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

Chicago Marathon Run Review!

In 2012 Bride and I went to Boston to see her sister’s senior recital and when I found out the weekend was the same weekend of Patriot’s Day I made a point to stay and watch part of the Boston Marathon that day.  Throughout the whole weekend as we walked around the city I was able to experience a true big city marathon for the first time.  The whole city was a buzz with the energy of the marathon.  All the news stations were talking about the upcoming race, all the papers had the latest information and the light poles were decorated in Boston Marathon colors.

Last year this love of big city races grew when I was able to run the New York City Marathon.  Turning the corner off of the Queensboro Bridge and into Manhattan was one of the greatest feelings that I have ever had as a runner.  The crowd was amazing and the people of the city truly embrace the race and what it means to so many of the finishers.

This past weekend my love of big cities races continued to evolve and grow.  I had the honor of running the Chicago Marathon on Sunday along with 45,000 others including two very close friends. I felt lucky to get my name drawn earlier in the year and ever since I looked to this race as my goal.  I knew that the course was notorious for being flat and the place that the elite runners come to for a chance at a new world record so I knew that this was a great opportunity for me to reach for a great PR.  That opportunity, plus knowing how well the race is put on and how much the city embraces the race (which I will write about in my race review later this week) made this weekend a wonderful opportunity.

PRE-RACE:

I will go over the expo and other events concerning how well the race was executed during my Race Recap early next week.

It is closing in on 3 years since my first marathon and I have been searching that whole time for a pattern that I can follow as a pre-race routine. I have tried different foods, sleep patterns and advice concerning how to prepare your body without much success before my Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon in VA Beach on Labor Day weekend. While there I figured out a pattern that worked for me that I wanted to replicate that same pre race routine which includes, of all things, Chick-fil-a the night before for dinner.

The night before the race I stayed with two great friends, Huyen and Andrew, who were both running the marathon as well.  They live on the north side of the city so we just hoped on the red line and headed down town the morning of the race.  We entered the staging area and I was able to quickly check my bag at the red bag check.  The one issue I ran into was that we just arrived a little late and after checking my bag I had to rush to my corral before they closed them at 7:20am. I was able to make it to the corral a few minutes before it closed and I pushed my way towards the front of the corral near the 4:00 pace group that I planned on staying with throughout the race.

The start was spectacular including introducing all the elite runners to the whole crowd of runners and quickly after the elite runners stepped off the first corrals started. At 7:41 I crossed the start line and took the first steps of my 26.2 mile journey.

Just got to the starting area.

Just got to the starting area.

MILES 1-6

  • 5K 28:20, 9:07 min/mile

The start was exhilarating, like all big race starts are.  I quickly found the 4:00 pace team and stuck with them.  The first couple of miles winds around downtown before heading north on LaSalle and into the park that is home to the Lincoln Park zoo.  Throughout these early miles there were constant crowds three, four deep, sometimes more.  They were loud, excited and cheering everyone on their way.  The early miles of any race are easy when looking back on them but these were definitely made easier because of the enthusiasm permeating from the fans.  Heading north on LaSalle St./Dr. you first hear the silence of a road race when you enter Lincoln Park.  Soon after entering the park I was shocked at the quietness that occurred.  Luckily I wasn’t the only one since multiple runners around me commented on the same quietness.  Luckily this quietness would not occur often during the next 21 miles of the race. Between miles 5 and 6 there were 2 water stations and our pace team was quick to give us the warning that after the second water station during the 5th mile there was not another one until just past the 8 mile mark.  This long gap was an anomaly but one that, without running the race before was hard to notice and could cause your race plan to change.

