Navy Air Force Half Marathon Race Recap

September 16, 2014

September 16, 2014

This past weekend I ran my 16th half marathon, the Navy Air Force Half Marathon in Washington, DC.

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Image: Navy Air Force Half Marathon

Huh… wait… rewind, why/when did Jennifer sign up for this? I had an 18 mile long run scheduled as part of my New York City Marathon training this past weekend.  A few weeks ago I decided to sign up for the half as part of my training run.  Even though I would be running by myself, it would be a nice distraction (also less lonely with a couple thousand people around you).  The race course is also very similar to the route I ran for my 16 miler about a month ago.

Packet Pickup / Expo

When I ran the Navy Air Force 5 Miler in 2012 packet pickup was held at the Joint Base Anacostia-Boling – which is not the most convenient location.  This year they moved packet pickup to Nationals Park Stadium (home of the Nats).  I had mixed emotions about this – it was off the green line (yes), but I never liked when the Baltimore Running Festival held their pickup at Ravens Stadium, the concourse area was too narrow.  On Saturday morning I arrived a little before 9:30am (when they opened) and there were no signs telling runners where to go (you had to turn right). 

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I got in line before it opened- which is usually peak time for early birds like me. I’ve gone to larger expos and have been in/out in 15-20 minutes, I was expecting the same or less.

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We had to go through bag check (fine) and then this happened! The lines were not organized properly, it was congested (look how narrow the concourse is) and the line behind me was growing (imagine when you get to customs and the border patrol at the airport and the line furthest away is the shortest – but you can never see it).  The organizers attempted to create some sort of queuing structure, but it added to the confusion. 

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I am a huge fan of races and stores that are strategic in their queuing  management.  There is actually a science to lines (yes I am a little b-school nerd). Have you ever been to a Trader Joes or Whole Foods in which you wait in a single line and get directed to one of dozen registers available? Those type of lines are actually more efficient -feel free to read more about this in the Wall Street Journal article “Find the Best Checkout Line”. Ok I digressed….

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Source: Wall Street Journal

By the time you got to the booth (you were not pre-assigned a bib number), they looked up your name on a laptop, scanned a bib number, and proceeded to write your name with a sharpie marker on the emergency section (ummmm…..).  We were then directed to the other end of the concourse for our shirts – passing the expo vendors along the way.  By the time I left it was a 45-50 minute trip.

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I am curious if there were issues during off peak hours (Saturday was the only day for packet pickup so it may have been a steady flow throughout the day).  I am sure organizers will take this as a lesson learned and logistics will be improved for next year –  because this is a really great race to participate in!

Race Goals (“A” least probable and “C” most probable)

Because this was part of my training run, I did not run this half at race pace.  Here were my goals for this half:

  • A – Run at an E/L pace of 12:30/mile
  • B – Run the first half without music
  • C – Finish the race

I knew that the excitement of the half would make it difficult to run at an E/L pace, so that is why I made that my A goal.

Navy Air Force Half Marathon

My original plan was to wake up on half morning and run five miles to the starting line – that didn’t happen. After a few sessions with the snooze button I woke up, got dressed, ate my banana, and drank a couple glasses of water.  I left my apartment around 5:45am and started on my 2 mile journey to the starting line.  It was chilly, but perfect temperatures for a run.  I made it to the starting line, dropped off my bag, and ran another mile before the start. 

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The half started by the Washington Monument, the same location as the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler.  This out and back course took us over the Memorial Bridge, pass the Kennedy Center, up Rock Creek Park (but before THE HILL of the Rock ‘n” Roll half), and back around Hains Point before the finish.  This course combined the typical routes of DC races.

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The race began after the sound of the Navy bell.  It was a beautiful morning – sunny and cool with little to no humidity. I saw Courtney on the Memorial Bridge, and both Courtney and Julie in Rock Creek Park, it is always nice to see familiar faces.

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I was consistently running a 11:45-12:00/mile for the first 10 miles (despite my best efforts to slow down to 12:30).  I felt pretty good for the first 10 (a total of 13 miles at that point), but I knew it was going to come back and bite me… and it did. While I was in Hains Point I had this strange cramp on the left side of my torso – it eventually went away.  I used a run/walk interval to complete the last few miles and finished with a time of 2:42:06 (about 9 minutes + my PR).  While I technically met my “A” goal since it averaged out to 12:23/mile (attributed to my last 3-4 miles), that is probably not what coach had in mind. I will need to work on that the next couple of long runs – I do not want to go out too fast on Marathon morning!

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After I took this artsy medal shot I headed to the Runner’s Village and ran into Courtney, Julie and Mar. We soon parted ways and I walked the 2 miles back to my apartment to complete my 18 miles for the day (I had no energy to run the last 2).  

Final Thoughts

  • A nice flat course – definitely a race you can PR in.
  • This is also a nice alternative if you do not get into the Army Ten Miler.  Also, I read that Nike will not host their spring half marathon in DC in 2015.  This course is very similar (slight different start/finish and less Rock Creek).
  • The website said they expected 6,500-8,000 runners, I think there was less.
  • Multiple distances for everyone (5M or 13.1M).
  • While many people do not love Hains Point, I actually enjoy it.  There is a nice breeze along the water and you can see planes take off from Reagan National Airport
  • Wonderful volunteers – I thought the water stations were well managed. Bag drop off and pick up were a breeze.
  • There was still plenty of food when I finished – but I saw some runners doubling/tripling up on their goods……oh people.
  • A much improved website! Although I had issues pulling it up on my mobile device.
  • I really liked my long sleeved technical tee – it will be nice for layering up.
  • This year half marathon finishers received medals instead of a finishers coin.
  • Packet pickup improvements (see above)

Despite packet pickup, I would run this half again.  Because I was using this half as part of my training run, I would love the opportunity to race this course.

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And I leave you with my yummy post run sandwich from BakeHouse.

Have you run the Navy Air Force Half Marathon or 5 Miler?

What has been your best packet pickup/expo experience?

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2 Comments
    1. I’m running this on Sunday and haven’t really had a chance to think about it so your recap is especially helpful (as always)! Packet pickup is on two days now and at the Armory; also bibs are pre-assigned. It sounds like they learned from last year and (hopefully) have improved.

      It looks like the changed the course a bit, too. We’ll go around Hains point at the beginning of the race, and we’ll be going in the opposite direction of how I’ve always run it in the past! I’m also looking forward to running so far up rock creek park – I’m used to turning around at the Kennedy Center.
      Kim Westrich recently posted…Revenge of the Penguins 20-Miler RecapMy Profile

      1. Run Jenny Run

        Glad this recap helped! Nice to hear the NAH made some changes based on feedback the past couple of years. Stadium Armory should definitely help with the crowding. I’m not running the half this weekend (I’ll be running the Metric Marathon in Columbia), but will pickup a packet for my friend on Saturday.

        So jealous it is a reverse course! I would love to try that haha. I also noticed on the course map you guys do not traverse the entire Memorial Bridge – that is new to me as well. I am glad you will be able to run Rock Creek (preview for MCM). Good luck this weekend! Can’t wait to see pics and read your recap.

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