September 16, 2012

Race Report: Navy-Air Force Half Marathon

After getting bored with just marathon training runs lately, I was in desperate need for a race. So after a 20-miler on Thursday, I rested up a bit and hit the District this morning for the inaugural Navy-Air Force Half Marathon. The half marathon was an add-on race to the Navy 5 Miler, an annual race in the region. The race itself was fun, and I turned in a great time, but I was underwhelmed by the overall experience due to non-running issues (amenities, price, etc).

The Course and Race Day

Other than the five or so miles which follow along DC routes I've run before in the Marine Corps Marathon and Army Ten Miler, I wasn't sure what to expect from the course. The first four miles head out along a point which I've run in the MCM, the water view is always nice. Miles 7-10 or so were up along the Parkway and had some rolling hills and varying terrain, but nothing too difficult.

The overall course was fairly flat and very fast. I went into the race saying to myself that I'd shoot for 7:30 miles to practice marathon pacing, but the course was just running too fast and I got a bit bored. So I decided to push it a little and just run by feel. At about the halfway mark, I was already a couple minutes above my pacing, but it wasn't feeling like a hard effort and I wasn't breathing heavy. So I decided to keep up that pace and see where it went. I purposefully slowed down my pace a bit on a few stretches, and as I hit the 11-mile mark I still felt like I had some reserves left. But I made myself wait until the 12-mile mark to burn through reserve energy; as I hit the '12' banner I opened up and started passing several groups. As I hit the finish line, I had a realization that I may have just set an accidental personal record.

The race built up a lot of confidence for me as I head into the final six weeks of marathon preparation. I didn't put in a hard effort and when I checked later, I had indeed walked away with a PR.

The Results

Half Marathon (13.1 mi) :   1:33:12  |  7:07/mile
Overall Placing :   84th  (top 5%)

Definitely took advantage of the flat, fast course and gorgeous fall weather.

The "Value"

Usually this section is labeled "The Swag" or something like that, but there were so many issues with logistics and amenities that it's really more a question of value. For a civilian, the race price is anywhere from $75 to $105 depending on sign-up date. That alone was a bit of a shock; unless you sign up half a year early, you're paying a marathon price for a relatively simple half marathon (no entertainment, no festival, no runner amenities).

The website was pretty spartan (may have called it "excruciatingly plain" in my design days), which is fine if all the important information is out there; however, even trying several browsers, the course map PDF links were broken until days before. The USTFA certification wasn't even up until the day before. The driving directions section of the website is still blank. Hey, no biggie, I can use Google Maps and would take Metro anyway, but it really set a bad first impression on the operations.

The expo at the Joint Base was easy to navigate and park (DC weekend traffic not their fault), but not much to write home about. Maybe a dozen tables, one or two merchandisers. The long-sleeved shirt wasn't event specific (included the half marathon and five-miler), but was a decent design. The short-sleeved technical shirt was event-specific, but it was $20; a silly amount of up-charge based on the event's inflated price.

Pre-race amenities included the standard bag drop and water, but they committed a big sin by having poorly-stocked portajohns. A half-hour before the race, and an hour before the five milers would start showing up, I went in a stall to blow my nose and there was no toilet paper. There was only a single bare cardboard cylinder starting back at me...I feel bad for those who actually needed the TP for something more important. On-course amenities were the bare minimum: water stations every few miles, but no sports drinks or entertainment - fine with me. Post-race amenities were also the bare essentials: water, banana, cookies, but no other sports/recovery drinks - surprised they couldn't get a sponsor to provide. The finisher's "challenge coin" medal (copied the Army Ten Miler premium idea) was really disappointing; it wasn't event-specific, and there wasn't much imagination in the design. Again, like the sports drinks and course entertainment, a flashy medal wasn't needed at all, I happily run races with no premiums, but at the price point of this race, the runners deserved more (and better) swag.

In conclusion, I wasn't expecting the same level of amenities and premiums as the overly-generous Outer Banks half marathon, but for me it boiled down to an overpriced entry fee. I don't need fluffy race-day amenities and I certainly don't need any more medals, but at $75-105 race ($95-125 if you wanted a tech shirt) you'd expect a functioning website, nice expo, free technical shirt, race-day amenities (toilet paper anyone?), on-course entertainment, food spread, finish line festival, decent finisher's premium, and other event-specific premiums. Runners essentially got a bare-bones trail run atmosphere and amenities for the price of a Rock ‘n’ Roll series event.

The Verdict

If I return to the Navy-Air Force Half Marathon, it'll be to take advantage of the fast, flat course for an expensive PR. Other than the course, there isn't enough value in the price to make this a "must" on my racing schedule, especially with so many other quality events from Richmond to Philadelphia in the same September time frame.

Bitter beer face!