Marine Corps Marathon

Well, the big day kind of snuck-up on us. Angela had been get­ting over a ham­string injury pret­ty much all of Octo­ber and we had gone on vaca­tion ear­li­er last month. There­fore, when the end of the month came out of no where, we almost felt sur­prised that an entire month had gone by with­out either of us run­ning all that much. I had run my sec­ond twen­ty-mil­er before our Alas­ka vaca­tion and real­ly had­n’t run much since dur­ing my taper peri­od. Poor Angela had­n’t run any dis­tance since her fif­teen-mil­er back in late Sep­tem­ber. We both went out and ran a six-mil­er the Sun­day one week pri­or to the MCM and Angela deter­mined that her leg felt good enough to run on, though. Hav­ing Dave in town the day before the race real­ly helped dis­tract us though, which was prob­a­bly a good thing.

We had reserved a room at the Sher­a­ton very near the start of the race, a cou­ple of blocks from the new Air Force Memo­r­i­al. This would prove to be great the morn­ing of the race, but dis­as­trous after­wards. We parked at Pen­ta­gon City and took the Metro to the Armory to get our chips and bib num­bers. There was actu­al­ly a line out the door of the Armory and down the block, which was sort of alarm­ing. Peo­ple were stream­ing in from every­where to get in before 7:00pm (some peo­ple had come straight from the air­port via taxi, with lug­gage in tow) when the race expo shut down. We made it in and picked up our stuff and pro­ceed­ed to wan­der around the expo for a lit­tle while. We bought a cou­ple of those throw-away Tyvek jack­ets since it would be cool and very windy the next morn­ing. We loaded up on free ener­gy snacks and oth­er swag1. Clif was doing some pace-groups and hand­ed out pace bands, which proved to be pret­ty handy. I enjoy using my Garmin GPS (a lot), but hav­ing the mile splits writ­ten out helps on over-all pac­ing a great deal and reduces the amount I have to keep check­ing my watch2 We final­ly decid­ed we’d filled up our tote bags (mine actu­al­ly start­ed rip­ping), so we head­ed back out to the Metro to go find some din­ner.

We had bro­ken out our D.C. trav­el guide books in hopes of find­ing some great Ital­ian restau­rant for our pre-race calo­rie-fest. How­ev­er, there did­n’t seem to be any that real­ly stood out to us, although D.C. has some of the great­est places to eat and I’m sure the ones we read about are fan­tas­tic. How­ev­er, being tired and real­ly just want­i­ng to get checked into the hotel, we opt­ed to just eat at Cal­i­for­nia Piz­za Kitchen. We enjoyed our rel­a­tive­ly soul-less, chain restau­rant food well enough before dri­ving past the Pen­ta­gon to our hotel. I would rec­om­mend the Sher­a­ton Nation­al for any­one trav­el­ing to D.C. since it is very nice and the bed was insane­ly com­fort­able (we decid­ed we want­ed that very bed for our home), except for one thing: it’s no where near any Metro stops! The near­est is the Pen­ta­gon, and that is still near­ly a mile away. We regret­ted that most of our time in the hotel was spent look­ing at the backs of eye­lids, since it was pret­ty nice. We did­n’t get to par­take in break­fast, either, since that’s a bad idea before run­ning a marathon.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing we got dressed and prepped for the race, and then head­ed out into the cold to walk to the start­ing line. It was a very chilly hike down­hill around the ceme­tery and past the Pen­ta­gon to the bag check, at the Pen­tagon’s north park­ing lot. We met up with about 32,000+ oth­er run­ners there and head­ed into the mass­es to find our spots in the queue. Angela got in near the 6:00 pace group and I kissed her good­bye after we wished one anoth­er a good race. I found my way into the 4:30 pace group and wait­ed. Even though we had got­ten there just as the first of two waves was to start, there was an admin­is­tra­tive delay which had pushed that back 15 min­utes or so. I should have tak­en advan­tage of the time I had to stretch my legs out some, but did­n’t and I regret­ted that lat­er on. Before too long, Ver­mont Sen. Patrick Leahy made an short state­ment just pri­or to the begin­ning of the race. He men­tioned the MCM For­ward in Iraq [.pdf], where 600+ men and women of the armed forces there would be run­ning a marathon along with us (obvi­ous­ly not at the exact same time, since it would be the mid­dle of the night there). That kind of got both my mind and my heart rac­ing, and it was clear I was­n’t the only one. It was excit­ing to know that those men and women would be doing some­thing ‘fun’ and ‘nor­mal’ along side us in spir­it. Some­time lat­er, the sec­ond wave final­ly got mov­ing for­ward and before I knew it, I was run­ning in my sec­ond ever marathon.

