Thursday, September 26, 2013

So you're coming to visit DC for the Marine Corps Marathon

I thought I'd try to give an insider's view of visiting DC, particularly those of you coming here for the Marine Corps Marathon (which I'll be running with you!).  Some of the entries I'm going to list here will be SHORT, and some very detailed.  I'm assuming people will be here in the Fall, but just in case you visit DC other times, virtually all of the "insider" places making my list are worth the visit regardless of season.

Ok, let's start -- in NO particular order:

1.  Ted's Bulletin.  This place started on Capitol Hill, DC, but there's a new location downtown, around 14th St. NW.  Three words:  HOMEMADE POP TARTS.  Really, why are you even still reading?  Worth the visit.  Obviously, the Capitol Hill location is more "local" customers, while 14th St. will be more touristy.  They serve breakfast all day (yay!) and make some really excellent milkshakes (even adult ones).

2.  The US Marine Corps Silent Drill Team gives FREE demonstrations of their skill and precision -- during the summer.  The demonstration, along with music by the Marine Corps Band, takes place on Friday nights during the summer, at the historic Marine Corps Barracks located on 8th and I St. SE, the Marine Corps' oldest post.  After the demonstration, along with performance by the skilled members of the US Marine Corps Band, you can go across 8th St. to one of the many bars, restaurants, or even FroYo places for rejuvenation.  Again, this is during the SUMMER, but not a lot of visitors to DC know about this, so I included it.  Here's the full story on the event.

3.  Gravelly Point.  Pay attention, parents of kids:  This spot is located on the Mount Vernon Bike/Running trail, and also has a decent-sized parking lot.  Basically, this spot is VERY close to DC National Airport, and the large/medium jets will land or take off right over your head.  In particular, kids seem to love it.  But even my teen daughter was impressed, and that's saying something.

The trick with Gravelly Point is this:  It's usually a LOT more impressive when the planes LAND over your head, not take off.  So here's what you do.  If you're walking around in DC, put the major Mall monuments in this order:

US Capitol ---  Washington Monument --- Lincoln.

So basically, your left shoulder is closest to the Capitol, and your right shoulder is closest to Lincoln.  Look in the sky for planes.  If the tail of the plane is closest to the CAPITOL (so, roughly speaking, the planes are passing left to right based on my little chart up there), the planes are taking off over peoples' heads at Gravelly Point (cool, but not as loud).  If the tail of the plane is closest to Lincoln (so the planes are passing right to left on my little chart there), then the planes are LANDING over peoples' heads at Gravelly Point (Awesome!).  It seems that the planes land over Gravelly Point starting in mid-afternoon, but that could be anecdotal, based on my times I've run through the area while training.

So -- look up in the sky on the Mall!  Check your shoulders (i.e., don't be looking AT Lincoln, or looking AT the Capitol).  Look at the planes.  If they're landing in the "right to left" direction (roughly), then it's an easy Metro trip to National Airport, and a modest walk on the Mt. Vernon Trail.

Parking:  If you drive, you'll park just SOUTH of Gravelly Point at the Daingerfield Island Marina.  Again, free parking, and less than 2.5 miles from Gravelly Point, so an easy run there to watch the planes, and get a short shakeout run.

4. The National Zoo. Ok, while this isn't really an "insider" location, the tip I'm going to give you damn well is: Park "downhill." That means, bypass parking lots, A, B, and even C, and keep driving DOWN the hill to lots D and E. The result is that you'll walk uphill through the zoo to start your visit, but your legs (and your kids' legs) will be fresher then. When you're ready to leave, you'll have a much easier time getting to your car as you stroll downhill, not trudge back up. You're welcome. 

5.  Margialardo's Italian Deli:  Want a REAL local's lunch, but you don't want to pay for the costs of The Palm, or Old Ebbitt Grill?  Come by to my part of the hood (Eastern Capitol Hill).  This place is as mom-and-pop as it gets.  Generation after generation has run this sub shop.  Forget lunching at the Mayflower hotel in the hopes of spotting Senator Snotnose who isn't interested in you anyway.  Come here and support a shop, and get an uber-Italian meaty lunch sub.  LOTS of people talk about Ben's Chili Bowl, but that's almost cliche at this point.  THIS shop is for a true insider.  Plus, at lunchtime, it's got a steady stream of cops, firemen, and other government workers coming in/out.  You'll be quite safe.  :)  The downside is that they are not open weekends, and close around 3pm weekdays.

6.  The front of the Newseum.  Right at the corner of 6th and Pennsylvania Ave., NW.  Sure, everyone is listing this on their "Must Visit" lists, but suppose you don't have the time for a visit?  Come by here ANYWAY, and see part of it for free.  The front of the Newseum, every morning, has a display of the front pages from newspapers in all 50 states, plus some "National" papers.  It was amazing to stroll along these papers the day after we killed Osama Bin Laden, and it's also interesting to see how the different papers treat both national/local events.  It's a short stop by here (it's just off the Mall, near the National Gallery of Art (and my work!), and definitely worth the visit.  Oh!  And it's right next to the (huge!) Canadian Embassy, so my friends to the north can stop in and touch their home soil.

