Marine Corps Marathon – Washington, DC (2016)

In reading others’ recaps from this race, I haven’t found anyone who had the race they wanted yet. There’s a lot of different factors that go into this, but the main theme seems to be the weather and just having an off day. I’m certainly in the same boat, but I’m also going to add my X factor was that this was my 4th race in 4 weeks. Probably not my smartest plan, but you never know until you try!

Beth and I decided to drive up to DC to save some money and even though it’s a 6 hour drive (without traffic), it was definitely the way to go. Round trip with gas, hotel parking and using Uber to get to dinner Saturday and Sunday night was less than $90 to split between the two of us and we had a lot more control over when we arrived and left which was certainly a bonus.

We left Saturday morning around 8:00am and, as expected, hit a lot of traffic as we got close to DC. Originally we were going to park in Old Town Alexandria and take the ferry over to National Harbor, but we figured that might take even more time, so we just drove to the Expo and parked in one of the garages two blocks from the hotel. There was a lot of traffic on National Harbor, but there were a ton of cops directing traffic and it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. The expo itself was a little disappointing and certainly not as big as I was expecting for a race that had almost 20,000 marathon finishers. I didn’t end up picking up anything extra at the expo, but I really like that we got a fleece-lined mock turtle neck. That will get some use this winter for sure!

Sunday morning, we headed out to meet Beth’s running group to take the shuttle buses from Crystal City to the start line. When I originally booked the hotel, I just looked for something close to the start (we were about 2 miles away), but didn’t realize we would only be two blocks from where the shuttles would pick us up and drop us off – win! We met just after 6:00am and got in line – it was a long line to get on the shuttle that wrapped down into the parking garage, but the line moved well and even though it was a lot longer than it originally looked (the line went down much further into the garage than we initially thought), we kept warm and got on the buses quickly enough and headed to the start line. I had heard that the security to get through the start was insane and that it would take a really long time to get through. Luckily for us, after we got of the bus and walked to security, we were able to immediately get checked by security and quickly made it into the parking lot. Gear drop was really easy and there were plenty of porta potties in the waiting area, but I opted to wait until we walked to the start line and found shorter lines there. The race had an open start time from 7:55 to 8:55 and it took us about 20 minutes to get to the start line from where we were near the 4:45 pacers.

This gives some of an idea of just how many people ran this race!
I made a few mistakes coming into this race… I never really looked at the elevation profile and I didn’t have a true game plan for pacing. Honestly, this was a race that I was doing because I’ve heard good things from other people and because I knew other people who were running it – it wasn’t a goal race of mine, and unfortunately, that became clear pretty quickly. I had quickly glanced at the elevation profile and had heard that the first 5k had the worst hills of the race, but I wasn’t too concerned about them… until I hit them!

As soon as I started the hill, I could feel how tight my calves were from the Cane Field Classic. Even with compression socks on, they were sore! I ended up walking up the majority of the hill. I figured if it really did level out like I expected it to, there was no need to push myself up this hill and potentially cause more issues later in the day. I was doing a 5:1 run / walk interval and stopped to take pictures along the course. It was a little bit harder to make sure I was out of the way of the other runners since there were so many people, but I snuck off to the side to get my pictures in.

Heading down towards mile 4
Mile 4 had us running alongside the Potomac River

I was doing pretty good with my run / walk plan until I took a bathroom break at mile 5. I ended up getting passed by the 5 hour pacer. It took me until around mile 7 before I was able to pass the hoard of people around the pacer and during this time, I was just running their pace and trying to pass people whenever I could. The biggest challenge was that we were on a section of two-lane road that had runners going on both sides, so it was a very crowded section of the race. Around mile 8, I caught up with John (one of the runners from Beth’s pace group) and he was struggling. We talked for a little bit, but I lost him in the crowd as I was doing my run / walk and didn’t see him, or anyone else from the group, until our designated meetup spot after the race.

Beautiful views from mile 9

Between miles 10.5 and 11.5 was the blue mile. In the first half of the mile, both sides of the course were lined with signs and pictures of fallen service members, followed by volunteers holding American flags. The Rock ‘n’ Roll races I’ve done have done similar blue miles, but this was exponentially more impactful. I ran with hundreds of people, but the only sounds you could hear were people running – everyone was taking in the scenes, reading the signs and listening to the encouragement of all of the volunteers holding flags. After a somber mile, we quickly entered a section where there were hundreds of signs beside the road cheering on random strangers and personalized signs dedicated to specific runners. I assume that these signs were created at the Expo and placed for runners – it was fun to read all of the different signs, even though I didn’t know who any of them were talking about!

Mile 15 brought on more iconic views and the Gauntlet – our first time-based cutoff. I had fallen just behind the 5 hour pacer again by the time I reached the Gauntlet and I was starting to struggle some, but I was trying to keep my run / walk ratio up, especially since I still needed to Beat the Bridge at mile 18 before I would really feel safe. As I got closer to mile 16, I knew I was in some trouble. I had forgotten my electrolyte drops, so while I had started out with a bottle of Nuun and one filled with CarboPro, I quickly ended up drinking just water as the temperatures increased. At mile 16, I grabbed two cups of Gatorade and walked as I slowly drank and hoped that would help my headache go away.  Just before mile 17, you go right in front of the U.S. Capitol and there were volunteers in the middle of the street offering to take pictures of people so that they could update their Facebook pictures later that day!

You can see how the crowd has spread out, but there’s still a lot of people everywhere!
Not sure what this building was, but I liked it

I was able to start my run / walk again, but ended up breaking up the 5 minutes into shorter sections with another walk break in the middle. I was able to keep this up until mile 19 when we officially hit the bridge (which I did successfully beat) and ended up baking in the sun, crossing a major road. Deja vu of Savannah for sure! Everyone was struggling at this point – lots of walking on the bridge and beyond. At this point, my head was still hurting a lot and I knew I was dehydrated but also needed more salt. I had been eating my peanut butter pretzels, but eventually I realized that if I kept eating the pretzels, I would just keep drinking more water, thus diluting the salt even more, so I started sucking the salt off of the pretzels instead of actually eating them and I think it started to help. There was a lot of crowd support as we crossed over into Crystal City which certainly helped as well.

This was one of my favorite signs

I did another quick pitstop at mile 24 as I walked around the parking lots of the Pentagon and my headache had finally started to go away. I started doing a run / walk again, albeit at much shorter intervals. As we passed the start of the marathon, the crowds were even thicker and when we passed Arlington Cemetery, I knew I was almost done. There is a brutal (but short) hill at the very end of the marathon before you flatten out and go under the finishing arch. When you finish, it’s a long (long, long, long) walk to get through the finishers’ only area before you can meet up with the rest of your group. I got my medal put on by a Marine, took a few pictures at the Marine Corps War Memorial and then wandered out to find my bag at gear check.

Our group planned to meet up at the family reunion area and when I got there, a few people had already finished and it wasn’t long before the rest of the group showed up. No one had the race they had wanted, but we all finished, including two people doing their very first marathon!

I really appreciate this group adopting me!

This is probably a one and done race for me. It was my first huge marathon and I definitely prefer the smaller crowds. I think this was extremely well organized and with the exception of miles 5.5 – 8, I never felt overly crowded. I wouldn’t be against doing another major marathon at some point in the future, but they probably won’t be my main focus races.

Bonus tip: You should never put candy corn in your pocket to save it for later, especially on a warm day… it will melt through your shorts and stick to your skin. #themoreyouknow

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