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Marine Corps Marathon - RunMarathon

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Arlington, Virginia
United States
60F / 16C
Total Time = 2h 59m 57s
Overall Rank = 160/23515
Age Group = M40-44
Age Group Rank = 17/2326
Pre-race routine:

The last time that I did a marathon, in Boston in 1996, I said "never again". And I meant it. I fell badly out of shape for many years after that, but even when I got back into shape in the past couple of years, I was adamant that a marathon was not on my list of goals. I was happy doing shorter stuff, and longer tris, but I didn't think that my body could handle the beating of a marathon, and marathon training. But as I got more into the run easy/often approach and gradually built mileage, and as I read more inspiring RRs from fellow triathletes, I started to have second thoughts. Oh, and it didn't hurt that my younger brother then went and beat our family best time for the marathon. I figured that I might have one more shot at a decent marathon before I became too old/frail. If I was going to ever go sub-3, this would be the year.

The original plan for this race was that little bro (Robin) would come over from the UK and we would run the race as a head-to-head, but work and life on both sides got in the way of that, so it was going to be a time-trial instead. I had various other fun events on my schedule for the year, but Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) became my top priority for the year. I prepared more carefully over a longer time than I have for other events, building mileage steadily from late spring onwards to peak weeks of ~70mpw, and 4 runs of 20-22 miles. I followed my plan religiously throughout the summer and early fall, and the fitness gains that I saw from that made me motivated to do more. I cleaned up my diet (mostly), and even took the extreme step of cutting out most beer, in the interest of training and recovering better. Only complication was that I had been harboring an achilles injury all along, which wasn't enough to cause major problems, but which always had me worried that something might fall apart at short notice. Probably related to other lower leg tightness issues that bothered me in races earlier in the year. The injury got worse in September, when I did a few too many races with fast running without adequate recovery, especially a Ragnar Relay that had me running 3 hard races in an 18-hour span. For the past month the achilles has been much of a handicap. I was able to keep up my long runs, but much other run training had to be dropped. As MCM approached i really wasn't sure whether I had lost my earlier fitness, or whether my achilles would hold out. And then there was the excitement of Hurricane Sandy approaching and threatening to ruin the typically ideal fall weather for MCM. I decided that I would take ibuprofen to get me through the race, and live with the consequences of whatever damage I did, probably taking an extended break from running to recover properly.

Goals for the race: (i) beat Robin's 2:58:54; (ii) sub-3; (iii) get close to 2:55 (stretch, this seemed increasingly unrealistic in recent weeks). Oh, and I guess I wanted to beat my PR of 3:07:57, but that really wasn't on my mind, as that was from 17 years ago, barely from the same person.
Event warmup:

I had the worst night of sleep that I can remember - I wasn't even convinced that I had slept at all. Up at 3am to get my stuff together and to give the coffee some time to do its work. The radar images looked truly scary - a monster band of rain was hovering just to the east of DC, threatening to move in at any time. I packed all manner of waterproofs, carefully bagged dry clothes, water-tolerant socks, etc. etc., and headed to catch the first metro train at 5am. By the time the metro reached the Pentagon it was packed with runners. The runners village in the Pentagon's vast parking lot was eerie in the dark. Lots of people crammed under the big tents that had been set up, napping or nervously checking their gear. As dawn came and the area filled up it turned into a great sea of port-a-potty lines. Never seen anything like it. [Tip: the trees/bushes around the corner are a great alternative.] I did some running around to warm up the achilles and popped my pills. My preference would be to not warm up much for a marathon, but I wasn't going to be able to get away with starting with an 8:00/mile as I typically do in training, so I had to do more of a warm-up. Despite the crowds (~25,000 runners), it was easy enough to find my way to the sub-3 corral near the front. It was certainly windy, but not raining yet. In fact, it didn't rain at all during the race, amazingly.
  • 2h 59m 57s
  • 26.2 miles
  • 06m 52s  min/mile

After the starting howitzer it took me only about 10s to cross the start mats. I made a concerted effort to not hurry at the start. I knew that my priority was to hold back in the first 10 miles, and I was watching my HR closely to keep myself at a sustainable level (over 170: bad; 165: just fine). If that meant that all I could do was 3:05 pace (7:05/mile), then so be it; if it turned out that sub-2:55 pace (6:40/mile) felt really easy, then I would ignore that and still slow down. Better to leave a minute or two on the course early on than to implode in the middle of the race.

