I am writing this on my flight home from DC, having completed the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) just this afternoon. Exactly two weeks earlier I completed the Chicago Marathon. It’s been a whirlwind two weeks, that’s for sure! You can read my recap of the Chicago Marathon here. At around Mile 20 in Chicago, I started feeling queasy and pretty much walked the remaining 6 miles. For me, no time is worth losing my cookies over. I was on track at the MCM to beat Chicago and maybe even PR; and then, Mile 18…
I was able to coordinate the MCM with a business trip to DC, which worked out perfectly. I flew from Chicago to DC on Tuesday, and taught a class Wednesday through Friday, three 8-hour days in a row. I am usually on my feet and in heels when I teach, but with MCM coming up, I slipped into my fuzzy slippers and sat while I taught. It was a small class of only 15, so sitting wasn’t a problem at all. In fact, it felt extremely luxurious to be sitting for once!
My son Mark flew in to DC on Friday morning. I checked out of my hotel that morning, and after class we met up at our race hotel. I had looked into booking a hotel for the race about two months earlier. Prices were outrageous, and I couldn’t find anything near the race venue. Just last week I looked again, and somehow scored a room at the Ritz Carlton for just $195/night. Yay procrastination! I booked it immediately, and when I checked the prices following day, the same room was listed at $436/night. Score! My son arrived early in the morning and explored DC on his own while I was teaching.
We checked into our hotel on Friday afternoon, met by the concierge offering us champagne. It had been a long day for both of us, but we decided to decline. We relaxed in our hotel for a bit, then headed out to the race expo at the Gaylord National Resort Convention Center in Oxon, MD. We took the Metro to the Eisenhower stop where lines of luxury buses were waiting to shuttle runners to the expo. The entire trip including the Metro took just 30 minutes, and was well worth avoiding DC’s Friday rush hour traffic.
We arrived at the expo at approximately 6:00 p.m. The expo itself was smaller than I had imagined, but my only point of reference is the Chicago Marathon expo, which is absolutely huge. The expo was not crowded at all. Packet pickup was extremely quick, and rather than choose shirt sizes at the time of registration, shirts were available to try on in all sizes. There was an ample supply on Friday evening, but I wonder what the supply was like for those attending the expo later in the day on Saturday. We checked out the vendor booths and bought a couple of race shirts from Brooks Running. There were only 2 or 3 people in line in front of us at the cashier’s desk. Our cashier told us the lines were 3 hours long earlier in the day. Three hours for a souvenir race shirt? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be toting mine now if that were the case.
We boarded the shuttle bus back to the Metro station and headed downtown for dinner at Zaytinya. I’ve been wanting to try this restaurant for a while, and though I’ve probably been to DC almost 10 times in the past 5 years, I’ve never made it there on my own. Let me tell you, it was well worth the wait! We shared five small plates of Mediterranean cuisine, each more delicious than the last! After dinner we took the Metro back to our hotel and were in bed by 10:00 p.m. Mark said he wanted to sleep in the next day, so we silenced our phones, turned off our alarms, and closed the room darkening shades. I briefly awoke at around 8:30 a.m., rolled back over, and the next thing I knew, it was almost 11:00 a.m.! There’s no doubt both of us needed our beauty sleep!
We got ready and headed out the door to explore some DC sites. We stopped for lunch and took the Metro to the Library of Congress. From there, we walked to the Capitol Building, then to the Washington Monument, then over to the White House, the Martin Luther King Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, and then the Korean War Memorial. There were a number of Honor Flight participants at the war memorials, which is always such an honor to witness. Most of these men were veterans of the Korean War, and it struck me that there are very few World War II veterans still alive or able to travel to see these beautiful memorials to their service to our country. We had initially planned to do a shakeout run that day, but by 4:00 p.m. we had logged 8 miles walking, and we decided that was all the shakeout we would need! We headed back to our hotel to get cleaned up for dinner.
My daughter-in-law Holly hooked us up for dinner at RPM Italian for the obligatory night-before-race carb-load, and Oh. My. Gosh. What a phenomenal dinner we had! We had appetizers including the Imported Burrata and the Special Truffle Pizza, Rosemary Focaccia, and the most delicious Pappardelle Bolognese we’ve ever tasted. I’d say we did a good job of carb-loading! And special thanks to RPM’s manager, Adam, for making this such an amazing experience for us! Then back on the Metro to our hotel for a good night’s sleep before the race.
We woke up on race morning at 5:15 a.m. The Metro was to open two hours earlier than usual, and we wanted to get a jump on all of the other racers taking public transportation. We were lucky to have a Metro stop literally right outside of our hotel. My son had the brilliant foresight to load our Metro cards the night before the race. That morning, the station was extremely crowded with race participants waiting in line to buy and/or load their Metro cards. We bypassed the lines and got on the first train to arrive. We only had to travel one stop from Pentagon City to the Pentagon.
