I went to the expo on Friday. It was at the armory this year instead of the convention center like 2015. I was a little worried about that because I know that you have to go through security to get into the armory and that can lead to long lines sometimes. We got there around 3:30 pm Friday and it seemed like the perfect time. There was no line to go through security and no line to pick up the bib. Things went very smoothly. I will say I noticed that the traffic was horrible trying to get in there if you were driving. Definitely take the metro. The armory was right next to the station and it seemed so much easier than trying to navigate through the traffic.
After picking up our shirts (which were really cute this year), bibs, and shoe tags (why do they still have shoe tags!?!), we wandered over to the official merchandise area. It was Brooks but I was a little disappointed in the colors and designs for this year. So we didn't buy much there, but did stop for some photo ops.
The one thing I didn't like about having the expo at the armory is that it was much smaller than when it was at the convention center. Some of the vendors I like to see weren't there. We still did a bit of browsing and I ended up buying a shirt and some arm sleeves (which I ended up wearing during the race). KT Tape was there as an actual vendor but they did have a representative at one of the other vendor's booths so my friend was able to get her ankle taped at least. We were still in and out of the expo in less than an hour.
We then went back to the hotel. We all live in the DC suburbs but decided to go ahead and split a hotel room because it just made the logistics so much easier. And the hotel was an easy walk to the start line so that really helped race morning too. If anyone is looking at a good option for a hotel for this race, the Renaissance on 9th street was great. After dropping off our stuff from the expo and laying out everything we needed for the race, we went out for dinner. We had reservations at Zengo which ended up being great for a pre-race meal. It's some small plates and some larger options as well so you could mix and match as you wanted. There were plenty of vegetarian/vegan options and plenty of gluten free options for my friend. Plus we stopped at Dolcezza on the walk back to the hotel for some gelato.
Race morning dawned nice and early. The race started at 7:30 but we were back in corral 28. We were told at the expo we probably would go off until around 8:15 so we left the hotel around 7:15. We got to our corral right as the race started and the first corral went off. We then did the slow shuffle up toward the start line as each corral was released. It was a big crowd as the marathoners and half marathoners started together. I'm not sure of the exact numbers but I think it was around 20,000 people. Finally, around 8:15, we were off.
The course was the same as last year so I won't talk about it in too much detail. The main thing to know is that it starts out downtown by the monuments and museums. It's a very scenic course for the first three miles or so. There's a nice out and back section as you cross the memorial bridge and come back where you get to see the runners going the other way and everyone was giving high fives and being super encouraging. That's the only out and back section since this is a point to point course. After you come back over the memorial bridge, you turn onto rock creek parkway. I like this section even though it's quieter because it's really pretty. There's a lot of greenery as well as the creek. Then you hit the big hill around mile 6. We walked up most of the hill but it was also inspiring as there were photos of fallen military and supporters cheering along the way.
After the hill, you start the section of the race that has you going through various neighborhoods. This is my favorite part of the race and I think this is the only major DC race that goes through this area. There is a lot of crowd support, a lot of people hanging out on their porches, playing music,
handing out food or drinks, lots of cute dogs and kids, people dressed up in costumes, etc. I think a bit after mile 9, you hit Howard University which also had a lot of people cheering, as well as this great all women afro-Brazilian drum corps that really kept us going. They were loud and you could hear them for a while. Then you turned and saw the Capitol before you. We ran toward the Capitol for a while and then made our way over toward RFK Stadium and the finish line for the last 3 miles. There continued to be great crowd support this whole way.
I think the big difference for me this year was the weather. It was beautiful running weather, overcast and cool but not cold. This really allowed me to enjoy the race in a way that I couldn't last year in the rain. The other difference to me is that it seemed like RnR really stepped up their game with the bands this year. There were some really good ones and they were all entertaining. The road conditions were a bit worse due to the potholes because of the Winter we had, but I don't think there's anything the race could have done about that.
As far as my personal experience, my main goal was to make sure my friend enjoyed her first half marathon. And I think she did! We used 4/1 run walk intervals until mile 11 and then switched to 2 minutes running, 30 seconds walking. I wanted her to see the race experience could be light hearted and fun, if that's what you wanted. So I gave all the high fives, enjoyed all the music, thanked as many people as possible and we even stopped and took a shot of run punch from one of the houses in the neighborhood section :) We started out consistent, slowed during the hills and a bit at the end, but were able to pick it up again to finish strong. Both my friends are already talking about signing up for more half marathons, so my job is done :)
After the finish line, we walked through the finisher chute and it was crowded but not too bad that we couldn't keep moving the whole time. We walked through steadily, picked up some nice, cold water as well as various snacks (power bars, bananas, cheezits, chocolate milk were all on offer as well as things I didn't notice, I'm sure).
There are several of our official photos that I really like and am planning on buying
One problem I had with the race last year was the messy logistics of having to take metro back. It was compounded by the rain last year and some technical difficulties the metro system was having. I don't know if it was better because we circumvented that whole thing completely. We were luck to have a friend who lives within walking distance of the finish line. We walked over to her place after the race where she had made us an amazing brunch. By the time we headed back to the hotel, things were cleared up and we had no problem getting back there. We also didn't check bags so I'm not sure how that process went. But as far as the logistics of the things we were part of, I felt like everything went really smoothly.
Good - Logistics and organization, weather, course, bands (this moved up from the meh category to the good category for me this year), nice medal, volunteers and spectators
Meh - Shoe tag (RnR is big enough that they need to move away from this!)
Bad - elevation