Thursday, June 6, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon in Review

In 2011, my brother ran his first marathon.  Something went terribly awry with his knees around the halfway point, and he gutted his way to a finish time somewhere around 4:30, which is completely respectable even without spectacular injuries!  Unfortunately, he had already signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) in October, just a few months away, and there was absolutely no way he would be running that race.  I suddenly found out I would be spending a few weeks in Washington, D.C. for work, so I took his spot.  We didn't officially transfer his registration, so my name does not show up anywhere in the results for the 2011 race, but I was there!  I have a photo of me at the finish with my medal to prove it.  :D

MCM was the first marathon for which I actually trained.  I still did not train enough (things like work and school have negative effects on my long run training days), but I did one or two 10-mile, 15-mile, and 18-mile runs, as well as one 20-mile run before race day.  So it was definitely a step up from my training program for Athens.

I felt that the race was well-organized.  There are thousands and thousands and thousands of runners, but the process for arriving and dropping your bags off and getting to the starting line was efficient.  Of course it took over ten minutes to actually cross the starting line after the official race start because of the hordes of runners jamming the roads.  But they use chips, so it doesn't matter.

The course takes you through some of the most famous landmarks Washington, D.C. has to offer.  The first part is not particularly exciting, as it just weaves through some of the neighborhoods on the Virginia side of the Potomac River.  Then you cross into Georgetown and run through some of the Embassy neighborhoods and that's where one of the most significant hills of the race is located.  Personally, since I was used to training in Massachusetts, the hill was not a problem, but I know it's a tough spot for many runners.  You then run down the main street of Georgetown and then begin encountering the monuments and government buildings of the capital city.  Down by the Presidential memorials, the route is literally a gauntlet through thousands of spectators lining both sides of the road cheering and holding funny and/or motivational signs.  It was spectacular; I have never run a race with so many spectators lining the entire course.  Even better, I noticed some of the same people several times as they were clearly leap-frogging their runner so they could pop up at different points along the way!  The loneliest time is crossing an Interstate bridge back into Virginia because no spectators are allowed on the road even though traffic is blocked off, and unfortunately that's also right around Mile 20 and the stereotypical "wall."  But then you're in Virginia again and you're surrounded by more hordes of cheering supporters as you run those last six miles which culminates with a short (but extremely crappy, since it's at the VERY end) dash up a hill to the finish at the base of the Iwo Jima Memorial.

What did I find to be lacking?  There were not enough port-a-potties along the route.  Every single place where they were located, there was also a significant line, which is frustrating because of the time lost and also because your muscles don't appreciate the stop-and-wait.  Other support was great: water, snacks, there was plenty of all of that.  I also was not expecting so many runners. I felt like I spent the entire first half of the race dodging and ducking around people, and could never settle into a steady pace.  The entire route was crowded.  It's just a fact of the race because it's so popular, but if you're trying to use MCM as a qualifier or to set a personal PR, you might want to find a race with fewer people where you can control your pacing.

What did I love?  The fans!  They are everywhere.  EVERYWHERE, except for that solitary mile on the bridge!  It was fantastic!!  And most of the scenery is great too.  There are spots of urban doldrums, but most of the route goes through lovely neighborhoods and the great monuments and landmarks of Washington, D.C.

Of course MCM is also inspiring because of the military support throughout the race, with uniformed Marines manning many of the support stations and many military people participating in the race in honor of fallen or wounded comrades or for other personal reasons, and supporters all along the route cheering and thanking them for their service.  I almost cried at the end of my first marathon (Athens) because I was so exhausted and happy to cross the finish.  I almost cried during MCM because of the outpouring of national pride and military support which is not usually so overtly displayed.

I also improved on my Athens time by over 20 minutes.  Lesson Learned: Train.  It actually helps.

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