Thursday, November 3, 2011

Oorah! MCM 2011

What an adventure!

I spent an awesome Halloween weekend in Washington, DC for the Marine Corps Marathon with WVR’s Grand Poobah, Jennifer, and WVR’s resident expert on running, resident expert on training, resident expert on . . . WVR's Resident Expert, Drew.  The weekend will prove to be one of the highlights of my life.

I arrived a day early in the hopes getting a chance to see the sites as it was my first time in the Capital.  Wishful thinking.  I had just enough time Friday evening to take a nice long walk on the National Mall and get in a decent meal.  The mall was beautiful at night and it just whetted my appetite for more.  I have to go back.

I slept in Saturday (what a luxury) and dedicated the day to the expo.  The DC Armory was packed but the Marines are the epitome of efficiency and crowd control and I moved quickly through lines collecting my bib, shirt and a few other goodies.  It was difficult to get around but there were plenty of exhibiters to see and I even got a brief glimpse at Ryan Hall doing a meet and greet.  I didn’t plan well for nutrition during the expo and ate only a couple of granola bars I had packed, a hot dog, samples cliff bars, and assorted sports and nutrition products.  Not exactly the best way to eat the day before a marathon.

Late in the afternoon I met up with Jennifer, Drew and Jeff (a WVR member that relocated to DC and who thankfully played the part of our guide on Saturday).  On the way back to the hotel we stopped for last minute supplies at Walmart and were greeted by snow when we exited the store.  We made fools of ourselves playing in the snow in the parking lot.  You would have thought we were from Florida.

Washington embraces this race in a way I have never experienced before.  Runners take over the town.  I struck up conversations with people from all over the country everywhere I went and the locals were great hosts.

We finished the day with an Italian dinner and retired early to try to get a decent night’s rest before the race.

I woke at 4 am Sunday morning which gave plenty of time to get dressed and leisurely make our way to the Metro for the short trip to the Pentagon. There was a little confusion finding our way to the staging area but we made it with plenty of time to spare.

The bad weather broke Saturday night and we were greeted by clear and crisp weather freezing cold conditions arctic like conditions for the race.  There was the typical line for port-a-potties but the wait was reasonable and the drop bag drop-off went very smoothly thanks to a fleet of UPS trucks.  We waited until the last minute to shed our extra layers before moving to the starting area.  With our extra sweat shirts and coats finally stashed in our drop bags the cold chilled us to the bone, but we only had to suffer through it for about half an hour.

At Walmart the previous evening I purchased a short sleeve shirt to wear as base layer beneath a long sleeve T.  I didn’t pay close attention to what I purchased and wound up with a compression T by mistake.  When I first tried it on I thought I had accidently purchased a child sized shirt.  I’d never tried compression clothing before and I was worried about trying it for the first time during a marathon.  The gamble paid off though and it turned out to be a great base layer.

It was 35 degrees at the start of the race.  Drew and I waited for the start at the 4:00 corral while Jennifer made her way toward the front of the pack with the other speedsters.  While we waited, parachute jump teams descended with a flag in tow and there was a fly over by a pair of MV-22 Ospreys – those things are totally badass!  The guest MC of the starting ceremonies was Drew Carey who was running his first marathon.

I was wearing a pair of shorts under sweat pants, the compression shirt, two long sleeve T’s, and my Saucony Kinvara 2’s.  I shed the first long sleeve T as soon as the Howitzer blast signaled the start of the race.  The sweat pants were stripped off around mile 6, and I was comfortable for the rest of the race in shorts, the compression T, and long sleeve T.  I would have been OK with just one layer but shedding another shirt would have meant messing with my bib.  The temperature never exceeded 40 degrees but I was never uncomfortable during the run.

My goal for the race was to try to finish under a 10 minute mile average pace, about a 4:21 total time.  My strategy was to start slow and walk through the water stations.  I would have been content with an 11 minute pace for the first few miles but we were a bit faster than that, averaging 10:03 over the first 3 miles, most of which was uphill.  I opened it up during a downhill mile 4 and finished it at a comfortable 8:41 which could have been even faster but for the crowded conditions.  That was my fastest mile of the race.

Things leveled out after that and Drew and I settled into a comfortable 9:45 pace for the next 11 miles. My slowest mile of the race came during this period, 10:54 in mile 7 accounted for by a stop to water some bushes and to strip off my sweat pants.

Drew and I ran side by side for over 20 miles, seldom straying more than a few feet apart.  It was great to share this experience with him.  Our pace started to creep above 10:00 between miles 16 and 20.  But this is also the stretch of the course that winds around the National Mall.  As we passed the monuments and Capitol we stopped to take pictures and I even took time to upload some of them to facebook.  Even with the stopping our slowest mile during this stretch was only 10:35.

I was feeling great at mile 20 and felt like I had energy to burn.  I checked my watch and saw that our overall average pace had increased to 9:50.  My goal was still achievable but that dreaded final 6 miles was still ahead of me and potentially another encounter with “the wall.”  With the photo ops behind us, I leaned forward and decided to start taking this race seriously.  I was able to increase my pace well below 10:00.

It was great to feel that much energy 20 miles into a marathon, but my ignorance of the course showed through and I found out that it was a very poor place kick in the afterburners.  The course moved onto I-395, bridged the Potomac, and for the next several miles undulated up and down as interstates are wont to do.  There were also very few spectators that ventured onto the interstate to cheer us on.  Throughout the entire race I was amazed at how uplifting was the support of the spectators.  Whenever I started to feel myself reaching an emotional low, I made my way to the edge of the road, high fived a few kids and was instantly rejuvenated.  There were even points in the race that I slalomed from one side of the road to the other slapping hands as I ran past.  It’s impossible to express how motivating the crowd support was.  Between the lack of crowd support on the interstate and the hilly roadway, my spurt of energy lasted a paltry 2 miles and I saw the last of my sub 10:00 miles.

