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Race Recap: Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Marathon

Race Recap: Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Marathon

Hey, everyone! Thanks for the well wishes before last weekend’s marathon, and sorry I didn’t get a chance to respond to each of you! (Working on that today). :)

We are back from DC, and I’m proud to report that I DID complete my second marathon…and that Todd finished his first!

So, without further ado, here’s a recap of our race experience (with some other weekend details thrown in).

The Expo

We arrived in Washington, DC in the early afternoon on Friday, and after checking in to our hotel, the Washington Marriott at Metro Center, proceeded directly to the expo.

After we picked up our bibs and swag — always an easy, orderly process at a Rock ‘n’ Roll expo — we checked out some of the other vendors.

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It was a nice-sized expo, with plenty of goodies. My favorite part was seeing runDisney (of course!) who were giving out tote bags, and I picked up some more Nuun and was treated to a free water bottle. :)

Afterwards, we got something to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe, which seemed appropriate, before heading back to the hotel for an early bed-time. It was during our first meal of the weekend that we discovered that Rock ‘n’ Roll’s “Show Your Bib” program, which promises discounts on everything from local dining to museum admissions for showing your race bib, was something that NOBODY at these actual establishments seemed to have any awareness of; still, we talked just about everyone into giving us the promised discount that was listed on the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA website. :)

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To be perfectly honest…I was feeling completely relaxed the night before the marathon. I still don’t really know why. Maybe it was because I had just run a marathon not all that long ago and knew I could physically complete the challenge, or maybe it was just because I was excited for Todd to run his first marathon, but I really wasn’t nervous or anxious or experiencing any of the feelings I expected to have the night before the race. I knew Todd was a little nervous, of course, but there was no doubt in my mind that he was going to be just fine!

The Marathon

The morning of the race, we woke up around 6am to get ready for the 7:30am start time. Our hotel was less than a 10-minute walk to the starting line, so it was nice to know we could leave after 7am and still make it with plenty of time. Fortunately (or, maybe, unfortunately…) for me, our hotel also had a Starbucks right in the lobby, so I was able to get my coffee and enjoy a bagel and Belvita and have plenty of down-time before the race.

The weather couldn’t have been better. It was in the 40s that morning, with a forecast of around 60 later in the day, so I thanked my lucky stars that we’d have nice, cool weather for the majority of the race.

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We made it to our corral (although, honestly, you could start pretty much anywhere you want…this isn’t Disney, and there are no guards checking bibs) and got pumped for THE BIG RACE.

Surprisingly enough, I was…dare I say…excited. All of the drama and the anxiety and the meltdowns and the burnout I’ve been going through these last couple of weeks seemed a distant memory. I was ready to run this race and, truth be told, I was also sort of looking forward to just getting it over with. I’ve been wanting a significant running break BADLY, so I knew that after this race was over, I could relax. Run when I wanted to run, on my own terms…no rigid training plans or insane long runs every single weekend. This was it. If I could complete these 26.2 miles, then I could enjoy a spring running season filled with just-for-fun half marathons and shorter races and go back to running for enjoyment, and not to cross workouts off a weekly training plan…which is something I’ve been doing since, oh, last September?!

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As each corral was sent off (there were only about 1-2 minutes in between the release of each corral), I was also thinking about my personal race plan. And that was, in essence, to make sure that Todd got to that finish line. And that we had some fun along the way. :)

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He trained so hard for this, and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was READY…but I also know from personal experience that anything can happen out there on a race course, so it was my plan to stay with him for as long as he needed me. If that meant he was ready to pick up the pace and leave me in his dust at mile 16, then so be it. If that meant he wanted to take things slow in the beginning (whereas my race-day strategy is ALWAYS the complete opposite), then that’s what I was going to do.

As far as I was concerned, I had my BIG MOMENT in January, and there is no feeling in the world that will ever compare to what I felt when I crossed the finish line of my first marathon and completed the Dopey Challenge. So I really wanted him to have that experience, and took it upon upon myself to make sure that he was going to have whatever kind of support he needed for his first marathon.

We started our 26.2-mile journey around 7:50am, and I knew his plan was to take it slow and steady, so that’s what we did. The early miles of the course were FABULOUS. We were running through the downtown area of Washington, DC, and passed the White House and a bunch of parks and monuments and had a great time seeing the city.762810-1052-0014sI still say the absolute best way to explore a city is to run through it, so in my mind, this was awesome! We were both feeling strong and having a good time, and we kept our pace to around a 10:30-11 so as to conserve energy for the long road ahead.

