• The Umbrella Mom

21.1km: Washington DC Trail Half Marathon 2019

A trail half marathon? As I train on road only, this was an unexpected adventure in my quest for 12 half marathons in 12 months!

Usually when I am on business travel I fly in and out for the specific days of work. However, on this particular trip to Washington DC, I was attending important training courses for my job, so I decided to arrive one day earlier to be well rested for the training - and not fall asleep during the training courses from jetlag.

So after booking my trip, I was wondering what would I do for the Sunday when I was preparing for my work course. I had been in DC about 14 years earlier, so had done most of the sightseeing already. I decided to google for marathons - nothing returned on google, and hey, I wasn´t trained for a marathon so that would have been a baaadddd idea anyway! So I re-googled for half marathons. And there it was - the Washington DC Half Marathon, in aid of the EOD Warrior Foundation. The course route would run through the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Path, a route used for 6 different half marathons in Washington the prior year. $65 to enter, an additional $5 to order the vest instead of the race t-shirt, and I was entered. I had no idea what to expect - jetlag works better from Europe to the States than in the opposite direction, but with a 7.30am race start time, would I have enough rest to be ready to run 21.1km? I was about to find out.

When I fly long haul, I tend to sit and not move for the full flight (I am sure my seating companions are always happy when I don´t move!) So this flight on the Saturday was no different. I sat for 9 hours without moving, which included the 1 hour delay on the tarmac in Barcelona El Prat. While I had eaten well all week, travel day was not a good day for eating with delicious ice cream delivered after the dinner on the plane, and chocolate I had brought for supplies. Oh well, one thing I am not is perfect with diet 7 days a week. Unfortunately I chose the day before the race to not be healthy. A lesson in discipline for me, as it discounted a lot of the hard work with diet during the week.

I arrived to the hotel around midnight Spanish time, 6pm Washington. I laid out all my race gear for the next day, set my alarm to 5.20am, headed out to find a pasta meal (found Vapiano, the same restaurant I ate in before the Paris Marathon...I took this as a good sign!) and had the lights out by 9pm.

I must have woke up every 30 mins from about 1am, but that is normal with jetlag. So I was happy to finally get out of bed around 5am. Bib collection was from 6.15am, with no bib collection possible in the previous days. So I ordered an Uber (my first time doing so...awesome service!), ate a banana (there was no breakfast service in the hotel until 7am), and got to the race start 1 hour 15 mins before it began. Luckily there were no queues for bib collection as I was there so early, while a queue clearly built from around 6.45am.

Unfortunately there were no baggage storage facilities. Thankfully I ventured out for bib collection without a sports jacket or any bag. So while I wasn´t overly impacted by no baggage facilities, as there was no where to leave anything, I needed to run with my new race t-shirt tied to my sports belt for the full race. Not ideal.

I was talking to a number of people before the race and learnt that it was a trail race, with one woman telling me to watch for the rocks and stones. The first time I noted trail being mentioned was about possible race congestion if many people were running, sent a few days prior in race emails. So I figured it wasn´t a real trail....I was in for a surprise!

The race was unusual in that it was timed, but started with a "gun start" i.e. they did a countdown and it didn´t record when you crossed the start line. So depending on where you were in the starting group, you would lose a number of seconds. I lost around 8 seconds between the race finish time and my garmin finish time, so I learnt for the first time that gun starts mean be in the front row :).

The race was enjoyable. Once I figured out with trail running you have to look down a lot of the time, the first 10km were relatively easy. It was warm (due to hit 31 degrees C that day), but there was nice shade in the trees. I had to stop around 6km to empty my shoes of stones....that was an unusual experience as it also would impact my time, but I realised I needed to forget about times: this was something new - trail running, which I was not trained for, so anything was a bonus. Meanwhile, as I now run by heart rate I am not actively watching my pace, but the pace was coming up consistent when the Garmin alerted the km markers, except when I stopped to empty my shoes!

As it was a direct route out and back, basically every runner passed every other runner at some point. While there were around 300 people running the half marathon, it didn´t feel like I passed that many people. The race was deceptively quiet, once the first few km were done and the runners had spread out. Maybe looking at the ground for 21.1km helped not to see anyone!

I did notice that there were A LOT of women running and mostly in their 20s and early 30s, whereas the males were more distributed in age. I thought it was around 50:50 men: women, but looking at the post race stats, 53% of the race were women. This is quite unique, as I have not seen that in "local" half marathons in Spain - usually there are much less women running to men in the longer distance athletic races.

I hit my usual "I love to run" couple of km from 12km......don´t know what it is about me and 12km, but invariably, even on training runs, it is when I hit my rhythm. But it wasn´t to last for long (as usual!)....around 14km I started to struggle in the heat. The shade was no longer with the trees as it was now almost 9am, and it was super tough to run. I drank a lot more water than I usually do, and stopped to drink and refill at a water station. I really found 16km-20km tough, with the final 1.1km manageable as the end line was in view! Crossing the finish line at just under 2 hours 3 mins, I went straight for the water fountains and drank the most water I have ever done post race. I hung around for a while afterwards, chatting to great people from the global running community, really happy to have experienced a different side of Washington DC! And a definite way to kill the jetlag, as I slept like a baby that night for 11 hours!

My record of the race on Strava

Refuel Stops: there were really great water facilities very frequently, with energy drinks also, all in plastic cups. Around every 3km. Plenty water and treats at the finish line!

Inclines: A few very very minor inclines, hardly noticeable. A good intro to trail running, as it was flat

Course Design: This was a straight run out along the canal for 10.55 km and back. There were no markers on the course, so no indication of what distance you had covered other than your watch

Race Entertainment: At the start/finish line

Facilities: There was no baggage storage facilities. 4 Portaloos at the start/finish line, where the organisers forgot to open 2, so a massive queue at 7am before they realised 2 were closed. They mentioned there was one portaloo en route and another toilet accessible in a building - so two enroute.

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