Monday, November 3, 2014

2014 Marine Corps Marathon Race Recap

I got a $49 fare for a direct flight from Rochester to Baltimore, so I flew in Saturday morning, landing around 7:30am. I picked up the rental car and drove an uneventful 35 miles to Washington DC. I pulled right up to the hotel in Crystal City, and was surprised to find at that early hour that my room was ready. I unloaded my bags, and met my running friend Stephanie and her race roommate Michelle at the Metro Station to head to the Expo. 

The Metro stop for the Expo location, the Armory, was right outside the building. The line to get in was almost all the way to the Metro stop. It took about 30 minutes to snake our way around the block, up the steps and through security. While waiting in line, I told Stephanie that I might be done with the marathon distance. The time commitment for training is so much greater than for half marathons, it makes me wonder if my time might be better spent pursuing other hobbies and interests.

I hadn’t read the race literature, but they weren’t allowing any food or drink into the building. I saw a bin of confiscated protein bars and fun size candy. I managed to hold onto the two Picky Bars I had brought with me.

Bib and shirt pickup was uneventful. Considering the length of the line, the expo itself was relatively uncrowded.
#TeamBlurrySelfie in the house.
Steph and I checked out the race apparel. I considered getting a jacket but at $90 decided to hold off. While she got into a long line to pay for her merchandise, I went to the KT Tape booth to get my right knee taped. I’d been having some IT Band trouble and I didn’t want it to act up. The woman asked if it would be OK for her to shave me knee. Who was I to say, "no?"

I'm too sexy for my knee hair.
After Steph got #gimpyfoot taped up, we walked the expo floor, stopping at a few booths along the way, including the runDisney booth to admire the Wine & Dine Half Marathon medal we’d be earning in a couple more weeks.


When someone asks if you want to write on a car, you say, "YES!"
After the expo we went our separate ways and I headed to lunch with fellow Team Mickey Milers at the Virginia home of legendary gadabout and one-time race winner Michael Miller. He provided us with a great meal, and it was a lot of fun catching up with my running friends.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how incredible it was to pay homage to The Shrine. My offering consisted of Oatmeal Cookie Sandwiches filled with Cream Cheese Frosting. In hindsight, it hardly seems worthy.

#TeamBlurrySelfie was in this house, too.

The official vinyl banner of @DopeyRunr.

After a field trip to the Peep Store at the National Harbor, it was back to the hotel, quick dinner and early bedtime. Since I had been up since 4:30am for my early flight, I had no trouble falling asleep.

Peeps wantonly disregarding #NoPolitix

Do want. Did not buy.
I awoke on race day at 5am feeling well-rested. I showered and dressed and walked a couple of blocks to the Crystal City shuttle stop to meet Stephanie and Michelle. 

Look how happy we are to be waiting for a bus!

Crystal City is a great location, and I got a great deal on the hotel room. However, it requires taking a shuttle or Metro before and after the race. I’d recommend a hotel in Rosslyn where you can walk to and from the Start and Finish. We waited about a half hour for a bus, which dropped us near the Pentagon Metro station. 

Look how grumpy everyone else looks after waiting for a bus!
We had another 10-15 minute walk from the drop-off to Runner’s Village, including a cursory walk though a metal detector.

After touching base with @RunningLonely near bag check, we headed toward the starting corrals to meet the other Mickey Milers.

Mickey Milers (Michael P. Miller not pictured)
The excitement and energy of the tens of thousands of runners continued to build as we approached the starting line. With paratroopers landing amongst us with massive US flags, to the MV-22 Ospreys flying right over our heads, to the emotional words of encouragement from actor and runner Sean Astin, it was a start unlike any other. 

When the Howitzer fired to officially start the race, a cheer went up from the crowd. We slowly shuffled up to the start line and crossed at 8:03am, just 13 minutes after the race start.

I decided long before the race that I would be taking it slow. I wanted to absorb the atmosphere and allow myself to feel the emotions of the spectators, volunteers and most importantly, the soldiers stationed throughout the course offering words of encouragement. With Stephanie having run the Chicago Marathon just two weeks prior (and the NY Marathon the week after Marine Corps as part of #MarathonPalooza) we decided to run together and I would help keep her on pace to Beat the Bridge. Runners are required to hit the 20 Mile mark and start crossing the 14th Street Bridge by 1:15pm or they would not be allowed to finish. I had worked out a pace chart to ensure we’d Beat the Bridge.

We started running 30/30 intervals (30 seconds of running followed by 30 seconds of walking). The first three miles of the race are pretty much straight up. Every time we’d think we were finally leveling off, there was another hill just around the bend. The spectators in this stretch were fantastic – almost shoulder-to-shoulder.

I was live-tweeting the race, so I stopped at every mile marker for a picture – and often more frequently than that!

Dude, we're running 30/30 intervals.
Still wearing a throwaway long sleeve shirt.

Warming up a bit, ditched the long sleeves.

There was more to see after we crossed the bridge into Georgetown. We could see Georgetown University on our left, but we took a right.


Hoyas suck! Let's Go Orange!

There was more to see after we crossed the bridge into Georgetown. We could see Georgetown University on our left, but we took a right.

Wall: do not hit.

Washington is no place for politics, sir!

Right after the turnaround we found a line of portojohns with short lines, so we both used those and continued out. We had only stopped for about five minutes, but we immediately noticed how thinned out the pack had become. When we saw the sweeper buses on the outbound side of the course, about two miles behind us, we got a little concerned. But when I looked at my pace chart, we were still well ahead of the pace we needed to Beat the Bridge.

