I RAN A BQ!!!!
Oh, and it was also a PR by nearly 17 minutes (my first marathon time was 3:50:41). That’s exciting too, but not as much as a Boston qualifier!
Official finish time – 3:33:23.
The entire race weekend was amazing and the experience of running the 38th Marine Corps Marathon will be hard to beat. This one will be a brief overview of the weekend, mostly focused on the race itself.
I flew in early on Friday morning to hit up the expo for my packet and grab all the goodies I wanted. It was packed full of people and quite cold (for this Florida raised girl). But alternating from sun to shade while waiting in line kept my from getting too chilly. The packet pick-up itself was swift and off I went into the expo. Besides spending way more than I probably needed, I enjoyed running into some friends. Josh and Justin from the running group were two of them, while Scott one of my DailyMile buddies was another.
Saturday was another adventure of a short run to shake out the legs and test my tolerance to the cold. The run felt good and I wasn’t quite as affected after the first half mile as I expected which boded well for race day. After a quick and warm breakfast, the mother—who was amazing enough to travel up to support me in the race— and myself rented some bikes to check out part of the course and her best options for spectator points. What followed was an adventurous few hours of consulting course maps, area maps, getting turned around, and enjoying the sights.
The day was followed by a lazy and relaxing afternoon about the hotel and it’s lobby. One fun thing about race weekends is most people you see in the hotel are also there to race! So I got to take part in some fun conversations and learn some stuff about the course from a variety of strangers. Then it was time to meet up with the charity team for our pre-race dinner and shenanigans. By the way, the food was delicious! I only knew a few members of the group, so it was fun to finally meet in person many of the individuals I’d chatted with about training on the Facebook group page.
There was a good amount of silliness and a lot of volume to the dinner. Of course, no charity team is complete without their own picture! The Little Things 4 Cancer reps Wendy and Stephanie gave awesome speeches that let me know they really felt touched by the effort of our team which raised nearly $31,000. A fun evening all around.
The night before is always early after all the gear has been looked over, prepped, and set out in order of necessity. Then it was to bed where I admit to waking up just a few times thinking I had overslept.
Race morning was damn cold, but the misery was shared with friends and family. We headed out for a quick walk to the metro and then an extra long walk around the Pentagon to the staging area. I spent the entire time cold.
Once I made it into the corrals, it wasn’t quite as bad since all the bodies generated some warmth. It was awesome to hear the a capella version of the National Anthem while parajumpers descended with huge American flags. A beautiful way to get me pumped up even more and ready for the race to start.
I ended up placed a bit behind the 3:45 pace group (not my intention at all) and so a bit further back than I planned. However, it wasn’t too bad as the first 2 miles were severely crowded and I would have had to dodge people to get up to pace regardless. Fear not, there was no starting out too fast for me with the crowds in this race.
The course is beautiful with fall colors and all the sights through Arlington, Georgetown, and the memorials of Washington, D.C.
It was cold – low 40s at the start and while it did make the 50s near the finish we had to deal with some chilly winds and cloud cover through the middle. While I didn’t exactly want the first 2 miles as slow as they were, it was a lot of fun dodging around people while taking in the course and spectators. I especially liked the point about a mile in where they had a U.S. flag hanging over the middle of the course, just low enough that if you had the height or a good jump you could brush it with your fingers (which of course I did).
The atmosphere was AMAZING. Passing retired veterans carrying flags in a diamond formation for each of their services, with a U.S. flag as point- and rear-guards. Individual military members and units taking on the marathon in full gear. There was no lack of inspiration or motivation across the full 26.2 miles. Plus just the sheer amount of spectators and on course entertainment (from regular bands to marching bands to drum lines). I settled into my pace by mile 4 (and also dropped all my throwaways) and just enjoyed everything I could see.
Around mile 11 I got to see my mom and that was a sweet boost. Then we hit the 13-16 mile area which is Hains Point. That was very emotional. This portion of the course has the least amount of spectators which I felt was appropriate for what was placed there. On the left side of the course every few feet were the pictures of each Marine killed in action. As the ‘quiet’ portion of the race, there was a respectful reverence for those who have given their lives in service to our country. And to help balance that, the right side of the course had posters set up with the usual race sayings from the motivational to the funny. It helped me keep from fully breaking into tears to glance from one side to another, to mix those runner sayings in with each picture I passed.
Then the course swung you full on into the National Mall and once again the course was lined with spectators and all the beautiful monuments, memorials, and museums that make up our capital. I really enjoyed just looking around me for the next few miles especially because it was so different from my last visit. There weren’t many tourists out crowding the sights—most people were bunched up on the course cheering on runners. So the view of the buildings and their architecture was largely clear and very nice. Especially the swing in front of the capital building which offered a fantastic view on approach for the runners and a sweet backdrop for pictures once we turned around.