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I was hoping that I wouldn’t experience the panicky feeling I had been dealing with during my final long runs before this race, and in those early miles, I felt confident that I was going to be just fine. I felt completely relaxed and was enjoying the run and the scenery.

What we DID notice, however, was that there were a whole lot of blue bibs (half marathoners) and we’d only see a red bib (marathoner) every once in awhile, so I was interested to see exactly how many people would actually be out on the course after we made it to the halfway point.

Another thing I was looking forward to? Our plan was to try to save a pit-stop for the second half of the race, if at all possible, because let me tell you…the lines for the port-a-potties along the course were RIDICULOUS. There was NO WAY I was waiting in a line of 20+ runners standing in front of a single port-a-potty unless it was an emergency. And I’m not one to drop trou in public, so when I had to go by, say, mile 8 or so, I decided to try to hold it.

As it turned out, we were still going strong as we approached the end of the first half marathon. The course had plenty of distractions and the spectator support had been pretty great up until that point. The only issue was they didn’t seem to have their water stops all that organized — there were tables where the volunteers just couldn’t get the water/Gatorade in the cups fast enough to satisfy the swarms of thirsty runners. There were water stops about every two miles, which seemed just fine in the first half of the race — I had definitely warmed up (and regretted wearing two layers), but it was still pretty cool and overcast, and I wasn’t feeling overheated or dehydrated.

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Honestly, I was mainly looking forward to the water stops as a “resting” place — at that point, we were only stopping to walk if we were at a water stop, and I’d take the opportunity to stretch my legs and calves a bit and chomp on a few Clif Bloks or suck down a Honey Stinger gel if it was time for a fuel break (I tried to take something at least every 45-60 minutes).

Anyway, as we suspected, as soon as the course split for the half marathoners to go one way and the marathoners to continue on, suddenly, we were practically running all by ourselves! There was a little bit of crowding in the first half of the course, but after the 13 mile point, it felt as if we were only running with 5-6 people around us at any given time. As it turns out, there were 25,000 runners out on the course that day, but only about 3,000 runners taking on the full marathon, so I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised to find that after the halfway mark, the race got a whole lot less exciting. Suddenly, there were hardly any spectators at all…which was unfortunate, because it was in the second half of the race when we really could have used the extra support.

After a potty break around the mile 14 marker — with an absolute ZERO line, of course — it seemed like we were both ready to pick up the pace a little bit. So we did. (Mind you, not for long!)762825-1114-0004s I started running about a 9:30/minute mile without even realizing it; I was pumped about the second half of the race and how strong I still felt after the first half marathon.

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Todd seemed to be feeling good, too, so I was waiting for the moment when he’d do his usual thing and speed off into the distance. I would have been fine with that, of course, but selfishly hoped he’d stick around. I was feeling much, much better than I would have anticipated, but I was definitely starting to get a little bit fearful of what might happen in those final miles without company.

And, hell, let’s face it — the second half of the course was pretty boring…we were running through a park, which was nice and all, but when we were back on the streets we were basically getting to see, shall I say, some of the not-so-nice areas of DC. So that combined with the fact that the spectators had seemed to completely disappear and water stops were fewer and far between and the sun was coming out and it was getting quite warm did not help. Plus, you know, the fact that there weren’t Disney characters to pose with or castles to run through along the course was making the second half of my second marathon seem to drag on FOREVER.

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It was somewhere around mile 16 or so that one of us started to struggle; and, to my utter shock and surprise, it wasn’t me. Todd had been having issues with his lower back during his longer training runs, and unfortunately, that issue came back to rear its ugly head somewhere in the last 10 miles of the race. He told me his legs and feet were really bothering him, but I could see that it was his back that was starting to significantly slow him down. It didn’t help that the second half of the course seemed to have a whole lot of RIDICULOUS HILLS to climb; I made the decision that we should walk up the hills so as to conserve as much energy as we possibly could.

Unfortunately, our walk breaks after said hills, and during and after water stops, were starting to become longer and longer. He was having a really tough time, and I tried to do anything I could to help motivate him to keep moving forward, whether it was reminding him that we only had single-digits left or talking about all the goodies and the pretty, pretty medal waiting for us at the finish line.

He worked so unbelievably hard to train for this race and it broke my heart to see him having such a tough time; at that moment, I would have given anything to be able to see him take off and leave me in his dust. Suddenly, any concerns I had about myself and how I might fare in the second half of this race flew right out the window. I was tired and my legs were started to stiffen up quite a bit, but otherwise, by the time we were approaching the 20-mile marker I was still feeling just fine — so my instinct to focus on helping him finish this race completely took over.