I told Mrs. Incredible she could join #TeamBlurrySelfie

Mr. Incredible was not invited.
Miles 8 - 11 were pretty uneventful. We were mostly sticking to our 30/30 intervals with an extra walk break thrown in when needed. There wasn’t a ton to look at, but every once in a while we would get a glimpse of the monuments across the river.

When we hit mile 12 we came upon a stretch of about a half mile that was lined with signs with names and pictures of fallen Marines. To see how young so many of the soldiers were was incredibly impactful. It struck me that they were just kids, really, most of them. While training for and completing a marathon is an incredible accomplishment, and something to be proud of, it’s nothing like the kind of sacrifices the men and women of our armed forces and their families make every day.

I started getting some Marines into my pictures. It's their race, after all...
From miles 12-15 we could see the Washington Monument across the river and were eager to cross over and have some better scenery. We were relieved to finally get there just before mile 16.

No run Dopey?

This is the sign my wife and daughter would have made.

Hey kids, Big Ben! Parliament!

Stephanie continued to be worried about whether we would Beat the Bridge. I assured her we were still in good shape. We started doing the math: 4 miles to go and an hour and 15 minutes to get there… we got this!

The marine on the left didn't want to get in the shot, but his buddy and I convinced him to lean in.

Looks like they're finally fixing what's wrong in Washington!
It was around lunch time and Stephanie and I were starving. We’d had a Picky Bar before the race but not much since, and we started looking for food trucks on the Mall to buy something. Because of the road closures, though, there weren’t any. We spent miles 17-19 looking and looking… until finally I spotted an ice cream stand selling hot pretzels. I sent Stephanie up ahead while I begged to cut the line and buy a pretzel.
"No pretzel by any other name would taste as awesome." -- W. Shakespeare
Catching up to Steph with pretzel in hand we knew we had that bridge beat – less than a mile to go and almost 30 minutes to get there. We walked as we shared the pretzel, and found some spectators handing out candy and cookies. Taking food from complete strangers? Late in a marathon – YES.

This man's sign summed it up nicely. Plus, he was dropping an F-bomb
while holding his three-year-old daughter's hand. Well played, sir.
Before we got to mile 20, I saw the man who would be known forevermore as “Watermelon Shirt Man.” Again. After seeing him spectating and cheering four other times on the course, I had to stop and get a picture with him. What a great spectator. We saw him again closer to the finish line. Other people posted to Facebook expressing their gratitude for his incredible support.

This guy is awesome. If anyone ever finds out who he is, please let me know.

Bagels? OK.
As we got closer and closer to mile 20, we heard the drum corps that is stationed at the bridge. It was a sweet sound to our ears!

We hit Mile 20 and the Bridge at 12:57pm, 18 minutes ahead of the deadline. We now could relax and since Stephanie’s #gimpyfoot was hurting pretty badly, we did more walking than running. The bridge itself was miserable – more than a mile long with increasingly challenging weather conditions. Temperatures had climbed into the low 70s (the forecast high was 67) and winds were blowing across the bridge at about 20 mph.

I use a running belt only because I didn't know running suspenders were an option.

We continued into Crystal City for an out-and-back past our hotels and the shuttle stop we had used earlier that morning. A fire truck was spraying cool water into the air at the turnaround which helped cool us down a little. Steph and I were focused on finishing at this point, and decided that the perfect distance for a marathon would be 21 miles. Long enough that the last few miles would be challenging, but about an hour shorter (for us slowpokes) than the 26.2 mile distance. It just makes sense, right?

"Mile 23.7: Dunkin Donuts Stop" has been on my pace chart for far too long.

Smiths! I think he was trying for a "bad ass face" but it didn't work out I guess.
Thank you for your service!

From this angle it hardly looks like a Pentagon.

We ran into @RunningLonely with about a mile to go. He had finished and was headed home or something about adding more miles for a PR? I wasn't paying too much attention at that point - I just wanted to be done. He shared some encouragement for the final stretch and sent us on our way. Just after mile 26 is about 0.1 mile of straight uphill, followed by the final 0.1 mile which is a flat “sprintable” stretch. Marines lined the hill offering words of encouragement, and signs on the ground echoed their sentiments.


Ugh, that hill!

OK, sign!

If you say so!

Did you know autocorrect changes Oorah to Oprah? EVERY. TIME.

Finish line in sight... and the "sprintable" last 0.1 mile!

Unlike other races, there weren’t medals right after we crossed the finish line. Instead, Marines lined the road each offering a hand shake or fistbump and a sincere “Congratulations.” It was so cool and very humbling.

We finished close to 3pm, which was the end of the post-race party. That meant the free beer was gone (apparently it had run out a couple of hours before) and a 45-minute wait for the shuttle bus back to Crystal City.

After going back to the hotel and changing, we met up for dinner with our Twitter friends, @RunningLonely and @K8in_NM

This is pretty much how it went down. 
I shared my thoughts again about how I might be done with the marathon distance. But as we talked a little about other events and the 40th anniversary Marine Corps Marathon next year, I started to waver a little (within a couple of days I had kind of changed my mind on that position. I may be back after all).

It was an honor for me to run the race with Stephanie, reassuring her that she would Beat the Bridge, and then watching her finish Race Two of #MarathonPalooza. The pace was probably 3-4 minutes slower than I would have run on my own, but the experience of running with friends makes running a marathon so much more enjoyable.

If marathon training is in your future, or if you’re already running marathons, I would consider Marine Corps Marathon a must-do. Between the setting, the support and the emotions of the day, it’s an experience you won’t forget.