Friday, October 14, 2016

Running DC: The Army Ten Miler Expo and Race Report

FAIR WARNING:  This is a long post.  If you're not a runner it may eventually read like "blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."  But I wanted to document the experience thoroughly.  Enjoy!


On Saturday morning, we drove into DC from Maryland (more on that in next post) and went to the Army Ten Miler race expo which was held at the DC Armory.  This was an excellent spot to hold this expo as there is a lot of parking and a metro stop, since it is located right next to RFK Stadium where the Washington Redskins play football.

We walked from the parking lot to the expo where there were mobs of people waiting to get in due to 100% security check.  Unfortunately, it was raining but we had the foresight to bring umbrellas with us and while cool, it wasn't outright cold.

Once inside, I went straight to packet pickup to get my bib, and my t-shirt, which turned out to be a long-sleeved wicking shirt, that I will enjoy wearing this winter.

I'd forgotten how fun a big race expo can be and had also forgotten that lots of the vendors offer expo-only discounts.  I was thrilled to find the type of Thorlo that I prefer, which have been in short supply for some reason - and they were buy 1-get 1 50% off. As I excitedly grabbed two pair, my sweet husband told me to get two more and consider them an early Christmas gift.  Yay for nice new socks!

Pretending I am leading the race lol!

I also purchased a pair of Running Lites gloves.  These are gloves that have a compartment to slip an LED light into to help light the way when running in the dark.  As I've gotten older, I just don't see as well in the dark so I'm looking forward to trying them out.

We came upon the Honey Stinger booth, which was offering free samples.  I have been wanting to taste their products and was happy to find they make an organic chew, so I bought a package of the grapefruit flavor to try.  Hopefully if I am able to use them without stomach issues, I'll be able to find them around here.

The Loot

The gloves - can't wait to try them

Brooks was running a huge booth where you could have gait analysis done, but the line was so long I didn't do it as I didn't want my family to have to wait for me.

Another great thing about the expo was that they had Army soldiers stationed throughout showcasing their fields of expertise.  I talked for a while with a medic and got to see his supplies, etc. Mr. Helen was fascinated with the guns and grenades and so on.

Our favorite non-retail booth was the one with the Army Olympic athletes.  I got to meet USA's 5000 meter silver medalist, Paul Chielmo - and I got a photo, plus he signed the back of my bib.  As he won the 10-miler last year with a time of 48:19 (yep, ten miles in under an hour), I was hoping that signature would speed up my legs.

Mr. Helen took this shot of Little Helen & her hubby taking photos of me

After a couple of hours I could tell my non-runners were starting to feel a bit dazed and we needed to check into our hotel, so we left and the wait for the race began.

When I was packing for the trip, the initial forecast for Sunday was 66 and sunny.  Then Matthew and its outer bands came along and it changed to overcast with sun breaking through later in the day. When we went to bed Saturday evening, it was still pouring rain but was supposed to stop.  You can imagine my dismay when I got up and it was still raining and only 48 degrees, with wind gusts from 20-40 mph. I found an online forecast (Mr. Helen was still sleeping and I was trying not to wake him up) and saw that the rain was supposed to stop by 9:00 and be sunny and warmer by noon.  But I had to figure out how to stay warm in my wave corral while waiting.  Then I remembered that I had a throw-away style rain poncho in the emergency kit in my car, and that thing saved me!

While I was waiting, and drinking coffee and water hydrating, I ate a package of Belvita breakfast biscuits.  Normally I wouldn't even eat, but also normally I would have been running by 6 am and my wave didn't even go until 8:48. I had practiced doing that the week before and knew my stomach could handle them and I could get them down, which is generally a challenge what with pre-race jitters. In the end, they fueled me so well, I never ate the shot bloks I was carrying.

The other thing I did specifically for this race was to buy a Flip Belt.  I don't care to wear a Fuel Belt when racing nor do I like having anything in my hand or attached to my arm and this turned out to be the perfect solution to carry my phone, some shot bloks, my metro card and the hotel room card.  It is made of stretchy material that you step in to then pull up and has slots to slide things in to. (For illustration purposes, this photo shows the water bottle that I did not carry.)

