Sunday, for the fifth time, I joined more than 31,000 other runners in one of the largest running spectacles in the country– the Marine Corps Marathon.
Now that I have run multiple editions of this event, I treat it like a 26.2-mile tour and fun run. I don’t worry about time, and this approach helps minimize any distress about the moving throngs of people all around me.
I don’t say this to underplay the significance of the distance, as a marathon is a long way for me. But over time I’ve evolved into a bit of an endurance fan, and the marathon plays well with my preferences. In addition, I’ve now run enough of them to manage my effort and expectations fairly effectively.
I delight in this annual two-footed takeover of areas normally forbidden to runners. Tree-lined spaces normally owned by cars, such as Spout Run and Rock Creek Parkway, are optimal for running through this time of year, decked out in the transitional glory of fall.
For mid-pack runners like me, the field is congested from beginning to end. This marathon tests any personal space issues one might have.
People once going your pace slow down in front of you. Someone behind you suddenly decides to run faster. A group of three who are all running side by side slow down and inadvertently block you. You pause for a water stop, and those behind you who have to deal with that.
Somehow everyone finds a way to make it work, but as my friend Kirstin said, this marathon requires more lateral movement than any other in which I’ve participated. Also, I spend a lot of energy managing my own space amid everyone else’s.
So, as I say, the best way I’ve found to make it work is to remove concerns about overall time. This approach has to be balanced with steady forward progress to avoid stiffening up, as well as my body’s fueling needs, but it’s the method I use to enjoy all that Marine Corps offers.
The energy exchanged between spectators and participants lifts my spirits and reinforces positive perceptions of people in general. Why do people choose to spend a chunk of their day holding homemade signs and clapping for runners? Runners like me who aren’t even fast?
We aren’t celebrities. We’re just regular people out running 26.2 miles. While many spectators come out to cheer on someone they know, others are there to be part of and to cheer everyone on.
Early in the run, I decided to make time to document this parade of humanity. I tried to capture a little something of everything that makes this marathon what it is– the Marines, the seemingly endless stream of runners, the scenery, the spectators, the clever signs that highlight the political nature of our town, the moments when I saw people I knew along the course.
As I started my loop around Hains Point, I passed a man wearing a series of Marine Corps Marathon patches. After the run I looked up his bib number and discovered that, at 73 years old, he had run 39 out of 40 Marine Corps Marathons. So many things must come together for that kind of accomplishment.
If I had tried to run Marine Corps for time I would mostly likely have reached the finish in a frustrated state. My decision to do the event as a combined tour and fun run freed me to observe and appreciate this marathon’s many unique aspects.