MILES 6-13.1

  • 10K 56:40 (28:20), 9:08 min/mile
  • 15K 1:24:59 (28:19), 9:07 min/mile
  • 20K 1:53:33 (28:34), 9:12 min/mile

Mile 6 exited Lincoln Park, right around the 10K mark, and entered the first neighborhood area where the crowds were not packed on each side of the road.  We went up next to Lake Shore Drive at mile 7 and was able to see parts of the lake over to the right side of the road.  Around 7.4 we made the left turn onto Addison St. and reached the northern most point of the race. After a brief time on Addison we turned onto Broadway and headed back south towards the Loop and downtown. Miles 8-10 contained many different neighborhoods, each with their own attitude and crowds.  As I approached the 10.5 mile water station I was excited because my friend Kathleen (from Sister to Sister Running Blog) was working the water station but unfortunately I didn’t get to see her because I thought she was working the right side but she ended up being on the left side of the road. As I approached the 11 mile marker I realized that we were back downtown and the crowds were accordingly larger that they were just a few miles earlier in the more sparse neighborhood areas. After mile 12 we passed over the river and experienced the worst part of the course.  When crossing the bridges, which all runners had to do 6 times, there was a thin fabric over the grates that still caused the grates to dig into your foot as you went over them. As I went through the 20K mark I knew the Half marathon point was close and turning the corner around 12.75 you could watch the screen on the corner and watch the runners go by. When I got around the corner I could see the half marathon point and the starting point for the rest of the race.

MILES 13.1-18

  • Half Marathon 1:59:42, 9:08 min/mile
  • 25K 2:21:47 (28:14), 9:06 min/mile

The half way point is always the a great part of a marathon.  From there you start counting down the miles, rather than counting up. As I went through the half way point I felt great.  I had actually never felt so good after running a half marathon.  My legs were feeling fresh, I was in a great state of mind and I was confident that I could reach my goal time of 4 hours.  On top of that, I knew that if I just followed my pace team I would make it to the finish under that goal.  We passed the half marathon point just under the goal pace (at 1:59:42) and I knew that I could do the second half at the same pace.

Mile 14 started with one of the greatest parts of a race that I have ever ran.  The Charity Party was a loud few blocks where each of the many official charities of the race had a tent and and supporters cheering.  This was also the place where many of the runners for these charities were able to get extra refreshments.  Although they were there representing their charities, they continued to cheer just as loudly for every runner as they did their own.  Once again the Chicago crowd surprised me and spurred me on to the next mile.  miles 15 and 16 were uneventful except that I continued at the 4 hour pace, with the pace team and was still feeling good.  Mile 17 began the final section of neighborhoods with Little Italy being first.  The crowds were great and at 17.5 there was the Power Gel station.  I had never really had one before and was not impressed with my strawberry banana selection.  I prefer GU but that could just come from using GU more often than the Power Gel.  After the water station it was on to mile 18 and what I thought was finally the beginning of the end of the race.

MILES 18-24

  •  30K 2:50:14 (28:27), 9:10 min/mile
  • 35K 3:20:43 (30:29), 9:49 min/mile

The section that I just finished have always been the hardest part of my previous races.  I find that miles 12-18 is always the hardest.  You still have a ways to go, the crowd is usually sparse during these miles and you cannot imagine the finish line yet.  When mile 18 comes the finish line is all of the sudden a reality and you can envision crossing under it with a great time.  As I past the 30K mark I knew that I was going to PR (my previous PR was 4:32:42 in St. Louis in April) it was just a question now by how much.  I continued with the 4 hour group and noticed that it had gotten quite a bit smaller since the half marathon point and we began to see more people with the 3:45 pace markers on.  Passing mile 20 is always a milestone and today was no exception.  20 miles is usually the longest training run that anyone does and the last 10K of the race is ran on heart alone.  Between the 20 and 21 mile markers there are 2 water stops.  As I approached the second I felt a little soreness coming on so I decided I would get a banana to combat the pain.  After eating the banana I passed the 21 mile marker and all began to go wrong.

