I started very early planning to run the Marine Corps Marathon in 2013 in March 2012 after putting this on my Bucket List. This would be my first and possibly my only marathon. If there would only be one, I wanted it to be the Marine Corps Marathon. I ran 3 half marathons in 2012 and 2013 to get my training started, and to see what it felt like to run a long run/race. So the morning of 27 October was the culminating event, but the experience really lasted for more than a year and a half. During that time I ran hundreds of miles in some beautiful places. Most of my training was alone, but my son, who ran the marathon with me, ran a couple shorter training runs and most of the long training runs with me. All in all this was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done!
I have mixed feelings now that I’ve run and completed the marathon. I’m completely satisfied with “the accomplishment” part of it, the memories will be with me for the rest of my life, but I’ll miss having the goal in front of me. I’m glad I can just rest and relax for a few weeks or more without worry, but there is a surreal feeling of something not being right. Does this mean I will have to run another marathon? I don’t think “I have to”, but I may decide I want to at some point. I know I will run more half marathons, but I may or may not do another full marathon. If I chose to never run another one, it will not be because I didn’t love the experience, or because it was so brutal that I never want to do another one, it will be because the training takes a commitment of time that can turn you in to a one trick pony. There are so many other things I want to do.
We arrived in Washington DC on Friday in the late afternoon. This gave us a full day on Saturday to get past the jet lag and to do a few things in DC. We didn’t leave until late in the day on Monday, so there was a little more time Monday to check out some memorials and stretch the legs out. For Saturday we had a short list of things “we had to do”. First was getting our bibs and packets at the DC Armory, this was very organized, but also very busy. The line was long for the bibs, but moved quickly. The line was a bit of a bottle neck even though it was moving quickly. Once we got inside the tent, there were very few runners inside the tent. Many of the volunteers had no one in front of them. They could have pushed people into the tent more quickly. We spent about 45 minutes in line and once inside the tent it took about 2 minutes to get our bib. Since I’m a retired Marine we were able to take advantage of a shorter “Military only” line into the Expo. Security was pretty thorough or the lines would have been shorter going into the Expo. Inside we got our race shirt and a clear gear bag we could use to check stuff before the race. Since my wife planned to go with us to the start of the race, we would be able to avoid checking gear. We got out of the Expo quite a bit later than we expected, so we just had time for a quick visit to the Smithsonian and then headed out for an early pasta dinner.
The instructions for the race said we should try to arrive 2 hours early. That seemed excessive since we would be riding the Metro, so we planned to leave about 90 minutes before the race. I expected it would take about 20 minutes to get there. In fact it was much longer. Luckily we were not trying to get on the Metro at a really busy station. I think a lot of people trying to get on the train at the Rosslyn Station were unable to get to the race on time. By the time we arrived at the Porta Potties near the start of the race, the start was in 20 minutes!
The lines were very long and only some scrambling to find better lines got all the pre-race business done in time! But we managed to watch the pre-race parachute show, take off our warm clothes, and get to the starting line before the cannon fired.
There was a mass of discarded clothing at the start in the center median of the road. I suppose they will pick this stuff up for donating after the race. Our corral walked slowly up to the starting point, then we were off. I had expected that my right hip would still be stiff. I had injured it on a training run about 3 weeks before the race and had not run without pain and stiffness since then. It was stiff and painful at the start, but I was able to limp out to a reasonable 10:30 minute/mile pace that I would manage to hold on to for about the first 15 kilometers. The course was mostly flat, but there was a fairly decent climb near the start on Lee Highway into Rosslyn. Then the course turned back toward DC with a long downhill stretch to the Key Bridge. The crowds in Georgetown were very supportive. Then we turned on to Potomac Parkway for a long out and back stretch. This was one of two very “park-like” stretches of the run.