Then it was across another bridge into Crystal City where I got to see Beth of Discombobulated Running in her cheering costume (which was absolutely hysterical). I think of the entire course that Crystal City was my least favorite. Partially due to it being the last area before you make it back to the Pentagon towards the finish and mostly because the roads there weren’t as well cared for as the rest of the course. But I made it through the torturous miles 20-24 with legs that were burning.
Thanks to where I ended up in the starting area, besides starting behind the 3:45 pace group (who I passed in the first half mile), I had no gauge for when I crossed the start line in relation to the gun or where exactly I was placed. Luckily, I actually didn’t think too hard on it until I reached mile 25. Then my not-questions were answered. Right at the mile 25 marker I caught the 3:35 pace group. Also amazing, Beth had managed to trek from the start of the bridge on the Washington, D.C., side at mile 20 to the ramp next to the Pentagon and Route 110 (to the finish) a mere 20 feet after the 25 mile marker. It was great encouragement not only to see her a second time, but to have her screaming “BQ!!” at me as I caught the end of the pace group and began my pass.
While that highway that made up the last mile was a mental challenge due to seeing a seemingly endless sea of runners, I had my boost thanks to Beth. I kept pace and passed many others who were losing steam. The last half mile was most amazing because of the crazy amount of spectators. They were ranged on both sides of the course as far as 3/4s of a mile from the finish, packed in and cheering loudly.
A girl with one of my favorite signs (a star symbol with the words “touch here for power” much like these two) got a tap from me as I went by. Near the end and just before I passed the 26 mile marker and turned to take the hill, I could hear my mother cheering. I couldn’t see her in the dense crowd, but being able to make out her voice was a relief. Any and all spectators are such a boost during a race, but having it be someone you know and so close to the finish just helps to dredge up that last bit of reserve, that last bit of strength, to make it to the end.
Once again I was dodging runners who had already emptied their tank, but I took that hill like the race had just started. Though there was definitely some dismay to realize I still had a few hundred feet to go once I reached the top. But I did! I crossed the line as the clock was breaking 3:36. I had done it! Months of preparation had awarded me an awesome race.
There was some stumbling and helping hands after I crossed the line. I offered my thanks for their service to the Marines I passed as I continued upwards to receive the totally awesome finisher’s medal. I had to wobble and take the stairs very, very slowly but I got myself up to the Marine Corps War Memorial for a finisher’s picture with my medal and a huge smile. It was only after that I finally had the courage to look at my Garmin and see my finish time.
I cried! Even if it wasn’t exact, my watch said 3:33:32 and the difference couldn’t be so great as to deny me the 3:35 that would be a Boston qualifier. I spent all of training trying so hard NOT to put the pressure of attempting a qualifier on my shoulders. I wanted a great race, a PR, and to break 3:40. Anything more than that would be a pleasant bonus. So the fact that it happened deserved at least a few tears.
After that it was the usual post race of picking up water, gatorade, snacks, and making my way to meet family. My mother was waiting for me as I exited the finish area and I admit to a few more tears as I hugged her. We spent a bit of time in the finisher’s festival, but my legs were shot and I was looking forward to food and a shower. As luck would have it, I ran into Beth a third time and got to chat with her a bit.
Without a doubt, I would recommend this race to any and everyone. Not only is it a fantastic course with tons of spectator support, but the military and volunteers were great. The Marines, volunteers, and other service members all across the course at water stops, aid stations, and more were simply amazing. I never felt like any of them didn’t want to be there or weren’t excited for what each and every runner was trying to accomplish. Plus it’s like your own mini-tour of the capital and surrounding areas. And starting with 2014, they’ll be doing a lottery registration. Probably the only thing I wish I’d done differently was take a camera, but I’m too competitive to slow down or stop to snap pictures.
To talk briefly of strategy I think the main difference, besides the temperatures, in this race from my first marathon was that I took advantage of every water stop. I alternated taking e-caps and eating gels; made sure I got water at every stop even if I wasn’t consuming something or felt good. While I did skip the Dunkin Donuts stop, I grabbed some sports beans (as I lost one gel around mile 8) to fill the gap. As a result (at least in my mind) I didn’t hit the wall this time. My legs were definitely protesting, especially after the hills in the first 10 miles, and I could feel the burn of activity, more than ever after mile 20. But as some signs say, what wall?! I don’t see no wall!
So now I look on to future races and the possibility of Boston in 2015 (insert squee of excitement). I leave you with some numbers and more pictures. And yes, I did negative split! Huzzah!
Average Pace – 8:08
1st half – 1:48:30
2nd half – 1:44:53