Saturday, November 20, 2010

Marine Corps Marathon 2010

Well, it is now nearly three weeks since the Marine Corps Marathon, and I have yet to publish a race report. This is not for lack of trying though. I have sat down in front of the screen on more than one occassion, and blankly stared at it, discovering how hard it truly is to sum up the sights and sounds you see and emotions you feel during the 6+ hours of a race.

The short short version of the story is that it was a perfect day. The weather was gorgeous, the support on the course amazing, and I found out that I am capable of things I never thought or imagined I was. My final time was 6:04:35, nearly one hour faster than January's race in Disney.

The long version of the story begins on Friday, when I headed into DC for the expo to pick up my bib and other race goodies. Between the official merchandise, registering for a Spring 2011 race, and other things, I'm surprised my credit card didnt' explode. I bought an MCM 2010 pendant from one vendor who offered to put it on the chain around my neck. I politely declined, explaining that that couldn't happen until after Sunday morning. While there, I got to meet up with some of my local running buddies, as well as my Running of the Ears friends who began their steady stream into town for all of the race festivites. As always, it was fun to see old friends and make new ones.

Even though I only live about 30 or so miles from DC, I had made the decision to stay in the Rosslyn area over race weekend. I spent Saturday morning lounging around the house, before packing up the car and driving to northern Virginia mid-afternoon. As I got off the highway, I drove past the Marine Corps Memorial and the excitement hit. I met up with my ROTE friends who were also staying at my hotel and we headed out to meet up with other friends for our pre-race carb load dinner. This was no easy task considering the hundreds of thousands of people who had descended into the city for the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert rally on the Mall. Metro trains were packed beyond belief and street closures and traffic rampant. To our surprise and delight, Erica and Mustapha appeared with a huge van for us all to pile into.

After dinner it was time to get all of my race day essentials together and settle in for the night. Unfortunately, sleep was extremely hard to come by. I tossed and turned, my body ready to sleep but my brain unwilling. I think I finally managed 4-5 hours. Refreshing it was not. I ate some breakfast, got dressed, grabbed my gear, and was out the door. Happily, nerves never really got the best of me. There were no stomach issues or nausea like the morning of Disney. It was almost business as usual, even though it had been over nine months since I'd done this before.

A group of us met in the lobby, bid farewell to our friends heading to the 10K start, and walked the mile-ish to the start line. The sunrise over Washington was breathtaking that morning. There was some hanging around, potty trips, and then finally time to say good byes and head to our appropriate corrals. Unlike many other marathons, MCM does not do a wave start or assign corrals based on expected pace. Instead, you line yourself up according to your expected finish time. I placed myself in the 5:30 corral. Slightly ambitious perhaps. I knew 6 hours, or under was possible, but wanted to push myself if I could.

I was mentally prepared that this would be MY challenge, as I had no plans to run the race with anyone else, despite the large number of people I knew running that day. I would do my 3:1 intervals, and push myself along, hopefully with the race energy to keep me going. This was definitely going to be a test of my own endurance since I was fortunate to have the company of three friends during my journey at Disney. Imagine my surprise as the pack pushed forward to cross the start that I crossed paths with a friend from my running club. She and a friend were running their first marathon and doing 3:1 intervals as well. Twenty-five minutes after the race started we finally made our way over the start line and were off together.

I had studied the elevation chart and knew once I got through the first eight miles, where the worst of the hills were, that I would be good to go for the rest of the race. The trick of course was not to go too fast in those opening miles, which would certainly spell disaster for the later miles of the race. The first miles went by very quickly, helped by Bonnie and Amy's company and seeing other friends from the Striders along the way as we made our way into Georgetown. I was so happy to see that we were keeping a steady 13:00-13:30 pace the whole time. For once I succeeded in not starting a race too fast! Having their company and distraction was definitely helping. Unfortunately, around mile 7 I began to pull ahead of them until eventually they were out of my sight. This had now become my race and I settled in for the 19+ left to go.

