This past Sunday I finished my 4th Marine Corps Marathon. It wasn’t my fastest and it wasn’t my slowest. It did, however, have one of the lowest points I’ve had in a race in a very long time. My recap is super long, in part because I don’t want to forget any of it. If you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, my Facebook status from after the race pretty much covers it:
“At mile 13.1, I was on pace for my goal race. At mile 15, I considered DNFing. At mile 16, I drank all the Gatorade and realized I could walk 10 miles if I needed to. In the end, it wasn’t my worst race. 4:57 and change.”
Grab a coffee or a beer and come along for the ride…
Marine Corps Marathon 2017
October 22, 2017
Temp: 55ish at the start, 75+ at the finish
What I wore: Headsweats hat, MRTT tank top, Skirt Sports Happy Girl skirt, compression socks, and Altra One 2.5.
Beer Geek dropped us off at 6 am. We breezed through security and headed to the 5 hour pace banner as a meeting place. It was a little chilly, so I was glad I brought a sweatshirt to throw away. I hung out and chatted with friends and ate my breakfast.
I should have sat down. Standing for 1.5 hours before the race was not my smartest move ever.
Around 7:30 am, I met up with some fellow Skirt Sports ambassadors to get a quick picture.
There were a lot more Skirts running MCM than in the picture, but it’s always hard to get everyone together on race morning. After our picture, I rejoined my friend up at the 4:16-4:30 banner. I wanted to go out at a 10:30 pace, so I figured this was my best hope.
At 8:05, the horn went off. I’m not sure why the start was delayed by 10 minutes, but I had ditched my jacket and was feeling chilled and pretty stiff. We started moving forward and managed to cross the start line after about 5 minutes.
It was crazy congested running down 110 and up the hill into Rosslyn, but that’s normal for this race. There were lots of spectators up Lee Highway and at the corner of Spout Run, but I was sad to not see anyone I knew. (Mile 1: 11:08, Mile 2: 10:50, Mile 3: 10:35)
We then headed downhill on Spout Run and then uphill into Georgetown. I couldn’t get into a groove, both because of the ups and downs of the course and because of the congestion. There were several pinch points through here that brought us nearly to a standstill. As we hit mile 6 and headed on to Rock Creek Parkway, I felt like I was pushing too hard and should have slowed down. But I didn’t. (Mile 4: 9:38, Mile 5: 10:15, Mile 6: 10:04)
Lesson Learned #1 – listen to your body. Mile 1 might lie, but if miles 2-6 are saying the same thing, listen to them.
Rock Creek Parkway is one of my least favorite parts of the course. Many races in this area use it, but I don’t love it. I do like the slightly rolling hills, but as we ran, I could tell that maintaining the same pace was becoming more difficult. I finally stopped for a half cup of Gatorade at mile 8.5. I had drunk a few sips of nuun before then, but had so far not fueled at all. I continued to try to stay on pace, but it was quickly becoming apparent that this was not going to be a PR race. (Mile 7: 10:19, Mile 8: 10:05, Mile 9: 10:23)
Shortly before mile 10, there were marines offering Clif Shot gels. I grabbed a vanilla one and managed to get about half of it down, along with some nuun. I think I also managed to grab some Gatorade in there. I knew I was going to need to slow down soon, but I still thought I could keep pushing and pull out at least a Marine Corps PR (AKA faster than 4:50). I was pushing myself to hold my pace, which is not something I do often, plus the pace I was running should not have been that difficult. I started to find myself turning inward and getting focused on just moving forward, not something I should be feeling at mile 13. (Mile 10: 10:10, Mile 11: 10;46, Mile 12: 10:25)
Lesson Learned #2 – Fueling during a marathon is completely different than a half marathon. Don’t wait until mile 13 to really start hydrating and eating.
