7 Quick Lessons from my 16th Place Finish at the Rock ‘n’ Roll DC Half Marathon

by Jason Fitzgerald

Tune-up races are tough – especially before a marathon. So I’m psyched about my race at this year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in Washington, DC.

With five weeks to go before the Boston Marathon, I’m deep in the midst of training: 80+ mile weeks, grueling long runs, and workouts that seem to go on for hours. Actually, they do go on for hours…

And with no taper or half marathon-specific workouts, racing a half right now is difficult. You’re tired, under-rested, and have no turnover in your legs from all the heavy training.

But despite all that, half marathons have become a staple tune-up race 3-5 weeks before a marathon goal race. I wrote this awhile back about HM tune-ups:

Marathoners should race a half marathon before a marathon only if they’re already in very good shape, injury-free, and know they can recover enough in 2-3 days to resume normal training. If you tend to recover more slowly or know your body can’t handle the demands of a half, choose a shorter tune-up race like 10k or 10 miles.

Boy, am I feeling that half in my legs right now! Even though I’m in great shape, it hurts to walk down stairs and my run the day after the race was significantly slower than usual.

But regardless, it was a fantastic experience and leaves me very encouraged for the Boston Marathon next month. I ran 74:05 and finished in 16th place out of 16,724 half marathon finishers. My splits:

  • 5k: 17:39
  • 10k: 35:24
  • 10mi: 56:44
  • Overall Pace: 5:40

You can check out my full results here.

Today I want to share my insights, lessons, and observations from the race so you can learn from them and hopefully race faster. Some might be obvious, a few humorous, and all of them can help race day go smoother for you.

Stop Standing Around So Much!

On Friday I went to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Expo to pick up my bib, get my gear check bag, and score some free snacks from the many vendors exhibiting at the DC Armory. Even with security, filling out a medical form, standing in two more lines, and a quick lap around the entire Expo, I was finished in less than 30 minutes.

But I noticed most runners were just hanging out, standing up for awhile at each vendor and wasting time on their feet. The same was true immediately before the race when thousands of runners were talking to one another near the gear check trucks.

My college coach has a great piece of advice for marathoners that every runner should heed:

Don’t spend a lot of time at the Expo – get your number, see a few vendors, but get out of there as soon as possible.

The last thing you need is to spend hours on your feet before a major race, accumulating fatigue when you should be resting. Whenever possible, sit down and relax.

This may seem trivial, but you’ve spent months preparing. Why let a few hours of being on your feet put your race at risk?

No Warm-up? Coach Jason Angry!

Before the race started, I saw only a handful of runners doing any type dynamic warm-up. Most were standing around, doing a few static stretches – which is the WORST way to get ready for a race.

In an interesting observation, I saw that the handful of runners who were doing a dynamic warm-up were the faster runners. Before you say, “yeah, that’s because they’re fast!” I’ll ask you this:

Do these runners do dynamic stretches because they’re fast? Or are they fast because they do “extras” like a dynamic warm-up?

Noodle on that.

There Are Less Crowded Bathrooms Nearby

At any big race, there are going to be huge lines for the porta-potties. Except the 2008 NYC Marathon, when there were hundreds of unused toilets lining the streets. It was my Graceland…

But if you’re smart, you can skip these lines entirely. Just start your warm-up and run to the nearest coffee shop. Within  7 minutes of running I found a Starbucks that had five open stalls. This works as long as you’re in a more urban area and it’s not too early in the morning.

#BOOM – no waiting in porta-potty lines!

Run the Tangents

I’ve been saying this for years, but I saw thousands of runners going the long way around turns and corners last weekend at the Rock ‘n’ Roll half. And with about 18 ninety-degree turns and many other less sharp turns through just the half marathon course, it becomes even more important.