It wasn’t until somewhere in the last 10K that I had MY big physical issue of the race — my stomach started to cramp up unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. This wasn’t a side stitch…this was 4-6 serious cramps that were tightening up in my upper to lower abs, and no amount of walking was making them go away. I don’t know if I was dehydrated or under-fueled or what I did to deserve this agony, but it seriously HURT and made it tough to breathe or run anything faster than, say, a 13-minute/mile. With only a few miles left in the race, though, I did my very best to ignore it. I told Todd I was “fine” and kept doing whatever I could to get him through that last 10K!

We were pretty much doing intervals at that point, and he kept apologizing when he wanted to stop to walk. We both had a five-hour expectation for this race (with a 4:30 being the absolute best-case scenario), so I know it bothered him when we saw the five-hour pacer pass us somewhere in the 23rd mile. I had an fleeting instinct to try to chase her down and beat her to the finish line, but there was no way in hell I was leaving him, nor did I want to encourage him to do anything that might make his back feel worse, so we focused on our third (and most important) goal: to finish. Which, in my mind, should be the goal of any first-time marathoner, no?

At the end of the day, I couldn’t care less about my time for this race; given how my training had gone after Dopey, I went into this race with pretty low expectations…so the fact that I was still feeling pretty strong with nothing other than cramping to complain about in that last 5K was enough of a victory for me!

The last 10K took us about hour and a half to complete. We saw more spectators as we approached the finish line, so I know that helped boost his morale a bit.

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At long last, we saw the mile 26 marker and were headed home. We ran all the way to the finish, and hammed it up for the photographers along the way. We finally made it!

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My second marathon was in the books, and Todd had finished his first. I know he was disappointed by how much he struggled and our finish time, but he did it…and I was SO proud. I didn’t get emotional after I crossed the finish line like I did after my first marathon, but I will say that I was suddenly completely overwhelmed with pride and excitement for him. :)

He always tends to focus a bit more on his finish time than I do, but the way I see it is that training for and successfully completing a marathon, regardless of your finish time, is an incredible accomplishment.

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It was an especially big deal to me because I was so happy with how well I fared; I knew then without a shadow of a doubt that all of the issues I’ve been experiencing in the weeks leading up to this race were completely mental. If there’s anything I’m taking away from this marathon, it’s that I have GOT to let myself acknowledge my own strength once in awhile — both physically and mentally. 762863-1019-0007s

If completing the Dopey Challenge served as a way for me to let go of the person I once was, then this race served as a reminder that I am so much stronger than I give myself credit for, and I have to stop constantly doubting myself. In those last miles of the marathon, as much as I wanted to be done with the race, I couldn’t help but want to savor the moment — through all the physical discomfort, there was still a voice in my head that kept reminding me that it was only a few short years ago that I was getting stuck in movie theater seats and wearing sweatshirts to the beach because I was so ashamed of my body…and now I’m using that body to run marathons.

And that’s why it will probably never matter to me whether it takes me 4 hours or 6 hours to finish 26.2 miles…all that matters to me is that I CAN do it.

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After we finished and were handed out much-deserved medals, we took some pictures and I was expecting the usual Rock ‘n’ Roll hooplah: plenty of snacks and a live band playing.

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Well, here’s my big complaint for the weekend. Even though we finished within the course time limit of 5:30, which was supposed to begin after the LAST RUNNER crossed the finish line (and we started in corral 15, with more than 30 corrals in total), by the time we crossed the finish line with an official time of 5:20, the volunteers were packing up everything to go home. There were no bagels or bananas, which, I’m sorry, should be a staple at the finish line at any marathon, IMHO, and they were basically just handing out the last of what was left: the Powerbars, pretzels, potato chips, Gatorade, chocolate milk, and the like.

We were sitting on the ground eating for less than 10 minutes when the “live band” playing all the way across the parking lot packed it in and left, and within minutes, the place was like a ghost town — even though there were still tons of runners coming in! I thought that really sucked; this wasn’t supposed to be some elite race, so you’re telling me that if you don’t finish in well under 5 hours, that you don’t get to take advantage of the post-race food or festivities? NOT. COOL.

In any case, neither of us wanted to stick around too long after that, anyway. It was time for a little recovery time, and we had plans to hit the Crime Museum later that evening (which was awesome, BTW) and enjoy a victory dinner at Carmine’s.

We remained in DC for the majority of the following day before heading home. We paid a visit to the Newseum, which was awesome, and spent some time wandering around the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. (On some sore, achy feet and legs, might I add!)