My 26.2 Miles of Music playlist was working like a charm! Even though my hip was bothering me, the miles seemed to melt away one song at a time. The Kennedy Center, just before the 10 mile mark was the first DC landmark that I recognized. Then came the back of the Lincoln Memorial. This was where I thought I might see my wife and daughter-in-law in the crowd. I didn’t see them, but they saw me. Although I was starting to feel a bit looser, I was still limping fairly noticeably. My wife told me later she was really worried when she saw me that I would not finish. Somewhere around mile 11 the hip pain finally faded – probably just went numb. The course then passed the Jefferson Memorial, as it would a total of 3 times. I also thought my wife might be there, but she wasn’t. We entered a second “park like” stretch, in this case it was an actual park – West Potomac Park. I passed a couple of porta potties with terrible lines, but finally gave in to “the need” and stopped at a bathroom in the park. The women’s lines were really long, but the men’s line was reasonable. A couple of women must have noticed that because they decided they could endure the use of the men’s room. This little stop cost me 8-10 minutes, but the next 14 miles of the run were much more comfortable! Definitely worth the stop.
Before we got to the half-way point they had what I’ll call the “simulated finish line” painted on the ground. It makes for a good picture, and I’m sure I looked better around mile 12 than I did at mile 26.2!
The part of the race between 12 and 20 miles was the most enjoyable to me. The course was beautiful, and I felt pretty good. My pace was slow, but I wasn’t worried about that anymore. When the route swung back by the Mall near the Lincoln Memorial, at about mile 16, I finally saw my wife and daughter-in-law. The limp was gone and I was feeling much better.
I was very happy to see them. I gave my wife a hug, then back to running! My wife told me later she was very relieved to see me smiling and running more smoothly.
The Mall in Washington DC is one of my favorite places, and I rarely visit DC without taking a run on the Mall. So the course between mile 15 and mile 20 was familiar and motivating! I even got a bit emotional as I turned the corner in front of the Capitol building. The first few times I ran on the Mall you could run up those stairs. I also remember a very rainy day with the family many years ago when we sheltered in an alcove on the side of the Capitol building. Now you can’t come close to the building, but it is still a familiar, yet awe-inspiring sight. As the course turned away from the Capitol we had to run through a gauntlet of photographers. I had a ton of pictures from that part of the course to choose from. Here are a couple of my favorites.
After the Capitol we past the 18 mile marker. I still felt pretty good. I remembered my long training runs and the thought on those runs at 18 miles… “will I be able to run 8 more miles”. Today that question would be answered. The miles did seem to get longer after this point. The 20 mile marker was just before the 14th Street Bridge and the crossing back into Virginia. At that point not only did the miles seem longer, but the pavement seemed harder! I didn’t even think about stopping, but I did start thinking about and hoping for the finish!
The run through Crystal City was a long blur. Although I usually stay there when I visit DC, most of it did not seem familiar. I did recognize some of it though and I was very happy when I realized we were getting closer to the Pentagon. I didn’t see any mile markers between the 20 and the 25 mile point. This may have just been inattention, but it was actually a good thing. I just ran with no sense of how far I had to go until it was just about over. By the time I got to the hill up to the Marine Corps Memorial I was feeling every step. I ran as hard as I could about two-thirds of the way up the hill, then put my hands on my hips and walked up the rest.
At the top of the hill I turned right toward the finish line and started to run again. I wasn’t going fast, but I wanted to run across the finish. It was a long tenth of a mile! At that point the race organization kicked in again. They pushed us into multiple chutes to get our finisher medal, a picture with our finisher medal, and all the other goodies. An optional picture was available by the Marine Corps Memorial… but this picture was one of the reasons I chose this race.
After the race I was sore, the walk through Rosslyn to get a ride back to the hotel was torture. Although we had planned to ride the Metro back to the hotel, there was a very long line just to get into the station, so we decided to get away from the crowd and try to get a taxi. The first taxi we saw seemed uninterested in working, not sure what his deal was, so my son used his Uber app to get us a ride. The driver showed up in about 5 minutes and we were much more comfortable riding in the large Lincoln Navigator than we would have been in a small taxi anyway!
Running the Marine Corps marathon was an amazing experience from the first training run to crossing the finish line! I’m so glad I decided to run a marathon despite being past the age to “do those kind of things”. I’m also glad I chose the Marine Corps Marathon. Although signing up was a nightmare (thankfully they are going to a lottery for 2014), the rest of the marathon operated like a well oiled machine! I can’t imagine a more motivating course and the weather was PERFECT! If I run another marathon it will likely be something closer to home, but I will never forget this experience. It was worth every mile of training, every hour of commitment, and every ache and pain.
All my Marine Corp Marathon Posts are listed on my Marine Corps Marathon 2013 Posts (Including training half marathons)page.