Saturday, December 18, 2010

Marine Corps Marathon (delayed) race report

It seems like it was months ago that I was in Washington, DC to run the 35th annual Marine Corps Marathon along with about 22,000 of my good friends, including Bree and Sandy. The fine details have escaped into the mists of other, more recent races. What I remember of this Halloween day race follows.

Bree and I took a red-eye flight and got into town early enough on Friday to get to the expo not long after it opened. Packet pickup was uneventful. I don't remember much of the expo except it was big and complete. A variety of goodies were in the bag or given as handouts. I had bought lots of stuff at my last race expo so I didn't need to buy much here.

The race shirt was the MCM traditional black long sleeved cotton mock turtleneck. And very very large. I don't like tight shirts so I tend to order an XL, whether it's cotton, tech, unisex or otherwise. Once in a while this turns out to be a poor choice, as in this instance. It will make a very nice mini-dress. Too bad, since it's a nice shirt.

front and back of shirt

Our hotel was in Arlington so it was just a hop, skip and a jump to the start. We walked the couple of blocks to the Rosslyn Metro station. Unfortunately thousands of other runners had the same idea at the same time. I'm vaguely claustrophobic at the best of times and the way we were packed into the train, with more and more people trying to cram on, was horrifying to me. I think if there had been room I would have run screaming through the train. Of course, if there had been room I wouldn't have needed to. Luckily it was a very short trip to the Pentagon Station.

In that dim pre-dawn hour it was hard to see anything, but clearly the enormous building next to us was the Pentagon. Marathoners were herded along the path, this way then that way, then the other way. Marines lining the paths told us which direction to go and kept the massive crowds moving smoothly.

We reached the pre-staging area and were a little confused where things were located; the Marines were helpful but the signage was poor. We found a rather underused bank of porta potties and hung around there for our first and second visits. We tracked down the baggage check trucks and had to decide which layers to check and which to keep on. It was very cool but forecast to get warm. I decided to check my sweatshirt and my throw-away jacket but to keep my throwaway poncho and gloves. Sweat check was very smooth and easy.

Then we had to find the start line, which was another short walk. The starting area seemed to be a multi-lane road, with paces clearly marked along the side. Sandy and Bree decided to make one last stop so I went on alone. I decided to start just behind the 5:30 pace group since I was hoping that if it was a good day, I could stay by them for at least half the race. Then I observed that the other side of the grass median was also being used for starting although very few people were standing there. So I hopped the low border and walked over to that side.

I knew the race had started and the crowd slowly walked forward. My side of the road moved much faster than the other side and I found myself parallel with much faster pace groups. I edged to the side and slowed and still got to the start before the rest of the people in the back of the pack. Oh well, that meant less weaving around slower people. I tossed the poncho and started running.

It was very crowded, for the entire race. Wider roads allowed freer running but corners and narrow roads packed us in. Even as far up as I started I was keeping up easily with the others around me. I was feeling good except for a slightly aching stomach that I decided to ignore (since I couldn't do anything about it anyway).

For a good part of the race I paid as much attention to the other runners as I did to the scenery. Sure, I noticed and admired the landscape (brilliant fall colors just fading to brown), the history, the monuments. It was a prettier area than I had expected and a very interesting course. There were a couple of bigger hills in the first part of the race but the rest of it was flat to rolling. Except for the finish.

I warmed up immediately and it got warmer as the sun rose in the sky. There were some scattered clouds but mostly the bright sun shone. A very brisk breeze helped cool us down but sometimes got pretty annoying when it was in our faces. I was wearing my running skirt, a short sleeve top, my buffs and a hat. The gloves got tossed very early on.

I had a very good first half, not my fastest recently but far from my slowest. I was well within the cutoff times for the race and hoped to keep close to that pace for the entire race. That's when my stomach started acting up more than it had been. I've found that a Gu every 40 minutes keeps up my energy and that the Ultima Replenisher keeps my electrolytes in balance. Normally I can tolerate both of them quite well but the gel I ate mid-race kept threatening to come right back up. I slowed down.

The second half of the race runs past many of the famous monuments and the National Mall. The White House is totally off the course and out of view, but most other DC highlights are passed once or twice or could be glimpsed in the distance. Unfortunately I was feeling quite nauseous by then and was paying more attention to moving forward than to the surroundings.

As a Halloween day race there were a significant number of people running in full costume. I alternately admire and laugh at those running 26.2 miles while burdened by excess accessories or clothing. After a couple of running hours I get tired of my necessary clothing, let alone anything decorative. There were superheroes and monsters, cartoon characters and fantasy persons. People with big rigs on their shoulders and runners in full makeup. They made the many groups of Marines running in full uniforms, boots and packs look positively sane.

My grumbly tummy and I finally reached 14th Street Bridge; the "Beat the Bridge" landmark at about 20 miles which you had to reach before the 1:15 pm cut-off time. I couldn't remember where I had to be at what time, just that I had to be across a bridge at some time. I had slowed considerably but that bridge kept going and going and going so I sped up just to get the hell across it.

I knew that I needed to keep drinking but every sip of water or Ultima was nauseating. The gels were worse but I forced myself to take at least one each hour to keep up my energy. My 9:1 run:walk deteriorated to a run:stagger: walk:plod. At least I kept running, although slower.

Finally it was apparent I was reaching the finish. I had heard there was a nasty hill at the end and I thought it was the grade I was running up to mile 26. My mistake. The hill was AT mile 26 and went straight up. I had been trying to run the last bits but just shook my head in disgust and power walked up. The way was lined with encouraging Marines shouting at us to keep running. I ignored them. I reached the top of the hill and then started to run the last .1 to the finish. According to Mr. Garmin I had run 26.66 miles. I got a cold bottle of water, my space blanket, my medal and walked along. Finisher pictures were taken in front of the Marine Corps War Memorial.

More Marines moved the crowd along toward the food. I think we were given a bag with the normal after-race foods, plus offered more water and some energy drink. I was glad to just be done running, and I was quickly cooling down. We had planned to meet at the beer tent so I walked that direction although I preferred to find the baggage check first. Once again as at the start, the signage was poor and the distances far.

The finisher area encompassed several blocks. Unfortunately the UPS baggage trucks were in one direction downhill, and the beer tent was the other direction downhill. It would mean going back uphill to get to the beer after getting my sweatshirt so I gave up on the beer. I texted Sandy and Bree to let them know where I was and then plopped down on the curb.

Once they finished and joined me, we walked back to our hotel. Luckily Tom knew which direction to go. The security was incredible; there were vehicles from every branch of the armed forces and every emergency responder agency. Cars, trucks, fire engines, ambulances. All surrounding the vast finishing area. And ohbytheway, the entire time we ran through the Mall area there were helicopters overhead. I had thought they were media choppers but apparently they were security. In a way that made me feel very secure, in another way it made me think things were very sad when a marathon causes so much extra security in our nation's capital.

We got back to the hotel and I headed straight to the bar - with my friends trailing behind. I wanted something hot to drink and my heart was set on an Irish Coffee. We sat there in our grungy damp running clothes, draped with our medals and space blankets, and ordered drinks and munchies. My stomach was feeling better since I was no longer moving so I felt free to gulp down my very hot drink before ordering a nice Manhattan to go with the food.

Overall I thought this was a wonderfully organized race. Except for the confusion at the start and vast distances at the finish, everything was well done. Course support was good, water stops were frequent and efficient, premiums were good. I would recommend that you run this one!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the RR (finally! ;)
    Looks like a good race.

    I see you signed up for Napa..that was my first marathon and it's a great course..not many spectators but just beautiful. (even in the rain, which I had)