MCM 2013: A Race Report 11 Years in the Making

The short version
I ran the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon in 4:51:04. It was not the time I wanted nor the time I had trained for. However, I am not completely disappointed. I know that my body can handle marathon training again, so my next round of training will be more intense and include more mileage. I learned a lot about myself and my abilities out on the course on Sunday, and I will take that with me into my next training cycle.

The long version
My first marathon was NYCM in 2002. Since then I have DNFed a marathon at 16 miles then had a series of injuries and surgeries that kept me from training for another marathon until this year. I trained for and ran three half marathons over the past year and a half, and this past spring I finally felt ready to tackle the marathon again.

My training had its ups and downs. I had a bunch of really crappy runs this summer, the crappiest of which were long runs that I had to cut short. I just could not hack the heat and direct sunlight for some reason. But then I managed to get in two 20 milers in consecutive weekends when it was relatively cooler, so that boosted my confidence. I also had a strong run at RTB, which boosted my confidence further still. I felt as ready as I could be going into the week before the race

Flat Martha
Meet Flat Martha

The week before the race was less than ideal. I had stress coming at me from every direction, and I wasn’t sleeping. I had cut out all sleep medications a week before the race so they would be completely out of my system for race day. The relaxing few days I had planned before the marathon were anything but. I had to plan spectator schedules, figure out the logistics for the expo, visit with family, and on top of that I was stressed out by things I was trying to put out of my mind but that just wouldn’t stay out. I was pretty exhausted by the time the race rolled around.

Pre-race

MCM 2013 expo
J.P., Chuck, and me at the expo

My mom, J.P., and I hit the expo on Saturday afternoon. It was a complete mess. There was a 1+ hour line to get race bibs, followed by a ½ hour line to get into the expo (where you picked up your race shirt, etc.). Fortunately I had brought water with me and there were food trucks outside the expo. Unfortunately the food trucks had run out of pretzels so my lunch the day before the race consisted of a dry hot dog. Yum. The expo was crowded, but we made our rounds while waiting for my brother Chuck to make it through the bib and expo lines. He finally made it in, we took a group picture, I handed my mom off to him, and J.P. and I headed to the hotel where we were staying with the rest of our Semper Fi Fund teammates.

I had never considered being a charity runner before this race. When J.P. decided to run MCM and raise money for the Semper Fi Fund, I thought it would be a nice thing to do together, so I joined him. At the pre-race dinner, we got to hear from some of the injured service men and women that benefitted from the money that we had raised for them. Their stories and seeing them racing the next day was more than enough to ensure that I will definitely be running on behalf of this wonderful foundation many more times in the future. The obstacles that they have overcome—both physical and mental—are way more than I can even imagine dealing with. To think that I helped them in some small way…it’s just an amazing feeling. These people are definitely heroes in every sense of the word.

Race morning

Pre-dawn in D.C.
Pre-dawn in D.C.

4:45am came way too early, and I popped out of bed even though I had gotten minimal sleep. J.P. and I met our teammates in the lobby and headed over to the finish line, where the Semper Fi Fund had a tent set up with the rest of the charities. We were able to leave our bags in the tent as opposed to checking them with UPS, which was nice. They also had a nice spread of food, and I had a banana and half a granola bar to hold me over until the start of the race. We stripped down to our race clothes and throw-aways and headed down to the start line with the rest of our team. We walked past Arlington National Cemetery as dawn was breaking. That scene will definitely stay with me.

Parachuters trailing the American flag
Parachuters trailing the American flag

We made it down to the corrals and into a porta potty line just as the pre-race invocation began over the loudspeakers. During the invocation, I looked up to see several skydivers quietly making their way back down to earth. They were carrying the flags of each of the armed services, then the last three skydivers were carrying American flags: two small ones, and one huge one (the biggest American flag ever used in a skydiving event). The invocation was over, and an a capella group started singing the national anthem. The skydivers slowly came back to earth as the national anthem was sung, first with the armed forces flags, and ending with the American flags. They all landed in the field right across from where we were standing. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

After hitting the porta potties, J.P. and I lined up in the 4:15-4:30 corral. I knew my brother was going to line up in that corral too, and I wondered aloud if we would happen to see him among the 35,000 other people lined up to start the race. No sooner had I said that, then I turned and saw him! We made our way over to him, I gave him a good luck hug, and we all got ready for the starting Howitzer cannon to go off. It went off, and the race started. We didn’t move for a few minutes, but soon enough we were on our way and our MCM had begun.

