But there are times in our lives when we need to tilt at windmills, times when the scale of the quest frightens us, focuses us, and motivates us to stretch higher than before. The fact that we’ll more than likely fail is largely the point. (Jonathan Beverly, Runners World)
This was my 3rd time running the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) and my 8th marathon.
Getting a BQ back in January put me in an interesting place for this marathon. I wasn’t worried about my finishing time and that meant I could just race without worrying what would happen if everything went wrong.
17 weeks of training, more miles than I had ever run before, intervals on Tuesdays, long tempos on Thursdays, no injuries. I was ready ….. but how ready? My PR from January was 3:31:25 and I was pretty sure I could go under that. Was a sub 3:20 possible? (Hint – nope)
I had a plan, well maybe not so much a plan but maybe a dare – run by feel, run hard and see what happens. Glory or spectacular failure.
The local running club offered a bus ride and a hotel conference room near the finish line which worked pretty well – I was able to avoid dealing with the metro system or parking and got to meet a number of other local runners. After being able to relax, use a real bathroom (several times), it was time to walk the 1.5 miles to the start line. The only worry now was about the weather – how warm would it get and how quickly. The start temp was low fifties, not bad but it wouldn’t stay there.
The MCM has start corrals but they operate on the honor system – and, unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of honor going on. I lined up between the 3:15 and 3:25 pacers; and after the National Anthem, a V22 Osprey flyover and the other usual start line ceremonies, the cannon fired and we were off. Kind of.
It seems like a lot of slower runners decided that they needed a head start and had seeded themselves with the 3 hour marathoners. So the first mile had a lot stutter stepping and weaving; at one point I was on the shoulder of the 3:15 pacer who expressed some frustration over the situation. (I’ve had a lot of races where there is some weaving, but this was at a whole other level.). So after a slow first mile I did the natural thing when I hit the long downhill and made up all of the lost time (not smart but it was fun to turn the legs loose).
Finally settling down after the madness of the start, I started to get the reins gathered back in and settled into the race. Knowing the heat to come, I made sure to get a cup of water to drink and another to dump on my head.
After romping through the early miles in Virginia it was time to spend a bunch of time in DC. First was Georgetown where I knew Caitlin would be cheering. Resulted in a nice boost in early race morale and my favorite photo from the race (and the one I didn’t have to pay for).
After Georgetown, the race took on an out and back up Rock Creek Park.
Downside: out and backs mean ugly u-turns.
Upside: got to see the race leaders
Upside: I really enjoy running in Rock Creek Park.
Factoid: Rock Creek Park was the third National Park created by Congress
Bonus Factoid: it’s larger than Central Park.
After the Park we hit what is, for me, the mentally tough part of the course – East Potomac Park and Haines Point. This part has been a real hard for me in the past. There aren’t any hills; it’s actually dead flat. It’s not that far into the race; Haines Point is the race’s midpoint. I’m not sure what the problem is other than it is a bit lonely and maybe bit boring? Got through it this without having a brain meltdown and felt pretty decent this time.
Now the race started get fun as it made lap of the National Mall which is the highlight of the race. Monuments, the Capital, Smithsonian buildings. It was somewhere in this section that I started to the burn in my quads. Since it wasn’t hamstrings or hips (old injury sites) I wasn’t too worried except for just how much the race was going to hurt in the end. By now I was also starting to notice that it was getting warm.
And then the race got really hard. This where the course crosses the Potomac on the I 395 bridge. There are some really iconic bridges in DC and isn’t one of them – uphill, highway, no spectators, mile 20. And you’re on it forever. I was hoping to be able to pick the pace after the bridge in Crystal City but it wasn’t happening – for me or anyone else either. I slowed down but there weren’t many people passing me either. The heat caught up to us and the slog was on.
The final mile of the race is a slight uphill from the Pentagon toward Arlington finishing with a short and very nasty final hill to finish before the Marine Memorial. The hill hurts but you can see the finish and there are Marines urging you on – finish as strong as you can.
8:34 – 3:20:55
After shaking hands or fist bumping about 20 young Marine 2LTs after the finish I received my medal, a salute and the race was officially over. I missed my “everything goes great goal” of 3:20 but I made all the important goals and was on pace for most of the race to have crushed the 3:20.
· PR (previous was 3:31:25)
· BQ (needed 3:40)
· Make the top 20 in the Age Group; I finished 9th!
· Run aggressively. OK, I may have overdone this one a little bit.
A walk through the finish area and I was soon back to the running club’s hotel convention room where I was able to clean up a little, change clothes, get something to eat and catch up with other runners as they finished their races.
I finally took the Metro home and spent several days hobbling around – my legs were completely trashed but trashed in a good way. I didn’t break 3:20 and I maybe could have if I had run a little more conservatively but I’m actually happy with how I ran and how the race ended.
Age-Graded Score: 71.39%
Age-Graded Time: 2:52:13