Race day started as the best of all running weather days. Cool, sunny, low humidity. It was really Washington DC at its finest; the monuments glowed white, the streets were clean swept and the trees were a new green. A great day to run a half marathon.
15,000 women and Dan Yi did just that.
This was dubbed the inaugural Nike Women Half Marathon. And they kept saying inaugural. Good thing. There will be many more to come. The race was brilliantly executed.
Let’s start with the porta-potties. Because I like to pretend we live in a post-feminist society, I will freely make gender generalizations. Knowing that there would be 15,000 women, Nike was very generous with the porta-potties. There were about 354, and that was just on the South side of Pennsylvania Ave. The North had even more. The lines were short and with women saying to each other “No, YOU go first”, “No, you go ahead” and “Oh, no problem, I will go after you”, it was quick and easy access.
The corrals were jammed, as you would expect. My daughter, Grace, and I found a spot towards the front, near the stage. Joanie Samuelson and Shalane Flanagan were there, waving and waving. They were dressed in matching Red Sox shirts. I noted that they were both wearing red calf sleeves—then realized—oh, red socks! Red Sox! This was kind support for the people of Boston.
A few words of encouragement were said by the Olympians and then there was a moment of silence.
As Julia Taylor recounts: “You could have heard a pin drop during the moment of silence. I really felt like everyone’s thoughts were with Boston at that time. The silence was broken with a beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. It was very touching. At the end, I looked up at the American and D.C. flags on one of the buildings and felt so proud of our country and our community.”
The horn sounded and we were off. As we ran down Pennsylvania Avenue, Grace (who was really on just a sight seeing jog with her old mom) pointed out the spectators lining the course. They were ALL men! I am not kidding. It was a tunnel of men, all cheering for us. They were holding up the sweetest signs, such as “You sparkle when you sweat!” and “My girlfriend is running a half marathon and all I did was make this stupid sign.”
The women around us had clearly trained for this event. Though not a sinewy as those of you gathered for the Sunday Distance Run, they were fit and strong. It was a sea of running fashions; tutus, ruffles, leopard print running skirts, sequined headbands. There were plenty of dressed-alike gal pal teams, sorority sisters, office mates, sister-sister teams, and like Grace and me, mother daughter teams. There were lots of homemade outfits with personal references in puffy paint.
Grace and I tucked in behind another mother daughter team. They were wearing signs on their backs saying “Crazy Mother” and “Dutiful Daughter.” I wondered if Grace was just being dutiful, running with me.
We were running easy, which was the plan. There was a good deal of laughter and music on the sidelines to entertain us. It was crowded but not crushing. I did notice that whenever someone nudged my arm or snuck between Grace and me she said “Oh! Excuse me!” or “I’m sorry”. Yes, this was a race of women!
We tried to remember the signs as we ran, since they were quite entertaining. There was one sign that appeared twice that read “Binders full of Runners.” There was a sign that asked “Long and Hard: Since when was that a bad thing?” There were plenty that promised kisses from Ryan Gosling and Georgetown Cupcakes at the end. Two cute guys offered “Free High Fives.” Several young men had signs that made references to this race being better than Match.com for meeting women. There was one sign that said “If this was easy, it would be called your mother.” As Grace said, that guy clearly did not know his audience!
Anyway, ok, the race. The course was terrific. It allowed those of us in the solid middle of the pack many opportunities to see a pastel infused ribbon of women running ahead of us. We crossed westward onto the Memorial Bridge as the leaders were headed back into DC on the opposite side of the bridge. Grace and I looked across the divider to see Emily Farrar’s back working hard as she pushed along. We saw Julia and I started yelling for her but she had her headphones in and the volume up. We then saw Joanie, Shalane and Abby, Joanie’s daughter, running hard. I cheered hardest for Abby and she turned around looking baffled.
From closer to the front Julia says: “At around the 1.5 mile mark, I look out the corner of my eye and see Joan and Shalane running on my left. I knew they’d be running but did not imagine they’d be running near my pace. I’m running with Olympians! How cool is that? They make a pit stop and I figure I won’t see them again.”
“At Memorial Bridge, we get to see the front runners. I see Samia Akbar is leading. I am very excited for her. I met her at the Pacers Pep Rally and she is just the nicest person—she remembered fitting me for shoes back in January. She is such a beautiful runner.”
“I am cruising along, feeling pretty good but the sub 1:30 pacers are separating from me. Next thing I know, Joan and Shalene pass me again. Ok, that’s just depressing. How do they manage to stop and still run sub-1:30 pace?”
As for me, I was feeling just fine thank you through 8 miles. In fact, I kept telling Grace we needed to slow down and we would do that for a few steps. As we put the Kennedy Center behind us and started to Hains Point, I told her I expected this would be the tough part of the race.
It was. We were still surrounded by runners, but the spectators, marching bands, drummers and cool signs were no longer as prevalent. And, as usual, the headwind off the point was a drag. And, oh yes, we were at miles 9 and 10.
I was getting tired and started to worry that Grace would start being “supportive” which in an oxygen deprived state I interpret as being annoying. But, she stayed silent, jogging along, taking pictures and catching some rays.
As we began the exit the park there was a seemingly makeshift cheering squad. It consisted of about 20 full figured women, in matching but very small black pants and tight red shirts. They were jumping up and down literally screaming to the music that played on some sound system. It was so over the top, I had to laugh, even as I faltered!
We came back into town and the crowds grew larger and louder. There was one long uphill ramp and then one looong tunnel, so long it had two sets of drummers inside, the sounds reverberating and causing all of us to shake.
It seems funny now how long the last mile was. I was starting to negotiate with myself about what time on a race day I could have a beer. Would 10:30, when I expected to be home and in the tub, be too early? What would Bill think? Then I moved on to fashion questions: those new blue loafers, could I wear them with a skirt or would the proportions be off?
Even Grace had to say that last mile was so long. We passed the National Gallery on Pennsylvania Ave, headed South on 3rd and could see the faster women rounding Peace Circle to head back west down Pennsylvania to the finish. She gasped. “It is so far!” she said.
So, when we got around the circle and started on the 800 straight away to the finish, it just seemed so damn far. I was trying to look good you know, coming in. But, I don’t think I succeeded.
We enjoyed the glitz and glamour at the finish. Julia, Emily, Elyse, (and Dan!) I am sure enjoyed the high fives from Joanie and Shalane. By the time I got there, the Olympians were off in makeup getting ready for the post game wrap-up show. But, I did get a huge kick out of the nice men in tuxedos with their trays of blue boxes. There were happy people giving out Tiffany blue bags. It seemed wrong to fill those fancy bags with fruit cups and Luna bars, but we did! Then, we were swept into tunnels by size to pick up our Tiffany blue finisher shirts.
Again, knowing that a crowd of women would fuss over how the shirts fit, Nike kindly offered an exchange station for your shirt. So you know, if your shirt did not skim the body exactly as you hoped, you could exchange it.
This was a delightful morning and a great race. For me it struck the perfect balance of being a “fun run” and a good challenge. I was proud to know the winner, Samia, and proud that she lives in our area. I thought it was more about fitness as a lifestyle than female empowerment. Nike is a decent and generous corporation. That was clearly evident. The course was quite brilliant and since the race was well managed, I think if you were going for time, it would be quite possible to PR. So, next year…