My stomach, not my legs had given up on me.  I felt like I was going to puke and the feeling brought me to a walk for the first time in the race.  I began to contemplate the best place to run over and throw up without getting to much attention.  I decided to push on at a walk and let my stomach settle down.  I walked for about a half mile at what my watch said was about a 20 minute mile pace.  At that point my stomach was settled so I began a slow run and quickly got back up to my nine minute mile goal pace, knowing that I had lost the chance of breaking 4 hours.  As I went past mile 22 and approached mile 23 I came to a turn where I got to see First Cellular Field where the Chicago White Sox play, and despite my negative attitude for missing 4 hours, the baseball fan inside of me couldn’t help but love to see the stadium while running in such a great race.  As I went through the 23 mile marker my attitude began to change and I realized that I was looking at about a 4:10 finishing time and how could I be upset with a PR by over 20 minutes!!! Mile 23.5 is the best turn anyone can make in the Chicago marathon.  Here is where you turn onto Michigan Ave and can see the city skyline ahead of you and you know that all you have to do is run strait and you will make it to the finish.

What a beautiful day for a beautiful race.

What a beautiful day for a beautiful race.

MILES 24-26.2

  •  40K 3:54:24 (33:41), 10:51 min/mile
  • FINISH TIME: 4:06:42, 9:25 min/mile
  • PLACE: 14,348 out of 40,801

The skyline is ahead of me, acting as a compass, rather than a wall.  I know that I will run down Michigan Ave. and make a hard right and go up a hill before turning into Millennium Park and the finish. The crowds are picking up again and all I can do is smile at how happy I am.  My legs are obviously tired but I know that my fitness will get me to the end.  The final water station was just after the 25.2 mile marker.  Everyone is cheering and encouraging “just one more mile”!!!  The one cheer that I hate the most during a race is “you are almost there”, since you usually start to hear it at around mile 2.  But at this point it is true, and music to my ears.  Yet, in my head I know that after turning right at the southern end of Millennium Park I have to go up a small but punishing hill before turning on Columbus towards the finish line.  I can’t even remember taking the turn or how tired my legs were as I ran up the hill, all I remember is seeing the finish line ahead and going towards it.  After stopping my watch I read what it said 4:06!!! a PR by 26 minutes!!!

CONCLUSION

Although my goal was a sub 4 hour race I can not ever be upset with getting a PR by 26 minutes.  Entering this year my PR at the marathon was 5:02, set at the 2012 Marine Corp Marathon, now after Chicago I have cut almost an hour off that time!  I have trained hard but it was definitely worth it.  I always miss the training after a big race like that, all the emotions and the energy all you want to do is get out there and do it again but everyone knows that is the last things your legs will allow you to do. I cannot wait to see what my future races have in store for me and I know that with continued training I am not only going to break the 4 hour mark soon, but I am confident that I will be able to get a better time than I could even hope for at this moment.

Thanks for sticking with me through all of that rambling.  I loved my adventure at this race and would recommend it to anyone else.  What a great weekend, and what a great race.

-Runner

Run Review: 2014 Newport Liberty Half Marathon Review

The day before any race I usually try to prepare the best that I can for the adventure.  Including going to bed early, eating healthy and relaxing and staying off my feet but this past Saturday I did anything but that.  I was on Long Island for a wedding which was supposed to take place on Sunday (the night of the Newport Half Marathon) and since I was there, and I needed to get in the miles I decided to register at the last minute for what is usually said to be one of the most scenic races in the Northeast.  The day before on the other hand was not like the eve of any other race.  I went to Coney Island with Bride and two of our friends, walked around followed by being out late at the rehearsal dinner.  I woke up really early and made the 40 minute drive across Manhattan to Jersey City for the race.

New York Skyline at the Beginning of the Race

New York Skyline at the Beginning of the Race

PRE-RACE: 
This race was full of firsts for me.  Starting with it being the first time I have done race day registration.  I usually plan my races out well ahead of time, and build up to them.  This one was different though, it was a spur of the moment race that I looked at as just part of my training for the Chicago Marathon. After arriving I walked up and paid the, very reasonable, $50 for the race day registration.  I got my number, my t-shirt and was on my way to bag check quickly.  I needed to check my bag immediately because I needed to get in a few miles before the race since I needed them to properly prepare for my upcoming race.  I originally planned to get in 7 miles before the half marathon to bring my total miles to 20 for the day but I woke up a little late, and hit a little more traffic than expected on the way over so I only was able to get in 4 before lining up.

