A little bit of backstory before the main event: I had a magical, whirlwind and amazing training until I ran the Chicago Half September 8 (? it was the first weekend)–I ran 9 miles down to the race, had horrible ITB pain (I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time) the last 2 miles of the half (total of 22 miles in a little over 3 hours of running), but it cleared right up and I seemed good to go.
The longest run I enjoyed after that was 16 of an 18 miler that I forced in 2 weeks before the marathon. Between that and the marathon, the longest I was able to run was 8 miles at a time before I literally would think my knee would explode. To say I was apprehensive that I would make it all the way through is to be gentle. But we taped me up, I rolled and PT’d like a champ, and I gave it all I had.
Cue the rest of the tale: Our story opens the morning of the Marine Corps Marathon, Sunday, October 27, 2013. I got up, got ready, layered and got my bag, and headed off into the wild blue (black) yonder. I met a few other crazies downstairs, and we got shuttled over to the Metro, and we made our way to the Pentagon. It was NOT warm.
Oh yeah, and by the time I got to the Pentagon, I was about to vomit and run the opposite direction I was so nervous! I hadn’t been nervous until the night before, when everything became REAL at the Runner’s World Challenge Q&A session. I had long ago decided that I had done the training, I was going to get my GD medal. Even if I had to walk half or more of it (remember, up to this point I had never done a walking half before ;)). I had earned the right to wear the thing around my neck.
And then I had the classic WTH AM I DOING moment. Why on God’s green earth am I putting myself in the situation where I will be freezing and walking for 16+ miles in pain? FRIIIIICK. Somehow, I got myself to the RWC tent (to be explained later, but we had perks), I sat down, I ate my go-to breakfast (that I had brought from home). I tried to go to the bathroom. Still looking around nervously, not really talking with anyone. I got my kit together (I figured out what I was taking with me, put it in my belt), while trying to figure out just how many layers I needed. And talking to an RW staffer about it. And spilling all of my crazy. And then going with what I had initially decided (singlet, short sleeved old v neck t, throwaway long sleeve, fave jacket that I would be damned to toss but I knew I would freeze without. I had decided the night before to wear my compression shorts underneath my go-to racing shorts (older Moving Comfort ones with big ol’ pockets on both sides). I also had a visor, my sunglasses, compression sleeves, and KT tape. I looked…Awesome. But I did steal the idea of pinning my bib to my Nathan ID belt, which would take off the pressure of figuring out what to do if I needed to doff layers. Oh and I had gloves. Finally, I could take it no longer. I made sure that I had everything, checked my bag, creeped on Bart (who was doing interviews), and began my walk over to the start. Yeah, it wasn’t warm. Nope, not at all. So I did my best to keep what warmth I had (thank you layers) and start to do all of my stretching. And people watch. And wait. And watch. And freeze. I discarded the layer that I knew for certain was a throwaway, and waited. And watched, and then it was time for the wheelchair marathoners, and then the anthem and the flag falling from the sky, and then the Howizter, and then it was time to go.
A few things about MCM (in no real order of importance):
First off, it is the largest marathon in the world that you don’t have to qualify for. Anyone can run in it, if they get a number. Now, you have to enter the lottery or run for charity, but believe me, it is worth it!
Second, and a complete technicality of the way MCM is done, is that you put yourself into whatever wave you think you should be in (unless you are elite). So I picked to start with the 4:30 runners, I believe. This became very important to my longevity in the race, as well as that just mentioned sense of running for something larger than myself.
Third, the marathon is staffed by volunteering Marines and other Service men and women. It is the best run (harhar) race I have ever attended or participated in. Seriously, nothing holds a candle to this. Every mile marker, every water stop (some of these are staffed by regular volunteers–frats, running groups, etc), randomly along the way–marines are telling you “good job!” and “thank you!” and yelling out times and mileage and giving you Sport Beans and Gus. It is very surreal to be told Thank You by them.
Fourth, at least 50% of the field has some sort of connection to the Armed Forces, and proudly proclaim so on customized shirts. Everywhere you look are tshirts for KIA or POW or Battalion # or pictures from WWII attached, or something else that shows that the majority of the people that are running? They are running for something more. For something bigger than themselves. This race? It isn’t a race—this is their battle, and one way that they can feel close to those that they love, whether they have lost them, they still live, or they don’t know if they are alive or dead.
Marine Corps Marathon Recap
People did a pretty decent job of self seeding, but of course many put themselves in the wrong pace per mile category. Also, there are a bajillion people in and around the pace group that I chose. This slowed me down at the start A TON. So did the fact that my legs didn’t function because they were freezing. Consequently, my pace for the first 5-10 miles was between 10-9 min/mile (I average about 8 for longer runs).
Hills at the start also were also huge helps, because it made my glutes work for it. I am typically the only person that thinks (YAY HILLS) on runs and in races, but I do. HI MOM while running through Georgetown 😀 Mile 8 was when the grace period started: anything after that was just gravy, a gift from the running gods to Suz.
