Just a few days and only two short runs after getting back from North Carolina, Kaela and I were back on the road for my next race. We were headed to Arlington, Virginia, for the 40th annual Marine Corp Marathon. This was the shortest time that I had ever attempted between marathons. I had twice done races just 13 days a part, but this time I was going for just 8 days. I knew that this was not going to be an easy task mentally or physically, but the challenge had me excited.
Race: Marine Corp Marathon
Location: Arlington, VA
Finishing Time: 4:59:09
When I was looking into races that were in Virginia, the Marine Corp Marathon became my clear choice of race. Nicknamed “The Peoples Marathon”, it made it a point to put the participants first giving a unique experience. The only issue is that the race was a lottery entry, and with it being so popular, there was no guarantee if I would be able to get in. And that is exactly what happened. I entered the lottery and got the dreaded “we’re sorry” email. But remember this is about me running the race, and no I didn’t become a “bandit” and break into the race.
My sister-in-law had also entered the lottery, was selected and it was going to be her first marathon. In the spring, she ran the Cap City half marathon in Columbus and I was able to come and support. After the race, we were chatting about her plans for running MCM later in the year. She said that she had been meaning to ask me if I wanted her registration because she couldn’t imagine doing what she just did twice! I told her that she had a lot of emotions flowing around because of the tough race and not to make any decisions about it in the moment. A few weeks later she reached back out and said that she had not changed her mind and wanted to transfer her registration to me. Just a $75 transfer fee later, and boom, I was registered to run the 40th MCM.
We left on Friday after work and headed to Kaela’s family’s farm in Pennsylvania. It was close to the half way point between our house and Arlington, so we decided to split up the trip on the way down and stay with them for a night. We were also able to have Kaela’s mom come down with us so Kaela had someone to chat with during race. On Saturday, we headed down to our hotel right outside Arlington. Kaela is not a fan of “big city” traffic so it was quite humorous as we approached the Arlington/D.C. area with her driving. The expo was in downtown D.C. and as I mentioned, Kaela was not a fan, so I made the trip myself while she stayed at the hotel. The convention center was massive and I felt like I had to walk 30 minutes indoors before making it to the race expo. Expo was a typical expo for me. I picked up my bib, grabbed the gels and fuel I was going to need for the race and made my way out. I picked up some delicious Italian food from Ristorante Bonaroti in Tysons (highly recommended) and head backed to hotel to eat with family.
I felt like I had gotten decent sleep that night. But waking up at 4am never seems to feel like I got the best type of sleep. I got out of bed, cleaned up and headed into the hallway to eat. I was having my now normal pre-race stomach issues, but I did my best to make sure I was getting a decent amount of carbs in. We made it to the parking garage, that was a little over mile from the start, about an hour before the start of the race. As we were getting our things together, Kaela asked me if she should bring her rain jacket in case of rain. I had checked the weather and was only showing 20% chance so I told her that it wasn’t worth carrying it around as it should be clear. I should have known better than opening my mouth about rain. As soon as we got a block from the parking garage, we started to feel the drizzle.
We followed the sea of people towards the starting area when all of a sudden we just hit a stop. They had set up a security station to check everyone heading towards the start with basically old school walk through metal detectors. Sounds like a great idea to keep everyone safe, right? In theory it was a good idea, but it was very poorly operated. After standing in rain/cold for about 45 minutes we finally made it through the security check point. Now we had to change our pace to a quick walk to get me into the corrals on time. Kaela and her mom set up just after the start line, I gave Kaela and Bella a kiss (oh of course Bella came with us) and made my way to the start.
They were already singing the national anthem by the time I approached the starting line. We were being held back by some Marines and I wasn’t sure why at first. Then someone told me to cover my ears because they were about to shoot the starting cannon. I am calling it a cannon because that’s what it looked like to the untrained eye. I am very glad that man told me to cover my ears because we were about 20 feet away from this thing and it rung my ears even covering them. There were a few people that weren’t as lucky to get the news and you could see the surprise on their faces. After the shot signaled for the wheelchair athletes to go, I was able to work my way through crowd and make it back into the corrals. At this point everyone had started moving so I just hopped in where I thought the 4:30 group would be. Finally settled in after a crazy morning, I gave my shoes one last tie, said a quick prayer, took a deep breath, and I was off!
