Way back in early March, before I had ever run a race longer than a 5k, I decided that I was going to run a marathon in 2012 and that marathon was going to be the Marine Corps Marathon. I had my heart set on this race since a) the course routes through the middle of DC b) I’ve read great things about it and c) it’s incredible to run next to so many
hot inspiring marine corps and active duty military members. On registration day, I canceled my meetings and sat by my work laptop with my credit card ready. I had a panic attack as the registration site kept crashing and I kept seeing updates every so often on Facebook about how the race was selling out fast. When I finally received the email confirmation that I was registered, I thought to myself “holy eff, what have you gotten yourself into?”
I didn’t officially start training until July, after the Rock n’ Roll Seattle half. Each week, I was dedicated to Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 plan and things were going great up until I ran my first 20-miler and was diagnosed with inflammation of my symphysis pubis (huh? whaaat? I’ll get to that in another blog post).
Anyway, the husband joined me for the trip to D.C., despite the fact he had a fairly busy work schedule. It only took a couple of “but what if I pass out and die on the course and you aren’t there?” pleadings for him to cancel his meetings to come with me. We arrived a few days before the race, giving us plenty of time to hang out in D.C. and do the typical touristy things. We average between 10-14 miles of walking each day and my feet were a bit sore, which made me a little nervous about the race.
On the first official night, the husband and I met up with a high school friend from Florida and we shared a delicious meal and drinks at Liberty Tavern in Arlington. Yum.
In a 3-day period, we managed to see all the major D.C. landmarks such as the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, etc and we also went to several museums such as the Holocaust Museum, Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, Natural History Museum, American History Museum & more. D.C. is museum heaven. I started to freak out about Hurricane Sandy since we realized by Friday that it was definitely going to hit the D.C. area. For a split second, I considered trying to get a flight out on Friday night or Saturday morning and skip the race but luckily the husband told me that I trained really hard and I’m going to run the race. We pretty much knew that we would be stranded after the race and I was a little stressed about that. (more on Sandy later).
On Saturday, we made the trek out to D.C. Armory for the Expo and although it was well-organized, it was packed and way too hot so I didn’t spend a lot of time visiting all the booths and taking pictures. I was disappointed that a lot of the Brooks official MCM merchandise was sold out in most sizes except XL and XXL but I managed to snag one of the shirts I wanted in a men’s small and I got the blue rain jacket I wanted in a women’s large.
Despite the fact that I didn’t want to walk too much on Saturday, we ended up walking around 7 miles. Rather than partake in delicious Southern comfort food, I opted for my hotel’s $40 all you can eat pasta bar. I tried to eat my $40 worth but only made it to 2 1/2 plate.
After dinner, I got my gear ready and the “you are running a marathon tomorrow” feeling started to set in for good. I decided to wear a recently purchased Oiselle top and my much-loved Oiselle long roga shorts. Best decision ever. I set my alarm clock for 5am but I was so pumped that I got out of bed at 4:45. The husband woke up for a few minutes to wish me a very groggy good luck and an “I love you.” I was a little worried since I didn’t do a PRP but I ran downstairs anyway and stuffed a bagel in my mouth and was out the door. The metro station was absolutely packed with runners and the energy was amazing. After getting off at the Pentagon station, we walked (maybe half a mile? a mile?) to runner’s village and then to the starting line. Since it was my very first marathon and I hadn’t stuck to the very tail end of my training time, I had no idea what my finish time was going to be and which corral I should jump in to. I chose the 4:30 – 5:00 corral which ended up being the right choice. Before long, the national anthem played, followed by a helicopter flyover. As we were getting ready to go, Gangam Style came on the speakers and every dancer around me started busting out some moves.
The first 3-5 miles were very crowded and I was a little frustrated that I had to dodge so many people, including several walkers. It’s actually probably a good thing that I couldn’t go as fast as I wanted since I have a tendency to overdo it in the beginning. There were quite a few rolling hills in the beginning and I was thankful that I spent so much time walking up steep hills when I couldn’t run since I think that helped me power through them. I ran by some military guys carrying full and very heavy backpacks as well as several people with prosthetic limbs, which was very humbling. There was also a guy that was wearing full body armor. Wow.