7.  That reminds me.  My first job EVER in DC was with the Federal Election Commission, right at 999 E St. NW (so the corner of 10th and E, just down the street from Ford's Theater, and next to the DC Hard Rock Cafe).  The first floor is open to the public, and the FEC treats public service VERY seriously.  Walk in.  Get FREE reports about who gives your congressional Representative or Senator money (both people and PACs).  Do a ZIP CODE search (really) and see who in your neighborhood gave money to whom.  All free.  Have them send the results to your home address so you don't have to carry stuff in your luggage.

8.  Yards Park.  This is not far from Washington Nationals Stadium.  It's basically a free splash park for the kiddies, and there's a good-sized lot with $5 parking nearby.  More of a summer destination, but they have free concerts and movies in warm weather too.  It's not known to a lot of visitors, but a nice destination.

9.  The Old Post Office Pavilion:  Before Donald Trump takes this over, check it out.  Since the Washington Monument is still closed for repairs after the August 2011 earthquake, that makes the tower the highest observation point in DC.  It's a free ride up top.  The Old Post Office is at 12th and Pennsylvania Ave, NW, not far from some of the other suggestions I've listed here.

Ok, so thanks to Donald Trump, #9 is closed.  *blows raspberry*

10.  The Einstein Memorial.  This is known to some folks, but many miss it, even though it's not far from the National Mall.  It's really well done, and has many little "did-you-know" points about it that make it worth the visit.  It's not a huge walk from the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial

11.  Don't kid me.  If you're reading this blog, you're likely a runner or triathlete.  But even if you're not, you love cupcakes.  Admit it!  Anyway, here on Capitol Hill in DC, we are home to a place you might be familiar with from "Cupcake Wars."  It's called "The Sweet Lobby," and it will knock your (compression) socks off.  They're in the "Barracks Row" area of 8th Street Southeast, and have a tiny little shop near the fire station.  Pay them a visit and you can thank me later for this tip.  You might have to run a few extra miles to pay for the visit, though!

12.  One last tip.  If you have the Washington Monument BEHIND you, and you face the U.S. Capitol, the Senate is on the left side.  The House is on the right.  If you have time, stop in either your Senator or Representative's office and see what they can do for you.  If you're REALLY diligent, contact them ahead of time, and see if they can get you expedited access to some really popular tours, like the FBI HQ (10th and Penn), or maybe a Capitol Tour.  If you foresee yourself coming to DC, do yourself a favor and contact their office(s).  If they're up for re-election, they'll be particularly responsive to constituents.

By the way, lunch eateries frequented by Hill Staffers vary, but they're all pretty much on the other side of the Capitol, roughly at the top of the Hill.  For many on the Senate side, you have the food court at Union Station.  On the House side, you're really not that far from "Top Chef" contestant Spike's places:  Good Stuff (burgers, fries, shakes), We, the Pizza (guess), and Bearnaise (higher-end, steak frites).

Ok, that's my list of "Insider spots" for visitors to Washington, DC.  I hope you find time to at least see a couple of them while you visit!

And, finally, when it comes to escalators -- WALK ON THE LEFT, STAND ON THE RIGHT!

Monday, September 23, 2013

22 too many.

United States military veterans commit suicide at the astounding rate of 22 per day, perhaps even more.  The majority is due to the effects of PTSD.  If you're a runner, here's an easy way to raise awareness, and doesn't involve fundraising(!).

1.  Join the "22 too many" Facebook group.  Basically, here's how it works (but read the group instructions)

2.  For your next marathon, or perhaps even a triathlon, you wear the picture (large on the back, and an optional smaller on your shoulder if you wish) of a military veteran who we've lost to PTSD.

3.  You mail the medal from the race to the family of the veteran (that's why I'm suggesting marathons or triathlons, but I suspect even a military-themed race with a challenge coin will work).  Write a short note of gratitude/sympathy and that's that.

3a.  Apparently, there has been a lot of success with people telling volunteers at the end what they're doing (the pictures help), and you can often get a second medal from a volunteer if you really want to keep the one from the race.  I don't intend to ask for a spare medal, but I completely get why folks would do so.  It's perfectly understandable.

(update:  I ended up getting 2 medals at the MCM finish, because my Marine has a wife and living parents, so I didn't want to have to decide what to do with a single one)

4.  It's a simple act, but the families are greatly appreciative. Some put the medals in shadow boxes, others keep them in a safe place.

5.  Doing so continues to raise awareness of the plague our returning veterans face, and you don't have to pester friends or co-workers to donate money.

