The Army 10 Miler is one of those races where just about anyone in the DC area that likes to run, has done. As the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler bills itself as the “Runner’s Rite of Spring,” the Army 10 might as well usher in the season of jackets and gloves. Somehow, in my five years as a person who runs (I don’t love calling myself a runner), I have managed to never run this race. Sometimes it was too close to Marine Corps for my liking. Twice it was in a time period where I was taking a hiatus from running. Last year it was the day after my wedding. Finally – this year – the stars aligned and I had my chance. On my first wedding anniversary no less!!
I had been warned it would be just as crowded as Cherry Blossom and there is no way to PR on the course. I wasn’t terribly worried about this. While I have been working hard and reaching my goal of a 100 day running streak (when I go run this evening I will officially be at day 38), I have found myself more interested in consistency than distance or speed. I run every day, but at least three or four days a week that run is only a mile long, and rarely are any of them longer than four miles. I wasn’t sure what ten miles would look like, or feel like, or how long it would take. I decided to not worry about it and just go and have fun with my husband.
We woke up early (for the record, I don’t love getting up in the dark), with the plans of picking up our friend in Alexandria and driving over to park at Pentagon City. We felt like we were doing great on time, having left our house a little after 6:30 on the way to drop our dog with my mom so we could race and have a leisurely brunch afterwards. On our way to Alexandria, however, we got a text letting us know that it was already a bit of a madhouse trying to park, and we hadn’t even made it to Alexandria yet. We abandoned that plan and headed for the metro in Alexandria instead, where we were all able to meet up. It was absolutely freezing. Okay, I realize that it probably wasn’t THAT freezing, but given that we have not yet adjusted into full winter, it felt freezing. We huddled together and were grateful for the fairly frequent trains. I am happy to report that the metro did its job, got us safely and quickly to the Pentagon metro station, where we hopped off with the rest of the sea of runners to find our starting corral. I was really impressed with how well organized the start was. If you haven’t run it before – there are eight starting corrals with different bib colors, and all the corrals are designated at the start by an arch of colored balloons. As each corral moves forward, the balloons all bunch together at the start line. I don’t think there was anyone policing the corrals, but I will say that folks seemed to be following the rules for the most part, which is a huge help when you are trying for a certain pace!
My husband and I went out as part of the third wave of runners. By the time we crossed the starting line we had already
wrapped our jackets around our waists. The sun was shining and the weather was absolutely beautiful to be out running. We trotted along not really paying attention to pace, but enjoying the time together. It was our anniversary after all, and given that we have two kids and three jobs between the two of us, having time alone that isn’t filled up with some kind of child or domestic related task is a bit of a treat. There was certainly a lot of folks on the course, but I rarely felt like it was TOO crowded, and to be honest I only really remember one moment of bottlenecking on the entire course. Anytime I felt like I needed to pass someone I had plenty of space, and we moved along the course nicely. Speaking of the course – man is it a great one! Very scenic and lovely. I snapped a mid run picture of us at mile five, still looking happy and perky (as I wasn’t sure if at some point my legs would decide that running ten sounded awful). Somewhere around seven or eight miles in the course takes you across THE BRIDGE. Anyone that has ever run Marine Corps knows this bridge. It is the worst bridge. It is a bridge that breaks spirits. As we started to approach the bridge I actually found myself giving myself a little pep-talk about the bridge. How it wouldn’t get me this time.
As we started across the bridge, the crowd grew suspiciously quiet. Silently I remembered my last time on this bridge. How I stopped, walked, sat down on the side, and nearly burst into tears because my legs just didn’t want to go anymore and I knew I had six more miles. I remember seeing other people break down on the bridge. It seems to go on forever, somehow ALL uphill, and without a single spectator to keep you going. As we trotted along with our relatively fresh legs, I wondered how many other people around me were also reliving their own personal nightmares with this bridge, or plotting how they would absolutely crush it at Marine Corps in a few weeks time.
Thankfully, we made it over the bridge and started wrapping closer to the end. Around mile nine I felt my calves start to cramp. Not bad enough for me to need to stop, but enough for me to know I wouldn’t be turning on any heat for this last mile. I told my husband that if he had anything in the tank and wanted to speed up he should head on out while I trotted behind. Off he went – his last mile being his fastest by nearly a minute (I realize I may have been holding him back, but he was an awfully nice sport about it). I made it through that last mile with no great problems, and even though I had done very little in the way of training, I managed to finish only three minutes slower than my previous PR for a ten miler.
For Sean, it was a PR, as it was his first official ten miler (we ran Cherry Blossom in the Spring, but the course had been shortened due to an accident). I told him I can forgive that he beat me at the race today (by about 48 seconds), because he still hasn’t beaten my PR. I may need him to lose interest in running soon so as to preserve that relationship. We spent the next 30 or so minutes hanging out on the course cheering for others and waiting to see friends. If you heard a crazy person screaming about the chocolate chip muffins available at the finish – that was me. We had a blast encouraging others to finish strong before heading off for a lovely anniversary brunch.
It was a great race and I hope it wasn’t my last. If you are hesitant to sign up due to crowd size, I would say go for it anyway. Even if it isn’t a great PR course (which I personally disagree with – our corral certainly wasn’t crowded), it’s a very well organized race with a lot of friendly folks!!
Til next time!