Miles 1-5 (by Garmin, slightly off race distances): 6:53, 6:48 (uphill), 6:42, 6:27 (downhill), 6:41.

The early hills made controlling HR a bit tricky, but overall I was happy that I was finding the pace pretty comfortable. This part of the course was mostly sheltered from the wind, so that didn't hurt. 5k passed in 21:11. I was buoyed by seeing my friend Yakov cheering as I entered the Key Bridge to cross the Potomac into Georgetown.

Miles 6-10: 6:29, 7:04 (uphill), 6:42, 6:39, 6:47.

At the start of this section I found myself going a bit too fast, so I made an effort to slow down more. 10k reached in 41:42. I was losing a few seconds at each water station - I'm hopeless at drinking on the run, and find that I can get a good few gulps quickly by stopping for a couple of seconds. Coming back into Georgetown at mile 8.5 the highway was split and we were running against a dense river of runners going in the other direction - a quite different experience for those folks. It looked like a lot more fun, frankly. After the first mile, I never felt crowded at all in the race. Descending to the Potomac at mile 9 I was feeling really good - the pace was comfortable, and I felt fresh. I did a little dance as I approached the band that was echoing under the freeway flyover. 10 miles was reached while passing under the Kennedy Center, in a little over 67 minutes. This was all going very well.

Miles 11-15: 6:38, 6:39, 6:49, 6: 52, 6:47

After passing the Lincoln Memorial, where I saw Andrea, Zoe, and my dad out cheering for me, the next few miles followed the perimeter of Hains Point, perhaps the most wind-exposed part of the route. I found myself in a small pack of runners, led by a diminutive woman who was running for the Air Force and getting a lot of crowd support. By a stroke of luck, her son then joined in the race, and proceeded to pace Mom over the next 5 miles. He was only 13, but he had a mighty smooth stride, and he seemed happy to lead the group. Our group ran closely together, and kept ourselves at a good clip as we hit the windiest section of the loop. The pace still felt comfortable, but I knew that the legs were starting to get more tired. 20k passed in 1:23:36, and the halfway point in 1:28:10.

Miles 16-20: 6:42, 6:48, 6:50, 6:40, 6:46

This section of the race loops around the National Mall, first revisiting the Lincoln Memorial, then passing the museums near the Capitol, before exiting towards the bridge across the Potomac. At the start of this section I was feeling pretty confident. Just a few more miles to check off, and then I'd be at 20 miles, which would be a big mental boost. I saw Andrea and the family again a couple of times, and I was ahead of the schedule I had given them. Back on the other side of the pond, little bro was getting emails every 10k with my splits, and he must have been starting to bite his nails, as I was on 2:56-2:57 schedule, and not slowing. I expected running around the Mall to be one of the easier and more uplifting parts of the course, but it wasn't. This section felt particularly windswept, and this is where my legs started to complain more. And my achilles/calf was tightening ominously. At mile 19 I got into a bit of a mess, as I decided, perhaps not smartly, to pop a couple of spare ibuprofens that I had taken along, and then found that I couldn't swallow them and had misjudged the location of the next water station. Not tasty. 30k reached in 2:06:01, 20 miles in 2:14:xx. Still right on track.

