Running one of the Rock ‘n’ Roll events in Washington, DC is the perfect way to stay active and see the city’s iconic cherry blossoms. The series attracts nearly 20,000 runners between the half marathon and 5k (in some years, there’s also a marathon). I did the 5k in 2022 for fun, so if you’re considering the race, here’s what you need to know.
Registration + Swag
I registered in mid-January and the cost was around $55 after a processing fee. This is definitely on the pricier side for a 5k, but registration included a shirt, medal, beer ticket, and after-race concert.
If alcohol isn’t your thing, they did have non-alcoholic beer after the race, as well as Gatorade. They also offered chips, fruit snacks, and bananas.
You could get your race bib at the Walter E. Convention Center on the Thursday and Friday before the race. I went Friday evening, and there was a steady stream of people but no line. The expo didn’t have a ton of stands, but it was still interesting, featuring your typical extra race merch, running gear, and new recovery tech.
Getting to the Race
There are TONS of street closures due to the half marathon course, so we were only able to get dropped off a mile away from the start, and that was after a lot of detours. I would recommend taking the metro instead of driving or Ubering, especially since the metro stop is right next to the start/finish. If you must drive, definitely plan some extra time for detours.
The 5k started and finished at the RFK stadium. There were several corrals that started 30 seconds apart. You were assigned a corral based on your estimated finish time, but the organizers were very lax even told us to join whichever one on race day.
The 5k course was out-and-back in a very residential neighborhood. There weren’t a ton of cherry blossoms along the course, but there were a handful of flowering trees and quaint houses.
To be completely honest, the 5k course wasn’t that interesting, and it was somewhat hilly; my watch recorded 144ft of gain. The race began on an incline, and there was another incline just after the halfway point. On the bright side, because the course is out-and-back, this does mean that there is a downhill near the finish and before the halfway point.
The Rock ‘n’ Roll race series is known for its music and entertainment along the course. For the 5k, there was a band near the start/finish and one at the halfway point. I believe that the race hires local groups, as the band near the start seemed to be a group of high schoolers with great energy belting out Paramore (albeit slightly off-key haha). There was also a finish line concert with what seemed like a professional band.
For the 5k, there wasn’t really any crowd support except at the finish. I imagine that this is very different from the half marathon, which starts downtown and winds its way through the city.
My Performance + Thoughts
I usually end these reports with some reflection on my race performance, but I did this race for fun. I ran/walked the first mile with a friend, and then ran the last two miles at steady state and tempo-ish pace. I’d actually just done my 20-mile training run two days before, so I wasn’t in any shape to race anyways.
I actually don’t usually write race reports for distances shorter than a 10k (I mainly do half and full marathons), but since the Rock ‘n’ Roll series is so big, this might help anyone considering the race.
All in all, I thought the race was well-run. The expo was efficient, the shirt and medal were well-designed, and the race itself went smoothly. Among there runners, there was a wide variety of fitness levels, from people who were chasing PRs to those who were there to walk and have fun.
That said, I personally wouldn’t recommend the 5k since the course wasn’t that interesting, but I think the half marathon would be fun because of the historic sites and increased crowd support in the city center. If the weather had been warmer, I think the atmosphere would’ve been better, especially at the finish line concert (we didn’t stick around long because it was so cold).
The Rock ‘n’ Roll 5k was a little more exciting than other 5ks I’ve done, but it just didn’t feel like much of a destination race. Keep in mind that I also don’t yet have another Rock ‘n’ Roll experience to compare this to. It’s quite possible that my expectations are simply too high, and that other Rock ‘n’ Roll 5ks are similar. I have a feeling that the main events are always the longer races, and the shorter distances are more of an afterthought.
I don’t want this to scare you away from the race—I still think it could be a fun experience, especially since there’s lots of participants. Just don’t go into it expecting a super scenic course.
If you’ve run this race before, let us know what you thought!
Feel free to also check out the rest of my race reviews.