Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Marine Corps Marathon: Report

It's important to take the time to smell the roses, right?

This past Sunday I woke up at 4 a.m. to get ready for my 5th Marine Corps Marathon in 5years. It is a really fun race and travels through various neighborhoods and historic sights in Washington DC and Virginia. The race starts by the Pentagon, goes past Rosslyn, comes down George Washington Parkway, then travels across the Key Bridge into DC. Once in DC at about mile 7, we ran up the C&O Canal (up MacArthur Blvd), ran by the resevoir then traveled back towards DC through Georgetown. This year, at mile 14 the marathon changed a bit and we headed to Haines Point. Returning from Haines point, about mile 17, we headed up Constitution Avenue along the Mall past the White House to the Capitol Building. At the Capitol Building (mile 18 or so) we turned around and headed down Independence Avenue. At mile 20 we ran over the 14th Street Bridge past the Jefferson Memorial and over the Potomac River. Once back in Virginia we ran to Crystal City then retraced our steps heading towards the Pentagon, then ran our final few miles to the finish line at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington Cemetary.

After getting up at 4 (which felt like sleeping in to 10 a.m.), I got dressed and ready for the marathon. As I got dressed I made sure to glide everywhere (sadly at Baltimore I ended up missing spots so had some chaffing issues on my under arms and near my sports bra) and put on adequate layers. Again it was a real treat to not have to spend 30 minutes gliding my feet...I LOVE my drymax maximum protection socks.

It was bitterly cold (well in my world it was) with a temp of about 45 degree's when I left my house. Since I did not know when I would see my "people" I created a drop bag and made sure I had room to put my layers. Less than 30 minutes later I was heading off to the metro to catch the first one at 5 a.m. On the metro ride I chatted with a nice gentleman who was running his first marathon. He was concerned about his lack of training as well as a bout with the flu earlier in the week. I did my best to reassure him that he would do fine (my husband did his first marathon with the longest training run of 14 granted we spend alot of time on our feet hiking but I think training runs of 20 or 25 miles may be overkill, although certainly they do give runners confidence).

After a switch at Metro center and getting off the metro at Pentagon, I lurked in the station for a bit. Sadly some crazy wind tunnel seemed to form in that area so it was not warm and cozy. I chatted with another first timer for about half an hour and again offered some words of encouragement and advice. He was waiting for a training partner who evidently had caught a later metro and was dealing with massive crowds in trying to get to the start. Although MCM is a very large race, if you do arrive early, it does seem to be a bit less crowded (this is true for packet pickup, riding the metro and porta potty use). Closing in on 7, I decided to brave the cold and start heading to the start line. Last year I lurked in the station until about 7:45 and ended up completely missing the start (I think I was about 7th to last over the start line). This year I wanted to be at a minimum 10th from last:-)

A few pictures by the 10 km finish, one potty break later I was ready ...for another potty break. My breakfast of champions: a banana, an energy bar, a gatorade and 3 diet Mountain Dews caught up to me (well really the 3rd Mtn Dew). I got back in another long line and chatted with other runners. As I approached the potty, I heard my name. This was puzzling as when I chat in my head I don't say my name. It was my friend Angela. We chatted briefly. She was coming off an injury but seemed to be in good spirits. After this break, she headed to start while I headed to my drop bag truck. I took off my clothing (okay not all of it, just my long sleeve shirt and pants because people kept assuring me it WOULD be 70 degree's). I put on my trashy outfit (garbage bag on top and on bottom) and handed over my drop bag. In retrospect I should have kept my long sleeve shirt. But alas I did not know the temperature would not rise quickly and I did not know I would see my people at mile 14. My choice of outfit (I like to call it "Hefty Coutourre") led to many comments. People would cheer "Go Garbage Girl!", "Go Trashbag Lady" and my favorite "Way to go White Trash!" (which I found highly amusing).

I wandered to the starting area and heard the countdown for the start (as I recall the last few years I have been in the facilities when the gun/cannon went off). About 50% of the time this is where I can be found at the start of races (with chip times it is irrelevant what you are doing and when you are doing it and I take this mandate seriously). I walk forward slowly. With ~20,000 runners all trying to do this it does not go fast. About 10 minutes later I get to the starting line.