Run tangents by not following the curve of the road and running the shortest distance between each turn, like the red line here:

Run the Tangents

Even though running the tangents means that you’ll expose yourself to the road’s camber, it’s worth it. You likely won’t hurt yourself this way after one race. The dangers of running on the camber are real, but it takes more than one run to develop muscle imbalances that can lead to injuries.

You Will Doubt Yourself

No matter how fast you are, you’ll doubt your ability. I couldn’t believe my own cowardice during the early miles of this race when I thought of dropping out because of my Achilles injury or slowing down because I wasn’t comfortable (like any race is supposed to be “comfortable?”).

Alberto Salazar – three-time winner of the New York City Marathon – once said:

I had as many doubts as everyone else. Standing on the starting line, we’re all cowards.

Race anxiety is normal. Doubt, fear, and stress will happen. What matters is that you overcome these feelings, believe in your preparation, and trust your training.

Any race should be a natural extension of your past training. It shouldn’t be a surprise – nor should it be a huge cause for worry if you’re well prepared.

Recovery Starts At the Finish Line

How many thousands of runners finished the RnR half last weekend, ran no warm-down, did no dynamic stretches of light exercises, and immediately went to the beer tent? My bet: way more than half.

While my marathon recovery process is more strict because of the damage inflicted by 26.2 miles, I take tune-up race recovery seriously because training must go on after the race. When I finished, I did this:

  • Walked for 10 minutes and drank about 8oz of water (in hindsight, I should have had sports drink for the calories)
  • Ran a warm-down at a very easy pace
  • Ate a protein Powerbar and drank lots of sports drink and water
  • Walked to the subway and immediately did the Myrtl Routine when I got home
  • Ate a big meal and continued to hydrate all day

Unless the race is your goal race and you’re taking 1-2 weeks off (then it’s ok to throw these rules out the window!), remember that you have workouts coming up soon.

Your legs need all the help they can get!

Focus on the Process

Good runners always focus on the process of training: the delicate balance between hard work, recovery, and leading a healthy lifestyle that enhances your training.

And on race day, this process is no different. It usually goes like this:

Dynamic warm-up, run warm-up, strides, race, refuel, warm-down, refuel, core exercises, big meal, nap (extra credit!), and lots of sleep.

Everything before the race is planned to maximize performance. And everything after the race is planned to maximize recovery.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy… so Saturday evening I enjoyed a few adult beverages at the SR Meetup in DC and then afterward with a friend of mine. I’m not telling you to be a saint :)  Have some fun, too!

How Did You Race?

Jason HM Racing

Last weekend was a big racing weekend across the country and I want to congratulate everyone who raced, particularly my runners Marcie, Sarah, Jim, Charis, Danni, Nika, Linda, Danielle, and Nicole. Nice work everyone!

And to all those I spoke to who ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon and Marathon – John, Dorothy, Jamie, and Craig – it was a great day to race in DC!

How about you – did you race last weekend? How’d it go?

Any sticking points I can help with? Leave a question below and I’ll try to reply to every one.

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{ 32 comments }

Michael Robinson

Hey Jason–

I enjoyed reading your summary of this weekends Rock n Roll race. I too ran this weekend, however I attempted my first full marathon. I’m a heavier runner (208lbs) with an average running pace between 10:20 – 11:30 depending on the distance. My goal for this race was to run the Marathon in 5hrs. I’ve completed several half marathons with a time averaging 2:26 so I thought for sure I could hit the 5hr mark. I decided to run with the 5hr pace team but after mile 7 and a few bathroom stops I lost them. Nonetheless, I was moving pretty good up until mile 13 and for the first time ever I had a pull in my quadricep which was very painful and limited motion in my right leg. At that point I thought about discontinuing the race but I keep going and had to slow down considerably. Needless to say I finally crossed the line in 5:38, which I was not proud of. Thinking back on the day, I took at product called Sport Legs from the Vitamin Shoppe which is suppose to help alleviate lactic acid build up in the legs. I may have very well caused the tightness in the quadricep. They always say never try anything new on race day!!! Anyway as I reflect on the day I realize that my legs are as strong, I need to get a little quicker, and my longest training run was 18 miles. Any advice for a novice marathoner/runner looking to improve from his first race??

