Monday, October 29, 2007
The 32nd Marine Corps Marathon - Part Trois - The Race
Race Day – Heading to the Start
After checking my luggage with the hotel, I headed to the metro. I was a bit early, but wanted to beat the big crowds. The trains were not too crowded so it was an easy ride in.
After getting off the metro, I just followed the runners as they walked out of the station, around the Pentagon building and to a distant parking lot. The walk was probably a mile. It was a cool morning, probably about 52 degrees F with a breeze. Walking helped to keep me warm in my shorts, short sleeve shirt, and toss away sweat jacket. After quite a walk we arrived at the Runner’s Village where the UPS trucks were waiting for our checked bags. A tent was there and many runners were seated inside to get out of the chill and the wind. As I walked around a bit I saw a shirt with a familiar logo on it – Trackshack.
The Trackshack is an Orlando running store – so I spoke with the runner – Heather – and we hung around together all the way to the starting area. It was her 4th marathon but her first MCM. She was hoping to finish in 4:30 but was going to line up near the 5 hour pace group. She was also meeting other Trackshack runners at the 5 hour meet up area. I met the other Trackshack runners and just stayed with them until the race was about to begin.
I spotted the 5 hour pace team and met the leader, Michelle. Unlike the training I have used (5 min run 1 min walk) she was only going to take walking breaks through the water stops, about every 2 miles or so. Given that approach, I would need to “rubber band” with her group – getting ahead and then having them catch up during my walk breaks.
Even though the sun was coming up, it felt colder the longer we waited for the race start. I was shivering and used my garbage bag to cover my legs. Finally the national anthem was sung and the race began. It took a good 5 min before we started to move – about 15 minutes to cross the starting line – but we were off.
Immediately, I deviated from my running plan and just tried to stay with the 5 hour pace group. She seemed to be running kind of fast a pace that I may have run with my walking breaks. The biggest, baddest hill in the race began around mile 2 and climbed up to mile 3. By then my heart rate was already anaerobic and stayed that way pretty much for the entire race. I had a feeling I was going to hit the wall later in the race because I knew I was burning up the gas in my tank faster than normal.
I looked for Karen near mile 3 but didn’t spot her. And apparently she had trouble spotting me since I was wearing a white shirt, white hat and black shorts – along with thousands of other runners. I was sad I missed her, but looked forward to seeing here after the race.
I also began looking for a bathroom, and to stay with the pace group (I was determined after my experience with Disney NOT to lose them). I ran ahead on the down hill and got a very good lead on the group. When I finally spotted the porta potty, the lines were about 4 deep. I got in a line, which was moving quite slowly. When the balloons marking the 5 hour group ran by me, and my line hadn’t even moved, I abandoned the potty break and decided I would catch a break later.
I struggled to stay with the pace group. I kept them in my sight during my walking breaks, and ran quickly to catch up to them. My heart rate was high (averaged around 163) during most of this time and I kept thinking I was going to blow it at the end of the race. But I had something on my side – cool temperatures. It was in the low 50’s with a breeze – which made it cold to be standing around but great for running. By mile 3 I didn’t need the jacket any more. I was never chilled or overheated. The cool temps helped me keep going, so I kept pushing.
By mile 10 we entered the downtown DC area where all the monuments were, beginning near the Lincoln memorial, running past the Washington monument, by the various Smithsonian Museums, on past the Capitol and back past the Jefferson Memorial. We passed the halfway point during this portion of the run and amazingly enough I was still in eye shot of the 5 hour pace group, which was over a minute ahead of pace. I knew my splits were looking good as we crossed the 5 mile, 10 mile and 13.1 mile mats. However, typical of my long runs, I figured I would be slowing down at the end. I knew lots of my blogging friends were “watching” me race, and knew that they were cheering me on. In fact, at times when I needed an extra lift, I would imagine Maddy, Petra or Susan (and Adam and Shirley and Lizzie Lee and...) cheering me on – telling me how well I was doing and to hang in there. It gave me a lift.
Then, I had my first big surprise. Around Mile 14 I heard someone yelling my name (I didn’t have it on my shirt – so they had to know me) – it was my friend Karen. She had missed me at mile 3 so she headed to the mall area and setup just after the halfway point with her laptop. Using the web-based runner tracking tool, she knew when to expect me! I was so surprised and elated to see her – I was really starting to feel the aches – having run pretty hard the first half of the race. What a lift!
After that point we entered what many MCM runners think is the hardest part of the course, the East Potomac park. People thought it was hard there because there was little crowd support. Well, after running Disney, let me tell you, it was a beautiful run out to the end of an island and back with lots of trees and scenery – and a few brave souls who set up out there to cheer on the runners! One guy even offered to loan someone his bike. It was actually a nice part of the course.
After the park we circle back to the 14th street bridge. This is the infamous bridge that you have to “beat” by 1 pm when they reopen it. Anyone not across by then is picked up and bussed to the finish area. A 14 min/mi pace is required to beat the bridge. At this point I was still on an 11:27 min mile pace (as of mile 18) – a 5 hour finish pace. But I was running out of gas. The bridge is at mile 19.
After crossing the bridge you run into Crystal City. This is an out and back run so you see the runners ahead of you on the way toward the Pentagon while you enter Crystal City. Still, the crowd support (which was incredible the entire race) was really great here. It’s a big party down there. I crossed the 20 mile mark and heard my name again. Yes, it was Karen who had picked up and moved to Crystal City to catch me again. There she was with her laptop tracking me. She said she was very popular with the other spectators who asked her to check on their runners as well. After 20, I was really hurting so seeing her was so incredible (totally unexpected). I stopped to give her a big hug, and set off with a little more energy toward the finish. Shortly after seeing Karen, my phone rang and it was my husband and kids – calling at a very good time! I could feel all the support there at a most difficult time. After 20 miles, the race was primarily mental. My heart rate was not so bad – but my legs were ready to stop. While running through Crystal City, my right calf began to cramp up a bit.
A little further and we could see the Pentagon – we were not far now – just about 3 more miles to go. As we ran by the area where we started earlier in the day, I caught up with Heather from the starting line. She was really struggling – having some stomach issues. I ran with her for a bit, but she couldn’t really talk – she was focused on just keeping herself going. I wished her the best of luck and hoped to see her at a Trackshack race in Orlando sometime.
I caught up with another runner I ran with earlier – who had passed me earlier in the race, patted me on the back, and said we were going to finish this. Later we had seen each other again and I found out that she was an active duty Marine, a new mommy (6 months old) and it was her first marathon! I congratulated her on her wonderful first marathon performance, on being a new mom, and thanked her for serving our country in Iraq and at home. As I caught her around mile 23 I patted her on the back and told her she was almost there, and that baby was going to be waiting for her at the finish line. I congratulated her on an excellent race and continued on.
I had quite a bit of walking in those last couple of miles (as my times would reflect – about 12 min+ per mile) but I saw folks I had seen before. As we approached and passed the finish for an out and back final mile, I struggled on that last full mile – that had to be more than a mile – it was so long!!
Then we came upon the last .2 miles – right up a fairly steep incline and then to the finish. I had decided to dedicate those last .2 miles to all the troops serving and sacrificing in Iraq and Afghanistan. I sprinted up that hill without stopping at all. My calves screamed and tried to lock up on me but I pressed on, right across the finish line. I couldn’t believe it, I was done. Since I started my Garmin late, I wasn’t sure my exact finish but I knew it was around 5:05 or 5:06. The official time was 5:06:26, a 41 minute PR.