And I got to mile 8, and was ok. And then mile 9, and then 10, and then 11, then 12, then 13 (halfway).
I managed to undo my belt and garmin, take off my jacket, take off my next throwaway layer (an old t shirt), put back on my jacket and belt, and then put my garmin on my belt, all without breaking stride (Yes I am that good). And then at mile 14ish, I started to feel that twinge in lateral, superior, border of my knee. Oh God. Here we go. That little ITB frickerfracker. So I played with my stride a little bit, and that seemed to help. I stopped at a park bathroom, not a portalet, did a little bit of a stretch as well, and then started to gingerly trot and feel where I was at. I played with my stride, and I kept going.
Out of the park and up to the Mall. Before the Mall, there is a down and back (mile 15-17 I think), and that is where the crowds are going bananas. Candy, posters, people, people dressed as gorillas, things just everywhere. It is unreal. And I could feel some twinging, and Mom was nowhere to be seen (even though she told me she was near by LIES), and I talked to her when I took a 30 second walk break, and then I started up again. And then we were on the Mall.
I saw Mom in front of the Smithsonian (new side) and I ran in front of the Capitol, and the old Smithsonian (and took nerdy pictures because I am an architecture nerd), and took sports beans FROM MARINES and took water at aid stations (I had started doing after about 13 miles, I tend not to so I wanted to make sure to get it in). You exit the Mall at mile 19/20, and that is when I put on my new Katy Perry tunes, I say that I listened to Katy Perry’s new album. but I actually only listened to the final 6-8 songs because my playlist is on reverse and I was so digging them that I didn’t want to test my luck.
They call the 14th St bridge (around mile 19-20 I believe) the Gauntlet because it is kind of a no-man’s land and area of no return–it is all concrete, all the time, there is very little crowd support (really the only place other than a few spots in Georgetown and the run through the gold course, and the highway before the last mile, that has little support), but those that are there are lovely! It is also an incline, and just long. But I, personally, loved it. Put on that music, look to your left and see an older couple running and holding hands, the sun is coming out, the Potomac is on either side, you are running to the last 5-10k…. I loved it.
“By the Grace of God” I headed up and across the 14th street bridge, and realized that I could get close to a 4 if I started to run like me. I could power through 5 miles. Sooooo I negative split the last 6 miles (actually, I negative split the entire thing hollllaaa). I was literally passing people left and right on the hills of Crystal City.
I grabbed a water cup OH WAIT that’s a doughnut I WISH IT WAS WATER but half bite mmmmmm so yummy crush that cup and pound it into the pavement like a real boy. The run past Arlington, and then the final 2 miles on the highway, that is when things got real. This point of the course is another true test of your mental (and physical) endurance. Little crowd support, just you and the road and the people whose bodies were giving out and they were sobbing… I could feel my leg twinging, but I told it to shut its face.
I hadn’t remembered this when I signed up for MCM, but my grandfather was a Marine (most of my mom’s family had been Navy/Army, this was my dad’s father). My grandfather passed away right when I met Alex–a week after our first date, actually. This man meant the world to me, and I was the last person that he acknowledged or attempted to speak to before he died. Mom had reminded me not just 48 hours before that he was Marines–I knew he had been stationed at Pearl Harbor (after the attack; he left me his journal but I think my aunt has it) but called home when his father died, but I had forgotten that he was Marines.
Well, Grandpa and the spirits of my dog Champ and horse Regal got me through those last 2 miles, I have no doubt. I am not religious, but I am spiritual. I know the Katy Perry “By the Grace of God” is about something very different, but the idea of “I pick myself back up” just kept with me. And we never backed down.
When I saw mile 25, I nearly burst into tears. I was going to get there, never having to stop, never having to back down. I high-fived Bart Yasso (I will plug him as much as I please, thank you), who was cheering us on about .5 mi from the finish. Then it was 26. Then I turned and headed up the hill, then the turn for the last bit of flat. An ambulance going being me, I passed a wheelchair runner, and then I was across the finish.
Marines were on either side of me, congratulating me and moving me forward. You literally shake every hand of every man and woman in uniform that you can manage to. They thank you, you thank them, not just for thanking you, or for running the race, but for everything. For the fact that you even get the opportunity to run that race. Finally, you reach the end of the MCM: in front of the Marine Corps Memorial, they hand you your medal.
Three Marines stand in line: 2 prepare the medals, then the first puts it on you, stands at attention, and you salute each other.
Bottom Line: Run the Marine Corps Marathon. You won’t be disappointed! Incredible crowd support, incredible aid stations, incredible course, and all the feels. This is a race that cannot be missed!
I am linking up with myself, Rachel, Lora, and Debbie for Running Coaches Corner, Patty, Erika, and Marcia for Tuesdays on the Run, Nicole, Annmarie, Michelle, and Jen for Wild Workout Wednesday, and Ilka and Angela for Food and Fitness Sunday.