Run Review: 2014 Marine Corp Marathon

The Marine Corp Marathon was a brief respite from my very busy schedule.  I work in politics so every even numbered year comes with a very busy October.  I am lucky that I live in Northern Virginia, just outside of Washington DC, so after this race I was able to quickly get home and was available to work that afternoon.

The Marine Corp Marathon is special to me.  I have lived in the Washington DC region for 2 and a half years and have ran many mile around the National Mall in downtown DC.  Marine Corp spends much of its time running around this same area.  I believe that there are a few miles in the Marine Corp Marathon that are more beautiful than any other Marathon that I have ever ran.

I was registered for this race last year but I deferred my entry in order to run the New York City Marathon as a guide for Achilles International.  Two years ago I had a great experience while running the Marine Corp in 2012 as my second marathon and I was very excited to be back at the race and cross the finish line in front of the Marine Corp Memorial once more.Sky Diver with the Flag

PRE-RACE:

The Marine Corp Marathon Expo takes place at the Washington DC armory near RFK Park (Former Home of the Washington Redskins).  The expo is in a spot that is metro accessible and is away from the already busy downtown region that would be much more intimidating for any out of town runners, but since it takes place at an Army installation each person must go through medal detectors and pat downs.  This causes very long lines to form around the building.  I had to wait for over 20 minutes on Thursday to get into the Armory which definitely takes away from the experience.  Neither the Chicago or New York City Marathon Expos have security like this, but if they did, there would be a similar line at each.

After getting into the Armory the expo was great.  The shirts every year take on the look of the Marine Corp Uniform so they are turtle neck shirts made out of athletic material.  Two years ago the shirt was made of cotton so it was not a good shirt at all but this year’s shirt will be a great shirt to wear during cold bike rides.   The expo had all the regular booths, including many from other races in the area and around the country.  The biggest downside of the expo is that it is in a small location.  The Armory is not that large and an expo from such a large race should be in a much larger location.  I hope that the Marine Corp organization looks to change this location in the future to the Washington Convention Center to allow the expo to spread out some and not cause it to be so packed all the time.

Morgan and I before the race. Check out my great green goodwill sweatshirt!

Morgan and I before the race. Check out my great green goodwill sweatshirt!

The race morning was an exciting time.  Coming off my great Chicago Marathon (read the Run Review for that race here) I had very little pressure on myself to perform well.  I knew that I could not perform as well as I did in Chicago but I also had the excitement of knowing that I would be able to perform much better than I did for the Marine Corp Marathon two years earlier.   I made the long walk from the Pentagon Metro to the start line, went through security and checked my bag.  I was ready to roll.  Before I headed to the start line I had to say hello to a couple of my friends that would be running the race as well.

The start line was such a great time.  As I stood in my starting corral I got to watch some great events.  The race had the most recent living Marine recipient sky dive into the start line, THEN HE RAN THE RACE!!!  After he landed they had a whole team of sky divers come in including some that were holding the largest American flag that was brought in by sky diving.  This experience was one of the most awe inspiring beginnings to any race that I have been in.  It was so great to see so many people cheering while watching an intimidating and awe inspiring site.

MCM Course

MILES 1-6

  • 5K 30:46, 9:53 min/mile

As the howitzer fired to start the race (signaled by Actor Sean Astin) the crowd took off and streamed through the start line.  At approximately the 7 minute mark I crossed the start line and began my journey back to the Marine Corp Memorial.  The race starts off with 75% of the climbing happening over the first 3 miles of the race.  I knew this fact going into it so I knew that the first 5K would not be the best judge of how the race will go the rest of the day.  As I approached the second mile marker I already saw runners around me (who lined up at the 4:15 time section) walking because they were unaware of the hard hills in the early part of the race.  After the first few miles it gets much easier after you reach the Key Bridge and head over into Georgetown.  As the course flattens out in Georgetown you can finally get a feel for how the rest of your day will go. Around mile 5.5 I entered the only new part of the course.  Two years ago, because of road construction in Rock Creek Park, the course went northwest from Georgetown up to the reservoir and back into Georgetown.  This old route added quite a bit of climbing so I knew the new route, which added an out and back in Rock Creek Park would be much easier on the legs.  Passing the 6 mile mark I felt good and had a great feeling about the day.

