atm-runnersThe 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-startRace 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!