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And, of course, we took in the sights and enjoyed taking pictures with our new marathon medals. :)

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All in all, it was an awesome weekend. Maybe the race didn’t exactly meet either of our expectations as far as our finish time, but you can train and train and train and still not be able to anticipate what can happen in those 26.2 miles. We did the best we could, and all that matters is we finished. And, truth be told, I was thrilled that we ended up running the entire marathon together. It was an experience I will not soon forget. :)

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Has a race ever fallen short of your expectations?

 

 

 

 

The Aftermath

Comments

  1. All of your pictures are so awesome! If you didn’t write about the cramps or Todd’s back, I would never have guessed. Congrats to both of you, and now breathe that big sigh of relief as you rest up and run for fun! ;)

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks, Kristina! Haha, that’s what our families keep saying — but most of the pictures were from the first half of the race, when we were still feeling good, haha. I am definitely relieved and ready to run for FUN again! I think he is, too. :)

  2. Y’all did it! Todd has bragging rights and you can take your much needed break from running :)

  3. Congrats to both of you! I loved that you ran the whole marathon together. I can’t believe they were running out of things at the finish line – doesn’t seem characteristic of a Rock n’ Roll race. I would have been so bummed haha.

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks, Stacie! I was definitely glad it ended up with us sticking together for this race. :)

      My thoughts exactly! We’ve never had this problem before at any of the RnR halfs. My guess is that it was because there were all of 3,000 marathoners and practically 20,000 half marathoners…so there really just wasn’t any “hoopla” left for those of us coming in towards the end of the full!

  4. Way to go you two! Crossing the finish line after 26.2 miles is an accomplishment in and of itself. You two look so cute in your pictures – holding hands and hamming it up for the cameras!

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks, Kathryn! I agree — no matter what happens on the course, you can’t help but feel proud just to finish! We were dead tired, but always manage to put on a show for the photographers at the finish line, LOL. :)

  5. I really enjoy your race recaps! I know i’ve said this before but the two of you are just too darn cute! Congrats to you and to Todd for completing his first marathon. I am shocked to find the time limit was only 5:30. That’s not very generous. Heck Boston even gives you a 6:30 limit! So sad that they were tearing down shortly after you finished. The last person who finishes deserves the same amenities as the first person who crosses. That would make me mad too. I’m mad just thinking about it..lol. I’ll be doing a RnR race in September and then one in Nov ( not fulls though).

    • Jennifer says:

      Aw, thanks, Meranda! I agree — I thought the whole time limit and the way they were tearing down the “finish line festival” was really nuts. We’ve run a few of the RnR halfs before and never had this issue, so I’m guessing it was just because so few people were running the marathon — had I known that, we probably would have chosen another race!

  6. I knew you could do it! Congratulations!!!! I love the pictures, and kudos for getting those discounts! Shame on them for giving you any trouble at all!

    • Jennifer says:

      Aw, thanks, Kim! That’s what I said! Why advertise something like that and then when you actually go into a restaurant, museum, etc. and show your bib, they look at you like you’re crazy, LOL.

  7. Great job to both you and Todd!!! I love the red, white, and blue outfits! I completely agree with what you said about acknowledging your strengths, both mentally and physically. We are always our own worst critics, then do these amazing feats and it isn’t until then it seems that we are able to see the strengths we have!

    I have to say that I am disappointed to hear how quickly they were taking all the race stuff down. Totally unacceptable. If you still have runners within the time limit, you don’t pack up! It kind of ruins the finishing experience on some level. Ok, off soap box now lol!

    I am so happy for you both and am really glad you’ll be able to just enjoy running for fun for a while now. That being said, do you have an idea of what your next big race will be? :0)

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks, Lauren! My thoughts EXACTLY — running a marathon really forces you to start thinking that way, doesn’t it? :)

      I agree; it really wasn’t cool at all, and I was definitely disappointed. We were in no way even close to the last runners to finish, so the fact that they basically got to finish their marathon in an empty parking lot totally sucks!

      So as far as my next BIG RACE — we have a bunch of half marathons lined up for the spring, but I’m still deciding on my next full…if that’s what you’re asking. ;) I entered the lottery for the NYC Marathon, which I would KILL to run, but I’m obviously not holding my breath or anything. Todd has expressed interest in running the WDW Marathon next January, so you KNOW I’m going to be all over that if we decide to do it!

  8. christi in ma says:

    congratulations!!!! I’m so happy for you! And your patriotic sparkle skirt is simply adorable. You pick the cutest race outfits. What flavors of Nuun do you like? I’m addicted to the Lemon Tea but would love suggestions on some others to try.