Passing the Marine Corp Band near the Lincoln Memorial

Passing the Marine Corp Band near the Lincoln Memorial

MILES 6-13.1

  • 10K 1:00:34 (29:48), 9:35 min/mile
  • 15K 1:30:14 (29:40), 9:32 min/mile
  • 20K 1:59:25 (29:11), 9:23 min/mile

Miles 6-9 were included in the out and back inside Rock Creek Park.  I figured that this park of the course would be very quiet but I was surprised at how many people made the trek into the park to cheer everyone on.  These out and backs also provide motivation for any runner since you are able to see that there are plenty of runners behind you and no matter how badly you feel it is always great to remember that there are plenty of other people going through the same situation that you are. Passing the nine mile mark I was still feeling good and was loving the run.

Mile 10 was near the JFK Center for the Performing Arts before we entered the National Mall area until mile 20 where we went across the 14th St bridge.  Here I got a great site, on the back stairs of the Lincoln Memorial the Marine Corp Band was standing and as I pasted they started playing the Marines’ Hymn.  Entering west Potomac Park began the worst part of the course.  The next four miles are tough.  You run through West and East Potomac park where there are only a few spectators and it is during one of the most important parts of the course.  Mile 11.5 begins West Potomac Park and your run towards the turn around point at Haines Point and half way point of the race.  Despite the desolation that every runner experiences on in West Potomac Park I continued to feel great.  I am used to this run since West Potomac Park was my most common area that I ran when I lived in downtown DC.  Passing the halfway point I began to realize just how good my day could end up being.

MILES 13.1-18

  • Half Marathon 2:05:41, 9:11 min/mile
  • 25K 2:32:07 (32:42), 10:54 min/mile

Rounding Haines point is not just a turn around at the end of the peninsula, but it is a turning point in the race.  You are past the halfway point and you are now running back towards the mall and the large cheering crowds that wait for the runners.  Miles 14 was uneventful besides finding a guy who was saying to another runner that he lives in the same building that I use to live in (you can see the building from that part of the course).  Mile 15 started the area where the crowd are great.  Here is where I began to feel the impact of running a PR race just two weeks before. I had to begin slowing down knowing that I still had 11 miles until I was done.  The crowd continued to push all the runners through the area but despite that my day was not getting any easier.  Miles 15 and 16 are another out and back on the course following Independence Ave paralleling the reflecting pool.  Although I had to walk for brief parts of this time through the water stations I was still moving forward pretty well.  These struggles were made much easier since I knew that I was not pressuring myself to perform at my top level.  Mile 17 was a pretty good one because this mile starts the national mall out and back that includes some of the best crowds that I have ever experienced in Washington.

MILES 18-24

  •  30K 3:06:55 (34:48), 11:11 min/mile
  • 35K 3:42:31 (35:36), 11:27 min/mile

Mile 18 was a tough one for me.  As I rounded the corner by the fountain in front of the Capitol my foot began to hurt very badly.  Unfortunately this feeling was one that I have had in the past, my shoes had given up on me.  I was planning on getting rid of these shoes after the race anyway but this was not a good time for my shoes to give out on me. The pain on the right side of my foot was bad, causing me to walk for the next half mile, giving it some time to relax. I was able to slowly move along through mile 19, aided my two friends who were cheering for me and even made me a sign!  At mile 20 I knew that this would be a rough six miles.  My foot got to me again on the bridge so I decided to walk the gradual uphill first half of the bridge and run the second downhill half.  I entered Crystal City at mile 22 and started the last out and back of the race on Crystal Drive.  I struggled through miles 22 and 23 including taking multiple short walking breaks.

After the Race

Celebrating at the finish festival!

MILES 24-26.2

  • 40K 4:24:38 (42:07), 13:33 min/mile
  • FINISH TIME: 4:40:57, 10:42 min/mile
  • PLACE: 8,769 out of 19,678

At the mile 24 marker it all hit me at once.  My legs began to hurt so bad that I had to even stop and stretch some times during this mile.  I knew that there was only two miles left so I kept pushing through.   As I began the 25 mile I vowed that no matter the pain I was going to push through the pain and finish the race running the last 1.2 miles.  The best part of the race was during the 25 mile when I caught up to my good friend who was completing his first (and maybe only) marathon.  He was struggling but I told him that we were going to run in and I was going to finish the race with him.  We pushed through the final mile and finished the race strong.

CONCLUSION:

Although my time was not the best it was still better than my PR entering the 2014 calendar year.  I had three marathons (St. Louis, Chicago and Marine Corp) and all were better than my PR at the beginning of 2014.   Looking back now I can see how amazing this race really was.  The crowd in DC is one of the best.  DC is a great running city so there are plenty of people throughout the crowd that knows, and empathizes with each runner.  The course is one of the best in the country.  You get to see some of the most iconic buildings and monuments in our country all while completing a task that less than 1% of American will ever do. What a great day!

-Runner

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