This past weekend I ran the Army Ten-Miler (ATM), a fantastic 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C. that starts and finishes at the Pentagon, passing by landmarks including the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, and the Capitol Building.
Since the inaugural race in 1985 the ATM has grown from a humble 1,379 finishers to 25,925 finishers in 2013. Nearly 300,000 runners have participated since the race began, and only one man, U.S. Army Col. (Ret.) Lew Goldberg, who has run every Army Ten-Miler since 1985.
While I’m no Lew Goldberg, I have run the race three times before. I ran the race with shoes in 2006 (1:13:05) and without shoes in 2011 (1:17:29) and 2012 (1:12:06). This year, for my fourth running, I opted for Vibrams thanks to my ongoing battle with plantar fasciitis.
The ATM tends to sell out lightning fast. Last year it sold all 30,000 spots in a mind-boggling 9 hours, and there was no reason that this year’s race wouldn’t do the same. To prepare myself, I stayed up until midnight the night before registration opened. One hour passed and I hadn’t registered. Another, and then another. Before long it was 3:30AM and I was unable to keep my eyes open. Accepting momentary defeat, I emailed my friend to let her know that registration was in her hands. Around 8AM she sent me a confirmation email. Thanks Lynn! Seriously, thanks, because the race and its 35,000 spots sold out in just under 9 hours again. Now all I had to do was wait 5 months.
My fall race calendar was pretty slim. Just the Army Ten Miler and my first ultra marathon; the latter was scheduled two weeks before the former. Training for the 40-mile ultra meant I wasn’t going to have to also train for the ATM. Unfortunately, training for the 40-miler meant running a marathon every weekend for three months which took its toll on my right foot to the tune of plantar fasciitis.
In the weeks leading up to the ultra I did everything I could to alleviate my plantar issues. I used a night splint, rolled my foot over a bottle of frozen water twice a day, and stretched my foot a hundred different ways based on feedback from my doctor (which also included the strong suggestion to “not run” <– good one doc!) The pain never subsided. I ended up running the ultra with foot pain, and I was prepared to run the ATM with (though hopefully without) foot pain.
As if my personal ailments weren’t enough, the U.S. federal government shut down on October 1. While I didn’t think much of the shutdown as it pertained to the race, I did draw the conclusion that if the government remained shut down it would most certainly impact the ATM’s location within the FEDERAL DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA!
Come race week, the dbags in D.C. kept the shutdown in place. I started to get a wee antsy. Should I stay or should I go? Monday. Closed. Tuesday. Closed. Wednesday. Closed. Oh, FTLOG! When Wednesday rolled around with no resolution, ATM officials planned an alternate route. Poop! Then, by an act of Congress, the government reopened shortly after midnight on Thursday after Obama signed the pork-filled Continuing Appropriations Act. Hooray! Unfortunately, two of my friends opted out of the race thanks to the shutdown mess. Boo!
On Saturday, the day before the race, I left my house at 5AM and drove to D.C. BTW, if you’re going 5 hours and you can dial up a comedy station on iRadio, Spotify, or Pandora I highly recommend it. Laughing will keep you awake and will help pass the time. I highly recommend Jim Gaffigan and Brian Regan.
Anywho, I got to D.C. about 10AM, met up with my buddy Jim and his son, grabbed our race packets at the Armory, took in a few sights on the Mall, and ate grub with friends at Bertucci’s that evening. Quick aside, a couple years ago my ATM group and I went to Carmine’s, a family style Italian restaurant on 7th just east of the White House. It was awesome. It is also usually booked on Saturday night. Calling to make reservations on Saturday morning will most likely put you in the 9PM eating range. This is not ideal when you have to wake up at the butt crack of dawn. Moral of the story, make your ATM dinner reservations before you arrive in D.C.
Sunday morning I woke at 5:45AM, hit the showers, emptied the tanks 3 times, almost left for the Metro, emptied the tanks twice more, and then left for the Metro with Jim. PRO TIP: Buy a SmarTrip Metro card. It’s a refillable plastic card that handles sweaty shorts way better than a paper card.
