Jen’s Sweeping Finish

Jen's "sweep bus selfie"
Jen’s “Sweep Bus Selfie” on the Arlington Memorial Bridge

We are privileged to be able to use the Washington Monument Grounds during the National Cherry Blossom Festival, its busiest time of the year. Our permit agreement specifies all runners will be off the course by 10:30 am. To meet this agreement, runners not maintaining a 14-minute-per mile pace (calculated from the start of the final wave) will be required to leave the course and board our sweep vehicle (if you are unsure that you can maintain this pace, you can switch to the 5k by completing this form). One brave runner shares her 2015 sweep bus experience. 

Were you nervous about making the cutoff before the race? When I started training, I wasn’t just nervous, I was freaking out. The longest race I had run up to that point was a local 10k with less than 500 runners. 15,000 runners and 10 miles was enough to make me super nervous. Knowing it was going to be a very difficult challenge for me to maintain the minimum pace gave me a lot of pre-race anxiety. Running a 10 mile race at a 14 minute pace was a HUGE deal for me.  I’d been a back of the “back of the pack” runner with about a 17 minute pace, so I had a lot of work to do during my training.

When were you picked up? I got picked up 4 miles in. I was really struggling to keep the 14 minute per mile pace and I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it up for much longer. In hindsight, I’m surprised I was able to run that far at that pace!

What were the sweep bus drivers like?  The folks in the bus couldn’t have been nicer. They did not want to have to pick anyone up. There were two people (the driver wasn’t part of the race crew) and they discussed and timed people before they stopped. If you were swept, they determined whether you were in need of medical attention and gave you water or Gatorade and a banana.

What happened after you were picked up by the sweep bus? I allowed myself a few moments of sweeper sorrow – with tears and I think a woe is me text to my mom. I chatted a little bit with the others on the bus. Then I decided I wasn’t going to cross the finish line in the van. I ran the last two miles with cheers from race volunteers, fellow runners and tourists.

How did you feel at the end of the race?  I felt pretty good. Even though it was a DNF (did not finish) for the 10 miler, I was proud of what I had accomplished. I pushed myself harder than I ever had before while running those first four miles. Most importantly, I got back out of that van. Thinking about it now, getting out of that van was the most difficult thing I did that day.

Are you going for it again this year?  I am… I think. I had no intention of running this race again. I went to the official kick off party in November with Coaches Kim and Laura and a few other ladies from the Reston =PR= Training Program. I ended up winning a lottery exemption in the raffle, so I have to run it again, right? I’m keeping the option open of switching to the 5k, though. I’ve come a long way from my 17 minute mile, but I still have a little bit of work to do.

What have you done differently to prepare?  I can’t say I made a conscious decision to do anything differently. It’s been more of a training evolution. Track Tuesdays aren’t just running in circles around the track. I’ve embraced the speed workouts and have seen results.

What does DNF mean to you?  Some people might think DNF stands for Did Not Finish. For me, it means Did Not Fail. I continued to train hard in 2015 and successfully ran my first half marathon last year. I have two more coming up this year. I didn’t let that DNF discourage me; it inspired me to keep setting and achieving new goals.

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