I left off with a foreshadowing teaser to warn ya that this won’t be pretty. Let me kick this off with some disclaimers.
First, the Marine Corps Marathon is a phenomenal race. It’s the largest race I’ve ever done, fourth largest in the world. This year they sold a record-breaking 30,000 bibs for the race (in a marathon history breaking 2 hours and 41 minutes). So it’s a huge undertaking and its handled so perfectly. You never felt smothered by the crowd or annoyed by overly long waits for potties or water stations. This race is worth every penny of travel and minute of training time. It would make a fantastic first marathon. The course has some minor hills for the first 8 miles and then its pleasantly flat until an uphill final mile and finish. Great scenery and a wonderful atmosphere all around. The crowds of spectators are huge and nearly constant. As rough a run as I had, I still loved this race.
Second, I trained really well for this race. I made a plan and followed it pretty well. My A-goal was to finish in under four hours. As the summer went on I knew I wasn’t really making fast enough progress towards that goal. I was hitting most of my mileage goals but really not pushing on speedwork enough. I struggled a bit. ; ; Then I rebounded and started hitting some good paces and feeling strong. I still knew I needed to tuck the A-goal out of the way and focus more towards the B-goal. B-goal was to PR, which would be to finish before 4:11. Up until the last few days before the race, I really felt that would be fairly easy to accomplish given my recent runs and the course.
And then there was a pox on my house in the last few days before the event.
I woke up on Sunday and my stomach was already sour and I still felt funky. ; It was such a huge let down to not be feeling good for this. I did my best to mentally chuck all goals into the trash and just focus on getting through it and having some fun. A jogging tour of DC, I tried to tell myself. ; Got dressed, fed and headed out. We walked the 2 miles to the start, got in a corral and made a couple potty visits. The crowd enthusiasm was electric. There were groups from every branch of the military and many law enforcement agencies. A lot of them were running in their uniforms, carrying packs and flags for the entire race. I even saw one guy in a really heavy looking red suit, possibly some sort of bomb squad thing? And I’m 90% sure he beat me. Probably by a lot. ; I was really happy to be standing at this start line with such a great crowd. There was a flag ceremony, prayer and an Osprey flyover and then it was go time.
Here’s that lovely first mile shot again.
Yeah it really was that good right away! My legs were heavy, my stomach hurt and I was tense all over. I knew I was going to be sick before I even crossed the start line. It was just a matter of how far could I get before it happened. My pace never got anywhere near my goals. I kept a slow, steady chug and kept trying to distract myself by sightseeing and chatting a little bit with other runners. Overall, what sucked most is that it just felt like a constant struggle and all my recent long runs have felt damn near effortless. It was such a stinging slap. I really did my best to keep it positive even though the race pics quite clearly tell the truth.
We entered Haines point area and I got a lot worse very quickly and knew it was an any moment kind of thing. I remember crossing the mat at the halfway mark and then it sort of gets fuzzy. My stomach was churning and both legs, hip to ankle, were cramping intensely. Around mile 15 I saw a porta potty and made my move. I had some unsavory moments in there that I will spare you. The Marine medic who saw me careen into the potty and then waited outside was not so lucky. I felt some relief but was completely dazed when I came out. He asked me to come in to the medic tent and rest a minute. I declined. He insisted. Lather, rinse, repeat. I finally sat on the cot and then I actually said, “Oh wow, this is a nice cot” and considered staying a while. If they’d had Diet Coke, I probably would have.
I ended up in the medic tent for a short while. I was so embarrassed to have thrown up and landed there at 15 miles in. The guy pointed out that you could see various muscles spasming right through my skin. He seemed to find that odd. I also wasn’t sweating and I’m normally a sweaty beast. He decided I was dehydrated pretty bad. I believe I tried to argue that was impossible due to the grape juice thing. I know I must not have expressed myself well because he seemed utterly baffled by my entire grape juice story. My point was grape juice has to count for hydration, right!? He was giving me clear “okay, crazy grape juice lady” looks. They gave me salt pills, water and Gatorade and suggested I might be done. And I strongly considered it.
Problem was that I had no way of getting back to the start from there other than walking anyway. I guess I could have waited til the lag wagon came through in a few hours but that sounded tedious (and plus they didn’t have Diet Coke, I asked). I also didn’t have any money for a metro and I had no idea where a metro was anyway. And honestly, I couldn’t think of anything more mortifying than getting on the metro wearing a race bib in the middle of the race. I finally told him that my Sister In Law would be spectating at some point and I’d just go along the course until I found her. She could help me find the metro and she probably had money. Maybe she’d even buy me a Diet Coke.
I had pepto and gas-x in my SPI belt so I knocked those back and hit the road again. My stomach actually felt decent from here forward. My legs were shot from all the cramping. So the remainder of the race wasn’t near as rough as the first half. Exhausting and painful but not deathly ill. So, you know, more along the lines of a normal marathon!
Here I am somewhere in those middle miles, post medic tent I am pretty sure. Probably muttering something charming like,”Why? WHY? Why didn’t I pack a Diet Coke!? And Metro fare.” So glad the photographer thought this moment needed to be captured. I think I might make this my Christmas card.
