Marine Corps Marathon

Short report: I went out a bit too fast, but not so much that I ruined my race. In the end I missed my mid-goal by 39 seconds, my stretch goal by 5:39 (I didn’t think there was much of a chance of getting that one given my race results. Thrilled with the result: it’s a 24 minute PR over my previous marathon, and there was far less of a collapse (though still a bit) post-20 miles than there had been previously. I’m excited for the off-season, excited for my new coach, and excited for what next season holds.

To skip to final thoughts without reading about I got there, click here.
Pre-race
Saturday was raining, cold, and snowing. A lot of time was spent on the couch watching college football. Sarah and I hit up Lost Dog Cafe for lunch, watched more college football, went to Rock Bottom for dinner, and then watched Office Space. Went to bed around 11 PM after getting some last minute good lucks from friends. Had some awesome dreams that night: in one I was walking/crawling across a frozen lake of varying depths (you try and parse the meaning from that one); in the other that I remember I had the recurring plane crash dream I always have: the plane engines aren’t enough to get us over a mountain range and we crash landed near a plantation house. Just weird, but par for the (race) course.
Woke up in the morning at 6, had a gatorade and a banana. Did my business (1st time isn’t a charm), and Sarah and I got in the car… well, after we scraped the ice off the windows. Yeah, it was cold. Sarah dropped me off by the Rosslyn metro station and I got on the metro towards the Pentagon. Crowds awaited on the Pentagon platform; the DC metro requires riders to swipe into and out of the system. Got out and made my way towards clothes drop. Pulled off my pants and sweatshirt and threw them onto a UPS truck for transport to (near the) finish line. Migrated towards the start line and hit the portapotties right near my corral (which had almost no line). As we were lining up, a reference was made to plinko, followed by the announcement that Drew Carey was going to be the starter. I had forgotten he was a Marine. Got settled into my corral, and happened to be near a Somerville Road Runner who knew my friend Brendan. And then the gun went off.

