I don't blog much anymore, but after yesterday's race, II felt I had to get some things off of my chest. The 29th running of the Army Ten Miler was yesterday, in Arlington, VA and Washington, DC. This year's field was expanded to 35,000 runners, and when I first heard this news, I was convinced that it wasn't a good thing. I ran the ATM back in 2010 when the field was 25,000 runners, and it was crowded then. What was going to happen when another 10,000 runners were added to the already-tight course? Against my better intentions, I signed up, mainly because some of my running acquaintances were running it, and a meetup was planned for afterwards. No problem, I'll grin and bear the inconveniences for the sake of having a fun day. But other than the post-race festivities, there wasn't much fun to be had.
Let's start with Friday and packet pick-up, which was at the DC Armory in Southeast Washington, DC. I live in Reston, VA, which is 28 miles and 45 minutes (on a good day) from the Armory. So I prefer taking Metro, which is takes about 15 minutes longer, but is less stressful. So we're talking 2 hours just to get my bib and go back, without even going into the expo. I wandered about the expo for about an hour, just to make it worth the trip, so including time waiting for trains, the whole packet pickup process took about 3 1/2 hours, start to finish.
Now for race day. Again, taking Metro, the main reason being there is very little parking available near the Pentagon, and there is a Metro stop at the Pentagon, so this was a no-brainer. Upon arrival at the race site, the bag drop was well-organized and orderly. No issues there. The corral system, though, was another story. I completely understand the security issues involved with a large race. That said, having 2 lines for 35,000 runners to be screened to allow them to pass into the runners area was kind of ridiculous. The main issue was checking bib numbers, but there was also a line for runners to have their bags inspected (although I was under the assumption that bags were not permitted on the course). That was not clear to anyone - only after arriving at the chokepoint...I mean, checkpoint.
The corral system was just that - corrals, with gates and the whole 9 yards. Runners were supposed to "corral up" in their areas by bib color (approx. 5,000 runners per corral), but the soldiers manning the Blue (aka, 3rd) corral must not have been instructed on that, because I saw various colors of bibs (including numerous Purples, the 6th corral). From the corrals, it was quite a walk to the start line, but on a chilly morning, it wasn't all that bad to get a bit warmed up.
Cue the race start, and the mass of humanity. The corrals were spaced out at 5-minute intervals from each other, but you wouldn't have known that. The first 2 miles in my corral were a sea of humanity, with people moving at various paces, from fast to walkers (why walkers would insist on being in the 3rd wave is beyond me). I wanted to get my first mile in at about a 9:10 pace, but swerving and weaving around the walkers was making that impossible. My first mile was 9:24, and that was only after picking it up on the downhill before the on-ramp to the Memorial Bridge. Navigating the bridge itself was difficult, but I logged a 9 minute second-mile to make up a little time. Mile 3, most of which was on the uphill Virginia Avenue in DC, was where it started to thin out a bit (and I thank myself for hill training).
After this point is when I started to really log some decent splits. From there on out it was a bit less congested, but still much more crowded than I am used to. I was able to run my paces fairly consistently, but more often than not I would have to slow a bit to pass someone walking or struggling. As a mid-pack, 8-9 minute/mile runner, I'm not used to having to execute passing maneuvers in the latter stages of a race, especially in a 10-Miler.
As for my times, I clocked a 44:30 at mile 5, and set a new PR with a 1:28:15 finish. That also meant that I ran negative splits in this race, with the final 5 miles in 43:45, an 8:43 pace. Very pleased with that - I worked hard on Sunday to get that PR.
I love running races in Washington, DC. It's a beautiful city in which to run, and the thrill of running past and through history in our Nation's Capitol is something to behold. But the simple logistics of it for me, combined with the ever-increasing fields are going to make it difficult for me to want to do another mega-race in the city.
This will be an unpopular opinion, but if the Army Ten Miler could institute a qualifying system and place runners in corrals based on qualifying times (keeping runners of similar abilities grouped together at the start), it might make the race less congested. Also adhering to assigned corrals would help. There's no perfect system, but I believe this would be a good first step.