I'll be doing this both for the Marine Corps Marathon, and the Richmond Marathon.  Connect with this group and run to honor those who we've lost not to enemy fire, but despair.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

2013 Navy / Air Force Half Marathon Race Report . . .

. . . or, how I "cast my ego adrift," and just "glided" for a race.



The Navy / Air Force Half Marathon is done! 

I signed up for this race just after doing the 2013 Cherry Blossom, and thought it would be (1) a nice "check how I'm doing" type race pre-Marine Corps Marathon, and (2) it is very close to the CB10 course, which I both love, and is conveniently located near my home, which makes getting to the start an easy task (no need for bag check, get a little more sleep).

Packet pickup at Bolling AFP was smooth, although they were very strict about you having to bring a copy of your registration receipt (you can log into the website and reprint it), along with ID.  But, once there, the expo was minimally populated, and I had my race bib within minutes of arrival.

The race expo was small.  There was one table of a guy selling gear/Gu/etc, but it was enough for me, as his prices were fine.  So, the only task left was planning out how to race this.

I had a couple of problems:

1.  A tight(ish) hamstring from doing a lot of track work, and
2.  My ego.

I'm not used to doing races where I pay for the opportunity to run a race, and then DON'T give my all.  I wouldn't run VO2 max the whole time, of course, but I normally go hard, and go hard from mat to mat.  But, it made no sense for this race.

The trick HAD to be to see if all my summer long runs had helped any, and in particular if the downward performance I'd been noticing was related to hot weather or overtraining.  So, before the race had even started, I'd planned to fail.

"Fail," is an ugly word.  But I guess what I mean is that I was going to step on a starting race mat KNOWING I could demolish my old PR for a Half Marathon, and would CHOOSE not to do so.

But the thing is, I want a sub-4 hour marathon finish so badly, that it was time for my Ego to deal.

The (ship's) bells sounded, and off we went:

It really wasn't so bad. The first 6 miles or so were basically me just holding myself slightly faster than a sub-4 marathon pace, probably around 9:05 per mile. I felt like I could do that pretty much all day.  I will say that I DID find it amusing to hear so many people around me wheezing and struggling for air at their pace.  Sheesh, is that how --I-- sound when I'm running an 8:20 something??  Eek.  But, I just chugged along, and had only mild concern that my heart rate increased -- just a tick -- at mile 7.

I'm not sure, however, that miles 7-10 weren't just adrenaline.  Because, I'd decided that it was fair for me to run the final 5K (3.1 miles) harder than the trot I was doing.  I know that finishing some long runs fast is a training technique, so I didn't think it was THAT awful of a decision.  Serendipity at mile 10 helped.

What I mean is that there was a timing mat at mile 10, so that meant I could run the last 3.1 miles and get a decent idea of what I had left.  The advantage was that I'd get two very distinct splits for post-race evaluation.

But, I hit the mile 10 mark under the magic sub-4 hour marathon pace, and then took off, figuring I'd satisfied my scientific curiosity about my training, but with my ego ready to at least make a show of things. I passed a LOT of familiar faces who had passed me during the course of the race earlier. No one I tried to pass held me off, but then again, I was probably so far back that anyone who COULD have held me off was probably already done with the race!  It was weird.  I'd start to overtake people in clumps of 2, 3, even 4 at a time.  Sometimes, a single runner would start to accelerate, and I'd hear his/her breathing get (even) louder.  But, I just kept cruising, made sure I was taking short strides to protect my knees, and each one would fall away in less than a minute.

I finished just under 1:57 (I think), so about 8:55 pace overall, so under the magic required 9:09 pace to reach a sub-4. This definitely helps me understand that the long slow weekend runs are doing SOMETHING for me. There were a lot of heavy breathers around me for the first 10 miles, and I didn't really feel taxed at that pace, so it was interesting to listen to them. 

This race required me to check my ego at the start line, knowing I could easily PR, yet choosing not to, because I have to think long term (as in 26.2 long term!).  This seriously might have been one of the most mature race-related decisions I'd ever made.  I can only hope it pays off.

Overall:  Just under 1:57, an 8:55 pace.
1st 10 miles:  Just over 1:31, a 9:06 pace (good practice for a 9:09 pace in 6 weeks?)
Last 3.1 miles:  Under 26 minutes, under an 8:20 pace (male ego!)

The good of this race:  Downtown location, nice time of year, and scenic views.  Packet pickup was a snap, despite being on an AFB.

The bad of this race:  I'm nearly 100% certain the mile 2 marker was misplaced.  I didn't even hit "lap" on my watch the first time I saw it, and when we looped back around to it, I was only at mile 1.8 -- that's WAY off.  Judging by others' reactions, I wasn't the only one concerned with its placement.  Also, one mile marker just plain wasn't there.  I think it was the mile 7 or 8 marker.  Yuck.