Miles 21-23: 6:38, 6:48, 6:41

I was not looking forward to the 2-mile stretch across the 14th St bridge to Crystal City. It is an exposed and desolate freeway, and it was surely going to have bad winds. The fears turned out to be misplaced. The wind was mostly favorable, and it felt surprisingly good to run on the bridge, though I didn't like the hardness of the concrete sections. By now the legs were really starting to feel heavier, but I was also finally allowing my HR to move up, and I seemed to be able to keep knocking out the 6:4x miles just fine. Lots of noisy crowd support in Crystal City didn't hurt. This was going well, and I was starting to believe that I could reach the top goal. But I was also starting to look forward to the finish, which wasn't too many minutes away.

Miles 24-26: 7:18, 7:26, 7:30

And just when I thought it was all coming together just right, things changed suddenly. Shortly before leaving Crystal City, I ran down a short hill on a highway overpass, on a hard concrete surface, and my achilles/calf suddenly pulled much tighter. Immediately I had to slow down. I was afraid that I had torn something, but it turned out to be only cramp. But that didn't make it any easier to run. I had to slow down a lot, and run with a pronounced limp for the rest of the way. This coincided with a particularly bleak part of the route that ran around the edge of the Pentagon parking lots. I knew that my goal time was slipping away, but I couldn't do anything about it. I was frustrated, as I was now running less hard, and didn't feel so tired. I wanted to push on, but my right leg wouldn't let me. I thought that I was still on track to beat 3 hours, but when I reached the 26 mile mark I realized that it was going to be really rather close. As I crested the short sharp hill and entered the final run-in, I saw that it was going to be *really* close. The announcer was counting people in under the 3-hour barrier shortly before I arrived, and the race clock now showed 3:00:0x, but I had a few seconds in hand from my chip time. I stopped my watch at 2:59:57, but wasn't sure whether I had started and stopped it in exactly the right place. Fortunately I had, and so after 10797 seconds of running I made it in with just 3 seconds to spare. In the immortal words of Dora the Explorer: That was close!

Mixed feelings at the finish. I had got my sub-3, albeit by a whisker (and an 8-minute PR). But I knew that I had left a couple of minutes on the road at the end there, which would have got me my A-goal. The cramp undermined what otherwise felt like a really good morning. But regardless of the actual time on the clock, I felt great about how I had felt during the race. The training had given me the fitness to run the pace that I had wanted, even if my body didn't fully comply.
What would you do differently?:

Almost nothing in the race. I was satisfied with my approach to the race. I'm not sure what could have prevented the cramping: perhaps popping Endurolytes at mile 19 instead of ibuprofen? I'll never know. As for race preparation, I was happy with the training plan that I had devised, and disappointed only that I had to scale back so much in the past month. Probably the biggest mistake was not giving myself sufficient time to recover after the Ragnar Relay (skipping that race was not an option), and I probably should have skipped the low-key x-country 5k at my daughter's school the following weekend, as it exacerbated the injury. I did at least have the sense to skip the Army 10-miler that I had been entered for last weekend.
Post race
Warm down:

It was a long and slow walk through the finish area and into Rosslyn to the baggage trucks and the family meet-up point. I felt cold quickly, but appreciated the lightweight jackets that they handed out to all finishers. My achilles was mighty sore (as expected), and my quads felt like they were ready to cramp too (also not a surprise). I found the family warming themselves with cocoa in a cafe near the metro, and we didn't wait around for too long before getting out of there -- the hordes that were arriving to welcome the masses of later runners were rather intimidating.

It will take me a few days to walk down stairs normally - typical post-marathon stuff. But I'm looking forward to working on my biking some more, and on getting my achilles healed. It will probably be a little while before I'm doing much running again, but I definitely will be back. I enjoy it too much. And now I suspect that I'm not done with the marathon. For one thing, I have a BQ -25 for Boston 2014 if I want it. Though perhaps I'll go for a showdown with Robin in London instead. The fact that I'm not saying "never again" this time around is already quite encouraging.

What limited your ability to perform faster:

Cramp in achilles/calf. Wind (though not as much as feared).

Event comments:

MCM is a really nice marathon. Relatively low price for such a big event ($85), and outstanding organization by the marines. The course has one or two bleak patches, but overall is a really good tour of the DC sights. I think the race is probably even more fun for folks running MOP times, as the atmosphere in the pack seemed to be fantastic.