As I ran my early miles in the fog and the humidity I noticed that I was definitely not the only one using this time to get in the extra miles that we needed.  In fact I realized that many of the runners there use this race as a training race for a later fall marathon.  I finished my 4 miles with about 25 miles until step off but I quickly realized that biggest fault of this race.  The size of the race, about 3,000 runners was just too many for the location of the start.  We were in a small park near the water in Jersey City and there was just not enough room for everything that is needed at the beginning of a race.  There was very little water and even fewer porta potties, luckily at this time in my running career I am well trained to not need to use the bathroom before many races.

Newport Half Marathon MapMILES 1-4
The race began in front of a large mall and a couple of large hotel and headed around some old industrial buildings before coming back on the other side of the street to the starting line around mile 2.  From mile 2-mile 3 there was a gradual hill but in reality of many other courses it would not even be considered a hill.  Mile 3-mile 4 lead you through some of the nice neighborhoods of Jersey City before turning towards Liberty State Park right after the mile 4 marker. You enter the bread and butter of the race, Liberty State Park, around mile 4.5 and begin a journey that will wind you through the park for the next 6 miles that will include some of the best views I have ever had during a race.

MILES 5-8
Liberty State Park is where many people catch the ferries to both the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.  The park is right on the water and through the first  1.5 miles of the park you don’t quite see what makes this course so iconic.  When I came to mile 6 I noticed the time clock that said 54 minutes.  I knew that I started a minute or so after the clock and I felt good so I began to think that it might be possible to break the two hour mark for the first time in a race.  I told myself to keep up my pace until mile 8 and then make the decision to push it to the end to guarantee the sub 2-hour finishing time.

After mile 6 you turn towards the water and you realize why this is such a great course. Here you run right along the water and not only can you see lower Manhattan but you are very close to the Statue of Liberty (the NJ coast is closer to Lady Liberty than the NY coast).  The morning has been very foggy and hazy, create a very high humidity from the rain the night before, but right around this time in the race the sun poked out, the fog broke and the Manhattan skyline appeared.  It was a beautiful sight and since I cherish a great course when I run, it was a great added value to the race. Miles 6-8 followed the water, including a switch back around mile 7.75.  As I reached mile 8 I realized that I still felt good and I decided to push my pace to guarantee that I would achieve the sub 2-hour time.

MILES 9-12
Mile 9 brought the course right next to the ferry port where there was a line of cars waiting for the race to pass until they could park and get on the ferry. Miles 9-10.5 winded through the last part of Liberty Park including passing the boat docks, before entering the roads of Jersey city again.  The small hill that we went down around mile 3 we now had to climb headed towards the waterfront. Mile 11.7 marked the final water stop and that is around the time that I finally realized how great of a race I had ran and that I was going to break the infamous 2-hour mark in an actual race. After the water stop I passed the mile 12 marker and looked toward the finish line.

MILES 12-13.1
The last mile of any race is always the hardest but I found this mile one of the hardest closing miles I have ever had.  You ran on the waterfront and constantly had turns, that you always thought would be the last.  The winding final mile closed as you finally turned back onto the road that you started on and headed towards the finish line for the last quarter of a mile.  You turned and finally saw the finish line at the 13 mile mark and as I turned I saw that the clock said 1:58:15!!! I knew that I had broke the 2-hour mark and not only that, I had done it after start the day with four extra miles!

Celebretory Selfie

CONCLUSION:
I will soon follow my race review template for this race but I thought my milestone deserved some credit before I point out some of the more negative aspects of the race.  This race, more than any other, provided me with more confidence than I have ever gained before from finishing. As I now look forward to racing through downtown Chicago in a couple of weeks I know that I can keep the pace that I need to give me a chance of reaching my stretch goal of a 4:00:00 marathon.  I went to the wedding that night and danced the night away despite my legs being tired from the miles.  It was a great running day that I will be able to point to as a milestone for many years to come.

-Runner