2006 MCM GPS Plot

A plot I made using the data from my Garmin Fore­run­ner 201 and USAPho­toMaps.

The first part of the course, through Ross­lyn, was some­what dull although at one point a incred­i­bly large Amer­i­can flag was hang­ing between two large build­ings. It was just the first of many, many reminders of where we run­ning this race: in the nation’s capi­tol. The crowd was so thick, it became dif­fi­cult to get any­where near my goal pace of 10:18 per mile. How­ev­er, after three miles or so, run­ning down­hill to the George Wash­ing­ton park­way, I heard shouts from behind me: pace group, com­ing through! I real­ized this was the 4:30 pace group behind me (I had start­ed off just behind them) and was deter­mined to try and stick with them. I let them blaze a trail through on the way into George­town, where the path widened some and I was able to pick up pace to where I want­ed to be. Over the course of the next few miles, we ran fast. So fast, in fact, I went from about two min­utes behind pace to over four min­utes ahead of pace. At some point, I lost the pace group, but fig­ured I could just stick to about a ten minute mile and keep my four min­utes in my back pock­et until lat­er. Around mile ten, the course comes into the mall area, near the end of the Arling­ton Memo­r­i­al Bridge. If there is a ‘prop­er’ way for one to enter D.C., I’d say that L’En­fant had to have intend­ed this to be it. The mall was absolute­ly stun­ning. I just want­ed to keep run­ning up and down it over and over, to tell the truth. Usu­al­ly, I enjoy look­ing around while run­ning but I was in awe the whole time. Not only had it become a beau­ti­ful day, but here I was part of the cen­ter attrac­tion in D.C. It was as if the mall was all ours to enjoy. I think I near­ly strained my neck look­ing at all the build­ings and mon­u­ments as I ran by. It was­n’t as though I had­n’t seen all of them before, but this was just some­thing so much more spe­cial. Today, these all belonged to me in a whole new way. It remind­ed me why I enjoy run­ning crazy things like marathons: it’s a huge ego trip to be in such an amaz­ing city among the most incred­i­ble build­ings and stat­ues while all the peo­ple are cheer­ing for you. I’ll nev­er know what it feels like to win the World Series, an Oscar, or a Nobel Prize. How­ev­er, when run­ning through a city that has opened up for you, it feels just as good.

Well, if all good things must come to an end, mine did some­where around mile sev­en­teen. I was away from the mall now, run­ning along side of the Potomac (inside Potomac Park) head­ing towards Haines Point . I noticed I was slip­ping off my pace quite a lot all of a sud­den and need­ed some extra ener­gy. I had just done an ener­gy gel, and it was going to have to be some­thing else. I decid­ed I’d stop to pull out my iPod Shuf­fle and give music a chance to pick me up. It seemed to the do the job quite well for the next three+ miles, until the bat­tery died! I had­n’t charged the USB stick up enough to have it play very long at all (30 min­utes or so). Much to my dis­ap­point­ment, this hap­pened right around mile 21, when I real­ly began to hit the wall. My upper calves, which had been twing­ing for the past few miles had now begun to cramp up. Near­ing mile 22, sud­den ‘char­lie-horse’ cramps forced me over to the bridge guard rail to stretch out my calf mus­cles. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it was about this point when I had slowed down so much that I had already eat­en up my four min­utes (part of which was spent mess­ing with the iPod, though). I had lit­tle hope of regain­ing that time since the cramps in my calves weren’t going any­where (there still there, actu­al­ly, near­ly a week lat­er). Any hope I had of keep­ing my 4:30 was gone.

I made it through Crys­tal City and around the Pen­ta­gon, but I was hav­ing to stop more and more often to stretch out my calves. The cramps were get­ting so bad near the end, near mile 26 actu­al­ly, I could bare­ly stand. My foot was being pull down by the intense spasms in my calf mus­cles, to the point that even walk­ing was get­ting dif­fi­cult. At the turn uphill to the Iwo Jima Memo­r­i­al, right at mile 26, I near­ly cried when I saw just how steep a climb that last lit­tle leg was going to be. I tried to keep my head up and just plod up the hill, main­tain­ing what I was now call­ing a run. How­ev­er, I sim­ply could­n’t main­tain even that pathet­ic shuf­fle and was reduced to walk­ing the last 50 feet of the hill until it lev­eled out, right in front of the bleach­er seats. It was humil­i­at­ing, but I picked up pace for the last 200 yards to the fin­ish.

I came in at 4:42:05.

I sup­pose after almost five hours of exer­tion, I was a lit­tle weary, but I thanked the Marine who placed a fin­ish­er’s medal over my head when he told me con­grat­u­la­tions. I mum­bled out that we all ought to be giv­ing them medals and he just laughed a bit. The Marines cer­tain­ly always had my respect, but the way they put on this event (yes, it is most­ly staffed by Marines), cheer­ing us on and con­grat­u­lat­ing us was fan­tas­tic.

