Marine Corps Marathon Recap
I am a marathoner. Just a year ago, those were words I never thought I’d say. But four months of training paid off and I crossed the finish line of the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon last Sunday afternoon. It’s an amazing accomplishment and I am 100% happy with how last Sunday went.
Let’s rewind to last week.
On Friday night, Joe and I hit up the expo at the Armory to pick up our bibs, shirts, etc. I thought it might be packed after work but the line to get in was very short (especially in comparison to photos of the lines I saw on Saturday). After picking up our bibs and shirts, we checked out the Brooks store, which featured the official race merchandise. I knew I wanted to buy something because I knew I’d probably only do this race once. Joe and I each bought jackets and I plan on “borrowing” Joe’s jacket several times.
After the expo, we headed to the first timers pep rally. There was tons of free food, goodies and inspirational speakers. As I stuffed myself with pizza and sliders, I listened to Bart Yasso recall the first time he ran the Badwater Ultramarathon. The race is 135 miles, and when Yasso lined up for the race the first time, he’d never run anything longer than a marathon. That stuck with me. He was going to run more than 100 miles longer than he had ever run before. That’s amazing. If he could do that, certainly I could run 6.2 miles longer than I had ever run before.
On Saturday I did as little as possible. That night Joe and I went to our favorite Italian restaurant, Tortino, to load up on carbs. Thankfully it’s only about a block away so we didn’t have to venture far. I stuck with my favorite pre-race meal, the linguine. I ate that before the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler and had a great race so I figured I couldn’t go wrong with it.
Sunday morning we were up by 5 a.m. I think I actually woke up a little earlier because I had some pre-race energy. Not jitters, just energy. I had my usual pre-long run breakfast of white toast with peanut butter and guzzled some water. It was cool out in the morning, but not cold enough for me to feel like I needed a warming layer so I just went out in my short-sleeved shirt, skirt and high compression socks. We made it to the Mount Vernon Metro around 6, just missing a train.
We finally got to the Pentagon and it was still dark even though it was almost 7. We made the mile-long trek toward the start line and hit up the bathroom along the way. We found the start area for those expecting a finish between 5 hours and 5 hours 30 minutes. I thought we would try to stay with the 5 hour pacer but that person was so far ahead of us in the group I knew it would be hard to stay near them. Instead we just relaxed for a few minutes before the start. Shockingly, nerves never really kicked in. I knew it would be hard and it would take a long time and I was prepared for that. I just focused on taking some deep breaths and soaking in the atmosphere. We watched the parachuters drop in with the American flags and the flyover by the Ospreys, which was awesome. And then I heard the howitzer, signaling the start of the race. We couldn’t see the start line from where we were so we had no idea how long it would take to cross the start line.
Finally, after about 15 minutes, we crossed the start line. I couldn’t believe it! We were running a marathon!
I remember feeling like I had barely been running when we hit mile 1. And then the hills started. Most of the big hills are early in the race, which is good, because you get them out of the way and they keep you from going out too fast. I pushed through all the hills and none of them felt that bad. We came across the first water stop quickly after the second mile. My plan was to take Gatorade and water at every stop and to use the water stops as a quick walk break.
The miles were flying by. I loved running through Sprout Run Parkway. I had never run there before so the scenery was new and there was a big downhill which made it feel like we were speeding along. A beautiful view of the Potomac River and Georgetown came into view and I remember thinking it was just an absolutely beautiful morning. We climbed the hill up to the Memorial Bridge and headed into Georgetown. I don’t remember much about the next few miles except that I felt great and I was enjoying the experience.
We made it into Rock Creek Park for a big out and back. I was hitting a runner’s high around this point. I knew once we came out of Rock Creek, I would see BJ and Laura, who were awesome enough to come out and support us. We happily pushed along through Rock Creek, enjoying the scenery , spectators and weather. I wasn’t really looking at my watch all that often, and when I did, I was looking at distance, not pace. On our loop back to the exit of Rock Creek, I spotted a photographer and decided I was going to hijack the moment.
When we got near the Watergate, I frantically searched for Laura and BJ. I knew Laura had a red wig, which made her super easy to spot. I sprinted over to high five them and thank them for coming out. At mile 10 or so, I was feeling awesome!
Then we made our way over to Hains Point. I knew this was where it could start to get tough. Hains Point usually doesn’t have many spectators and it can feel like it takes forever to get around. We reached the halfway mark here (at 2:31:56), an 11:35 pace) and Joe kept telling me how great I was doing, that I was even doing better than some Marines he’d seen. At that point, I believed him.
