Race review: Army Ten Miler

Originally posted at http://www.wecanrunaway.com/washington-dc-army-ten-miler/

atm-startThe Army Ten Miler is truly a one-of-a-kind experience.  It’s a huge race (35,000 strong in 2016) hosted by the Association of the United States Army.

How many races feature an artillery blast to signal the start of the race, with a military helicopter hovering overhead?  The quick answer is not many.

In addition to its start/finish line being located beside the iconic Pentagon, the run features picturesque views of the Potomac River, and the National Mall.  It’s easy to get lost in your run as you pass the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Memorial, and the Tidal Basin.  Far from table-top flat, the course has some minor hills along the way, and a long uphill section toward the its end.

The race’s organizers have gotten better and better over the event’s 32-year existence.  The first year I ran the race (I think it was 2009), there were no organized corrals (at least not that I noticed).  You can imagine the chaos of a mass start of more than 20,000 people….

The Good
The start:  I’m happy to say the experience at the starting line is much better these days.  Several corrals, based on expected times, launch with gaps of several minutes, keeping the congestion manageable.  It’s still crowded for the first couple miles, but much less so than in years past.

atm-coinThe medal:  I *love* the military-style coin given at the finish line.  As a military guy, I think it’s one of the things that makes the race unique.  It’s not huge, and it’s not anything super-gawdy.  It’s military, and given the nature of the race, that makes sense.

The course:  As stated above, you can’t go wrong with the course.  The race starts at the Pentagon, winds northward toward Arlington National Cemetery, crossing into DC over the Memorial Bridge.  After passing the Lincoln Memorial, runners pass through the area around George Washington University.  Between the second and third mile, the Watergate sits to the left of the course.  Next, it’s the National Mall – past the Korean War Memorial and the Washington Monument, and through part of the Federal District, where the original Smithsonian building stands.  Then the tough part starts, as runners pour out onto I-395, and hit the long, slightly uphill stretch, passing the Jefferson Memorial and heading toward the Pentagon.  After a brief mile-and-a-half foray into Pentagon City, the course finishes up not far from where it started, along the southeast side of the Pentagon.

Expo:  Held at the DC Armory (just across from venerable RFK Stadium – former home of the Redskins, and current home of MLS’ DC United), the packet pickup process is as streamlined as they come.  I had my packet in hand in less than 10 minutes.  The expo itself isn’t as big as some, but it has everything you need, and then some.

atm-runnersRace atmosphere:  This is where the Army Ten Miler really shines.  Military runners flock to this race, with bases from around the world sending their best to compete for the team title.  But for the rest of us regular folk, it’s an experience to run this race surrounded by military members, their families, and a very supportive public.  How can you not be inspired when you’re running beside our nation’s wounded warriors, and those running in honor of their fallen comrades?  While it’s serious, it’s the opposite of a downer.  Military bands set up shop at a few different locations on the course, and the race truly has a festive feel to it.

The Bad
Post-race food:  Race officials had plenty of water available just beyond the finish line, and the food tents were organized well.  But unlike years past, the post-race food was available only in pre-packaged boxes.  I completely understand that this makes the organizers’ jobs easier, and makes for more efficient lines, and less cleanup of dropped items, and eliminates hoarding of specific items.  I really do understand that.  But at the same time, I know what I like and what I don’t.  If all I want is a granola bar, I should be able to grab just that and move on.  Please keep in mind, this is just my personal preference.  The ATM has more food at the end of this race than most marathons put out, so this really is just hair-splitting on my part.

The weather: Obviously, Mother Nature is going to have her say on race day, and there’s nothing we mere mortals can do about it.  But the weather at this time of year is unpredictable.  Early October in DC can be sunny and fair, cold and wet, or anything in between.  This year it was cold, rainy, and extremely windy.  Running face-first into 20mph winds during miles 8 and 9 was no fun at all.