The crowd support leaving Georgetown and crossing into DC was awesome! We left Georgetown, and its hills behind, winding past the Kennedy Center and toward Potomac Park. I had a decent pack of runners around me the entire time, and, except for a couple of narrow spots, did not find it overwhelming or constricting. I had never been to Potomac Park before, and while beautiful, I found it very boring and desolate at times. It encompassed about three miles.

About mile 12 I decided to make a pit stop, taking advantage of the indoor plumbing the park facilities offered. After a couple of minute delay, I was back on my way. At mile 13 I turned my cell phone on. I had left it off for fears of running out of battery life should I need it to meet up with people post race. As it booted up in my pocket the txt message chimes went off one after another. I may have been tired and alone on the course, but my friends and family were making sure I knew they were with me in spirit. I read some of the message during my walk breaks, a smile coming to my face with each one.

Mile 16 took us past the Lincoln Memorial and towards the Mall. I got excited, as I knew my parents were on the Mall around mile 17.5. I was exhausted by this point, and my feet were killing me, but took some solace knowing there was less than 10 miles to go. I found my parents, got some needed hugs, Powerade, and pretzels, and was back on my way, heading towards the Capitol. A marching band was providing entertainment at the Capitol and helped buoy me a bit. Mom and Dad were waiting for me again at mile 19. I passed off my bag of pretzels and waved goodbye. The next time I'd see them would be at the finish.

As we left the Mall the time had come to face The Bridge. The Bridge is the 14th Street Bridge that takes you back into Northern Virginia. It is mile 2o, and one must "Beat the Bridge" and the sweepers. Even though I knew I would be ahead of the sweepers, the relief I felt having reached it was phenomal. And, I knew my ROTE pals would be at the end of it. I wish I could say the relief of getting to the bridge carried me across in no time flat, but honestly, it took the wind out of my sails. I chose to walk almost the entire thing, nearly two miles. I started to pick up my runs again as I got near the ramp and the end, and as I ran down it, I found Katie and Steph, my ever supportive and understanding roommate, waiting for me at the bottom with huge hugs.

I said Hi to everyone, got some water and Powerade refills, some Twizzlers and a few more pretzels, and then was pretty much kicked out by Colleen, who asked if I needed anything else, and if not, then what was I still doing there??? LOL. I left them and turned toward the out and back in Crystal City. I had feared that this might be a long and boring stretch, but was pleasantly surprised to see that it wasn't. I also got to see a few friends on their way out of Crystal City as I was headed in. As I got to mile 24, I was pleasantly surprised to find more of my friends waiting for me. More big hugs and I was on my way. TWO MILES TO GO!

I quickly discovered that the stretch of highway those last couple of miles was mentally the hardest part of the course. It was eerily quiet and those around me were clearly hurting with every step. As I looked at the Pentagon to my right and Arlington Cemetery to my left, I fought back tears. I was almost done, I just had to keep going. Then, suddenly it was mile 26. I turned left and power walked my way up the hill, knowing it was probably faster than trying to run it. As I did, I looked toward the spectator bleachers, knowing Mom and Dad were there somewhere. Then I saw Dad, standing on the top row waving his arms at me. I waved and smiled back, got to the top of the hill and took off for the finish line, exchanging high-fives with Marines all along the way. Then it was over.

I went through the finisher area to get my mylar, and more importantly my medal from a Marine. I smiled widely, and headed toward the Iwo Jima memorial for my finisher's pciture. I kept looking over my shoulder to keep an eye out for my parents so we could meet up once I got out of the runner's area. After all of the Powerade on the course, I passed up the offer of a bottle and grabbed some water and ran (well, as best as I could at that point) to Mom and Dad. I got huge hugs and fought back tears. We trudged back toward my hotel so I could get off of my feet and get cleaned up before finding some real food. My journey had ended.

Everyone knows the saying "It takes a village." Well, I feel like it took a village to get me through my training and over the finish line. The support I had from friends and family, and my running family was amazing and more than anyone could ever ask for. I doubt I can ever repay them for the hours spent running with me, or waiting for me at a trail before the sun even rose. I would never have undertaken such a journey without them, let alone completed it.