Yesterday I lined up with more than 23,500 people to participate in my last big event for 2012: the Marine Corps Marathon.
When I was deciding on the things I wanted to accomplish this year (in terms of sporty type stuff), I narrowed it down to the following:
- Rock ‘n Roll Marathon (March);
- Super Randonneur Series (March-June)
- Colorado High Country 1200K (July)
- Eight-day bike tour of Southern Virginia (August)
- Marine Corps Marathon (October)
Given the other events leading up to Marine Corps, my motivation ebbed when the time to train for it arrived. This, combined with a couple of other life events, made gearing up for the marathon a little more difficult.
My training for brevets and marathons generally centers around two main goals: finish comfortably and within the time limits. That is, I don’t want to finish injured and I also want to make sure that no one is tearing down the course just behind me.
With that in mind, while I wasn’t feeling the fever to train, I did prepare for the marathon distance. I wasn’t certain how comfortably I would finish this time, given that I had not cross-trained to my satisfaction nor done the number of mid-week runs that I hoped, but I was mostly physically ready for the event when it arrived.
I approached the starting line yesterday morning a little freaked out. The day was cloudy, the wind breezy compared to the calm days before, and the sky was spitting. The first signs of tropical storm Sandy. While the forecast noted that Sandy was not to arrive until later in the evening, the storm was on a lot of people’s minds.
The sheer numbers of people running also intimidated. Marine Corps is the kind of run where, if you are a middle-of-the-pack runner like me, you constantly have to navigate around people. Despite the marathon distance, so many people participate that the course does not spread out much and it’s wall-to-wall people from start to finish. While that is one of the aspects that makes the Marine Corps Marathon so much fun, as a person accustomed to participating in smaller events it takes some mental adaptation.
After the starting gun went off, I waited over eight minutes to cross the official start line. Thank goodness for chip times! I wasn’t really running for a specific time, but I still want all the credit I can get. As expected, the run was crowded and crazy. I tried to dodge through runners, thinking that it would help me somehow, but all it really did (at least at the beginning) was make me spend unnecessary energy. In a crowd that big there’s only so much you can do to get into your own rhythm. The start was about having patience and waiting until things spread out just enough to allow me to find my own space in the field.
The Marine Corps and other volunteers do a fantastic job supporting the marathon. With water and Gatorade stops every two miles, I did not worry about carrying my own water and stayed well-hydrated throughout. They also offered two fruit stops along the way, AND a Clif shot stop, in addition to a Jelly Belly Sport Beans stop. The Clif shots and Jelly Bellys tend not to agree with my stomach so I stayed away from them and brought my own Accelerade gel instead, but the fruit was a welcome treat.
The level of support from the crowd is pretty incredible. Except for a few places on the run (e.g., the segments along the GW Parkway, Canal Road, and Hains Point), people are lining the course and cheering the entire time. I love it. For some reason, the marathon really resonates with people.
Lots of spectators also carried homemade signs. Some were more standard, like the “Who needs toenails?,” “Pain is temporary, pride is forever.” Others were definitely very point-in-time, 2012. A few of the favorites I recall are:
- “Run! Sandy is following you!”
- A sign at mile three that read: “If you were Paul Ryan, you’d be done by now.”
- “Beat Frankenstorm!”
- “Stop feeling awful and start feeling awesome!”
Swim BikeRun Only!”
When I stopped fretting about my place in the masses and started looking around, I started to relax. It was emotionally moving to see all the people running their marathon in memory of someone. A series of photos of fallen Marines from the past few years lined part of Hains Point. People ran with photos of loved ones affixed to their shirts, honoring those they had lost.
In addition, all the parts of the course are familiar to me, but the marathon sews them together in a unique way. It’s a rare treat to run places that you would and could not otherwise, like Canal Road, the George Washington Parkway, and the 14th Street Bridge.
It’s also a thrill be part of such a huge local event. I fed off the energy of the spectators and enjoyed each step as much as possible. Felkerino, Lane, and Dagny came out to cheer for me at a couple of different places. I ran into #fridaycoffeeclub friend, Chris, as I passed through the Palisades. At mile 22 or so, Ray, who is known as “Flag Man” and is one of the Marine Corps Marathon stalwarts, asked me to carry his flag for a couple tenths of a mile. On my way home, a few people shouted out “Congratulations!” as they passed. I was proud to live in Washington, D.C., and so happy to be taking part in the day.
For most of the marathon, I felt good physically and none of the owies that pestered me off and on throughout training became an issue. At around mile 22, something painful happened to the top of my left foot, an area that had not bothered me at all until the marathon. Isn’t that how it goes? All the things you think could start hurting are fine, and it’s something completely unexpected. It didn’t hamper me too much, but it definitely was what I call “bad” pain, as opposed to fatigue pain.
Overall, though, it was a fine day on my two feet (especially my right one, ha ha!). Sandy, while making her presence known via the cloudy and breezy day, was not a factor; people treated us like rock stars; and my base training allowed me to fully enjoy the experience. My time ended up at 4:42:50. Not fast, but I met my goal of finishing comfortably (except for the foot thing) and before they reopened to course to vehicular traffic.
My Marine Corps Marathon finish also marked the successful completion of my major 2012 goals. I am pleased that I finished two marathons in the same year as a 1200K (a first for me), and I am so thankful the year worked out so that I could do all the bike and running events I hoped. I’m going to celebrate with a couple of victory laps around the block, as soon as Sandy goes away.