I hob­bled for­ward with the crowd, gath­er­ing up some food and such on my way to get my checked bag. After final­ly mak­ing it through what seemed like a mile of crowd, I found a spot of curb to sit down on and eat. I changed to a dry shirt, as is my cus­tom after a long run, only to notice I was­n’t real­ly all that sweaty. Fun­ny, did­n’t I just run a marathon? Why am I not drip­ping with sweat? It had been so windy, it had kept me dry. How­ev­er, I was cov­ered in a thick lay­er of white pow­der; salt crys­tals, actu­al­ly. It was almost as if I had been rolling in salt all morn­ing. I sat and wait­ed for Angela for a while, and even­tu­al­ly got up to move around. I made great use of the lit­tle alu­minum foil blan­ket a Marine had thrown around my shoul­ders (which was done for every­one as they passed the fin­ish line) while hob­bling back to the bag check, and then on to the Nether­lands Car­il­lon near the memo­r­i­al, our agreed upon meet­ing place. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I had just missed Angela and while head­ing back towards the bag check, I hap­pened to catch up with her. She had fin­ished about 20 min­utes ear­li­er and had been wait­ing on me. How­ev­er, both of us were too tired and too glad to see one anoth­er to be real­ly upset.

Angela had run a heck of a race for the first 20 miles, in order to ‘beat the bridge.‘3 Giv­en the fact that this was 30% fur­ther than she had run at any time since last year’s Rich­mond marathon, that alone was quite a feat. She had promised her­self she would­n’t have to push her­self so hard beyond that point, and once you’ve made that kind of bar­gain with your­self, you’d bet­ter damn well keep it if you plan on your legs car­ry­ing you for anoth­er 10k. She walked and ran on and off the remain­der of the race and fin­ished in 6:43:42. A respectable time for some­one who was­n’t even sure she could run six miles the week before. Angela real­ly put forth a hero­ic effort on her own part to just attempt this race and I was real­ly proud that she toughed it out and fin­ished. I know she is proud, too.

We caught the Metro at Ross­lyn down to Arling­ton Ceme­tery, hop­ing we could walk back to the hotel. How­ev­er, traf­fic was now on the Jef­fer­son Davis High­way and it was get­ting dark (and cold­er). We walked over to the entrance gate of the Ceme­tery to ask a secu­ri­ty guard if there was any­way to cut through the ceme­tery. There isn’t, but the gen­tle­man stand­ing next to the secu­ri­ty guard offered us a ride, say­ing it was on his way and he was about ready to leave. It turns out, this fel­low is a trum­pet play­er for the Army Band Cer­e­mo­ni­al Band. Angela enjoyed not only the short dri­ve back to the hotel cour­tesy of our new friend, but also get­ting to ask about play­ing music with one of the coun­tries most pres­ti­gious bands.

We had checked out that morn­ing, but were still parked in the hotel garage. We ‘bor­rowed’ the lob­by restrooms to change into some warmer street clothes before leav­ing. We agreed a nice din­ner would be great, but did­n’t real­ly have the ener­gy to find some place nice. This meant that we agreed to just stop in Fredricks­burg and eat at Out­back (yet anoth­er chain restau­rant, but oh well, we did­n’t go to D.C. for the food this trip).

That night, nei­ther of us slept a wink, even after load­ing up on ibupro­fen and Tylenol. Some mus­cles are just that sore. My calf mus­cles are still killing me. How­ev­er, Rich­mond is in one week and I’m think­ing: what the hell?

Note: Although I brought my cam­era, I did­n’t take any pho­tos the entire two day trip. Although Angela and I agreed it was some of the most amaz­ing sites we’d ever seen, we did­n’t have the abil­i­ty to pho­to­graph it. We may post up a few race pho­tos we’ve ordered, though.

  1. Did you know? Swag is actu­al­ly an acronym; short for stuff we all get. Oh, sure, some peo­ple spell it schwag, but does that real­ly make any sense to any­one? []
  2. It did­n’t make too much dif­fer­ence in the end, but I think wear­ing a pace bracelet is some­thing I’ll do for now in races. I also cir­cled the times when I would take an ener­gy gel (it just so hap­pens, I like Vanil­la and Orange Cream Clif Shots), which reduced the amount of think­ing and made sure I did­n’t miss one. I don’t take quite as many as Clif rec­om­mends, appar­ent­ly, though and had to make my own marks. []
  3. The 14th street bridge is re-opened to traf­fic five hours after the start of the race. A pair of bus­es are dri­ven along the course and any­one who has­n’t made it past the bridge at that point, is put on board and dri­ven on to the fin­ish. []