Brandi wasn’t the only one running this past weekend! But in contrast to the 45,000 runners at the Chicago Marathon, I ran a race half the distance with less than a tenth of the runners: The Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon. The race starts at Mount Vernon in Alexandria, Virginia, and runs up the scenic George Washington Memorial Parkway, over the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge, and finishes at National Harbor in Maryland.
My only experiences with race expos was at the Austin Half Marathon and Rock’n'Roll USA Marathon, so I was expecting a busy, crowded race expo. I got there around 2:00 on Saturday expecting a line but I walked right in. Neither Bart Yasso nor Hal Higdon were there, but the packet pick-up was smooth and there was a company selling all the necessities: gels, Body Glide and band-aids. I was in and out within fifteen minutes, and only took that long because I stopped to make a quick purchase for my mom:
I’m far enough away from Alexandria (about 45 minutes) that if I run this race again next year, I will probably pay the $35 to get my bib mailed to me and skip the expo.
This was my first point-to-point run. I pulled into National Harbor around 5:45 but didn’t actually park until closer to 6 because the line of cars was so long. If you plan accordingly, the line isn’t that bad and the police there did a great job of keeping everything moving. I boarded the bus around 6:10 and tried to enjoy the 20 minute bus ride to the start and not think about how I was going to be running up this exact route roughly an hour later.
There were plenty of port-a-potties at the start and the bag drop lines were sort of long but moved fairly quickly. Again, I planned accordingly so I was done with everything by 7:00 and could relax and warm up before the 7:30 start; for those who arrived later, it may have been a different experience. The corrals were clearly marked, though only by minutes (i.e. 7 minute pace, 8 minute pace, etc) so you potentially had a variety of paces surrounding you.
The race started on time, so we were off at 7:30! I had set three goals for myself:
- PR - 1:42.00 (to beat my time at the Austin Half Marathon)
- Run under 1:40
- Run 1:35 (~7:15 pace)
Now, 7:15 pace sounded prettttty intimidating to me but I was going to go for it. I had been hitting my pace times during workouts, so I
hoped thought I was in good enough shape. I looked at the elevation of the course ahead of time doing a quick search on Map My Run (thanks to the handful of people who posted their maps!) and saw that the first mile was downhill, but 2.5 to 6 were uphill. I figured I could take those uphills at 7:30 and hopefully make up the difference during the adrenaline rush at the beginning and finish.
First mile: 6:50. WHAT?! I tried not to panic because there was a significant downhill, but then I followed that one with 6:57, 7:06 and 7:26 (uphill). I kept aiming for the 7:15 pace I had mentally agreed to, but was feeling so good that I started to think, “Maybe I could beat ALL my goals…” Soon I was disappointed if my mile splits weren’t below 7:10, and knew I was on pace to run an amazing time–if I didn’t have any major injuries, bathroom issues or other emergencies.
When I hit the Wilson Bridge during mile 9, I slowed to a 7:36 mile to make it up the massive hill to get to the middle of the bridge. Coming down the other side was a nice downhill, but then as soon as you finish with the bridge you have to run a steep uphill onto a trail to cross the busy street. After that, it evened out until mile 11 when the course comes up and around the parking lots at National Harbor.
Fortunately, I had read the pre-race FAQs and vaguely remembered something about a “soft surface” near the finish of the race. Sure enough, during the last mile you suddenly are thrown onto a super soft, uneven gravel path. As if my legs weren’t already aching enough from the hill in mile 11, they threw this at me! I focused on my form and just kept thinking about the finish and how hard I had worked to get to this point in the race.
Coming around the final turn to the finish, I couldn’t believe the clock. Does that really say… 1:34? It sure did! I crossed the finish line with an official chip time of 1:34:09. I’m still in awe that my legs carried me that quickly… that time was good for 21st female overall and eleventh in my age group. Not too shabby! =)
After grabbing some water, gatorade and a banana, I retrieved my bag and went to get my complimentary post-race beverage (yes, it was roughly 9:00 in the morning, in case you did the math). I have to say, their selection of local microbrews AND Yuengling was impressive! And additional beers were only $3! Definitely the cheapest beer you’ll find in D.C. (though I wasn’t even able to finish my free beer, let alone buy another round). Surprisingly, getting out of National Harbor was a breeze and I was back in bed napping within an hour!
Now that I’m still on this runner’s high, I’m thinking about piggybacking off my training with another half marathon in early December (maybe this other young race?). Happy running!