The race
J.P. and I started the race together. After a few minutes, he was pulling away from me, and I told him to go and run his own race. We exchanged I love yous and off he went. I focused on running my own race and staying in the present moment.

The first few miles of the race went quickly. I was running easy, and I checked my GPS often to be sure I wasn’t running too fast. It was difficult not to get caught up in going out too fast because of the sheer amount of runners and spectators in the first part of the race. I felt like I had settled into a good pace, but it turns out that my splits were all over the place. Also, my GPS showed that I was about a half mile ahead of the mile markers (I ran 26.73 miles total), and I don’t think it was due to zig-zagging to avoid other runners throughout the race. Everyone I know ran about an extra half mile. ??
Miles 1-3: 10:18, 10:23, 9:56

Between miles 3 and 4, I decided I was too hot and I needed a wardrobe change. I had gone back and forth a hundred times on what to wear on race day, and I settled on capri-length tights and a short-sleeved shirt over a long-sleeved shirt. It was supposed to be in the low 40s with 9mph winds at the start, making it in the 30s with windchill, but it turned out to be a lot warmer than that. I should have just gone with regular shorts and the short sleeve like I had initially planned. Lesson learned. I stripped off both my shirts and put the short sleeve back on without breaking stride. I tossed the long sleeve aside just before hitting the bridge into Georgetown.

I took gels every 4-5 miles and drank water at almost every aid station. That worked out well, except that I don’t think I drank nearly enough water. In training I used a handheld water bottle, so I probably should have just stuck with that for the race.
Miles 4-6: 9:41, 10:31, 9:51

We ran through Georgetown and onto the out and back on Rock Creek Parkway. I am sure it was beautiful through here, but I was distracted by tightness that turned into pain in my left butt (piriformis). I have had tightness in my right piriformis before, but never my left, which is why it was so concerning to me. I noticed that the road we were running on was cambered, but in the opposite direction of the roads that I usually run on. I run facing traffic, so the road slants down to my left, but this road slanted down to my right. And it was a pretty steep angle. My left leg is longer than my right leg, so when I run facing traffic, things even out, but with the opposite camber of the road, it exacerbated the leg length discrepancy, resulting in left piriformis pain. The camber evened out in a few spots, and the pain and tightness went away, only to come back when the road tilted again. I decided to just run through it and see what happened.
Miles 7-9: 10:14, 10:26 (very crowded at the turn-around), 10:17

The next few miles were uneventful except for seeing a spectator with a giant pumpkin on his head. Not on top of his head, he was wearing a jack-o-lantern over his head.
Miles 10-12: 9:52, 10:17, 9:55

We reached the halfway point, and I tried to figure out what my actual half split was. The clock said 2:24:xx, but I wasn’t sure how long after the starting cannon that I actually crossed the start line. I had my GPS set to show pace and distance, and somehow it didn’t occur to me to just click over and see my elapsed time. In my confused state, I decided that a PR was out of reach, and that’s when all of the stress and exhaustion of the previous week hit me. From this point on in the race, it was all I could do to keep from crying. The disappointment of not PRing when I thought I could, the increasing pain in my piriformis that I thought was costing me the PR, I was just a mess mentally. I tried using the mantra “relentless forward motion” to re-focus myself, then I switched to “just keep swimming” which is something that my most awesome friend Victor has said to me before. Just after the halfway point I stopped to stretch my piriformis, which helped a lot…for about a mile. From that point on, I stopped every 1-2 miles to stretch my piriformis. Every time I stopped it got harder to start back up running again.
Miles 13-15: 10:47, 10:42, 10:50 (the slowdown begins)

I knew my family would be spectating somewhere on the mall, and that kept me going for the next few miles. Our Semper Fi Fund team, Never Again, made team t-shirts and gave them to our family and friends so that we could identify “our” spectators out on the course. They were bright lime green, so they definitely stood out. I saw our captain’s family at one point and yelled out “never again!” to them. It turns out he did the same when he passed my family. I can tell by my splits which mile I saw my family because I clearly sped up! I ran over to the side of the course and gave them all high fives: my dad, my mom, my sister, and her husband. Seeing them gave me a burst of energy and kept me going.
Miles 16-18: 10:49, 9:59, 11:00

