I had the pleasure of running the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in DC yesterday.
I had some major reservations coming into this race because:
1) My training was hampered by a wedding and also by my own laziness, so I was concerned I would have a difficult race.
2) The race seemed pretty disorganized – our acceptance emails went to our spam folders, the website is pretty useless, and we didn’t get an email about packet pickup until the last week; the expo was in Georgetown (nowhere near the race) which is 25 minutes walking from the nearest metro and is impossible to get through on a Saturday evening.
3) The race was extremely expensive. Instead of a finisher medal, you get a Tiffany necklace (presented to you by a fireman in a tuxedo), and you also get a pretty nice Nike shirt, and the entrance requires a lottery, and so I convinced myself that the outrageous entrance fee might be worth it just this once.
We got to the start line on Sunday morning and were extremely pleased that despite the number of runners, there were more than enough bathrooms. This is a hallmark of women’s races, I have noticed, and also something that makes me not mind a hefty entrance fee. There was a line for the first set, but if you walked past them, you got to some very clean port-a-pots with no wait. We checked our bags at the bag check, which was also well organized with no line, and then went to line up. The corrals were tricky, because they limited the entrance points and it got really, really crowded. There were waves, but they didn’t stagger the start, which worked really well. They did require everyone to wear a wristband with their pace on it and told us that we could only go in the corrals we were paced for. There were 15,000 runners but I didn’t see a single person with a “wrong” colored wristband in our corral, and we were with other “orange” runners the entire time.
My only other DC race has been The Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, which is a similar course, slightly smaller crowd, and similar start line Wave Start – CB has had major issues in the past, particularly with crowds and bathrooms, and I would say the Nike Women’s Half did a better job of managing the crowds. In Cherry Blossom, runners regularly run with other waves, and also start late because they are in the long line for the bathrooms (much better managed this year though).
The course for this race was absolutely beautiful – it started off with the capitol framed in the start line, and we went under the mall in a tunnel (running through the bore in a tunnel has always been a race goal of mine, it was pretty cool), up onto the freeway, and then down around the Washington monument, across the bridge to Arlington and back, and in the direction of Georgetown, then we turned around and came back past the Lincoln memorial and down to Haines Point. That stretch was pretty long and pretty quiet – this race in general did not have the fantastic crowd that many “hometown” races have – the Mall and sights of DC are not residential areas, so it wasn’t like people just came out to watch the race – they had to make an effort, and the race was awfully early. There were a few “cheer stations” set up, but the ones towards the end were pretty lackluster. After Haines point, we started to turn back into the Mall and Capitol, which meant actually getting back on the freeway (which was the WORST – it was straight uphill and it was mile 10) . We had to go back through the same tunnel, which was a little smelly after 10 miles of sweating, but pretty energizing because the band was still going, and the tunnel was mostly downhill. We rounded out of the tunnel and started heading towards the finish line – fortunately, you couldn’t see it, so we weren’t upset that we were so close to the finish and still had to run around the capitol. (We were also emotionally prepared for this, since we studied the course map.)
Mile 12 was where my body shut down a bit and I lost my pacing. My running buddy was having knee problems and needed to take longer strides, so I told her to go, and at that point people started passing me and I was struggling. After we rounded the front of the capitol (we didn’t actually have to run around it, which was great), we started coming down Pennsylvania avenue and you could see the finish line…which I thought would be pretty inspiring and make me run faster, but I was pretty tired and couldn’t breathe enough to pick up the pace any. The finish line looked so small for so long – you could watch it for about .7 miles, which is a pretty long time to be watching a finish line not get any bigger, especially because the crowd wasn’t really generally supportive, it was a lot of people silently holding signs and cheering only for their own friends or family members when they saw them.
According to my husband, who was at home, the live runner tracking software actually stopped my marker at the 20k mark until I caught up with it because I was so off my projected pace. However, I finished in 2:07 so I’m not unhappy with my time – the last mile cost me about 2 minutes, since my friend finished in 2:05. Still pretty good considering my 11-minute-mile pace in training runs lately.
The water stops were pretty frequent and well organized – with one huge exception, which is that they were not on a consistent side of the road, and they were not on both sides of the road. They were serving Nuun instead of gatorade, which made me really excited, but once we were on the course I couldn’t find the Nuun when I wanted it, and then I wound up just wanting water the rest of the time. Mile 4 had Cliff Shot Blocks, which was awesome – they were cut into 3-block sections of a package, so really easy to grab and get out without getting your fingers sticky, and a manageable amount. I would have been so happy if they had Shot Blocks later in the race, but instead they served mini-luna-bars, which are okay – we split one, and it was just enough for the rest of the race, and I was happy to get “real food” on the race course but another Shot Blocks station would have been appreciated. Or a random stranger holding trays of gummy bears, but see above, not a residential race.
The post race was relatively well organized – we came across the finish line – although this was a big first timer race and the girls in front of me got over the finish line and stopped dead, which meant I actually had to pause right before the final timing mat and then walk around them, which was really annoying. Anyway, past the annoying girls, across the red carpet (which was a fun touch), I found my running buddy and we made our way to the food line, which was sparse – banana, fruit cup, and bagel, plus a bottle of water, and then we got our finisher T-shirts which were seriously adorable, and our necklaces (I felt so bad for the guys in the tuxes, they must have been pretty warm, although they had not just run 13.1 miles so maybe they were a reasonable temperature.) We passed out of the official finisher area and then walked around – we got some free samples from Bare Minerals and Paul Mitchell (I could complain about the sexism of a race that caters to women, or I could enjoy my hair product samples and admit that women-friendly stuff was part of why I ran the race). We then found the Kaiser Permanente Stretching Lounge, which will forever be my Happy Place. They had strawberry-banana smoothies, water in big infusion jars with lemon, mint, watermelon, and basil cucumber. We also got stretching bands, stress balls, first aid kits, and washcloths. The washcloths were the GREATEST THING EVER.
We made our way back to the bag check, which was where things were pretty disorganized. The crowds getting both into and out of the corrals were a mess, and then we still had to fight down the sidewalk on Pennsylvania avenue to bag check, but bag check was again easy, and there was plenty of extra water and Nuun around the bag check, which was great since I was pretty dehydrated, and there were still plenty of fairly clean and available bathrooms.
On the metro ride back, we debated whether we would run this race again, given the hassle of travel and the extreme cost. I tend to think that the race was definitely worth it to do once, but I’m not sure that I’ll feel a strong pull towards doing it again. I definitely am considering the Rock and Roll USA half though -it’s earlier in the year, so less hot, and more residential, so hopefully a better crowd. I have also loved the GW Parkway Classic in the past, which is a great race and I would also happily do again.
Have you ever run one of the Nike Women’s Races? What makes a great half marathon for you?