26.2 Things About The Marine Corps Marathon 2005
1. You’re off to a bad start when there are hideously long Metro delays… due to someone committing suicide on the tracks. If that isn’t a portent of bad things to come, I’m not sure what else is required.
2. This year because it was the 30th Anniversary of the Marine Corps Marathon, 30,000 runners were admitted instead of the normal 22,000 limit. The result? Chaos. There were two "start waves" and once you add in everyone who took Metro in getting to the starting point late… well… yeah, not good.
3. We had a devil of a time finding people in our group. We would all be together, then we’d turn around and five people would be missing. It actually almost became a joke… "Well, we’ve found Laura, but now we’ve lost Carla."
4. I had never run a more claustrophobic race than the first four or so miles of the marathon this year. Arlington was utterly packed full of runners and I think I expended almost as much energy moving side to side as I did forward. Lots of dodging slower runners, or (even worse) inconsiderate walkers. I do not care if you walk; after all, I use walk breaks for my marathon routine. I do mind, however, if you walk six-abreast in a group and block the route. Or just suddenly stop running in the middle of the course and start walking. Stay to the right, how hard is that to figure out? You’re on a road, for pete’s sake.
5. The leaves hadn’t turned as much on Spout Run this year as they had in 2004, which was a pity because then it was easily the most beautiful part of the course. Instead this year you’d look off to the sides and see handfuls of runners peeing like mad. I think it was Susan who coined the phrase "Spout Run: The Marine Corps Marathon’s Toilet."
6. Spectators this year were… well, very clueless in a couple of places. On Key Bridge, for example, the spectators had lined up down the middle of the course. Because yes, we don’t mind sacrificing half of our area to run, really. Move over to one side, folks, before a runner accidentally knocks you over. (Which I did see happen.) Just blatantly rude.
7. Running down M Street in Georgetown was the first real area of the course where things began to feel a little better. We’d left a lot of runners behind us and there was room to spread out. And, of course, the obligatory joke of "This is the fastest I’ve ever moved down M Street in my life!" was made by many.
8. Rock Creek Park is always a lot of fun, because it’s one of the few places where the course doubles back on itself. As a result you get to see everyone that’s both two miles ahead and behind you. True to form I ran into friends in Rock Creek, which quickly lifted my spirits.
9. The one sad thing about Rock Creek Park is it was where I lost Julie. She’d broken her toe at the start of the month and while most of the healing was done (and her podiatrist cleared her to run the marathon), it was still causing her enough trouble (plus not being able to run for weeks) that we unfortunately parted ways there. (Don’t worry, she still did really well and even got a new PR!)
10. One of the best feelings about running down the National Mall this year was knowing that due to "construction concerns" the Capitol Hill area was removed from the course. To that I have to say: Thank God. I’ve run the Marine Corps Marathon three times before this and I hated Capitol Hill every time.
11. Of course, the one downside is that you end up whipping around the Mall so fast that a lot of people who were on one side cheering for me didn’t make it over to the other side in time. Argh! Ah well, it’s the thought that counts.
12. The Mall area had a lot of attrition in my group this year. Mark had plotted out a pretty aggressive pace for us (which would’ve given us a 4:30 finishing time) and our group in just that short distance dropped from seven to four people including myself.
13. Leaving the Mall at Mile 14 is also where things started to unfortunately slip for the remaining four of us. Randy, Mark, Katie, and myself were all beginning to slow down; the heat and the crowds (which kept coming back) were really getting to us and while we’d planned for 10-minute miles for miles 11-20, starting with Mile 15 that began to get out of reach.
14. Last year I’d loved the Hains Point area; I’d found the quiet and solitude of the area refreshing, a chance to really refocus. This year it was a nightmare as I kept trying to buckle down and pick back up the pace and finding myself unable to do so. By this point we’d lost Mark and Katie as well, making the front of our pace group just myself and Randy.
15. I finally lost Randy at Mile 19, or rather, Randy lost me. I was on a "run five minutes, walk one minute" ratio and I knew that the fifth minute was starting to really wear me down so I said I was going to shift to just four minutes in the hope of being able to do those minutes stronger. Randy agreed, the first four minute cycle began, and I never saw Randy again as he zoomed off with some sort of adrenaline rush.
16. Sadly, looking at my times for the marathon, I’m not 100% sure it did me any good at all!
17. With seven miles to go, and suddenly being all alone, I then made the biggest mistake that one can make: I over-analyzed my progress. Suddenly I was mentally yelling at myself for one thing after another, second-guessing every decision I’d made.
18. Even worse, I was starting to get cramps in my legs. After all of these lectures about the dangers of over-hydration, I ended up failing to compensate for the bright sunny day (and its 68 degree temperatures, which was at least a little cooler than last year) and managed to dehydrate a bit… manifesting itself as the cramps. Of course, it’s easy to figure these things out after the fact, but at the time it was just one more horrible thing to happen.
19. About the only ray of sunshine I had at this point was getting onto the bridge, looking at my watch… and realizing that even with starting much later than last year, I had still managed to beat the 14th Street Bridge with an even larger lead time than ever. (If you aren’t on the 14th Street Bridge by 2pm, you’re out of the race.)
20. Mind you, the 14th Street Bridge stinks. Not literally, figuratively. It’s mostly uphill, you’re out over the water with no shade, and everyone is just baking as they struggle up the hills. My walk breaks became longer and more frequent as I struggled through each hill.
21. I got a brief respite when we went through Crystal City. There was a wonderful AIDS Marathon volunteer who ran up to me with a bag of pretzels and Starbursts and I would’ve hugged her for it if I didn’t fear that it would have made me stop entirely. The pretzels tasted like sawdust in my mouth but I licked the salt off of a couple, and ate some of the Starbursts for energy.
22. Crystal City is also the other place that the course doubles back, so I was able to see a handful of my fellow pace group members and how they were not too far behind me. That actually made me really happy; by this point I’d been running alone for 4.5 miles and just seeing a familiar face or two was exactly what I needed.
23. All through Crystal City I was getting more and more angry with myself, because I’d been trying (as best I could) to do all of the math and I’d come to the conclusion that a sub-5-hour marathon was out of my reach. More than anything else it’s what I had wanted and to feel it slipping away was just about killing me. Then with just 2.2 miles to go I suddenly realized that it was in reach provided I didn’t just stop entirely. (Terrifyingly, I was almost a math major.) I honestly think it’s all that kept me going.
24. The cramps came back big time in the last mile and a half and it was torture. I kept thinking that after being so close to under five hours that I was about to lose it again, and I just kept pushing forward as best I could. Finally I was up the final hill (I had to walk it entirely because I knew otherwise it would’ve been disaster) and about 75 feet from the finish line… and my right leg cramped up entirely and I had to sort of shuffle and hop my way across. I can’t wait to see the official pictures because I can only imagine that they must look hysterically funny.
25. My finishing time? 4:57:34. Not what I was hoping for, but a huge improvement over last year (57:48 faster to be exact) and a new PR to be very proud of. Despite my minor trip to hell and back I was still the second one to finish out of my group, which I think really says just what a hard course it was. I’ve run five marathons and while this was my best finishing time, it was by far the hardest one I’ve ever run. (Last year’s, with my old personal record, was probably the easiest.)
26. Huge thanks go out to (deep breath) my parents, Brian, Doug, Mike, Mikey, Steven, Tod, Sarah, Karon, Jeff, Laurel, Katina, Nancy, and Madelyn for being out there and cheering me on. You have no idea how much this helped me, and it really lifted my spirits. I owe you all big time.
26.2 Next marathon, 4:30, darn it.