I read (or thought I read) there would be shuttles from there to the race start. We got off the train and got into a line that we thought was for a shuttle. The line started moving and it moved very quickly. We walked…and walked…and walked…all the way to Runner’s Village, a full 1.3 miles from the train station! How’s that for a warm-up? The weather wasn’t too cold and we were wearing cover-ups, so it was fine being out there. Security was surprisingly light, except for the armed guards along our walk past the Pentagon and to the race venue itself. There, we simply had to show our bibs and walk right through. This is different than Chicago where we went through tight security lines, bag checks, and security scans. Of course there were hundreds of uniformed Marines everywhere we looked. We headed over to the porta-potty lines. It took almost 30 minutes to get to the front, so I’m glad we got in line when we did. Little did we know we still had almost a half-mile walk to the actual race start!
We could see the parachuters coming down from the sky as we made our way to the start of the race. There were no specific corrals, and runners were told to line up according to their anticipated finish time. We made our way to the 4:00 finish line (Mark’s pace, certainly not mine!).
We stood in line together chatting with people around us, and once the Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft made their fly-overs, we bid each other farewell, and within a few minutes, we were off! If you follow me on IG, you know I have not run a single block since the Chicago Marathon two weeks ago. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this race, though I did know it was much more hilly than Chicago, and we were expecting similarly warm temperatures. I ran with Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel at Chicago, but the queasiness I felt at Mile 20 made me hesitant this time around. I decided to carry plain water and would decide whether to take Gatorade at the aid stations as I went along.
The race started about 15 minutes later than scheduled. As always, the start was very crowded, but many of the roads were narrow throughout the race and we often had to deal with tight spaces. The day started out in the mid-50s, and the temperature continued to rise throughout the day, hitting the mid- to upper-70s by the time I finished. The first several miles went very easily for me, which was a surprise considering it began with some pretty good uphills. I felt great and took advantage of the downhills. 5K time: 35:46 (11:29 pace)
I was still feeling good for the next few miles. I was doing walk/run intervals which were not really structured; I just ran when I could and walked when I had to. I was surprised there were not water stations each mile and was glad I was carrying my 1 liter bottle of water. By around Mile 5 I needed to pee, but the lines at the porta-potties were long so I just kept moving. 10K time: 1:11:01 (11:26 pace)
By around Mile 7.5 nature was really calling, but there were no porta-potties in sight. There were plenty of guys stopping to pee along the route (without much discretion, I might add), and I decided what’s good for the goose…so I pulled to the side and popped a squat in some bushes. That’s right. I did it. This mother of three Eagle Scouts has had her share hiking and camping in the woods! 15K time: 1:50:02 (11:48 pace)
I was still feeling good for the next few miles, but it was definitely starting to get warm. I stopped at the water station and grabbed some Gatorade. I usually don’t like how sweet it is, and was glad they had the lemon-lime flavor, which tasted pretty mild. 20K time: 2:30:47 (12:07 pace)
Next was the infamous “Wear Blue Mile”, where the course is lined with small poster-sized pictures of fallen Marines. It is a very quiet and solemn part of the course. As I ran past the signs I looked at every single picture and read every single narrative, which stated the person’s name, followed by “Killed in Action”, the date they were killed, and their age. Some of these heroes were as young as 18 or 19 years old, just babies. Others were in their 20s and 30s, and many where shown with their families, holding their children, or hugging their wives or husbands. Immediately after the signs were tons of volunteers holding full-sized American flags, cheering us on and giving us words of encouragement. I imagined these were the family and loved ones of all of the fallen we had just seen, and I stopped at every single one of them and high-fived, shook their hand, and thanked them for their loved one’s sacrifice. 13.1 mile time: 2:40:08 (12:12 pace)
At Mile 13 I stopped at the water station to grab some more Gatorade. I’m not much of a fan, but with the temperature now in the 70s, I knew I needed more than just water to keep me going. We looped around and headed back north. By now many people around me were starting to walk. I just kept doing my run/walk intervals and was still feeling good. I was on pace to beat my time from Chicago two weeks earlier. If I could just do that, I would be as happy as a clam. 25K time: 3:13:32 (12:27 pace)
At Mile 16 I grabbed some more Gatorade. My stomach was starting to feel a little funky and I didn’t want a repeat of Chicago, so I decided that would be the last of the Gatorade for me. We headed east toward the “DC Gauntlet”, or Mile 17. Runners had to reach that point by 12:33 p.m. or be swept from the course. I was over an hour ahead of that time, so I was feeling pretty good, and by Mile 18 I was still on pace to beat Chicago’s time. 30K time: 3:58:15 (12:46 pace)
