just becoming a handful, always running with a bulls-eye on your back, and that it was nice to have a laid-back chillin’ August where I didn’t have to have that oh-shit-am-I-fit? moment.  Aaron in particular appreciated the lack of pre-WHM paranoia about being slow and out of shape.  For others I just put it simply that it was time to give back to a race to a race that had given me a lot over the years.  And to others I told a little story about how this weekend I was going to finally do a road race with my office friends: the Navy-Air Force Half Marathon….

photo-bombing bernard and cecile post-race during the fleeting period of pure happiness when my stomach was quiet

photo-bombing bernard and cecile during a fleeting period of pure post-race happiness when my stomach was quiet

I can’t remember the last time I was so downright calm before a race.  No butterflies, no jitters.  Maybe it was the influence of my decidedly chill friends Cecily, Cecile, and Bernard.  Maybe it was the strange anonymity of road races.  There were 5,000+ running the race, and none of them asked me if I was going to win today.  Maybe it was watching the Wounded Warriors start their race 5 minutes before our start, true exemplars of grit.  Some had aerodynamic wheelchairs.  One had two prosthetic legs.  All were inspiring as they disappeared over the hill.

Having just run the NIH relay on Tuesday (our Runners without Borders FIC team finished 11th out of some 100+ teams) and been the rabbit for the WHM on Saturday, my legs were all geared up for a quick start.  I went straight to the front of the women’s field, immediately separating myself and settling into the mass of men.

I wore my Garmin only for record-keeping, and I never glanced at it during the race.  I know exactly what kind of just-below-balls-out pace is right for a half-marathon distance.  I don’t need no stinking watch~.  In just the last few months I have finally made my peace with the whole Garmin/Strava thing.  Prior to meeting Aaron, I was violently anti-Garmin.  But back in December Aaron bought me my first Garmin, along with a heart-rate monitor, and set up my account on Strava.  True to my word, I gave it the ole girl scout try for six full months.  After six months, I gave my verdict:

Verdict #1: I agree that it is useful to keep track of how many miles I run a week.

Verdict #2: I *hate* timing myself during training runs.  Training runs are for relaxing.  I detest even more getting little notifications from Strava that I’ve set a CR for a particular segment — or that someone has broken my CR.  Sometimes at the end of a run I just want to see how many miles I did and it starts flashing things at me: Congratulations, you just PRed in your 15k!!  Congratulations, you just PRed in your 20k!!  And I just want to start smacking it into the concrete.

Ergo…..I will not wear my Garmin during training.  But I will manually enter my daily mileage into Strava.  I will wear my Garmin only when I race, just for record-keeping (no glancing), and when I am in foreign places where I don’t know the distances.  This is my grand compromise.

The first five miles went around Haines Point.  Haines Point is a lovely park, but a terrible place to run, just boring and long.  But it was at least early in the race, and it was a cool, overcast morning and I felt all clippity-clop.  There was a strong wind coming off the Potomac, and I nestled in behind two gentlemen who kindly blocked the gusts.  I like running with men…..  But between miles 4 and 5 arrived the first sign that something had seriously gone south in my abdomen.

my boy-pack passing by aaron

my boy-pack passing by aaron [we stuck together most of the race: the last guy in the hat finished 33rd, I was 34th, and the guy in the PR singlet was 35th; the guy right behind me was 38th]

Rather than dwell on the discomfort, I tried to focus on how lucky I was that today was not in the middle of a 50 mile trail race.  My belly did not have to skeeter over rocks or bomb down hills.  I could probably even get by without having to eat or drink anything.  All I had to do was keep an even keel across the flat, smooth pavement for another 9 miles and jostle the belly as little as possible.  When I saw Aaron at mile 6, I gave a reassuring thumbs-up.

cecily cruisin along

cecily is totally gonna dust those dudes

Miles 6-11.5 were a long out-and-back on Rock Creek Parkway, up to Calvert (but thankfully not all the way up the hill).  I was able to scope out the second place female at the turnaround.  I remembered what Aaron had told me about the optical illusion at turnarounds.  Like side-view car mirrors, there should be a warning at turnarounds: WARNING: the next female is actually much farther back than she appears.  

From the turnaround (just after mile 9) to mile 11.5 was a thrill.  I had a sea of 5,000+ runners coming in the opposing direction screaming First female!  You go girl!  You’re killin’ it!  I can’t say I my stomach felt great, but it was the first point in the race where I was quietly confident that I would get my little tummy across the finish line in first place.  Up until that point I had accepted the reality that my stomach might just burst out on me before I got to 13.1.

When I got to the Memorial Bridge turnaround just before mile 12, I noticed that a different woman was now in second place, a very petit girl (‘Emmy’) who I’d immediately scoped out at the starting corral as the quickest of the lot.  But I had a comfortable lead with just a mile to go, and ended up finishing a minute ahead (1:19:52 v 1:20:48; full Results; I think I set a new CR there).

Even after breaking the tape alongside the Washington Monument, my race didn’t quite end at 13.1.  My stomach was giving out, and I scurried over to the closest port-a-potties at the Medical Tent.  ‘Excuse me, can I use these?’  I was bowled over, clutching my belly.  ‘No, these are for patients,’ he replied sternly.  ‘Oh my god, I’m going to be a patient soon!’ I cried as I scurried across the field to the distant row of johns.

cecily have been running races together since high school!

cecily have been running races together since high school!

I could go on at length about the day’s stomach eruptions, but my mother tells me that I write too much about poop in this blog.  So I’m just going to sum it up by saying that I enjoyed about a good hour of watching my friends finish — Cecily came in at 1:33, Bernard in 1:49, and Cecile in 1:56 — and hanging out on the lawn of the Washington Monument as we waited for the 10am Award Ceremony.

But my stomach couldn’t hold out.  At 9:45am I cried Mercy! and arranged to have my award mailed to me.  I was in agony.  I couldn’t make it another 15 minutes.  The agony would continue for several more hours, at which point, rolling around on the floor, I determined that I wasn’t going to make my flight to Mexico City that evening.  I rescheduled to fly out the next day, rescheduled my Monday seminar and dinners as best I could, and tried my best to horse-whisper the stomach back to normalcy.  The agony abated after a couple hours, even if the stomach didn’t stop erupting (and bleeding).

The stomach stuff is unfortunate, but I also have to spin the positive: I was able to run a sub-1:20 half on a bum stomach, and I was able to keep my cool and not let the bowels totally derail me.  With the help of my little Strava I’ve been putting in consistent 50-mile weeks for 8 weeks now, the most consistent training I’ve ever done.  I’m hoping that my upcoming travel to Mexico and Taiwan doesn’t undo everything.  And that some day my stomach decides to chill the #%@ out and let me run~.



One Response to Navy-Air Force Half Marathon

  1. Mario says:

    Once again, the most entertaining read of the week. I love your race summaries.


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