At mile 13, I called “uncle” and told my friend I needed to slow down and walk some. We decided to go our separate ways as we had different walk strategies. My plan was to run slowly as much as possible and only walk when necessary. She planned to actually follow a specific ratio. I continued to plod along, feeling more and more awful. Somewhere around mile 15, I began to consider DNFing. I was dizzy and exhausted and on the verge of crying. I couldn’t even imagine continuing for another 11 miles. (Mile 13: 10:40, Mile 14: 11:34, Mile 15: 11:00)
Sometimes a picture is worth 1000 words…
As I approached the water stop just after mile 16, I was a wreck. I wasn’t sure I could pull myself together, but I also wasn’t ready to take a DNF. I started drinking Gatorade at every.single.table. I think I had 6-7 half cups. Then I turned the corner and drank water at a couple of tables and poured water down my shirt. Beer Geek saw that my pace was dropping and sent me a text to remind me I could do this. I decided it was time to dig deep. I knew I was far enough ahead of the cut offs that I could make it to the bridge, so I kept on going. I told myself that I could walk for 30 seconds at a time, but that I had to run for at least 30 seconds each time a walk break ended. (Mile 16: 11:37, Mile 17: 12:43, Mile 18: 11:33)
Lesson Learned #3 – Using Galloway to get through some of the hot runs this summer made a huge difference in how I handled this race. Allowing myself to walk for 30 seconds (and only 30 seconds) at a time made the last 10 miles bearable.
I continued moving forward, trying to focus on the awesome spectators as we headed towards the bridge. I walked a few times, but I was able to run for several minutes between each walk.
As we neared the bridge, the excitement was palpable. The runners around me were thrilled to get there. However, once on the bridge, the atmosphere changed. It was like a zombie death march – so many walkers, so few runners. I continued to run as much as possible, but did some texting in mile 20. I wanted to let Beer Geek know I’d made the bridge and check in with my friend (who ended up DNFing and walking back to the finish.) All I could focus on at that point was that I knew there would be pickle juice and Coke in Crystal City. (Mile 19: 11:43, Mile 20: 13:14, Mile 21: 12:07)
Finally we were headed off the bridge. A marine announced that shade, water, and Gatorade were ahead. I looked for my friend who said she’d be there with pickles, but did not see her. (This was a major theme of the race – I missed most of my friends who were out spectating). So, I kept on running as much as possible and walking where necessary. I was just counting the minutes until I found the MRTT table. And then they were there. With mini Cokes.
Lesson Learned #4 – A coke at mile 22ish is a race saver. Thank you to the MRTT groups in Crystal City for the cokes they provide each year. Please never stop!
I drank most of the Coke and then discarded the can. I swear nothing has EVER tasted so good! By this point, I had overcome the dizziness and lack of energy, but the heat and the miles were taking their toll. I felt like my body parts were taking turns trying to slow me down. A foot would cramp, and then my hip, and then the other foot… It was almost a game to try to figure out what was going to hurt next. I ran through the water spray in Crystal City and loved every bit of it. Thanks to the Coke, I was able to run most of the mileage through here. (Mile 22: 11:32, Mile 23: 12:12, Mile 24: 11:53)
As I headed past Long Bridge Park and out onto 110, the hardest part was getting around the walkers. I felt like I was one of the few who was still running, so I was zigging and zagging all over the place. I had to throw in a few walk breaks, but I ran most of mile 25 and then all of mile 26. It wasn’t fast, but I was running. I was saddened to see that the finish was a bit different and that security had kept all of the spectators away from the runners. My hot guys in silkies weren’t there!!! Oh well. I kept running. As I hit the big hill, I tried to sprint, but in reality, I wasn’t sure that I was even moving forward! And then I was done. (Mile 25: 12:02, Mile 26: 11:58, Final section: 6:54 – I ran 26.58 miles)
A lovely young marine gave me my medal and then I began working my way towards the family meet up area. I was handed a water, a Gatorade, a box of food, a banana, and a paper jacket. Thankfully, they also hand out bags. All I really wanted to do was make it to Beer Geek and my friends. As I continued making my way there, I passed spectators with boxes of watermelon. It crossed my mind that if they were out of it, I’d be tackling a spectator. Yes, I wanted it that badly. Luckily, I was able to get a container and that ice cold watermelon tasted amazing. Every hot race should have it at the finish line.
At last, I reached the meet up. After a quick picture, we headed up the road to my favorite beer bar, where we grabbed lunch and a couple of beers.
Then we walked a couple more miles home, where I was immediately tasked with making grilled cheese sandwiches for the boys. Apparently a mom does not get a break from parenting, even when they’ve just run a marathon and walked 3 more miles.
Lesson Learned #5 – Marine Corps Marathon is not going to be a PR race for me.
I spent the entire first half of the race trying to stay on pace and the second half trying to survive running too fast and not fueling. I did not enjoy the crowds or the route and did not appreciate the Blue Mile. This took a lot away from the experience for me. I want to feel all the “feels” and enjoy all the energy. I love this race and trying to PR it ruined the experience for me. From now on, I run MCM for the love of it, not to push myself.
If you’d like to read about my previous Marine Corps Marathon races, here are the recaps: