Sunday, January 11, 2015

Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon - October 2014

Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon - Mount Vernon, VA - October 2014
It was time for an 8k-15k tune-up race in my marathon training plan.  A half marathon was a bit outside of this range, but I decided to run one anyway.

I ran the Wilson Bridge Half Marathon two years ago while training for the Philadelphia Marathon, and ran a then-PR of 1:25:33.  I wanted to run it again last year, in 2013, but the federal government shutdown forced the race to be postponed until just one week before the Philadelphia Marathon, which I was running again.  Obviously, I couldn't race a half marathon a week before a marathon.  But luckily, the race director was flexible, and allowed runners to defer their entry to 2014, which I did.

Once Wilson Bridge was postponed last year, I discovered, and ended up running the Heritage Half Marathon in Gainesville instead, where I set my current PR of 1:23:55.  I really liked the Heritage Half a lot, and would have liked to run it again this year. But it was the same day as the Wilson Bridge Half, and I had already paid for Wilson Bridge (last year), so I was kind of stuck running it.
Runner's World actually listed Wilson Bridge as one of its best half marathons a couple years ago. It features a very fast course, which begins at Mount Vernon and runs down GW Parkway, along the Potomac River.  This year, they changed the course a bit, so that you initially run past Wilson Bridge, go all the way into Old Town Alexandria, before turning around a cone and heading back towards the bridge.  The new portion in Old Town is pretty flat.  Once you cross the Wilson Bridge into National Harbor, there are only about 2 miles to the finish line.  The old course spent about 3 miles in National Harbor, and included a huge hill during the 12th mile.  So, it was nice they got rid of that part!   
The logistics of the race are it's main downside, in my opinion.  It is fairly overpriced to start with.  And you have to go to a "race expo" in Alexandria to pick up your race bib and shirt.  I don't live that far away from Alexandria, but with DC traffic, anywhere more than 5 or 10 miles away is a hassle to drive to.  The race expo, which was held at the Patent and Trade Officce, is pretty lame too.  There were only a tiny handful of displays - none of which were in any way interesting.  The whole thing was a complete waste of time in my opinion.  The race does offer an option to mail you your bib...for a fee, of course - on top of an already overpriced race.  I know races make money off the race expos, but if you are going to force people to go to them, it would be nice if there was at least a little more going on, to make it worthwhile.  On the positive side, the race shirt, which featured a caricature of Woodrow Wilson, was really cool - probably one of my favorite race shirts in recent memory.  You also get a massive (and somewhat creepy) finisher's medal after the race.
Race morning is somewhat of a hassle too, although they do have it very well organized.  You can park either in Alexandria or in National Harbor.  Then you take a shuttle to Mount Vernon.  If you park in Alexandria, they have shuttles to take you back after the race, too.  So, if you want to get to the race an hour before it starts, you have to wake up VERY early, factoring in parking and shuttle time.  That is one thing I liked about the Heritage Half Marathon last year.  You don't have to get there too early.  You can just park in the spacious Battlefield High School parking lot, walk over to the track, pick up your bib number (the day of the race!), and go run. No hassle!  My wife actually ran Heritage this year - which was the same day as Wilson Bridge.  And even though our races started at about the same time, I had to wake up WAY before her, and she got home way before me.
Once I arrived at Mount Vernon, there was another crappy situation.  They only had about 14 porta-pottys for almost 3,000 runners!!  There were HUGE lines.  A lot of people missed the start of the race.  Many gentlemen found "alternative" restrooms in the dark woods of Mount Vernon.  The race director sent out an apology afterwards.  Apparently they were supposed to have more porta-pottys delivered, but their vendor failed to deliver.
Finally, it was time for the race to begin.  I planned on running this race all-out.  I didn't know if I could break my PR from last year of 1:23:55 - since bigger races always tend to measure long - but I wanted to at least beat my previous Wilson Bridge time of 1:25:33.
The first mile goes sharply downhill, and I clocked a 6:11.  After that, I settled steadily into the 6:20s, except for a 6:31 on an uphill 4th mile, and a 6:17 on a downhill 6th mile.  We passed the Wilson Bridge a little after the 7th mile, and headed into Old Town Alexandria.  My pace was still steady, but I didn't think a 1:23 was in the cards today.  A course PR, and 1:24s were easily within reach though. I finally started crossing the Wilson Bridge around mile 11, and was feeling very tired.  The bridge slopes uphill on the first half, and the wind is whipping around as you cross.  I really slowed down here, and only managed a 6:50 11th mile.  There went any chance of a PR.  But a strong finish should still get me into the 1:24s, and a new course PR.
Once I crossed the bridge, I did start to recover and feel a second wind.  My heart rate was only in the low 170s.  Maybe if I really pushed it through National Harbor, I could still manage a decent time.  The only problem was that once I got into National Harbor, I got a nasty side stitch/cramp.  This just wasn't my day for a PR.  I struggled through miles 12 and 13.  I felt good cardiovascularly, and my legs still felt strong.  But I just couldn't open up my stride and really take off with that darn side stitch!  Luckily I still managed a respectable 6:29 and 6:25 on those miles.  But I think I had a couple of sub-6:20 miles still left in me if I hadn't cramped up. 
I did manage a nice surge to the finish line, and finished in 1:25:13 (6:28/mile pace).  I finished 48th place overall out of 2,591 runners. (Wilson Bridge Half Marathon 2014 results)  Here were my mile splits.....
1- 6:11 (146 average heart rate)
2- 6:22 (159)
3- 6:26 (153)
4- 6:31 (167)
5- 6:28 (167)
6- 6:17 (166)
7- 6:27 (168)
8- 6:27 (168)
9- 6:34 (168)
10- 6:27 (172)
11- 6:50 (172)
12- 6:29 (173)
13- 6:25 (174)
Final 0.19- 5:45 pace
TOTAL: 13.19 miles, 1:25:13, 6:28/mile pace
I logged an extra .09 miles on my watch, coming in at 13.19 miles. Last year, the Heritage Half was closer to 13.1 on the nose. Still, I ended up beating my time from two years ago by about 20 seconds - although the course was probably easier this year without that big hill in National Harbor.


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