Right, so we stepped outside and were greeted by 48°F temps and a pretty firm headwind. A short time later we were riding the magic subway to the Pentagon with a bazillion other runners and spectators. Jim and I dropped our warm clothes at the garment check and proceeded to hit the head before making our way to our respective waves. Jim was in Wave 1 (which starts at 8AM) and I was in Wave 2 (which starts at 8:05AM).
After standing around for a few minutes the cold air and wind provided reason enough to, yes, empty my tanks for the 1 millionth time. So with 40 minutes to go I left the front of Wave 2 for the back of a Port-A-John line. Fifteen minutes later I was back in the front of Wave 2 with the rest of my fellow runners, some of which were deciding to avoid Port-A-Johns altogether.
The start of Wave 2 was positioned directly under a bridge that went through the Pentagon parking lot. The bridge had a grassy hill that sloped down to the roadway. Bathroom lines got long and people started to relieve the pressure in their bladder on the wall of the bridge (as illustrated below). Notice I said “people”. Yes, while almost every person that came up to the wall was a dude, I did see a woman walk up to the wall and, well, you know.
As time went on I started to get that wonderful pre-race sensation, again. For a moment, well several moments actually, the thought of peeing on the bridge crossed my mind. But then I spotted a Port-A-John up ahead and was waiting for Wave 2 to move into the starting position before I would TCOB. Then all of a sudden…BOOM! The cannon fired. Hallelujah! Wave 1 started their race and Wave 2 was now moving into position. I ran for the bathroom, waited in line for a couple of minutes, TCOB, and joined Wave 2 once again.
It wasn’t long before I crossed the start line and began my race. And by “began my race” I mean I began weaving through the sea of people trying to find an open line I could settle in all the way to the finish. Seven minutes and 29 seconds later my Garmin signaled the completion of the first mile. Just one thing, I wasn’t at the first mile marker, and I wouldn’t cross it for another tenth of a mile.
For the next three miles I stayed in the low sevens. Then my foot started hurting and I slowed up just a hair. In my head I did my best to drown out the “OW!” For the most part it worked. But there were times I thought I was going to lose it.
Miles 5, 6, and 7 were painful, but uneventful. A few times I got stuck behind a crowd for a few seconds, but I was able to make up the time by running through the water station and grabbing a cup from the last volunteer.
By mile 8, just before the start of the final bridge, I was doing everything I could to make the pain in my right foot stop. I slowed up a bit, favored my left leg, and ultimately just decided to press on. I knew I had about 14 minutes left and I just needed to hang on.
I hit Mile 9 at 1:05:01 and realized that if I was going to keep my time under 72 minutes I’d have to pull off a sub-7 final mile. I also knew the route. I had a short climb to start the last mile, followed by a mild downhill, a long climb, and finally a windy flat roadway to the finish line.
I dug in and pushed my way up the first incline. I coasted down the off ramp leading to the Pentagon. This is also the point in the race where the crowds are four and five people deep. In other woods, plenty inspiration. The screaming and cheering pushed me up the steady incline to the last half mile. Eventually, and finally, after zigging and zagging my way through the barricaded street, I crossed the finish line 6 minutes and 49 seconds after crossing Mile 9.
Final time: 1:11:50.
Following the race I met up with Jim, snapped a photo, and then headed back to the hotel so we could grab lunch and watch the Bears-Redskins game. Eighty-six points and a Bears loss later I was back in my car headed home. The next morning my right foot was hating life, and my left calf let me know it had been working overtime for the race. My apologies to you both.
- The ATM will sell out in less than 9 hours so you may want to register in the middle of the night;
- Make dinner reservations well in advance because you’ll be competing for pasta shops with 34,999 other people;
- Purchase a plastic refillable SmarTrip Metro card because paper ones don’t do well in running shorts.
- Runners have no shame and pee a lot; and
- Plantar Fasciitis is awful.
This is my fourth Army Ten-Miler and most assuredly not my last. The ATM is the perfect race distance for any runner who wants to have fun and challenge themselves. And, D.C. is a great town to visit whether you’re with a group of friends or just hanging with family.
Got thoughts on the 2013 Army Ten-Miler? Share ‘em below or send me an e-mail at email@example.com.