My legs felt a little stiff as I started but I had accounted for that being that just the weekend before I had run in NC. About 1/4 mile in Kaela and her mom were posted up, standing in the rain, cheering and snapping photos as I ran by. It helped get my focus back on this race and this race alone. I knew that my mind would continue to creep to last week and not be in the present. The first 2 miles through Arlington hit you right in the face with a couple hundred feet of elevation change that ended in a long hill. I felt like I played them smart enough and didn’t try to attack them hard since it was still very early. We then rode the downhills getting a beautiful view and heading across the Potomac River to historic Georgetown. By this point the rain had turned to just slight sprinkle which felt good as the temperatures started to warm up.
Just before mile 6 we started what would be a 3.5 mile out and back. The road wound up and down and side to side. Lined with beautiful trees it was a beautiful scenic part of the course. It was also pretty tight, so it was hard to keep my stride and my pace as I was elbow to elbow with other runners. It was nice, however, to see people lining the median cheering us on. There were lots of “you’re running better than our government” signs which just seemed appropriate being on the DC side of the river at this point. I started to catch up to more of the wheelchair athletes that were being pushed by friends and family. I made sure that everyone that I passed I cheered on by name because they had to overcome so much to get where they currently were and they inspired me so much. Around mile 10 we opened back up again having both sides of the road to run on. Unfortunately, I think it was a little to late. My stride had caused my legs to get heavier faster than they should have and already I was feeling myself slow down. As I approached the mile 11 marker, I was able to see Kaela again and it gave me a little push and lifted my spirits as I ran past them.
The 12th mile was one of the most memorable miles of the entire race. Lined on both sides of the road were pictures of those that paid the ultimate price and lost their lives fighting for our freedom. As I was quickly glancing at their pictures, it definitely put a few tears in my eyes for the young and old that sacrificed everything. Towards the end there were people holding American flags on both sides of the path as we ran between them. There had to be at least 100 of them, probably more. Words can begin to express the emotions I was feeling at that point, it is something I will never forget. That mile was tough keeping focus emotionally, but also dealing with the fatigue that started to hit me hard. I made it to the half way point then had to bring it to a walk. It’s hard for me to say if it was the stride issues during the out and back, the standing waiting for security line before the race, or the fact I had a race just 8 days prior was the cause for the quick decay but regardless it was here. I knew that I was going to see Kaela again a little after mile 16 so I kept pushing, mixing a walk and run knowing that after I saw her I would only have 10 miles left (I say only like it’s an easy task).
The streets were lined with hundreds of people, which helped me keep my head up and keep moving forward. As I approached where Kaela was standing, I could read on her face that she knew I was not in the best situation. I’m sure she had timed out how long it took me to get back to her from the last time she saw me and noticed how much I had slowed down. But she kept screaming and cheering for me making me feel like the only person in the race! We made it around a few memorials and past the Washington monument, before heading to the “The Mall”. I was familiar with this part of the course and told myself that I will run the side up to the Capitol building, walk the curve, and run back down the other side; and that is exactly what I did.
Around this point I knew that I wasn’t going to hit a PR type day, so I decided to keep my head up and just enjoy my surroundings. I hadn’t noticed before but there were US Marines on the course at all the aid stations. It was something pretty special to be encouraged and supported by Marines in uniform while they handed me water. In addition to the aid stations, more Marines were just along the course “cheering” us on. I say “cheering” because having a massive guy yell at you like a drill sergeant to pick it up and stop walking is probably the military equivalent to cheering. Here again the streets were lined with spectators spending their Sunday morning watching a bunch of sweaty smelly people run through their city. As I approached mile 19, I reached the Capitol building and made my walk around the corner and picked it back up on the other side. Once we made the turn away from the mall at mile 20, I again had to slow down to a walk.