    • Aw, thanks, Christi! It was kind of strange wearing three skirts at once, but I thought I’d give it a try. LOL. I LOVE the Kona Cola Nuun; I like the taste of soda, but I really don’t drink it anymore, and that’s pretty much what it tastes like. Haha. Also, the watermelon is great (my favorite in the summer) and I also like the grape, cherry limeade, and fruit punch flavors. :)

  9. I’m running in DC next month and I love reading all about it in everyone’s recaps about this race– it gets me excited for running in the nation’s capital!! I hope you keep running… b/c I love reading your race recaps :)

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks, Kathleen! You’ll love it; it really is a great city to run through. I’m definitely not giving up running — I just need a little break from training plans for awhile! :)

  10. Congratulations on finishing! And finishing together! It’s always tough to finish a race and not meet your expectations (especially the ones that you have, but you pretend you don’t) but the important this is you guys finished 26.2 and that’s something a LOT of people can’t say! Congrats again! :)

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks, Kellie! I agree. No matter what, running a marathon is HUGE. It was still an awesome weekend and a fun race experience! :)

  11. Congratulations to both of you! Now, enjoy some time off!

  12. So I thought I had commented on this the other day when I read it, but apparently not! Congrats to both you and Todd! It’s funny how anything can happen over the course of 26.2 miles not matter how good or bad your training was!

    I’m heading down to DC for the Cherry Blossom race in a couple of weeks and I’m really looking forward to doing some of the “tourist” stuff. Definitely thinking about the Newseum, but there’s just so much to do!

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks, Danielle! That is SO true.

      I’d love to do the Cherry Blossom sometime; have a great time! There’s SO much to do. I really loved the Newseum, especially since I’m a writer and have worked for newspapers, magazines, etc., but there is a TON to see there — we were looking around for 3+ hours and still didn’t see it all. It was really hard to fit in everything we wanted to see…all the more reason to go back for a race in the near future, haha. :)

  13. I’ve noticed that a lot at RNR races, they cater more to the half marathoners bc there are so many more of them. If I were ever to run one of their marathons, it would be a huge bummer- even though most of their marathon course limits are 7 hours!

    BUT yall rocked it. . .and are those finisher shirts I spot?! Love that RNR does that!

    • Jennifer says:

      YES. That is exactly how I felt, and had I realized that, I probably wouldn’t have signed up for this race. It really wasn’t cool that there was nothing going on at the finish line, and I guess the ridiculous course limit made it even worse.

      We didn’t get the official finisher shirts this time, but these shirts were among our expo purchases! :)

  14. Ok, so this is an awesome report and I am so sorry about Todd’s back :( But the race in general sounds amazing! Except the finish line. That sounds completely rude and disheartening for all the runners. I suppose if this were a smaller race in a small town where volunteers are limited, that would be acceptable, but come on! This is a RnR race! In the capital of the country! It may not be MCM, but if RnR is going to embrace this race, they have to do it right. And right generally means having a full-on party at the finish line. I am so upset for you and T for not getting that experience :(

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks, Amy! It was a fun race, don’t get me wrong — but, yeah, the fact that it seemed RnR couldn’t care less about the marathoners and the “after-party” was practically packed up by the time all the half marathoners finished was really disappointing. I should have looked into the ratio of half marathoners to full marathoners for this race before signing up…because there was definitely NO party whatsoever by the time we finished! Lesson learned, right? I’m sure our next marathon experience will be better! :)

  15. Bonnie S. says:

    I just wanted to say congrats to you and Todd! What an awesome way for him to finish his first full! Also that is super lame about everything being packed up right after you finished. :(

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks, Bonnie! It was definitely disappointing, but we still had fun and I was super proud of him for finishing his first full! I’m sure our next marathon experience will be better!

  16. Congrats!! All your photos look amazing!

  17. You both did an amazing job pushing through and getting to the finish line. Stomach issues can be SO painful. I’ve definitely experienced that and know how tough it can be. I know you had so much turmoil leading up to the race, but like you said, it’s not about how fast you do it, it’s about the fact that you do it. Congrats to both of you!

  18. Congratulations to you both!!!!! Your accomplishment is both courageous and awe-inspiring. I can not wait for my 1st marathon. I raise my glass to both of you!!!

  19. ps- Great photos!!! I see a lot of pictures that deserve frames and wall space :) !!!

    • Jennifer says:

      Oh, absolutely! I can’t even tell you how many race photos I have all over my apartment; it’s getting a little ridiculous. hahaha.

  20. Just found your recap from the chatter on Twitter – I’m really shocked that at that finish time, which is a pretty reasonable finish time for a full marathon, they didn’t have the finish line in full force. That is really disappointing! But congrats to both of you!

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