Marine Corps Marathon: From Frustration to Elation

Photo courtesy of Felkerino
At the Marine Corps Finish, courtesy of Felkerino

Over my years of living in D.C., I’ve developed a fondness for local events. There are a few reasons why.

  1. I hate driving.
  2. I really hate driving.
  3. I consider D.C. home now, and like going out to see the city from the perspective of an “event participant.”
  4. Events challenge me in ways that I might not if left to do my own thing.
  5. Events help me set goals.

The Marine Corps Marathon is the 3rd largest marathon in the United States, and the 8th largest in the world. I think about 30,000 register and the finishers number over 20,000 people.

Throughout the course’s 26.2 miles, spectators line the streets (except for a few places where access is limited), cheering runners and telling them how awesome they are. They wave signs with phrases like “Today is your day!” and my favorite from this year’s edition, “You’re running better than the government!”

Marines pass you water or Gatorade all along the route and then place a medal around your neck and salute you when you finish. So in that regard, Marine Corps Marathon is good for a person’s self-esteem.

On the other hand, if you are a mid-pack runner like me, Marine Corps’ sheer size means that you will run many miles trying not to bump into or accidentally intertwine your legs with others.

The start
The start

I lined up this morning with idle hopes of a personal best in my mind. My current PR is 4:05. I placed myself between the 4:15 and 4:30 runners. Hmm. Somehow my legs did not follow my mind’s ambitions.

After some pomp and circumstance that included some pretty amazing paragliders we made our way to the start. For the first ten miles it was a run of surging and slowing to try and establish pace and place.

My last two runs were capped at 350 entrants, and my other sport of choice is randonneuring where a field of 50 is a big group. The congestion frustrated me, partly because I had problems getting into a groove and because I have been spoiled recently by smaller fields.

By the Lincoln Memorial
By the Lincoln Memorial

Around mile 11, I decided to relax and treat the run as an event. The day was sunny and in the 50s, with little wind. Spectators were sending out such positive energy, I decided to just savor the experience. I stopped in a few places to take photos and let the clock run.

I thought about the motivations of the other runners. I saw people running in remembrance of a Marine or other members of the armed forces, those who ran to help out a charity or a cause dear to them. I also passed first time marathoners. It was surreal and I would say special to be part of such a huge event that carries deep personal significance for so many.

The loop around Hains Point was relaxing. Since I run and ride it a fair amount, I’d compare it to mashed potatoes, my favorite comfort food.

Best of all,  Felkerino met me as I left Hains Point and cheered me all along the National Mall. It was great to have my personal cheering section and documentarian of the event. He also retrieved my house keys, which I had dropped while talking with him, so extra points for that too.

Along the Mall, courtesy of Felkerino
Along the Mall, courtesy of Felkerino

Around mile 19 it dawned on me that I had been feeling great the whole run. Irritated from the crowds, yes, but my body was feeling fantastic. I kept on running and hoped that would not end.

I crossed the 14th Street Bridge and saw Rootchopper out on his Bike Friday, rooting for the runners. Soon after passing him and while still on the bridge, elation washed over me. What a freaking perfect day!

I also loved it that the city had been overtaken by runners. Stay away cars, this is the runners’ time! Stay off the HOV lanes, cars. The runners own them today.

Just before the bridge
Just before the bridge

I kept on running and the bliss and awesomeness did not fade. My feet felt as though they had been running 10 miles, and not 23. I’ve never had that experience during a run. I kept waiting for nagging pains to creep in, but they never arrived.

The last three miles flew by and I zipped (subjectively zipped, I would add) up the hill to Iwo Jima and happily received my finisher’s medal with a time of 4:24:14.

Felkerino met me with the tandem, I switched to my cycling shoes, and we rode of to eat lunch and coffeeneur.

A finisher receives her medal
A finisher receives her medal

Even though I did not PR this marathon, it is the one that has passed the quickest mentally. I puzzled through why that might be.

Maybe I’m getting comfortable with this distance. Maybe my fitness is better. I’m not sure. I do know that Felkerino’s steady presence in miles 15 through 21, combined with the change in my mental approach to the event, helped me appreciate every step I took among my fellow runners and settle into seeing it as the giant spectacle and grand event that Marine Corps Marathon is.

It started out bumpy, an exercise more in frustration than good running, but I was able to reset and run a different race in the second half, which allowed the last 13-plus miles to fill me yet again with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for what my body can do.

Post-marathon tandem ride to lunch and coffee
Post-marathon tandem ride to lunch and coffee

At one point in the run I read a spectator’s sign with the message, “Some people talk about changing their lives. You’re doing it!”  I would revise that sign to read, “I am living the life I want, and I am damn lucky.”


  1. Congratulations MG. The MCM was my first marathon. I ran it way back in ’93 (and I still have the t-shirt) and it will always be a special memory. It sounds like to legendary Marine Corp support is still there along with the sight seers course. Keep running, riding and inspiring!


  2. I was at Capitol Hill, en route to coffeeneuring, and I stopped to cheer folks on. I didn’t see you, but I thought about you! Great job today!


  3. Congrats! I generally prefer the bigger runs but I’ve never been packed in so tightly for so long! It took me almost 5 miles before I felt like I could run my pace without bumping into someone. Of course, I’ve also never been in a race with that much crowd support. It was amazing!


    1. Yeah, the crowd support at MCM is a unique experience for me, too. Congratulations on your finish, and all the best on your upcoming run in Richmond!


  4. Congratulations MG! You are becoming quite the endurance athlete. I see an ultra in your future. 🙂 And not a bad support crew you have there! Ed is one of my favs!


    1. I know, I’m actually starting to consider the idea of an off-road challenge beyond the marathon. We’ll see. And yes, Ed was the best!


  5. Congrats! I especially enjoyed reading the last few paragraphs – my knees stopped me from running years ago which is one reason I cycle more than I used to. But I’m grateful to be able to ride as much as I do.


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