The Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) started at 08:00, but I was up at 4:30 which gave me time to catch up on a few things. I was flying out to China at 18:00 in the afternoon, so wanted to make sure I didn’t forget anything. I also used the opportunity to put a few finishing touches on the bathroom remodeling that Lis and I had been doing. I was responsible for the engineering; Lis the painting and with these last items done she could complete the painting. Best to do it before the race while I could still move …
I had my pre-race fuel ‘Cytomax Pre-Formance’ and by 06:30 I was ready to head out. I had decided to ride my bike as that is always the most convenient way to get to a race. I was bit concerned about how I would feel after the race, but I rode anyway. It’s also a good warm up. In the pre-dawn darkness I saw quite a few people walking towards the Metro carrying their race bags. By the time I got to the Roslyn area of Arlington there was a lot of traffic with people trying to find a place to park for the race. Good luck to them. With some 30,000+ runners registered (21,266 finishers) there weren’t many places available.
I followed the crowds towards the Iwo Jima memorial, which was where the race was to finish. I decided to leave my bike there as it would be the most convenient place to retrieve it after the race. After locking it to a post I joined the long line of runners and supporters heading towards the start line. The map below shows the route for the race.
They had organized for UPS to have trucks where we would leave our bags. They would then be waiting for us at the finish. After a long walk – must have been almost 2 miles – I found the trucks, lined up in order with each one sequentially taking 1000 bags. With my bib number in the 19,000’s I had truck 19 and turned over my gear to the very friendly driver. I kept my cycling arm warmers as it was still quite cool. It was a good call. I then went back to the start line where I joined the corral for the 3:30 runners.
I had set myself the goal of 3:30 as that was the qualifying time for the Boston marathon next April. Given my short training program it would be a challenge, but worth trying for. I decided to wear my hydration pack with just over 2 litres of EPS sports drink and Accelerade Gels. This would ensure that I had the fuel I was used to in the race, and also that I could have it exactly when I wanted it. I only saw a few others with hydration packs, although quite a few had ‘fuel belts’.
There was a fly past by the US Marine Air Corps and then a prayer. This was followed by the singing of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’. While many people may find the American patriotism offensive, I think that it is a great strength of their country and I respect it. The MCM also is an opportunity to show appreciation for the servicemen and women who have been killed in combat and many runners wore shirts with names and dates ‘in memory’. I was particularly impressed by the Marine who was running a 3:30 pace in combat boots, a flack jacket and the names of six men from the Annapolis class of ’95 killed in action. In fact, I saw quite a few people commemorating that class, but only one running in full combat gear (minus helmet).
When the gun went off we shuffled towards the start and the race was on. They had someone running a 3:30 hour pace carrying a sign and I decided to follow the pace group. However, they were not doing 3:30 hour as the first few miles were run at 7:30-7:45 pace. Boy, were there a lot of people. You had to dodge around them and slow down/speed up to keep running. The crowds were massive and it was really inspiring. In fact, I think that the best thing was the support of the people cheering us on. With so many runners, the size of the crowd exceeded by far anything we get in triathlons.
We ran through Roslyn and then up the hill on Lee Highway. I caught up with a couple of wheelchair athletes struggling on the hill. I was in Zone 5 at times and backed off a bit, but it was a hard hill, as shown below. Part way up I whipped off my arm warmers and put them in my pack; they were no longer needed. I saw many others taking off their long sleeve shirts and tossing them to the side. Lots of detritus for the homeless!
After we crested Lee Highway I ran down the hill towards sprout run parkway and saw Lis on the side of the road. It was nice to have her there, although she declined to follow the race into D.C. She had visions of being swallowed up never to emerge. Poor girl.
I really appreciated the hill training that I received from Margie, Ray and Cathy at the Potomac River Running club. They taught us to ignore our natural instinct and to lean forward, increasing our turnover rate, using gravity to pull us down the hill. Basically, it’s free time. I passed a lot of people running down the hill, including the 3:30 pace leader. Oh well. So much for that plan. I was off.
Lis was getting e-mails and it transpired that I was going a bit fast – I hit mile 5 at 37:30 which was a 7:30 pace. The danger I faced was that I would run out of energy later in the race, but what the heck. You should follow your body on race day—within reason. I was keeping myself towards the upper end, or just exceeding, my tempo heart rate so I figured that the risk was worth taking.
We ran up to Key Bridge and then across the bridge to Georgetown. It was very windy and the runners were spreading out so I was not able to draft anyone. From Georgetown it was left and up to Macarthur Blvd. There was a water station just before the hill and I appreciated having my hydration pack. I didn’t need to slow down and get my drinks, I just had to dodge the people who were stopping!
As I ran up the hill I was passed by a fellow wearing a cow outfit – white with black spots, and a plastic udder! Eventually we peaked and then headed down to Canal Road which ran next the C&O canal. The field was spreading out and as we re-entered Georgetown we ran opposite to the runners. A solid sea of people as far as I could see.
