Running the Army Ten-Miler: A Story of Love & Hate
On Sunday, I ran my fifth Army Ten-Miler. Last year’s was in Kuwait, and I was anxious to run the official race in Washington, D.C. again this year.
This year’s race was extra special. It was hot. And humid. When I woke up it was 75°F and the humidity was hanging at about 94%.
About 25,000 runners showed up to run this year and the first wave started at 8 a.m. At 10:08 a.m., a little more than an hour after the last corral starting running, the course was altered. The race was also officially downgraded to a “recreational run.” Finishers were sorted into three categories: the first who finished before 10:08 ran an official Army Ten-Miler; the second ran 10 miles, but finished after 10:08 and received an “unofficial time” for their “recreational run”; and the third got credit for running, but didn’t complete the course so did not receive a time.
This decision was met with a lot of rage on the internets, mostly because runners didn’t know their race had been downgraded until after they crossed the finish line, which I totally get. But I also totally support and understand the decision of race organizers to downgrade the race and shorten the course. It was for safety’s sake and after being out there and seeing so many people go down or seeking medical treatment along the course, I get it. I’ve never seen so many medical emergencies on a race course, never had to move so many times to make way for ambulances. Yes, it sucks for those who didn’t get to run an official Army Ten-Miler, but given how bad things were out there, it was the right decision.
I started in the third wave and managed to finish before the 10:08 deadline. I ran an official time of 1:34:40, with an average pace of 9:28. That pace is almost a minute slower than what I managed at the Patrick Henry Half Marathon in August, but starting conditions for that race were far better, with a starting temperature about 15°F cooler.
Despite the heat and this year’s mayhem, the Army Ten-Miler is still one of my favorite races. But it’s also one of the most frustrating events I’ve participated in. I love it. And I hate it. I look forward to it all year and then I spend the weekend cursing about it.
Why I Love the Army Ten-Miler
- It’s the Army Ten-Miler. Hi! I’m in the Army! And the Army Ten-Miler is the Army’s race. There’s Army stuff everywhere. Soldiers support the course, providing medical support and manning the water points while also doing a solid cheerleading job for the runners. Senior Army leaders are usually there too, sometimes cracking jokes at the start line, which is super fucking cool.
- The Runners. There’s no other race I’ve ever ran where everyone shuts up, turns and faces the flag for the national anthem. It gives me chills to watch, hear and feel a crowd of 30,000 people fall quiet and render respect to the flag. And then there’s the people you see on the course. There’s the Wounded Warriors, men and women running with one or two prosthetic limbs, the retired veterans and the family and friends left behind wearing a shirt or bib honoring their fallen Soldiers. It’s incredibly powerful.
- The Course. The Army Ten-Miler starts and ends at the Pentagon, weaving its way through parts of Virginia and Washington, D.C. along the way. It’s scenic, mostly flat and sightseeing along the way is part of the fun.
Why I Hate the Army Ten -Miler
- The Corrals. This year 35,000 runners signed up for the Army Ten-Miler and more than 25,000 showed up to run it. But, there were only EIGHT corrals. For 25,000 people. That means each corral contained around 3,100 runners, which is insane. The Monument Avenue 10k, in Richmond, is one of the biggest 10k races in the U.S. For 25,000 runners they have 30 corrals and send 1,000-1,500 runners out every 3-5 minutes. With such big starting corrals, runners can expect to spend the first 1-4 miles of the Army Ten-Miler fighting through the crowd and running at a reduced pace. It drives me crazy each and every year.
- Corral Jumping. I was in the third corral and saw people who should have started two or three corrals back starting with me. Technically, this is grounds for disqualification, but the rules are loosely enforced at best. Then there are people wearing the right color bib who aren’t running the pace they signed up to run, which only results in more congestion on the course and a whole bunch of very frustrated runners.
- Bad Race Etiquette. We’ve all got our own pace, and that’s great. Fast, slow or in-between, it’s all good. But I wish runners at the Army Ten-Miler would treat the race like interstate driving – slower traffic should keep right. If you’re walking, move to the side. If you’re moving slower than everyone around you, move to the side. It’s that easy. Walking in the middle of a crowded course – or starting to walk suddenly without checking your surroundings – is not only rude, it’s dangerous. That’s how runners trip, fall and crash into one another.
I fuss about these things every year, but every year I go back. Despite the crowds, and the chaos and the bad race behavior, I love this race. So I’ll go back in 2018 for my sixth Army Ten-Miler. And I’ll bitch about the same things I always bitch about, because that’s just how this works.