I carried my phone in the zipper pocket and put the other stuff in the slots.  Worked great!

There are so many roads closed around this race in both Arlington and DC that they recommend use of the metro to get there, as there is a stop right at the Pentagon, where the race begins and ends so I chose our hotel in Arlington based on that.  Eventually Mr. Helen woke up and when I told him it was raining, he offered to drive me to the metro station.

I got there and headed for the platform only to find THOUSANDS of other runners!  I started texting photos to my family so they could see how nuts it was. And right then was when I started feeling excited.
All the colored dots in the photo on the right are runners on the escalator

Once getting off the metro, we had to go through security to get to the runners wave corrals, and more importantly, the porta potties!

The Army 10 Miler has 8 waves plus wheelchair and wounded warrior starts.  Runners line-up behind the colored balloon arch that matches their bib color. Runners can move back a wave but not forward to a faster wave.

From the official rules: "Runners moving up a wave are subject to disqualification. All runners must maintain a 15 minute mile pace or better, complete the entire course and finish the race in 2hr and 30 minutes to receive an official race time and be listed in the results."

Here's my corral - purple - one of the latest waves.  I have to say with the wind gusts I felt bad for the people having to hold those balloons. If you look closely you'll see several runners wearing their race shirts - most of us were not prepared for the wind and cold.  I was so thankful for my rain poncho as it really did keep me warm.

The announcer sets up the wave and when your balloons move, you march with it to the starting line and wait for your wave gun to go off.  I wore my poncho right until the last minute then ripped it off and left it on the side of the road with all the other discarded items. Army soldiers actually come through after the race and pick up clothing items which are then donated to homeless shelters.

Even though I was in a "slow" wave, we actually got the thrill of seeing the winner run past us to the finish line.  Actually it was a pack of four Army elite runners and the winning time was 48:20. I can't even imagine!

The race runs down Route 110 past Arlington Cemetery then loops over the Arlington Memorial Bridge into Washington, DC where you run miles 3-7 then back into Arlington over the Arland D. Williams Memorial Bridge for miles 8-10. You get to run along the National Mall and by some of the monuments.  It's not very hilly but does have some inclines.  They have water and Gatorade every 2 miles, and there are several Army bands that play at various places along the course.  In a race this size, (24,000+ this year), you are never alone, not even if you're slow as molasses. This has its pros and cons as I was reminded of as I ran through the course.

My personal goal was to try to maintain between 12:30-13:00 per mile.  I wanted to go out very slowly, so when my Garmin beeped my first mile and it was 13:03, I was pretty happy.  Then I got to mile 2 and it was 12:30 and my thought was, that was too fast!  Soon, I settled in to the run and wasn't paying attention to my Garmin because, unfortunately, I guess my wave had a lot of folks who had signed up to walk.  I have no problem with walkers, or run-walkers, I just wish they would move over to the side of the road instead of just suddenly stopping.  Basically what this means is that if one wants to run, you are expending a lot of energy trying to get away from walkers who are blocking your way.  By the time I got to the 10k split I could see I was losing pace.  Instead of letting myself get discouraged I started chanting my running mantra (in my head) "JUST KEEP RUNNING!"

Around mile 7, my right foot started hurting badly.  Over the summer while training, I developed a Morton's neuroma in that foot.  (Lucky me I already have one in my left foot.) I had been considering getting a cortisone shot before the race and just didn't get around to it.  Also from mile 7-8 we were going over the second bridge and the wind, which had been relentless was now gusting so hard people's hats were flying off their heads.  I was hurting, tired, and starting to feel discouraged as I had to start doing some walking to try to get that foot nerve to stop stabbing me.  Throughout the race I had been seeing people stopping at the mile markers to take selfies so I started visualizing myself at Mile 9 taking a selfie and texting it to my family so they would know I was almost done.  Honestly I think that is what got me through mile 8-9 as I worked out my foot issue.

By the time I got there, I knew I would beat the cutoff pace, so I did what I'd visualized for a solid two miles:

See that "never quit" on that sign?  That became my mantra for the last mile and through to the finish line.

This race has one of the best organized finish lines of all the races I've participated in.  Once you cross, there are volunteers who immediately hand you a full bottle of water.  Then you walk through an area where you are handed your finisher's medal.

