Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Marine Corps Marathon

On Sunday, 20,991 people completed the US Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, VA. I was one of them. Prior to this marathon, the largest marathon I had completed in only had 2,438 finishers. What a shock to the system!
Our weekend began when we landed in Norfolk, VA on Thursday, close to where my in-laws live. Ben and I checked into our hotel and set out for an “easy” three mile run. Going from altitude to sea level is amazing and “easy” quickly turned into a “How fast are we going? Oh, that is too fast for an easy run. Ok, how about now? Nope, still too fast!” It was nice to run by the ocean, even if for a brief bit, but strange to feel the humidity difference between Denver and a coastal city. Anyways, we hung out with family on Thursday night and then Ben and I drove up to D.C. on Friday morning.
People had indicated that driving in D.C. is crazy. As a former southern Californian, I was very skeptical. Boy, was I wrong. After seeing the Air Force Memorial, Ben and I probably spent about 20 minutes driving around the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery, trying desperately to get to one or the other. We eventually made it to the Arlington Cemetery and were just in time to see the changing of the guard and a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. It was so powerful. We then made our way towards the mall, found parking, and managed to see the White House and the majority of the other memorials in under three hours. It was a really cool thing to be able to finally experience these.
On Saturday morning, we woke to some pretty miserable weather. It was cold and raining (with some snow). We decided to try our luck at the subway and found that it was super easy to navigate. We had decided to meet up with Ben’s parents at the runners expo for race packet pick-up since Ben’s dad was also running the marathon. The race packets were ok. The organizers did an online race package with coupons and such to decrease waste. The shirts are this year are red, mock turtle neck, cotton t-shirts. The expo was at the Armory and was extremely crowded. There were some pretty cool booths at the expo and I would have like to stay longer to explore and meet Ryan Hall, but we had some more sights to see. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around D.C in the cold in between viewing some of the Smithsonians. After several hours on our feet, Ben and I decided to return to our hotel to thaw out and rest up for race day.
Our race day prep (outside of training) always feels like it takes forever, especially when we are not at home. The correct outfit has to be chosen based on the predicted weather, race bibs readied bladders have to be filled and place in our packs, and the appropriate amount of fuel needs to be prepared for each of us. We try to complete this process the night before so we can capitalize on sleep on the back end (especially when we are racing in a time zone that is two hours ahead… feels like 1:30 when the clock reads 3:30)!.
Anyways, race day arrived and Ben and I had a frantic morning checking out of the hotel, as there was unexpected ice and the windshield. We took the metro to the Pentagon, where we joined lots of other runners heading to the runner’s village. A couple of tents were set up for people to mingle in prior to the race. I was completely unprepared for how cold the morning was actually going to be and spent a good portion of the hour and a half leading up to the race shivering. I eventually opted to change into my ¾ length pants into my full length compression pants I had brought for after the race. It took until the end of the third mile for me to finally be able to feel my feet. At the runners village, I was a little bummed to find that there was no water. Porta-potties were, however, quite well supplied.
When it was time to line up for the start, Ben, his dad, and I lined up in what Ben and I anticipated our finish time to be. Someone had recommended that we try to get into a corral that was just faster than our expected time, but the crowds were too large to deal with. The pre-race ceremony was really cool (even though we observed most of it from the line for the porta-potties). Once the race started, it took about fifteen minutes for us to reach the start line.
The race started by the Pentagon and wound its way from Arlington into D.C. The start was a little slow and required much attention to foot placement as I tried to bob and weave around people. Pretty early in the course, we were met with a hill. It was at this moment that I really appreciate training in Denver with hills and felt really frustrated with people who do not train with hills. It became very challenging to run the hills, which was frustrating as the course was significantly hillier than we expected. We stayed with Ben’s dad until about mile three, when we decided to split and increase our speed a bit.  At one point, around mile seven, there is a hair pin turn that leads directly up a decently long hill. Here, people slowed way down and it became very difficult to weave in and out. At the top of the hill, we were met by a wall of people standing in line for the porta potties (the doors here were facing the wrong direction). I am pretty sure I have bruises from all the different elbows that came into contact with my arms. It was at this point in the race that Ben and I looked at each other and realized how much we appreciate small races.
During the course, we ran passed the Mall, several memorials, and the Capital. The toughest part of the course was towards the end, where you climb a long bridge as you run towards Crystal City. The course then winds down into Crystal City and as you see runners going the opposite direction, we realized we had to climb back out. It was at this point in the race that our GPS died, which we had been relying on pretty heavily. When we saw the sign for mile 26, the finish was still not visible. We rounded a turn and realized we had a short, steep hill to climb to get there. After crossing the line, we were met by another wall of people as we waited for our blankets and our hand shake and medal. We were then funneled out to the Iwogima Memorial where Marines were handing out foot. Once past here, the line kept going and led to the finish line festival where we got our clothes and warmed up. We met up with Ben’s parents and made sure to hit up the beer tent before heading back to Virginia Beahc.
Overall, Ben and I had a great race. We communicated well with each other. We both stayed hydrated and fueled really well. I did not fall (surprisingly). We ended up setting a PR by 17 minutes, which was so exhilarating.
The quick and dirty
So, I know I probably sounded a bit like Negative Nancy in my description, so let me say that overall, it truly was a fun race and there were a lot of cool things about it. The amount of spectators made the mileage go by so very quickly. It was amazing to see how many people came out to cheer for the crazies. I wish there were always that many spectators at our races.  It was also really awesome to be part of this event and to run in such a historical place. The race expo was filled with lots of interesting booths. The finish line party had the best food possible to feed that many people. There was plenty of beer at the beer tent. The Marines were extremely helpful with meeting needs of the runners. Access to the start and finish was really easy. The course itself is a fantastic and fun course.
To be honest though, I cannot say that this race is on my list of things to do again. Running with the amount of people that competed in the marathon made the experience itself very difficult. I felt like I had to constantly be more aware of where I was running and spent a lot of energy weaving through the crowds. I was disappointed in the start of the race and I think it would be a better start if waves were used based on previous times (the BolderBoulder does this successfully and it is a much larger race). In a race this large, when the ground is wet from weather the day before, handing out oranges with the peels on does not seem like the greatest idea to me. I am not sure what you could do instead, but peels on a wet ground made running treacherous at times.
Even with all of that, I am glad to have been a part of the Marine Corps Marathon. I am glad to have my sixth marathon done, with a pretty sweet PR. For now, it is back to training for 30 miles for Ben’s 30th birthday and our next marathon in January.


Would I do this race again? For the spectators and the experience, yes. For everything else, probably not.
Would I recommend it to a friend? Probably as a one time recommendation or to someone who really likes big crowds.
Would I change anything? Of course… the start, the direction of the porta potty doors at mile 7
Is it worth the value? The views, crew, and post-race party, and the experience made it worth the value
Overall race experience: Mixed

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