Last updated: 2012-09-03 12:00 AM
02:59:57 | 26.2 miles | 06m 52s  min/mile
Age Group: 17/2326
Overall: 160/23515
Performance: Good
Course: Tour of the sights of Washington DC and Arlington, VA.
Keeping cool Good Drinking Just right
Post race
Weight change: %
Overall: Good
Mental exertion [1-5] 4
Physical exertion [1-5] 4
Good race? Yes
Course challenge Just right
Organized? Yes
Events on-time? Yes
Lots of volunteers? Yes
Plenty of drinks? Yes
Post race activities: Good
Race evaluation [1-5] 5

2012-10-28 11:28 PM

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University Park, MD
Subject: Marine Corps Marathon

2012-10-29 6:00 AM
in reply to: #4472967

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Silver member
Subject: RE: Marine Corps Marathon

Good job! This race is on my husband's bucket list. I keep thinking I will get him an entry for our anniversary but his job probably wouldn't allow him to go.  

So far I've only done halves and am content to stay with those along with trail ultras.

2012-10-29 6:11 AM
in reply to: #4473073

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University Park, MD
Subject: RE: Marine Corps Marathon
BAMBAM66 - 2012-10-29 7:00 AM

Good job! This race is on my husband's bucket list. I keep thinking I will get him an entry for our anniversary but his job probably wouldn't allow him to go.  

So far I've only done halves and am content to stay with those along with trail ultras.

Get your husband an entry if you can, bribe his boss if needed! It's an excellent event - big city marathon feel, but with fewer logistical hassles than a race like NYCM. And it's a good race for family to come along - Washington DC is generally beautiful at this time of year, that is, when we're not in the middle of a hurricane; lots of sights to see, and easy to watch your runners at many points along the route. 

2012-10-29 10:10 AM
in reply to: #4472967

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Subject: RE: Marine Corps Marathon
Wow, nice race, you did great despite the cramping. Congrats
2012-10-29 11:57 AM
in reply to: #4472967

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Subject: RE: Marine Corps Marathon

GREAT job Colin!!!  I can learn a lot just from reading your RRs! You really inspire me.


You'll get Robin in London, no doubt Wink

2012-10-29 3:28 PM
in reply to: #4472967

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Crab Cake City
Subject: RE: Marine Corps Marathon
Great race colin! I was down in Ocean City this weekend and saw the MCM race start. Looks like a great race and if I ever do a standalone marathon, this will be one I will look into.

2012-10-29 8:04 PM
in reply to: #4472967

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Subject: RE: Marine Corps Marathon
Great job Colin.  Tough luck on the cramp, but it looks like you paced it really well.  I've only done 3 of them myself, but IMO, they are the hardest to pace correctly. 
2012-10-30 10:23 AM
in reply to: #4472967

Northern IL
Subject: RE: Marine Corps Marathon
Great job Colin!
2012-10-30 2:00 PM
in reply to: #4472967

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Washington, DC
Subject: RE: Marine Corps Marathon
Congratulations! Hope you aren't getting hit too hard by the hurricane.
2012-10-31 8:32 AM
in reply to: #4472967

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Columbia, South Carolina
Subject: RE: Marine Corps Marathon
Great race!  Glad you were able to hold it together when it started turning bad.  Here's to a good recovery.
2012-11-04 3:02 PM
in reply to: #4472967

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Subject: RE: Marine Corps Marathon
Great race! Definitely one of my favorites. For someone who was having trouble that is one heck of a time.

2012-11-05 9:31 AM
in reply to: #4472967

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Extreme Veteran
Horsham, PA
Subject: RE: Marine Corps Marathon

You had a great race, Colin!  Good job toughing it out in the end.  I really enjoyed reading your race report.

Genesis and Starbucks were the easiest parts for me!  Laughing  I love them both!

Happy running!

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