For the record, Joe ran off the course to pee in the bushes every few miles. At least it felt that way. I didn’t want to stop if I didn’t have to but I knew with all the liquid I’d taken in, I’d need to pee soon. I tried to use the real bathroom that was near the exit of Hains Point but at that point the line was too long and I didn’t want to stop for several minutes. So we kept plugging along.
I saw a guy handing out Vaseline on a stick right before we came out of the park. Since my legs were chafing a bit, I went to grab it. Except that instead of grabbing the stick, I just grabbed a glob of Vaseline. Oh well. I pulled off to the side real quick to rub it in and keep moving. And I think this is the first time things started to feel hard.
I told Joe I was starting to feel a little tired and he said it was okay, that we were doing great. I knew I needed to find a bathroom soon. Finally, near the Lincoln Memorial, I spotted some Port-a-potties. There were only about five of them and a line. I didn’t want to wait but Joe told to just wait so that I could get rid of the full feeling in my stomach and feel more comfortable. I must have stood in line for at least five minutes. And I think stopping for that long kind of screwed me up. It was like my body said, “Oh, we’re done running now!”
Before this point (around mile 16), I had only walked through water stations. Now I felt like I needed to walk more. We did a combination of run-walking for the next several miles. The walks kept getting a little longer, but I tried to put on a good face for Laura and BJ, who were waiting for us on the Mall.
At the beginning of the 14th Street Bridge, I hit the wall, not surprising since we were at mile 20. My stomach kept cramping up and I just didn’t want to run anymore. I walked that entire bridge and then some. Although most people around us were walking at that point, Joe kept pushing. He told me to run and I just refused. I didn’t get angry, I just said no. He reminded me how hard we trained and that it was just one day of being uncomfortable. But nothing he said could get me going at that point. I knew he was getting frustrated but I didn’t get angry. I thought, “Well, we can just walk to the end.” But something clicked once we got into Crystal City. It was an out and back and the back portion, heading toward the finish line, was a slight downhill. By that point I knew we were only about a 5K from the finish. My mood picked up again and Joe was glad when I said I was ready to run.
I thought I might be able to run the whole 5K to the finish, but I couldn’t quite. Still, I ran more than I walked. I tried taking the Munchkins at around mile 24 but by then my mouth was so dry that trying to swallow the donut felt impossible. I only ate one and tossed the other.
The last stretch is tough. You’re running on a highway and there isn’t a lot of crowd support. It’s not particularly scenic and on this day, there was a strong wind pushing against us. Although it had been breezy all day, it felt like the wind had picked up. We just kept pushing and then I could hear the music from the finish line. Then the final hill came into view. A lot of people were still walking but I kept running. I was determined to run all the way up that hill by the Iwo Jima Memorial and get to the end. Joe told me to keep pushing, we were almost there. Tons of people surrounded the finish line and I could hear them all. I got a tad emotional for a second, knowing that I was about to cross the finish line and become a marathoner.
Almost 5.5 hours after we started, we crossed the finish line. I thought I would be super emotional but I was just so exhausted. Our official time was 5:27:38. That was a little slower than I anticipated but I was in no way disappointed, especially since I had finished strong. My watch said I had actually run a half mile over 26.2, not unusual in a race like this. That put my pace around 12:16, although my official pace (12:29) was slower since it was calculated on just running 26.2 miles.
After we finished, it was time for tons of photos and smiles!
Getting back home was a bit of a fight, but we eventually made it after a lot more walking, a bus and a taxi. I came home and took a long nap. I never got that major hunger I expected. In fact, my first few bites of Ramen that night didn’t go down so smoothly. I made up for it the next day when I treated myself to Roy Rogers.
I’ve been riding a high since last Sunday. I still can’t believe I did this. During training, I kept wondering why people do marathons every year. I had my answer at the end. It is an amazing feeling, a very empowering one.
Thanks to all those who contributed to the Semper Fi Fund, who asked me how training was going and who encouraged me along the way. I had so much love and support during this journey and I couldn’t have pushed through without it.
So what’s next? I have a few more races on the calendar, but now I’m going to focus on losing some of the extra weight I have (thanks carbo loading) and getting back into doing some strength work. And most of all, sleeping in and running however many miles I feel like, not how many I HAVE to.