The First Bit
The race started off with about 1/2 a mile of avoiding people who misseed themselves, but then thinned out to the people I would be around for the next 3 hours (give or take a few hundred or so who would either be too fast or too slow) and dodging people was no longer an issue. The first uphills were probably the most eye opening: I had run Lee Highway up from Rosslyn countless times, but always on the steeper westbound side. Or maybe back when I lived in DC that side just seemed steeper. But mostly, I noticed and was awed by the wheelchair and handcycle athletes working their way up Lee Highway. I wanted nothing more than to help them up the hill, but my best guess was that they wanted no help at all and wanted to do the entire thing by themselves. We crested the hill and cruised down towards Spout Run, where we continued to descend back towards the Potomac. I looked at my GPS and it seemed like my pace was too fast, but I wasn’t pushing at all; I was trying to hold back. We started climbing back towards the Key Bridge, and hit an overpass that had ice on it. A bit disorienting, but nobody near me went down. As we came close to Key Bridge, I noticed a handcycle/wheelchair athlete with a blown wheel (>50% of the spokes had shattered). I hope he was able to continue. I’m not sure he was able.
We crossed Key Bridge into Georgetown, and headed west along the canal. My right achilles was already starting to get tight, and I wonder how much that affected my gait and run for the rest of the day (my right hip was much tighter than my left at the end of the day); that being said, the pain wasn’t intense enough to make me even think of dropping (if anything I was expecting to hear a loud pop as my Achilles gave out, but that thankfully never came). The run along the canal was by no means lonely, but aside from Hains Point it was the least populated by fans. That all changed when we hit the turn to go uphill towards the reservoir and onto MacArthur. Climbing I passed what appeared to be a British squadron running with their own handcycle athlete. This is a bond I will never have in my life (or if I have it, it is with my family and no one else) and I was in awe of it all day. Amazingly, I was climbing better than I ever have: the hills were tough, but I was feeling fantastic and just cruising on the uphills. Cruised through 10K at 41:47. To put that into context, last November I ran a 10K where my total time was 40:42. And that was a PR (end humblebrag). My least favorite part of the race came at mile 9 or so, as we descended back towards Georgetown. I’ve biked up and down this hill probably 20 times, and run up it a couple. It’s steep, and it’s killer on the legs. I tried to manage it while at the same time not burning out my quads braking too hard.
The Middle Bit
The few blocks in Georgetown are really well supported by the fans. Sarah got a shot of me (and my bedhead) as I ran down M St. . We turned down 33rd St towards the waterfront (another steep hill), then ran along the river towards Hains Point. And as we moved towards Hains Point, my stomach started letting me know that things would soon be messy. As an aside, I think it was here that there was a speed trailer aimed at the runners. I think we all got a kick out of it.
Made it to the halfway point at 1:27:30. And then I made my pit stop. Spent a minute in the portapotty (aside #2: the first time I used a portapotty in 2006 or 2007. Truth). Continued on, just doing what I could to get time back (which meant just continuing on at the same pace I had been on) before stopping. Headed back towards the Potomac, only to make a U-turn and head out towards the Washington Memorial (much the same course as the Army 10 miler and The Nation’s Triathlon). Saw Sarah again, circled around the tip (this part of the course was a bit phallic) of the course headed away from the Capitol.
Beating the Bridge/Getting Beaten
As we got onto the 14th St bridge, the weakness I had previously spoken of struck. I didn’t lose the will to run; I needed to take a small rest. I walked maybe 20 seconds, then continued on. At least this time, I kept the breaks short and often cut them shorter than they would be. But now I was getting a bit confused. As we ran into Crystal City (a part of Arlington I used to live in), I thought I was blocks closer to the turnaround than I actually was. Walked twice in Crystal City, then ran to the Pentagon, where I walked one more time. We climbed up onto another highway, got to mile 25, where we crossed into one of the Pentagon parking lots and back onto Route 110 (where we had started the day hours before). Looking at my watch, I thought I had sub-3 in the bag (by a minute or two). Looking at the clocks on the roadside, I wasn’t so sure. Climbed the last hill towards the Marine Corps Memorial and got into the finish chute. I had been struggling to really get some good breathing going for the past few miles and after cresting the hill and getting into the finish chute, I didn’t feel great. I slowed for a moment, and immediately the massive crowd started egging me on. I don’t know that I’ve heard a louder roar than when I started running at full pace, or whatever full pace was at that time. Crossed the line in 3:00:40.
Post-race
I got my medal from a Marine and started shaking every Marine’s hand I could. I couldn’t think of anything better to say than “Thank you for being out here” and each one of them thanked me for running. Marines are hard core. They sacrifice far more than I can ever imagine. Started walking towards my warm clothes, and was stopped by another runner who noticed my New Balance MR1400s and he kept on insisting that they were Minimus shoes. I explained that no, they are race flats and yes, they were incredibly comfortable. By the time I got to the UPS trucks holding my clothes, I was shivering uncontrollably; Sarah the rockstar helped me grab my clothes, find a sunny spot and then take a picture of me trying to warm up. .

Final Thoughts

  • I haven’t been this proud of myself since my first ironman. I set a huge goal here, and pretty much nailed it. Without that bathroom stop, I go sub-3 hours.
  • There are still improvements to be made. The walking, the slowing in the back half… all of these need work. I’m pretty psyched to recover this month and get to work under Coach Steve.
  • A ton of thanks are necessary. These I’ll give personally, except to say, if you’re reading this, thank you. I’ve probably know you, and you’ve probably helped me along the path
  • The marathon is a tough as nails event. I’ve taken it (and triathlon) lightly in the past. But this time, I trained enough that I was confident in my abilities. The only other time I’ve gone into a race knowing that I could reach my goal was my first ironman (my goal there was to finish). It’s a goodgreat feeling and it’s a feeling I want to continue to have next season.
  • I nailed hydration this time. Alternated between water and gatorade at aid stations. Opened one Clif Shot about half way through, but didn’t take much of it (Maybe I didn’t get the nutrition I needed, but that’s something that can be improved on perhaps?). Never felt thirsty. Never felt like I needed to drink more.

Next up… a season in review.