Jason Fitzgerald

Hey Michael – nice job with your first marathon! That’s always a big accomplishment.

So first I don’t think that product really works, plus there’s not much lactate buildup during a marathon for most runners in the first place…

I’d focus on the basics like running consistently, doing more long runs, and making sure you’re also focusing on shorter races so you ensure your fitness is well-rounded. You may also like this interview about marathon training: http://strengthrunning.com/2014/02/how-to-train-for-a-marathon-with-coach-jay-johnson/

Michael

Great advice Jason. How long should of a time should a runner take between marathons? Really want have a better performance.

Thanks,

Michael

Jason Fitzgerald

I wouldn’t do more than two marathons per year – one in the spring and one in the fall. The recovery and training necessary to run well are substantial, so you need a lot of time in between.

jared

Congrats on the 16th place finish Jason! I hope to some day be in the sub-100s myself. Lots of work to do before then.

Agree with your observation about the people at this race. From what I’ve seen of these Rock and Roll series races, the crowd seems to use them as really glorified fun runs which might be why there weren’t too many people doing good warmups. I’d also like to blame the bathroom situation for keeping people from their warmup.

That hill. Oh man, that hill. I knew it was coming, I’ve run up and down it more times than I can count but I think it still got the best of me. I found myself fading hard at the end.

I’ve been off the roads for a few weeks tending to some injuries so my mental game was shaky as I wasn’t sure what to expect from my legs. Still managed to PR by ~7 minutes and come in with what I think was a pretty respectable 1:42 despite having been on track for something a good bit lower until the last 8k.

All in all, I liked the race and it was neat to see some less-visited parts of DC.

On to the next one!

Tom

Jason,

Nice write up. I agree completely about the “standing around at the expo” not being good.

I have a desk top and am not use to being on my feet all day. I ran Boston a few years ago and it wasn’t so much the expo that “killed” me, it was the fact we couldn’t catch a taxi back to our hotel after the expo, and it was a 2+ mile walk back that I just knew I’d pay for. On race day, my legs felt sluggish and like I’d done a lot of walking, like at an amusement park.

From here on out, if I do “away” races, I make sure not not do any sight seeing and minimizing time on my feet as much as possible.

Good luck to you at Boston.

tobias

I am so glad I have found such good running advice or your twitter sunday I run a qualifying race for comrades.

Koen

That’s a great result! Seems to me you’re on schedule to set a new pr on the marathon.

Cabe

Great advice about the expo. I ran my first “away” race last fall. I don’t like big crowds anyway, so I got out of there as soon as I got my number and bag. I grabbed dinner and went right back to the hostel where I stayed off my feet until the next morning. Race day was another matter. I always try to do my dynamic warmup, jog, and strides just before the start, but I had never been in a race this big (3,100). I packed up my gear for the UPS trucks to haul it to the finish. I only had 5 minutes to get to the start. I was in the A corral, with 6 more containing 400+ runners each to plow through. I barely made it, which set off the nerves and kinda messed me up for the early part of the race. I can’t believe the race did not have a roped off “walkway” for front runners to get to the front corral. After watching the Kenyan gazelles up front, II will know better next time. They did their warmups in front of the starting line, then jumped behind it right before the race started.

Jaison

Nice Jason. My wife ran the Rock n’ Roll USA Half too. I am running the Georgia Half Marathon this weekend and am also running Boston. I think you make some excellent points, especially the porta-potty tip!

I find myself like you with slower turnover than I’d like. I’m training on the Hansons-Brooks Advanced Plan and given the weather in the Northeast, I’ve had a hard time training. Specifically I missed 2 months of track sessions :-(

I’m going to take your advice this weekend and see how it works out.