The shirt:  The long-sleeved tech shirt has remained mostly the same over the past several years – basic white shirt with the year’s ATM logo on the front and the sponsors on the back.  While I realize this is a step up from the cotton shirts handed out as recently as five or six years ago, it’s the same basic shirt.  Just a change in the base color would be a welcome change.  Love the logos – just hate the pile of similar-looking long-sleeve techs in my drawer.

Registration:  There is no lottery for this race, which means you have to be online at a specific date and time to register, and the race sells out quickly.  Military members get the first shot, with a priority signup a few weeks ahead of general registration.  Signup is easy, although the site has glitched out in years past, due to the volume of people trying to register.  Forget trying to sign up the day after registration opens.

The Verdict
Bucket-list!  If you’ve never run a race in the DMV (that’s DC/Maryland/Virginia), this is one of about three (along with the Marine Corps Marathon and the Parkway Classic) that should be on your bucket list.  Only the Marine Corps Marathon comes wrapped with more tradition than this race.  The Army Ten Miler has been listed as the third-largest 10-mile race in the world, and there’s a reason people flock from around the world to be here.  It’s the perfect mix of goodwill, a challenging course, and great scenery.

See you next year!

5 thoughts on “Race review: Army Ten Miler

  1. Very interesting for me to read your last couple of blogs on this race. I ran it for the first time this year and was really impressed with just about everything BUT the weather. I haven’t done any racing in the last 6 years so I was happy to participate in this one, which was indeed a bucket list race for me.

    I was in a much slower wave and if you think your dodging around was crazy, you should have been in my wave. I swear most of the people must have signed up to walk. I wore a Garmin and turned if off when I hit 10 miles – and I was no where near the finish mats, which shows me how much dodging around I’d been doing.

    Your ability to just get out and run this race the way you did astonishes me. I did not do as well – and I had a lot of training, but my lack of “race shape” definitely showed.

    I will say this: as a much, much slower runner than you, I loved the snack boxes. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve gotten to the end of a long distance race to find only some shriveled up oranges left. And while I didn’t care to eat much of that box immediately, it delighted me that I had the choice to eat something.

    Oh, and I think there were only 24,000 participants this year – still a big race!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We were supposed to start in the green wave, but it turned out that the bridge we huddled under was closer to the blue wave, and the corral kind of formed around us, so we just moved forward with the surge. That turned out to be fortunate, as the pace was only a little slower than I like.

      I can totally relate to the walkers in the group. Years ago, there were far fewer corrals for the ATM, and you’d see walkers close to the front, right behind the elite runners at the start. It was ridiculous.

      I have no problem with walkers, but what I don’t understand is how people think it’s OK to walk right in the middle of the course, instead of moving to the sides. If I’m laboring in a race, and have to slow the pace, I move over, both for my own safety and for that of other runners.

      As for my finish – I was astonished, too! When healthy, I can hold an 8-minute pace for 15+ miles, but I haven’t been healthy in a LONG time. So I’m guessing a lot of it was simply muscle memory. Still, it was an experience that made me want to learn more – I’m going to work on a piece looking at the science behind negative splits. Look for that in the next week or so!

      I had never considered what the food tents look like for those finishing further back – that’s a very good point, and a strong one in favor of the food boxes!

      On the 35K number , I just went with what the announcer put out. But you’re right, the actual number of finishers was much lower.- just over 24K.

      I’m glad you got to run the ATM. It remains one of my favorite races in the area. If you’re local, you should check out the George Washington Parkway Classic in April. It’s a point-to-point 10-miler from Mount Vernon to Alexandria, run along the shores of the Potomac. It’s a beautiful run!

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      1. Thanks for the tip on that race. I’m actually not local but my daughter and son-in-law are. There are zero ten mile races in my area – and even though I’m slow, it’s a distance I really like.

        Your pet peeve about the walkers is my exact issue. Get over to the side!

        Liked by 1 person

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