I was now about 1/3 through the race and was feeling good. We were now heading back into D.C. and the crowds were thickening. As we turned onto Rock Creek parkway I recalled when I last ran this road—during the ‘Cherry Blossom’ 10 miler. I had to chuckle as my marathon pace was not that much over my 10 miler. Not a good idea.
We ran up past the Lincoln monument and then along Constitution Avenue towards the Capital building. There was such great support from the crowds. I particularly enjoyed the young children holding out their hands for the athletes to pat as we ran by.
We turned right and then back along Jefferson drive. I reached the half-way point at 1:40:30 which was a 7:39 pace. I was trying to back off a bit and it was showing. There was still a lot of race to run. As we approached the ‘Tidal Basin’ the TriCats were handing out energy gels. When Vergil Arbuckle saw my TriCats jersey he gave me a good cheer which was most appreciated.
From there we headed over towards Haine’s Point. This is a peninsula in the Potomac and is the bleakest part of the run. Not only are you hitting the wall, having run some 18 miles, but there is almost no crowd support because it is so isolated. However, I was fortunate as my friend and triathlon training partner Taneen was cheering people on from the end of the peninsula. She gave me a hug in spite of my sweaty demeanor. Thanks Taneen! My wife would never do that L
My pace was drifting downwards; 7:41 at mile 15 and 7:43 at mile 18. Now we came to the hardest part of the race. We had to cross the Potomac back to Virginia and then head down to Crystal City. It is an empty, windy interstate highway bridge and you are really feeling the race now. No crowd support either. Many people were walking but that is fatal; I’d rather do 10 minute pace running than to walk.
As we turned towards Crystal City it was windy and my pace continued to suffer. By mile 22 I had drifted to 7:47. Still, I was below 8:00 and as long as I could hold out I would meet my goal of a sub-3:30. In fact, after Crystal city I increased my pace so I was running sub 7:45 As we headed towards the finish line we passed the Pentagon and then at mile 24.5 it happened – my left hamstring cramped up. One minute it was fine, the next it was completely stiff and I couldn’t move. I stopped so suddenly the fellow behind me almost ran into me.
In all my years of competing I’ve never had anything like that happen before. I tried to run but the leg would not bend at the knee due to the cramp. I bent over and gave it a stretch and then forced it to move. Not good. I walked for about 30 meters and that worked out the knot I could feel, but it was still stiff as ever. With the clock ticking I had to get going so I began to run again. It was not pleasant for the first 2-3 minutes and then it went from being a sharp pain to a moderate ache. I can work with that.
I was able to run at about 9 minute pace and then after a while was able to manage 8:30. That was fine as it would still let me meet my goal. I passed one woman who was throwing up at the side of the road. At least I wasn’t that bad.
As I headed towards the finish the crowds thickened again and that provided the added incentive. I saw that I had about 7 minutes to finish as I ran up the hill towards Roslyn again. Then it was another turn around and a downhill run towards the finish. Gravity is your friend. Lean forward. Increase turnover. You are almost there. The crowds were great and cheered us on as we turned right and ran up the hill towards the finish. I made it across the line in 3:26:51 for a final pace of 7:53. It was close but I had made it. Boston here I come.
The picture below (from www.runpix.com) is a birds eye view of my finishing. They also give the other fancy graphics.
I stopped after the finish line and my asthma kicked in. I got my inhaler out of the hydration pack and had three hits while some concerned Marines looked on. It isn’t a pretty sight with my coughing and gasping. I then picked up my finisher’s medal and got my finisher’s photo taken. Although my legs were sore, I felt really good as I had achieved my goal.
After grabbing a couple of fruit juices to rehydrate I called Lis. She had been following the race via e-mail updates (the wonders of modern technology) so knew I was on pace for my 3:30 finish. We arranged to meet at the Key Bridge Marriott Hotel. I got to my bicycle and cycled down to Roslyn where I found the UPS truck and retrieved my gear. There were so many people around it was a challenge but eventually I made it through and got to the hotel where I met Lis. She had kindly brought me two chocolate milks—an excellent recovery drink—and we then cycled home. VERY slowly.
So ended the MCM. An excellent day with my goal time met. The only downside was the very sore hamstring—which I’m sure will trouble me for a while—and the fact that I somehow lost my trusty Garmin 305. But it was worth it.
- 3:26:51 @ Finish, Pace 7:53
If we include starters:
- 1,033/20,667 overall place
- 905/12,610 male
- 97/1,527 age group
My splits were:
- 0:37:30 @ 5M, Pace 7:30
- 1:40:30 @ Half, Pace 7:39
- 1:55:21 @ 15M, Pace 7:41
- 2:19:01 @ 18M, Pace 7:43
- 2:51:19 @ 22M, Pace 7:47