Jamie Theriault

Ugh – i am doing Hansons too up in Maine. I’ve got one strength workout done outside…all the rest have been on the treadmill. I know how you feel ! Good luck!

Dave

Yes, northern weather this year has, shall I say, not been pleasant. My brother and I are training for our first marathon to be held on memorial weekend. Up here in northern Michigan we’ve been out running in sub zero temperatures numerous times. One thing we did for the long runs was have his wife drive us into the wind so we could do the whole run with the wind to our back. That helped a lot! Not sure if I’m going to finish yet or not. I’m having some repeated issues of tendinitis in the pelvic region. Found a video on youtube with exercises for prevention of and recovery from sports hernia that seems to be helping a great deal. But it wasn’t my idea to do a spring marathon and so I have 4 less months to train than I was planning on and with having had a partial tear of the MCL in my left knee last July, I’m not starting with the strong base I intended on either.

I guess if I had any question to throw out there it would be how too know (if possible) when enough is enough and just scratch the race? I keep taking it one long run at a time and paying close attention to how long it takes me to recover. This week I’m scheduled for 15 miles–my longest run ever. After runs it’s ice for the knee and crotch then heat when at rest in the evenings. Is that too much? If I have to use ice and heat to recover is it time to scratch?

Jason Fitzgerald

You have another ~4 weeks of training until you have to taper, so if you can get into the 18-20mi range before the race with no injury issues, I think you can still race. Don’t compromise your long-term health though, especially for your first marathon. It takes a lot of prep and if you can in under-prepared, there’s no faking 26.2 miles…

Dave

Yeah, I just followed your “recovery” link…let’s just say I miss the mark–a lot. It’s back to the drawing board for me. Thanks for all your great advice.

tobias

Hi jasson just want to let you know sunday I run my first marathon for 2014 my 3rd marathon overall this marathon is not just any marathon it is a qualifying race for comrades 2014.I want to bring down my marathon time from 4 hour 18 minutes to under 4 hours any advice for me I use powerades as a sportsdrink and I also drink a nutritional powder choclate flavour my avarage time on a km is 5.2 avarage speed is 9km per hour I did get some advice to do rhymitic breathing I got this from a book running on air.

Jason Fitzgerald

I wouldn’t worry about your breathing – worry about your training instead! Find what works for you individually in terms of fueling, but otherwise keep working hard. Sounds like you’re already improving.

tobias

Hi koen thanks for your comment what I still have a lot to learn and do along way stil to go I only started to run november 2012 my best time for 10k is 45 min 21k 1hr 47 and marathon 4hr 18 I am 171 cm 55kg 36yrs old my clubs name is Goudveld Multi Sport I could I would have sended a foto but don’t know how. I am trying to improve my way of breathing I heard of rhymic breathing but have not yet tried it.

tobias

Thank you jasson just want say I would not have done it on my own if I didn’t believe in your advice or guidance I wouldn’t have asked questions so I just want to know something about what you said to me about fuellingup when is the right time to fuelup in a race every hour or does it depent on what pace I run and how I use my energy resourches?

Jason Fitzgerald
Tom

Congratulation Jason:
http://runnerstats.net/en/races/2014/united-states/rock-n-roll-usa-half-marathon-2014-id645/runner-result/4a61736f4669747a

And thank you for reminding us the importance of dynamic warm-up. What’s the point of training hard for weeks if you give yourself a handicap on race day by not warming up properly ? Let’s do the job fully, and we’ll be rewarded !

Jamie Theriault

Totally get the not standing around the expo thing…so here is my question. Are you someone who supports the run a few shakeout miles the day before your marathon…or should that be a day off? I’ve always taken two days off before a marathon, but am reading that more and more people will not run 2 days out, but then do 2-3 miles the day before. Thoughts?