I felt great through the first 12 miles and only stopped and walked to get Gatorade or water from the aid stations. As the course wound it’s way through Haines point, we could feel the winds from Sandy picking up and apparently the wind was gusting up to 20 miles an hour at this point. There were a lot of funny signs related to Sandy, such as “Run! Sandy is right behind you!” although my favorite from the day was probably “Paul Ryan has already finished.”
There were many, many signs in the Haines Point area dedicates to fallen soldiers and I started to tear up (wouldn’t be the last time during the race). Around mile 15-ish, I started feeling some sharp pains in my leg but nothing that prevented me from running. The miles kept ticking by and there was ample crowd support through almost the entire course. I almost became a casualty a couple of times from slipping on orange peels in a couple of the aid stations. Random thoughts started popping into my head throughout the race like “holy crap, I’m really running a mother effing marathon” and “why did I think this was a good idea 8 months ago” and “OMG, I looooove marathons. I’m going to sign up for all of the marathons when I get back to my computer” and “I may hurt but at least I’m not that person over there to the side – they are really hurting. Ouch.”
Yes, I know the photo above is the world’s most unflattering photo and I posted it anyway. I think by about mile 20 or 21, I was ready to be done with the race. Around mile 22, I tried walking for a couple of minutes but walking seemed to hurt more than running. Up until this point, I maintained between a 9:30 – 9:45 pace but after 20 miles, I slowed down to 10:30 – 10:45. I kept telling myself that the faster I run, the sooner the race will be over. It was at this point in the race that I saw a ton of people hitting the wall, cramping or just completely stopping. I felt really bad for a guy that grabbed his leg and started crying. Not sure what happened but he was hobbling around and I’m not sure if he was able to finish. I started to cry around mile 24.5 and I had a couple people ask me if I was ok. My body and legs hurt but I think it finally hit me that I was going to finish the race soon.
Marine Corps Marathon is famous for ending the last .2 miles of the marathon up a steep ass hill to the Iwo Jima Memorial. There was no sprinting involved but at least I didn’t stop and walk. The finish line was so congested that my husband didn’t see me finish. We were then given our medals by marines who saluted us (tears again) and then we were given our finisher boxes. At this point, I wanted to sit down so badly. My legs didn’t cramp during the race but they started cramping and seizing as soon as I stopped and the freaking food line would not move. I was getting so frustrated but I had to wait patiently.
There was a nice patch of green grass immediately after the food area so I joined some people and sat down and was then told I needed to get up and leave the finisher’s area. And of course, the walk out of the finisher’s area required walking up hill. Gah! What is it with these marines and their hills? I couldn’t find my husband so I sat down on some nice plushy leaves and told him to come find me. While I waited, I admired my pressscious (aka the coolest marathon medal ever) and I was so relieved when he brought my hoodie and my sweatpants with him.
My appetite had not returned at this point so I didn’t even bother opening the box of food. We wandered around the finisher’s village and I found the Brooks tent selling finishers shirts. Since my legs were killing me, the husband stood in line for over an hour to get my shirt for me.
I was thankful that our hotel was 2 blocks away and didn’t require the use of the metro since there was a line around the block for it. I checked my official time and I finished in 4:49! That was a huge relief since I wasn’t sure if I could finish in under 5 hours given that I was barely running right before the race.
By the time dinner rolled around, my appetite recovered and I devoured some delicious BBQ. We were supposed to flight out on Monday evening but since our flight was canceled, we weren’t able to leave until Thursday night. For the next two days, we were mostly trapped in our hotel room with some basic supplies (and note to husband: Halloween candy does not = emergency supplies).
I loved the experience of running my first marathon and can’t wait to run another one. Maybe Chicago next year?