I wouldn’t see another split in the 10s for the rest of the race. By now I was stretching every mile, sometimes twice a mile, just so I could keep going. We were past the mall by now, running back towards Virginia and the finish. This stretch of the race included a grueling section on a highway bridge that seemed like it would never end. We actually drove over this same section of highway the next day, but it wasn’t quite as long or grueling in the car.
Miles 19-21: 11:03, 11:27, 12:05

We then ran through Crystal City where there was a lot of crowd support. Some spectators were giving out free beer, and I seriously considered having some, but they were all the way over on the other side of the street, and it just seemed like too much effort at that point. We ran over a bridge taking us back toward the Pentagon, and I was concentrating on the ground in front of me, telling myself to just keep swimming. I was so focused that I didn’t realize that I had passed J.P. I heard him call my name, and I turned around, startled, because I figured he had already finished. He told me that his hamstring popped at mile 20 (it turned out to be his calf), and he was hobbling toward the finish. I stopped with him as he stretched and walked for a bit, then we picked up back running. J.P. had to keep stopping to stretch, so he told me to keep running to break my PR, but I told him that went out the window at the halfway point, so I was going to run with him the rest of the way. We started this together, we were going to finish this together.
Miles 22-24: 11:36, 12:04, 12:32

We made our way toward the finish line slowly, stopping to stretch and walk and to punch a street sign (J.P., not me). Our GPSes clicked past 26 miles, then past 26.2 miles, and the finish still wasn’t in sight. We passed where we started the race, so I knew we were close. We finally saw the mile 26 marker ahead and decided to walk until we hit that, then we would run it in from there. Whoever designed this course was a masochist, because there is a very steep hill up to the finish line. J.P. was cursing the whole way up that hill, and I was saying, “This doesn’t feel good at all,” to no one in particular, when we looked up to see the finish chute. He grabbed my hand, and we finished together with our arms in the air, so happy to finally be done. We shook hands with as many Marines as we could on our way to get our medals, and again I had to hold the tears back as a Marine put a medal around my neck and then saluted me.
Miles 25-26.73: 12:36, 13:18, 8:46 (a whopping 10:54 pace)
Finish time: 4:51:04

Mission accomplished
Mission accomplished

We got our pictures taken in front of Iwo Jima, which is huge in real life, and then J.P. visited the med tent where he learned that it was his calf that he had pulled and that he was massively dehydrated. They gave him fluids, we grabbed our bags from the Semper Fi tent, and we made our way to meet my family for lunch (which was the most painful uphill 3 block walk ever). My brother had finished in 4:19:xx, which of course made J.P. vow to do another marathon since he was running with my brother until his calf went, so he knows he could have run a 4:19 and now he has to beat my brother. I of course was already planning my next marathon too.

Post-race
I checked my GPS after the race, and it turns out I hit 26.2 miles in a time of 4:44:46. That would actually be a small PR for me (I ran NYCM in 4:45:11). So why did I think a PR was

Chuck, J.P., and I proudly display our medals
Chuck, J.P., and I proudly display our medals

out of the cards at the halfway point? Because I couldn’t figure out that I actually hit the half in 2:17:09 and that if I ran even a little bit of a positive split that I would still PR. I should not be allowed to do math while running. That’s one lesson learned.

Another is that I need to do more MP runs during training, because I honestly couldn’t tell how fast or slow I was running during the race. I am terrible at pacing even during training, so I need to get a handle on that. The one thing I was happy with though was that I ran my own race, stayed in the moment the whole time, and didn’t let what someone else wanted to do impact what I needed to do. So that’s a win.

I learned that my body really doesn’t like reverse-cambered roads. There’s not much that I can do about that. I know that it definitely affected my gait during the race, because I am sore in places that I’ve never been sore before.

But now that I know my body can handle the rigors of training again (if not the heat of the summer), I am ready to find my next marathon and plan my training schedule. I have plans for strengthening my core (my race photos aren’t pretty) and my calves (they are the most beat up part of me) before jumping back into any training. I am considering a spring marathon or maybe a spring half and a full in the fall. All I know is that there will be another marathon for me in 2014. And it will be a PR.

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