Claudia

Hey Jason, congratulations! (at first glance I thought 03:15:14 on the medal was your finishing time… phwhat?? :p)

I’m “racing” this sunday, my first 10 K. I’d be nervous if it weren’t that I’ve been sick and have run today for the first time in over two weeks, i.e. my goal is now just to finish the race, and the time will be a PB anyway.

Coach Jason no angry! I shall warm up! :D I’ve got a question about that, how much time should elapse at most between end of the warm-up and start of the race? If I’m done warming up with a couple minutes to go before the race, i’ll be stuck in the back with the chattering crowds. I probably need to stand around the start for at least 10 or 15 minutes if I want a decent starting position. (Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to start in the first row, but i have raced with big crowds and I know how tiring it is to continuously have to squeeze between jogging/walking groups filling the whole lane. That’s not how I want to use my energy.)

Thanks a lot for a great post!

Jason Fitzgerald

Coach Jason happy! The dynamic warm-up can be done before your running warm-up and that should end as close to the start of the race as possible. In an ideal world, your HR would still be elevated when the gun goes off. Just do the best you can – some races force you to stand around in the corral and that’s fine. Good luck!

tobias

Hi jasson have being reading all the posts and I was just think a lot about what was being said here queing up for a race and starting way back is and will that not effect a runners finishing time in a race like the comardes where more then 180000 runners will be running the race for instance I start in 15000th place way back won’t it rob me from get my goal time because getting to the starting lane is going to take a lot of the time and will loose a lot of minutes of the race without even yet moved?

Claudia

Hi Tobias, no worries, your chip will start measuring your time from the moment you cross the starting line.

Good luck!

Patti

Hi Jason! I am following a PR Plan that I got from you for Nike Women’s Half DC in April and ran the NYC Half this past weekend. I did my dynamic warm up, because of security I didn’t have time for a warm up unless you count my sprint to the start…banged my shin climbing a barrier, and PRed by 8 minutes! I felt strong and happy, and it wasn’t even my event yet!

Thank you so much!

Jason Fitzgerald

Wow, all with no running warm-up! Congrats Patti that’s awesome :)

Maria @ The Good Life

Thank you for a great summary. I started my official half-marathon training yesterday for my first 13.1 ever, and I want to do this smartly. Fantastic tips.

Franzi

Hi Jason, congrats to your 16th place, those splits make me a little dizzy :-)
Thanks for sharing the tips and observations. This type of process has kept me un-injured for exactly a year now. I am running a small local half marathon on April 6, spring running is just so much fun. Good luck on the rest of the journey to Boston. Stay healthy!

tobias

I am writting here I just got un email from runners connect about what is right and what is wrong for runners I can say I am learning a lot everyday I just want to know what shoes can I use for speed and and at the sometime have shoes that give me shock opsoption?

Jeff

Hi Jason, congrats on an outstanding race! And thanks for the helpful tips. I ran the RNR USA half. I was running a decent race. Went out a little fast. Goal was ~ 8/m and a 1:43/44 finish. 5K was at a 7:50/m. The hill took a little out of me. I settled down and was at 8:10/m at 10K. Around m8 my rt hamstring felt a little tight. Eased a bit more. 8:16/m at m10. Then full out hamstring cramp! Stopped. Stretched. 2 x. Shuffled in to a 1:50:39 finish. Really bummed. I more often than not will negative split my Halfs and Fulls. I had plentyleft in the tank for a stong final 5K, but the hamstring doomed that idea. I believe my training, nutrition and hydtration was sound. Why the cramp? How to avoid? Ever happened to you? I’m a RYBQ member, and really enjoy and appreciate all that you do and offer. Thanks and keep up the great work! Jeff.

Jason Fitzgerald

Only had one muscle cramp (calf) during a race and that was after an overly aggressive massage. I was running up a super steep hill in spikes when I accidentally kicked my calf and it spasmed. But why did it happen to you? That’s the million dollar question! Likely a combination of 1) going out too fast 2) being under-trained and 3) maybe your form deteriorated at the end of the race when you were fatigued. Just my guesses.

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