I took in the last of my sustenance during mile 23 after we finally exited the freeway, but what a smorgasbord it was.  I ate the last of the four gels I was carrying (Power Bar Energy) approaching the water station, drank Gatorade instead of water, snacked on a chocolate donut hole shortly after the water stop, and as I rounded the next corner accepted some beer from some very generous spectators.  How I avoided puking I’ll never know.  All that snacking resulted in a 10:40 mile 23.

I checked my average pace again and it had ticked up another few seconds.  I tried to do the math to figure out how many seconds of give I had in each mile in order to stay below that 10:00 goal but the solution escaped me.  I long ago learned that I find even simple addition and subtraction extraordinarily difficult during long runs.   I gave up on the math and resolved to just give it my all and ignore the pace readings on my Garmin until I crossed the finish line.

I think that decision was for the best because I improved over the next three miles.

I finished mile 24 in 10:15.

Mile 25 ticked off another 10:19 and I realized that for the first time ever in a marathon I was not going to hit the wall.  Thrilled, I dug deep in mile 26, ignored my many body parts that were complaining, and improved my pace to 10:01.

Then came the final two-tenths.  I looked around for the finish line and when it finally came into view . . . .

Holy Crap!

Are you kidding me?

I knew this race had an uphill finish but I was completely shocked by the climb that lay ahead of me.  I slowed to a walk almost as soon as I hit the incline.  Frustrated that I was letting this race get the best of me for the first time all day I stared at my feet and watched my legs struggle to lift them with every step.

“Come on!” I yelled at myself, less than a quarter mile to go.


Thinking of it in terms of a quarter mile was what flipped the switch.  My mind flashed back to all those intervals I’ve been running over the past few months.  Track Tuesdays.  95 seconds.  That’s all it will take.  I consistently run those quarter mile intervals in 95 seconds.  95 seconds and this race is over!

With that thought I started running again and made it the rest of the way to the finish.

The Marine Corps expertise at logistics was again demonstrated as we were quickly ushered through the finish area.  The finishing chute quickly narrowed and the runners were herded like cattle, forced forward by the crowd behind.  We were separated into individual lanes to receive our medals.  A Marine placed my medal around my neck, shook my hand and congratulated me, a ritual he must have repeated thousands of times before I reached him, but which still seemed so genuine that I found it very moving.

Another Marine draped an emergency blanket around my shoulders and the chill that had started to set in since I stopped running was immediately relieved.

When I finally thought to check my watch, the average pace read 10:00.  Did I make my goal?  I looked at the other statistics and saw my total time was 4:24:57 but the distance measured a little long, which is normal, at 26.49 miles.  What did it mean?  Did I make my goal?  Again the math was proving to be too difficult and I suddenly couldn’t even remember my prior PR.  I’d have to wait for the official results to figure it out.

We posed for official photos in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial and then moved along in an orderly line to receive Gatorade, water, bagels, bananas and a box of treats.  Nearly every need was met, except a place to sit down.  I was still woozy after the run and desperately needed a place to sit down, but I understood their need to keep the crowd moving in order to avoid a bottleneck that would have backed up onto the race course.

I soon found a sunny spot to sit and lean against a fence.  I took a few minutes to collect myself and drink a bit and then set off in search of Jennifer, Drew and Jeff.  There was a bit of a walk to retrieve our drop bags and we found each other along the way.  We found a sunny spot to sit, put on some warmer clothes and munched on our snacks.

When we were feeling better we went searching for the beer tent and wonder of wonders discovered there was no wait for beer.  Those Marines are miracle workers.

After replenishing some carbs it was time for some real food.  We discovered that the DC Metro is not nearly as skilled at crowd control as the Marines.  We decided to forgo the long line and hoof it across the bridge to Georgetown.  There was no hope of following my usual post run recovery routine, but I think all of this walking went far to abate my  aches and pains.  We ducked in to the first sports bar we found and spent a few hours devouring burgers and wings and watching football.

Sated and exhausted, we had to endure another walk back to the metro station where the line had thankfully dissipated.  After a short ride we were back at the hotel, raided the market across the street for beer and comfort food, and spent the evening laughing, reminiscing and telling war stories.

It was an awesome weekend and one I will never forget.

Oh, I almost forgot.  Did you want to find out if I made my goal?

My official time was 4:24:48, which beat my personal record from the Charleston earlier this year by 70 seconds.

I finished 8,248 out of 21,013 finishers.

I placed 5,802 out of 12,420 men.

I placed 725 out of 1,531 in my age division.

My average pace . . . .10:06.

I didn’t make my goal, but am I unhappy?  Not in the least.

The difference between making my goal and not was stopping to take pictures like this:

And I would not trade these for the world.


  1. This was so enjoyable to read! Congratulations - sounds like you did absolutely awesome!!

    Drew Carey gets around - he ran the Disneyland Half with me. Okay, I say "with me" loosely - but we were running it at the same time!

    The photo stops were certainly worth it. Very, very cool!!

  2. Great write up, thanks and congrats!

  3. Outstanding race report and amazing photos. Marine Corps Marathon is on my bucket list and after reading your thoughts of the race I will make sure I do it next year.