And then…Mile 18.5. We were headed straight towards the U.S. Capitol building, which was so cool to see in a race. It was a tight squeeze making the turn around the corner, and I was watching the other runners and didn’t notice the big speed hump on the ground. My right foot hit the elevated surface much sooner than expected, and I jammed my right hip flexor. It was a quick sharp pain, but it didn’t feel too bad. I slowed down to a walk and it felt okay, but every time I started to run, my right quad would start to tremble. I decided to walk the next mile and was using my water bottle to try to roll it out. I started to run here and there, but each time I would run, my quad would shake. I was encouraged that I wasn’t feeling any pain, but I also didn’t want to injure myself by pushing too hard. I was approaching Mile 20, where runners have to “beat the bridge”, the 14th Street Bridge where runners needed to be before 1:15 p.m. or be swept from the course. It was a little before 12:30 p.m. at that point, so I was in fine shape, but let me tell you, that bridge is hell. It seems like a mountain, and it seems to last forever. It is pure concrete with not a porta-potty, water station, or millimeter of shade in site. It was brutally hot and sunny, and most everyone around me was walking at that point. Many people were complaining about the lack of water stations, the last one being at Mile 19. I was so glad to have my own supply. I met up with someone who had also run Chicago. She was celebrating her birthday by running the MCM. We mostly walked but did a little running together. At one point I ran ahead of her, but then found myself coming up behind her. It was good to have someone to talk with during that hellish part of the race. 35K time: 4:46:21 (13:09 pace)
By now my thoughts of beating Chicago had gone by the wayside. My quad was still feeling tight, and there was no point in risking injury just to get a few minutes ahead. I arrived at Mile 22 (the Crystal City Gauntlet) at around 1:00 p.m., well before the 1:49 p.m. cutoff time. This is the part of the race where the spectator crowd grew, which was very much needed and appreciated in the grueling heat. I would run for short periods of time, but I had pretty much committed to walking most of the remainder of the race. As we headed back towards the Pentagon, it was good to know I had only a little over two miles to go. 40K time: 5:34:09 (13:26 pace)
It took me a full 20 minutes to get through the final 2K of the race. My hip flexor started feeling a little tight, and there was no way I was going to run up that final hill! There were so many Marines cheering us on as we approached the finish. As I walked through many high-fives, fist-bumps, and words of encouragement, it seriously brought tears to my eyes! With just a few hundred feet to go, I kicked it into gear and ran through the finish line. What a wonderful feeling to be done! Finish: 5:54:15 (13:30 pace)
Once through the finish line, we walked (and walked and walked) as Marines were handing out water, Gatorade, and snacks to the runners.
We were sent through single-file lines where we were each met by two Marines. The first saluted us as the second handed him or her our medals, which he or she then placed around our necks. More tears! I shuffled on through the massive crowds, had a few photos taken, and then headed toward the beer tent where Mark and I had planned to meet. We drank a beer together and then hopped on the Metro back to our hotel. We had a 4:00 p.m. late checkout time, so we were able to relax a little and shower and change before heading to the airport for a cold beer and a big greasy burger.
So how would I rate the race? For both my run and the race itself, I would give it a B+. I was really hyped up about running the MCM, so much so that I flew to DC in March for an overnight stay to run the Marine Corps 17.75K and receive the “Golden Ticket”, a guaranteed entry into the marathon race. Mark couldn’t make that race and was lucky enough to gain entry to the marathon through the lottery. It was an amazing race with all of its pomp and circumstance, and with all of the Marines on the course and at the finish, it was indeed a special kind of race. I liked that there were no separate waves starting the race. Mark is a sub-4 hour marathoner and I am definitely not, so starting the race at around the same time rather than in waves means he has that much less time to wait for me after his finish.
The Wear Blue Mile was as solemn as anticipated, and I was grateful for the opportunity to run in honor of all of those who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom. The race itself was well-organized. We received clear communication about what to expect and how to get where we needed to go. I was surprised at how few water stations there were, though I was fine carrying my own. The stations themselves were very crowded, and I even skipped a couple to avoid the congestion. The porta-potties were very spread out, and this is the first time I’ve seen so many people stop to go along a race course.
There were far less photographers along the course than in Chicago. I have to admit I am a camera whore (that’s right, I said it), and I did take advantage of the photo ops at the end of the race. The race medal is absolutely gorgeous. Each year its design includes the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, but there are unique design features to the medal from year to year. This year the Globe features the American flag overlaid by North and South America, with a hidden hinge allowing for the Globe portion of the medal to open and reveal a 3-D rendering of the MCM logo. The medal is absolutely stunning and will likely be one of my favorites for years to come. It was so very humbling to have a young Marine salute me for my efforts and place the medal around my neck at the finish.
As far as my performance, I’m happy with my finish. It was about a minute off of my Chicago time, and given the fact that the MCM is hilly compared to the flat Chicago course, and having jammed my hip with 8 miles to go, I didn’t want to risk an injury. Having just completed a marathon two weeks earlier with no additional running in between the two races, I didn’t plan to run a fast race. As always, I am happy just to finish, and being able to run these marathons with my son is just icing on the cake!
Have you ever run the Marine Corps Marathon? Did you run this year? What was your favorite part of the race? Did you realize there was a hidden feature to the medal?!