For the rest of the race I fell in with the familiar crowd of hobble/run/walk/shuffle types. At the start line we’re all lined up where we hope to finish. Around the midway point things have filtered out to reality. I haven’t ever lined up with a pace group. I just wait til we find each other, deep in the suck, around mile 18-22. Then I look around and I’m like, “What is up!? How is this shit treatin ya? Good to see you!”. I’m oddly social when I’m hurting. Usually I’m such a frigid, lone ranger runner but when the run starts to kick my ass I’m looking for company. Luckily I found plenty. My people. The Relentless Forward Motion ; crowd. I both love and hate the moment we all find each other and settle in. I love the camaraderie. I hate that it usually means I’ve burned through my push and have come to the “just getting through” part.
I LOVE this picture. The guy next to me is expressing what I am repressing. Me and green shirt are even all coordinated. I wish I had noticed him. We totally could have been besties. The woman next to him has gone full zombie. Blue shirt behind me is making a classic race face. We are the champions, my friends!
Luckily, the spectators seem keenly aware that we need a lot of love through these final miles. Folks were handing out Halloween candy, Tylenol, beer, etc. You name it, you probably could have found a spectator in this area to give it to you. And the Marines? They were giving out donuts. Yes, thank you. Don’t mind me while I park my butt at the donut aid station for a few extra minutes. Donut aid station. How genius is that?
For as broken down as I was in this race, I can honestly say I did not have a bad day. For the first half I frantically watched the pace slip slower and slower on the Garmin and kept getting agitated. But then anytime I’d look around the course I’d see faces smiling back at me from t-shirts on other runners and spectators and on posters on the side of the road. Faces in uniforms. Faces with birth dates like 1990 and death dates in 2009. Faces with captions like “Running for my brother/husband/father/son”. Everyone should run this race someday because everyone should spend a few hours looking at these faces, paying reverence and feeling rightfully smaller in the world for a bit. I’d look at those faces, look at the taunting Garmin and be grateful for the perspective. I was honored to spend the morning in the presences of those faces.
I’d heard the finish line was an uphill ass kicker. I told myself I could walk anytime I wanted in the meantime because I was running the entire finish. No excuses. And I did! I ran the entire last mile for good measure (and in case of photography, who am I kidding?). It’s a gradual uphill for most of the last mile and then the last quarter-mile is a sudden, ridiculous uphill. I saw two people ahead of me collapse. Before I could even process what I was seeing, the guy next to me went down hard. Spectators caught him, thankfully, because I could not have. I’ve seen videos of people collapsing at a race finish but I had never seen it in person. It was absolutely crazy.
And then I was done. With a smile. Because who doesn’t smile at a finish. Maybe people who are regretting not stopping for donuts, I guess.
The finish chute takes a while. You go through a line for medals. Then a line for food and drink. The Marines run it as efficiently as possible but there are a lot of people so it’s just a slow go. Then you walk forever and a day back to the area where you can find your family. You can see the families through the chainlink fencing but you have to keep walking to the very end before you can get to them. Its like a weird, refugee camp. I gave up on finding my family. At the first intersection I came to outside the gates, I sat down on the sidewalk and texted my location to them. Figured they’d either find me or I’d live there. Seemed like a decent enough place. Luckily they found me within 10 minutes. A short while later we found Karen and then we all got in line to buy finisher t-shirts because the free t-shirt you get for participation sucks. The t-shirt line took about an hour because it was being run by a shoe company instead of the Marines. I know the Marines could have sold t-shirts in less than 10 minutes.
Instead of space blankets, you get these nifty disposable jackets. You know I threw that thing in the washer and I will absolutely use it again as pre-race throwaway clothes. Cha-ching.
And then we went back to the hotel, took showers and laid on the beds drinking champagne and watching Married to Jonas until another sister-in-law showed up to drive us all to dinner.
Trader Joe’s Almond Champagne chilling in the hotel room trash can. Told you I didn’t take a lot of pictures.
A couple of days after we got home I finally did succumb to a rager of a stomach bug. My best guess on what happened race day was that my body was fighting back at me and all the roadblocks (grape juice, pepto, etc) that I kept trying to throw in front of the stomach bug. I think I threw my whole system out of whack. Turns out that bug was coming for me regardless. All the tomfoolery of fighting it just dragged it out and made it worse. Live and learn!
And for the grand finale, this is the traditional, world-famous for its ugliness, Marine Corps Marathon mock turtleneck. Nobody likes it but we all grin and bear it because its part of this race’s history.
Well, actually, I guess I will just grin since I can’t actually physically bear it. Or, rather, ; it can’t bear my giant head. Whichever. I pulled really hard and this thing was not having it. Left a mark on my forehead for about an hour.
That kid wandered in and wanted to know what the hell I was doing. I asked him to take a picture of me in my new shirt. He obliged.
Ahhh, run get help! Mommy is stuck in the race shirt!
This is the awesome medal. I love the medal. It has a spinning globe! It’s an action medal!