Lastly they put you through the food tents.  Each runner received a sealed box of snacks and a bag with two bananas.  The box had nuts, a granola bar, a cup of fruit, a package of pretzels, and a chocolate chip cookie.  I had so much appreciation for the way this was done because I have done races where, as a slower runner, the only thing left for food when I got to the finish was an orange.

Once through all that, you can go to the family meet up area or if you are with a special group, they have their own tent area. From there, you can choose to take a shuttle or walk about 15 minutes back to the start area where the metro is. (We walked).

My family met me and I stopped to take a photo to commemorate my first organized race in 6 years.

Final thoughts on my race:

This was a good race and one I'd be willing to do again, hoping that I could be in a faster wave maybe.

I wore my Garmin and started it when I crossed the starting mats.  When it reached 10 miles, I shut it off but was nowhere near the finish mat.  To me, this showed how much jogging around walkers I had to do, as races are usually measured on tangents.  In fact, my Garmin time showed 2:12:39 and my official time was 2:15:59.  I sort of wish I'd left it on to see just how much further 'I' actually ran.

The wind gusts really wore me down, particularly towards the end of the race.  I just wanted it to stop for a minute.

It's hard to race away from home as you're completely off your normal schedule of eating, drinking, and sleeping. I did fine with the eating, but felt dehydrated for most of this trip, even though I had taken a 24 pack of water bottles with us.  Plus we spent almost all of Saturday in the pouring rain and I told Mr. Helen I was in a perfect storm to get sick since the immune system weakens during hard training.  Not to mention my fall which I think shocked my body a bit. I was correct, as I've been nursing a very sore throat and what seems to be turning into a head cold since Tuesday.

Fall injuries: my ankle held up well but my shoulder started aching around mile 8.  Since I was walking a lot to fix my foot, I tried to relax and whirl my arms around but it didn't help much. I'm probably going to need to give up and go to a PT to fix it.

I normally never wear a hat when running in these temps but I needed it at first because of the rain. I had left my wicking hat at home so this was an ordinary cap.  It got really hot, but I had nowhere to put it and I didn't want to throw it away, so I sweated and suffered. Next race I will make sure to have both a throwaway shirt and a throwaway hat.

I found out I still get annoyed with everything once I'm hurting or tired. (Remember I did all my long runs alone.)  Between miles 7-9, I actually let a group go past me because I couldn't stand the sound of the guy's voice who was giving history lessons about Washington DC to the people he was running with.  I was also extremely annoyed with a guy who kept running backwards and making jokes with spectators.  He was obviously a faster runner who was helping some people about my pace, but I truly wanted to strangle him.  This was when I wished for headphones, which are banned on this course.

All in all, I'm really proud of myself for digging in and doing this.  I may not be the runner I once was, but I'm still a runner who can do an organized race.


  1. Congrats on your race! Great job. Thanks for sharing a great race report with us. I really enjoyed reading it. My favorite picture was of you holding your finishers medal. You have so much to be proud of. Again, hearty congratulations!!!

  2. Congrats! It's tough to push through the pain but you did a great job. I do love that 10 mile distance.

  3. Backwards runners are the worst!

    What a great event, from expo to post-race! I'm always impressed when big races step up and do everything the idea of matching the race bibs to each corral and having the matching color of balloons to follow.

    Very cool to meet Paul Chelimo and get his autograph - I'm sure that sped you up just a bit. ;)

    Running ten miles is tough! You did great and I love how you managed to keep yourself in the right mindset during those later miles (and that mile 9 selfie was a great motivator). Big congrats on a race well run!

  4. Wow--such a huge event with so many people, and so very organized, which makes it all the more enjoyable, I'm sure. Congrats on a race well-run!! Hoping your cold is just a little short one. I really enjoyed reading this whole report!

  5. Congrats on the race!

    I was getting stuck on all your swag - those gloves! Want.

    Let us know how the honey stingers are. I don't like Gu or gels, but it would be nice to have something like that.

  6. Love this report!

    So proud of you and that you had so much fun. I love it that you're family came with you to this race.

    I said I would never do a race again but reading this ... who knows.

    Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed it very much.

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