It’s been a week and a half now since I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. It’s taken me a bit longer to get this recap put together because we stuck around on the east coast for another week and visited my wife’s family in New York. It was a great trip, but it’s always nice to come home again.
The short version is that this marathon was an absolutely awesome experience. Definitely one for the marathon “bucket list” if you’ve got one of those! The crowd support is amazing throughout pretty much the entire course – it would be great for a first time marathoner.
I went into this race gunning for a sub-4 hour finish, hoping to cap off my busy race season with a strong finish. Well, I’ll cut right to the chase and tell you that didn’t happen. But I’m really not all that disapointed by it. I finished in 4:09:58, which is still a respectable time in my book. It was a great day and an awesome race, so it’s hard to find much to be upset about.
I’m not trying to make excuses for why I wasn’t able to finish faster, but I do believe that my quest to qualify for Marathon Maniacs was a big factor. Sure, I can run 3 marathons in 3 months (71 days to be exact), but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be my best effort. In fact, each of those 3 marathons were run in progressively slower times. With only 5 weeks between races, that’s not much time for recovery, let alone time for getting in quality workouts. Even though I felt well rested, my body was obviously still fatigued from the earlier races. One thing that hit me in both this marathon, and the previous Kenai River Marathon, were bad cramps in my right hamstring late in the race.
All of that being said, I had a great time, and I don’t regret a bit of it.
My race weekend started with the expo on Saturday. I had hoped to meet up with some Dailymile/Twitter friends there, but the few days we were in DC ended up being so busy, I had to make a quick trip of the expo. Several members of my wife’s family had flown in from New York, Boston, and South Carolina to visit with us and come cheer for me during the race, which was really great of them, but didn’t leave me any time for meeting up with folks. Saturday afternoon we walked around DC doing the typical touristy stuff. The weather was pretty miserable; it was cold, raining & windy. And then it started snowing. None of these were good signs for the marathon I was running the next morning, but the weather app on my phone kept telling me it was going to clear up.
I’m not sure if it was the jet lag or what (there’s a 4 hour time difference between Alaska and the east coast), but I got the worst night of sleep before a marathon that I’ve had yet. When I woke up I immediately checked the weather – clear skies and 35 degrees. I was happy about the clear skies, but 35 degrees? Oh boy. I had a singlet from TAPS to wear with my father-in-law’s photo on the back, but I knew that wasn’t going to keep me warm enough, so I put on a thin long sleeve tech shirt under that. I also grabbed a pair of gloves. I knew I wouldn’t wear them the whole race, but that I’d be sorry if I didn’t at least start with them. TAPS provided a breakfast for all their runners, so I grabbed a quick bagel, banana and coffee. Then they loaded us onto shuttle busses to bring us to the start line.
Walking towards the start line, the energy was pretty amazing. Between the runners, spectators, and military personnel near the start, there were TONS of people. Before joining the throngs of runners, I took Sam’s advice and stuck around near the start line to watch the start of the wheelchair race 15 minutes before the runners got started. This was a really inspiring thing to see. There were lots of young soldiers, back from Iraq with injuries, racing in a wheelchair with their whole crew running alongside them. I saw one soldier who must have been paralyzed, because he was in the equivalent of a jogging stroller, and his crew was taking turns pushing him. Watching all of this at the start of the race, and seeing so many other runners with tributes on their shirts similar to mine, was inspiring and emotional. Being so strongly associated with the military, the whole opening ceremony for the race had a very patriotic vibe to it. It was a very cool thing to experience and be a part of.
Unlike other large races, MCM doesn’t start the runners in waves. There were large corrals that everyone self-organized themselves into based on projected finish time, but when the canon went off to start of the race, everyone started at the same time. This meant that the first few miles were VERY crowded. My original plan was to stick with the 4 hour pace group most of the race, and then if I was feeling ok, push ahead in the last few miles. However, I quickly realized that the pacer was going much too fast. We should have been hitting 9:09 minute miles, but instead we were consistently hitting 15-20 seconds below that. The first few miles I gave them the benefit of the doubt, thinking maybe they were just waiting for the crowds to thin out a bit, but when they were still keeping that pace at mile 6, I decided to drop back and just run my own race.
While I ran, my wife, kids and our extended family who had come along for the ride, were feverishly taking the metro back and forth across town to cheer for me at as many different places along the course as they could manage. It was great to see them and have them cheering for me along the course. The first time I saw them, I eagerly ditched my gloves and rolled up the sleeves on my long sleeve tech shirt. Even though it was still cold out, I had quickly warmed up once we got going.
The course is absolutely beautiful. You pretty much get to pass by all the big landmarks, and the crowd support is really strong throughout most of the course. There were lots of great signs. I saw at least 3 different “Chuck Norris never ran a marathon” signs, and a few that made me laugh out loud “Way to go, random stranger!” and “Worst parade ever!”. And there were several timely ones, playing off the Occupy Wallstreet movement, “You are the 1%” (going off the statistic that only about 1% of the population has ran a marathon). There was also more music on the course than I had expected, either from actual bands (or bagpipers) playing, or from speakers. Though the selection got a little stale – I think I heard parts of “Moves Like Jagger” at least 6 times
As I mentioned earlier, in the later miles of the race, starting around mile 22, I was having trouble with my right hamstring cramping up. This reduced me to a walk several times while I stretched it out. But I kept pushing toward the end, running as much as I could. Most of the course is relatively flat as it winds around the major landmarks of DC, but of course they throw in one last big hill right at the end. I actually managed up this hill pretty well considering my cramping hamstring. Though there was one guy I passed on this final hill that must have been hurting pretty bad, because he had quite the duck walk going on. I continued to run strong through the finish line, crossing with my arms raised high, happy to have completed my 5th marathon.
Then began the slow walk out of there. So many people had finished right around the same time, that the finish line area was a complete zoo. It took several minutes of walking to get to where they were handing out medals. Then several more medals to get over to where they take your finisher photo in front of the Iwo Jima memorial. Then at least 5-10 minutes of walking to get to the family reunion area.
One thing to illustrate how long it took me to even find my family: Drew Carey also ran the race, and he finished about 30 minutes behind me. I could hear all the hoopla when he crossed the finish line (they even played the Price is Right theme) before I had even found my family yet! Then we still had to figure out how to get the heck out of there and back to our hotel!
For as many people as were running this marathon (40,000-ish?), it was really well organized. But, regardless of how well organized a race is, 40,000 people is still a lot of people, and it’s going to be a bit of a mad house no matter what. This was in stark contrast to the Kenai River Marathon I ran just a month before, with only 35 runners. Both were very different experiences, and I liked them both for very different reasons. If you haven’t run a big marathon like the Marine Corps Marathon, I would definitely recommend it, at least once.