I was trying to get in more calories to hopefully help push me through the slump but my sport beanz and gels were not helping. And then that is when I saw it, in all its amazing glory. Someone was handing out PB&J sandwiches. I know, I know. I shouldn’t be taking unpackaged food from strangers but I just had to have a few bites to satisfy my tummy. This satisfaction could not have come at a better time as well. We were approaching the worst part mentally of the course. As we approached it I saw people with signs saying “Beat the Bridge”. I guess I didn’t study the course map well enough because I don’t remember reading about this at all. We spent about 1.5 miles on actual closed highway bridge heading back into Virginia. Almost no crowd support, no aid stations, and of course the sun decided that it was the perfect time to come out from the clouds that had been protecting me all day. That stretch of road seemed to never end. I went to a pretty dark place then and slowed down to incredible slow walk, talking to myself, trying to pick up my spirits and finish the race strong.
At mile 22 we finally made it off that bridge and were welcomed by music, cheers, and candy from the people of Crystal City. I had looked down at my watch and with some quick math realized that I was coming awfully close to not making it under 5 hours. That would just be unacceptable. This is where my attitude changed from enjoy and just make it to the finish, to putting everything I had left in the tank and pushing through the final 4 miles. We wrapped through some neighborhood streets that were bringing lots of energy with music and spectators. As we approached the turn around there was a fire truck spraying people to help overcome the heat. It was a nice pick me up to kick it into gear the last 5k. We turned off of the main strip when I heard some magical words once again. “Donuts around the next corner”.
I really thought I was hearing things until I saw the beauty of the Dunkin Donuts aid station. They were handing out a variety of munchkin donuts. I grabbed a cup and got a few down, knowing that it probably wasn’t the best idea but I can never pass up a donut! We continued down what looked like a service road and went under that dreadful bridge I actually did beat. With the Pentagon on our left hand side, I hit the 25 mile mark. I decided to take a quick final walk break to loosen up legs for final sprint. I took a quick glance at my watch and realized that I miscalculated the distance and I was dangerously close. With only 15 minutes left before I hit 5 hours, I had to finish the last 1.5 miles of the race. I ended my walk break quickly and picked up my step.
The sun was beating down hard off the road as we made are way back to where we started. The pace group signs were still set up, so I knew with each sign that I was getting closer and closer to the finish. I made it to the section where I remember seeing Kaela at beginning of race and knew the final turn was approaching. Spectators were lined on both sides of the street cheering at the top of their lungs as we approached “the hill”. Now I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to put a very steep hill right at the finish, but I did have some choice words for them.
I made the left passing by the Arlington National Cemetery and pushed with anything I had left up the hill passing multiple runners on my way up. The road wound to the right and I went into full sprint mode to get to the finish line. Mission Accomplished! 4:59:09. I couldn’t cut it much closer could I? Later on when reviewing the photos Kaela took, I came across this beauty showing my face in that final push. Let just say I told ya I was giving everything I had.
I made it through the finish chute, where you approach a Marine that puts metal around your neck and salutes you for your job well done. Trying to keep my emotions in check, I walked around finisher area to calm myself down before making it over to see Kaela. We grabbed some food from a truck in the finish party area, made our way to the car, and hit the road. The conversations on the way back to the farm with Kaela’s mother were great. That was the first time she had seen a marathon event and she told me it gave her a better appreciation of my running goals. That gave me a little smile and sense of accomplishment.
This race had so many ups and downs personally, but I would not hesitate to say it should be on everyone’s must do list. Amazing crowd support, Marine’s serving you at aid stations, beautiful scenic views and historical monuments, all combined made for an unforgettable event. I can not thank my sister-in-law, Allie, for giving me the opportunity to run this race with her lottery spot. However, I think I learned my lesson that perhaps 8 days between races isn’t the best idea, or at least I need to train a little harder to make it easier on me for race day.
Next, Kaela and I headed to Indy to finally see what I could do on the flat course of the Monumental Marathon.