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. []
Categorized as Running

By Jason Coleman

Structural engineer and technical content manager Bentley Systems by day. Geeky father and husband all the rest of time.


  1. way to go team cole­man! my broth­er has me almost con­vinced to start train­ing for grand­ma’s marathon in duluth next summer…so keep writ­ing more of these types of stories!

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