The 38th Marine Corps Marathon was my seventh marathon. Lucky #7, I guess. It was, by far, the most gratifying one thus far.
Any marathon that you cross the finish line ought to be gratifying, and some people might suggest that my very first one in January 2010 should be at the top of the list. Others might agree with this one being on top because it was a PR by almost 1:30 and a Boston-qualifying time. However, all the reasons this one ranks number one were not immediately revealed to me until after the race was underway and upon reflection once it was over.
Everything the morning of the marathon leading up to the start was incredibly easy and well run. When I first got there, I wanted to find a spot to chill out for a little bit and listen to some music before I started my ritualistic moves toward the porta-pottie, gear drop, and start line.
I timed everything just right and moved up from the runners’ village north of the Pentagon up to the start line with little difficulty. The weather was perfect. 48 degrees, a light breeze, and mostly cloudy. I waited until 5 minutes before the start and then peeled off my layers and made sure my Garmin was on and connected.
The start, if slightly delayed and a little chaotic, was still pretty smooth – and the PA announcer was definitely responsible for pumping people up! (including me) The video coverage of the start was really well done, and I’ve enjoyed going back to watch the video to see where we started from.
After the start, I only ran a short distance before the course routed us past the finish – or at least the point where we would turn at Mile 26. I couldn’t look…I didn’t look. Okay, I sort of peeked once, but not long enough to know what I saw, and I continued on into Rosslyn.
Any doubts about whether or not I was going to be underdressed were answered as I started to break a sweat before Mile 2. I pulled off my throwaway hat and gloves and carried them until I crossed the Key Bridge, where I dropped them at the feet of a young fan. The hat and gloves had Denver Broncos logos on them so I hope he was a Broncos fan! From that point on, I didn’t have to focus on any distractions. The field was thinned out enough that I didn’t have to worry about crowds, and I had no stomach issues to slow me down. All I had to worry about was my pace and how I was feeling – all the while making assessments about how much gas I had in the tank and whether or not I was pushing too hard.
My goal for this race was to first run for the Wounded Warrior Project. Of course, I had been training so I wanted to try to beat my PR from the Chicago Marathon last October and possibly dip under 3:10. The plan was to try to hold back out of the gate through the early hills and then pick up the pace coming out of Mile 8.
I ran as close to a perfect race as I possibly could. After I reached the halfway point in 1:35:31 and knew I would need to run slightly negative to get under 3:10. Honestly, at that point, I wasn’t 100% sure I had enough to pull that off so I thought I would back it off a bit through the next few miles until I hit 20. In reality, I did the opposite. My pace through the halfway point was 7:14/mile average, but between 15.5 and 18.6 miles my pace quickened to 6:57/mile for that increment. In retrospect, I think I had decided to go for it, and I know I was inspired by the crowds and the scenery of the monuments and buildings in our capital.
However, it was around Mile 19 that I started to feel the pain of the marathon and the tiredness of the legs that are expected but never welcome. I ensured I was consuming carbohydrates at every fluid station, and took some Sport Beans around Mile 19 and ate them, as well. (Gels upset my stomach so I have to get all my carbs through fluids, although I knew from experience I could take the Sport Beans and be okay) Within a few minutes of that, I saw my dad. He had positioned himself perfectly so he was able to run alongside me for few seconds and gave me a great mental boost.
I won’t lie. The last 10k was a struggle, and I was pushing with everything I had. My pace between Miles 18.6 and 21.7 dropped to 7:28/mile, which included crossing the Potomac and into Crystal City – concrete and expressway ramps…my favorites. I fought through Crystal City and back toward the Pentagon past the 40k (24.8 mile) waypoint, losing a little more time thanks to a 15 second walk through one of the last aid stations to get a double shot of Gatorade and water. The Mile 21.7 to 24.8 segment was a 7:43/mile pace, and I knew by then that coming in under 3:10 was not going to happen. While slightly disappointed, I knew I just needed to push through the last mile and a half and a PR was mine.
As we passed the start line, I knew the end was near, but I reflected briefly on the 25 miles I had just run. Other than perhaps starting out a little slower for the first two or three miles or waiting a little longer after the halfway point to accelerate, I would not have done anything different. My mind quickly shifted to the end. I was looking forward to the finish because of the final challenge that lay ahead.
As I reached Mile 26, the view that I mostly shielded from myself in Mile 1 now revealed itself. What struck me was the crowd and the noise, as well as the messaged affixed to the pavement. “Oorah.” “Take the Hill.” Among the civilians were scores of US Marines yelling to charge the hill and to not give up. My legs had nothing left, but I started running as fast and as hard as I could as I turned left and then right, climbing toward the finish only a couple hundred yards away. I could finally see it, and as I heard the PA announcer call my name, I knew I was home. Those last few moments were captured in the finish line video, which runs for about a minute before my name is called and I cross the line shortly thereafter. 3:11:38. A PR, another BQ – which I can use to improve my seeding in Boston 2014 – and “Mission Accomplished” for the Wounded Warrior Project and all the people that donated on my personal fundraising page.
I am very proud of this effort, as I know that I could not have run any better. Even with the fade in the last 10k, my first half and second half were nearly identical. The first half was 1:35:01, and the second half was 1:36:37. I learned a lot about this run and the training before it that I can use for my next run at a PR and sub-3:10.
I pushed my body to the limit. After the initial elation of the finish, which included getting the medal and some finish photos, I began to feel pretty bad. I could barely walk, which was not necessarily troubling, but I was extraordinarily nauseous and dizzy. I knew I needed to get water, recovery drink, and food into my system but all I could do was just continue to walk slowly toward the exit. Thankfully, my dad found me and hung with me until we could find a spot for me to sit down in the sun and get my wits about me. Somehow, this all relates back to race nutrition, which I can figure out later, but I know that arrived at the finish line with nothing in the tank. Thankfully, I felt better in enough time to make it to the beer garden!
Finally, this marathon is definitely a “bucket list” run. The route speaks for itself, and the crowd support is excellent. Race organizers are victims of their own success, as there were issues this year with registration and the expo, but it was all minor compared to the experience of the race. The popularity of the race has forced a change to a lottery system next year, and this seems to be a better alternative than trying to add runners to the field. Race day went off without a hitch, and the finish festival in downtown Rosslyn was outstanding.