'Nat-Attacking' the Navy-Air Force Half
By Natalie Robinson
Note: This article originally appeared on District Running Collective's blog, In the Running Room, Sept. 2017
Me, a half marathoner? Nah. Prior to this year, I would have never thought it would have been me at the finish line after completing 13.1 miles. At some point in April after Bridge the Gap, I began to entertain the idea of running a half marathon. BTGDC was my first long distance race, and my running confidence was high after crossing the finish line. If I could train and complete that race, then why not push myself to the next level and take on a half? After receiving encouragement from DRC friends, I committed to begin the training for the Navy-Air Force Half Marathon. The race was scheduled for September which happened to be one of the first DRC featured fall races. “Perfect,” I thought. “This race would have a lot of other DRC runners, and the good vibes would be high.” I even persuaded a few others that NAF should be their first too. Plus, why not run your first half right in your own backyard? So I had no other choice other than to go for it.
Saturday before the race…
My 13-week training program had come down to its final run before race day–the shakeout run. That morning, I met up with my District Running Collective (DRC) crew at the super dope Future of Sports pop-up on H Street. Everyone looked extremely energized and ready to knock this last run out before race day. As we swarmed our way down the middle of H Street on the way to the Stadium Armory for packet pickup (side note: way cool to run down the middle of an otherwise busy street), it began to sink in that I was really running a HALF MARATHON the next day! But I couldn’t help but feel the strong sense of community around me and knew everyone had each other’s back. That was also the day of the H Street festival, so plenty of vendors and neighbors were out which made way for some supportive cheers as we mobbed out the street. We arrived at the Armory and scooped up our packets. This race was here.
Nerves began to sink in throughout the day, but Saturday happened to be jammed with running events, so that helped to ease those jitters. With so many activities taking place, I couldn’t help but think I was doing the absolute most before my first race and really should be sitting at home resting, but I went with the flow.
After carb loading at the pre-race dinner with the other runners, it was almost time. I had spent the entire summer training, including countless hot, humid, and rainy(!) runs. I asked just about everyone in DRC for half marathon advice, and the moment was finally here. I laid out my race kit, took a pic (umm, duh!), and attempted to get some sleep.
My alarm went off at 4:45am (whew, that’s early!), and I popped up with enthusiasm mixed with a touch of nerves. Race day had finally arrived! I quickly got ready and met up with Na’Tasha and Stephanie, and we headed to meet the rest of the DRC crew at 14th Street and Constitution Ave.
As we walked up on the rest of the crew, we were greeted with everyone’s smiling faces, just like it was our regular Wednesday run. My nerves had been eased knowing that our squad was so deep and we were starting off in solidarity. There were several fellow first-timers in the group, including my friends Avery and Deceilia, so I made it a point to connect with them so we could start the race together. DRC Captain Corey led the group in a pre-race prayer, and then we headed to the starting line.
The race started off crowded, and I felt myself having to slow down to make way for the wall of people on the road. I reminded myself of some advice I had been given which was, “Don’t spend your energy early in the race weaving between runners.” I maintained a somewhat slower pace up until about Mile 5 where the course finally started to loosen up and I could pick up some speed. Mile 6.5, I spotted Taina and Dante as they were walking to meet cheer squad. I waved and, to my surprise, they jumped on the course and began running with me for about a half mile, offering some much appreciated support. As we approached Cheer Squad at Mile 7, you could feel and hear the electric energy being echoed on the course. The cheers and screams got louder, and I was thrilled to see my DRC peeps as I ran by.
Along Rock Creek Park, I began to see other DRC’ers as they were looping back the opposite direction. I said, “Hey! Good job!” to just about everyone I happened to see. That kept me motivated because I knew the turnaround point was near. Mile 10.5, as I began to search for the next water station, I started wanting the race to be over with. But I knew I wasn’t far from the finish and at this point needed the support of cheer squad at Mile 11. So, I grabbed a water at the station manned by District Tri and powered through. I could once again hear the bass bouncing off the Kennedy Center as I ran towards Cheer Squad. YFN Lucci’s “Every Day We Lit” was playing, and I was met with infectious energy, smiles, cheers, and a confetti shower. Just the boost I needed to get to the finish.
Somewhere around Mile 12.5, deep in thought and knowing it was nearly over, I recalled one of DRC’s Wednesday themes for this year–finish strong. I gathered myself, dug deep, and pushed my pace to finish the race.
I crossed the finish line and that was it; I was done. I had actually completed a 13.1! Once I received my medal, I began to search for my DRC fam. The first person I saw was my friend Stephanie who met me with the biggest smile, hug and my first "congratulations." With the collective feeling of accomplishment, the tight sense of community, and the fact that all my training paid off, it all just hit me and I felt incredible.
There was once a time when running one mile was a complete struggle, and I would have to stop several times. Yet, I kept coming back, kept building and kept striving to get better. To have now completed a half marathon, well, my heart is overwhelmingly full. I couldn’t have done it without the unwavering support from DRC, the pep talks, the encouragement, the “I’ll run with you” and “You got this” from friends, and just the crew love. This experience illustrated to me you can truly do all things. As a good friend told me after the race, “You, too, are strong and capable of more than you think.” So with that, me, a half marathoner? Yes.
Shout out to all Navy-Air Force finishers and especially my fellow first-timers. We did that!
Photos via District Running Collective
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