Today I ran my third marathon, the 39th Marine Corps Marathon. The weather was nearly perfect, with 50-60 degrees temperatures, clear skies, and low humidity. Although it was my third successful attempt at running 26.2 miles, it was a first in many ways.
Today’s MCM (Marine Corps Marathon) was the first “massive” race I’ve run. My last two marathons in Pittsburgh and Columbus were big, but the MCM is simply massive. There was a cutoff of 30,000 participants in this year’s race. The expo was by far the biggest I’ve seen, and nothing has come close to the scale of the opening, with paratroopers dropping near the start line with large American flags and a howitzer cannon being fired as the starting gun. Although it was extremely large, it was incredibly well-organized. Uniformed Marines were at the start line, the aid stations, and the finish line. They also placed the finisher medals around each participant’s neck after he/she completed the race. If you appreciate the military and you’re a runner, it doesn’t get any grander than the MCM.
Today’s MCM was the first marathon I’ve run with Jeannie as a support person rather than a co-runner. While I am thrilled for her to run races, it was nice to have her helping me prepare at the start line, and cheering for me at various points along the race course. She was tracking me on her cell phone with the MCM app (another very nice feature of the MCM), so she was able to look for me at the appropriate places on the route. She also had a good idea of what time I’d be crossing the finish line.
Today’s MCM was the first race I’ve run for charity. I ran as a member of Team ZERO, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to fighting and eliminating prostate cancer. I learned of a friend who was putting together a team, and I joined. Running with a charity team is also a good way to get into a very large race that may be sold out otherwise. After joining the team however, I learned of a few other friends who are dealing with the same disease. I was required to raise $550 for the cause to participate as a runner, and had no problems reaching the goal.
Today’s MCM was the first race I’ve run, of any length, with a running coach beside me. The head of the Team ZERO group is a very knowledgeable coach who has worked with numerous runners and triathletes across the country. I met him the day before the race, and immediately was drawn to his outgoing, upbeat personality. He is dealing with prostate cancer, and has become a very outspoken advocate for screenings and early detection. He was pacing a portion of the group for a finish time of 4:30, so even though I was shooting for a faster finish time, I ran with him and the few others with him to visit and talk during the first few miles of the marathon. I started moving ahead of him with a quicker pace, and he immediately caught up with me and began offering well-intentioned advice on how to improve my running form. Without thinking twice, I immediately slowed my pace, and tried putting into practice some of the valid corrections he had offered. I had them on my mind the remainder of the marathon, which threw off my pace, and probably caused some problems later with foot pain due to my trying something different over several miles of the course. I had broken the cardinal rule of running: NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY! So while today’s performance suffered in the short-term (unofficial finish time of 4:45), I did get some good pointers that likely will help with my running in the long-term. Had I not run a race with a running coach by my side, those observations may have never been made.
Today’s MCM was the first marathon I’ve run without “hitting the wall.” I’m in better shape physically than I’ve been in my entire life, and have set several personal records in shorter races due to working with my trainer/running coach Kristie Cranford. She also recommended I get some tips from sports nutritionist Dina Griffin on how to fuel before and during a race, as well as how to hydrate. My fueling and hydration today were like clockwork. There was no weakness, no dizziness, no dehydration, and less muscle fatigue than any other marathon to-date.
Now for a few details of the race itself. It took nearly fifteen minutes for my corral to reach the start line after the cannon had sounded. There were THAT many people. Some walkers had managed to get too far ahead in the starting line-up, so most of the runners were bumping into them and trying to get around them. I’ve never run such a crowded race. In most races it is congested near the start line, then once the runners begin, the mass of people thins quickly. The crowd didn’t thin very much today until the final miles of the marathon.
As I started today, I began with a slower pace than what I wanted my average to be. I was being conservative with my energy, but also didn’t have much of a choice due to the mass of people all around me. There simply was no room to run. The first few miles were uphill, but after having run several hilly half marathons this season, that was no problem. When I finally reached the point of settling into the pace I wanted to maintain, I had the conversation with the running coach about my lack of proper form. It all began falling apart when I tried immediately to implement what he advised. I slowed my pace to work on form, then later in the race I started having pain in my right foot. I don’t normally have pain in my right foot, but I had it today. Finally I had to walk a bit to ease the aching, then run again when it subsided. As the marathon neared the end, the walking breaks became more frequent. The cardinal rule of running is NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY. If I didn’t get it before today, I’ve certainly got it now. The last .2 mile of the race was definitely uphill, and I had heard stories about how difficult the climb was. It was really nothing compared to some of the long inclines in the West Virginia hills.
Looking back, this race was a fantastic event. I met and made many new friends, and saw Washington D.C. from a different perspective. It was one of my “bucket list” races, and I’m glad I could participate. My favorite sign along the course said, “You’re running better than Congress!” For a race taking place in D.C., it was perfect and brought a smile to my face.
Right now I have mixed feelings about doing any more MASSIVE marathons. Transportation to and from the start line is often a challenge, as it was today. The Metro was open at 5:00 a.m., but after arriving at the Pentagon station we had to walk a good two to three miles. Then we went through security slowly, only to wait in lines at the porta johns before the race began. After the finish line, there were lines to receive race medals, and more lines to receive the food that is usually given to the runners. After getting all the food, there was another one or two mile walk to get to the area where the runners could be reunited with their family and friends who weren’t participating. Then the lines to get back on the Metro wrapped around the block. It was a long wait. Everything was well-organized, it was just on a VERY large scale. There is something to be said for a well-organized race on a smaller scale. Still, running the Marine Corps Marathon at least once is something every runner shouldn’t want to miss.