My first order of business as I cross the line is to immediately head off to the right where Miles the Mascot is hanging out. It is time for a picture. I have 300 pictures for the race (less then the 800 I should have had because I inadvertantly did not switch out my memory stick...this causes me alot of agitation during the race because I have not had to ration pictures in years!) Well, I try to think of picture strategies (only pictures with me or of exciting/humorous situations, no pictures of scenery). I try to think if I can recall any photo shops along the course but cannot (I now know there is a Best Buy in Pentagon City but at the time was unaware of this). A nice Marine takes my picture with Miles and I realize Miles-ette (the female mascot) is there as well. I get a picture with both critters. So far my conserving picture strategy is not going well!

Continuing on I run through Rosslyn. As usual it is a zoo. There are crowds of runners and lots of spectators. I love the energy of the race, it definitely makes up for the inconvenience of the crowds. In Rosslyn I notice some under-utilized porta potties. Knowing that the next 10 miles of porta potties are going to be a nightmare to use, I decide to take advantage although even with my excessive Dew and Gatorade drinking I do not really need it. As I exit the porta potty I decide to waste some more time by tying my shoe. This is all within the first mile of the race. Tihs is not looking to be my best performance!

The rest of Rosslyn goes by fairly uneventfully. The hill up to mile 2 is expected and not too bad (after Vermont 100 pretty much any hill is not too bad!). After cresting this hill we get our first chance at beverages. I take a large cup of gatorade and am excited to see it is is Cool Blue, my favorite flavor. It is my lucky day! After the aid station we take a sharp right and head into the wooded area on our way to the George Washington Parkway. I like this section as it is very pretty (and it is downhill!). There is a mist/fog over the river which makes for some very pretty views of the spires of Georgetown University. The folliage is still not peak, however there are many tree's which are yellow, orange and red. It is a cool crisp fall day, a perfect day for a marathon!

Pretty soon we are climbing up to the Key Bridge. After crossing the bridge we head up towards Georgetown along the C&O Canal. Again this is a very pretty section and the colorful fall leaves reflecting in the canal are just beautiful. After about 2 miles we climb our final major hill. It is a bit challenging particularly since so many runners in the pack I am in are walking leisurely up it. I try to powerwalk up it but don't really stress too much about this slow pace. If I wanted to run a marathon for time I would pick a small, obscure and really ugly course.

This year in Georgetown there seemed to be fewer spectators and festivities going on. Last year there seemed to be a huge block party with music blasting and lots of alcohol. After my puking post-Crystal City Hash Harriers Beer incident in 2004, I don't drink any alcohol during marathons, but I do appreciate when spectators at least offer up mimosa's, beer, bloody mary's etc. In fact the most enthusiastic cheerleaders at races tend to be a bit inebreited (VT100, I am sure the young ladies on the hilltop were quite sloshed...but regardless they were ENTHUSIASTIC, I don't care how I get enthusiasm I just really enjoy and embrace it!). Running by Georgetown University, panic sets in. I am about to get passed by Teddy Roosevelt, one of the Mascots of the Washington Nationals. I need to pick up my pace. No, no, I need to get out my camera! I take a few pictures then continue on.

Heading into the tidal basin I am suprised to see my sister Cindy and my mom. They are cheering enthusiastically. I stop and chat for a bit. I take a few pictures, find someone to take our picture and mention I am feeling pretty good. I give my mom a hug, but my sister suggests she prefers no hug because I might be stinky or sweaty. After a few minutes I mention that I should get going because people are passing me left and right. It takes me abou 3 miles to get back to the pack I had been running with after this break.

For the first time ever I head to Haines point at mile 12. It is a bizzare experience. It is made even more bizzare by the fact that the awakening statue is no longer there. It causes me some confusion and agitation. I like to pick up the pace at Haines point. And I like to get my picture by the statue. I feel lost. Well, I don't feel so lost that I skip the bathroom. This is one of the places along the course that is near a real bathroom with running water. I take advantage of it. I also retie my shoes. I have not gotten to the halfway point and it is nearly 3 hours since I started. I really don't want an over 6 hour finish so it is time to pick up the pace.

The course takes us back to downtown DC. I get to the Mall and there is Cindy and my mom. I take another picture and have another spectator take a group photo. Sadly although the Washington Monument is right behind us, it is cut out of the picture. I never know what to do when I select a poor photographer, I appreciate they tried to help me but clearly did not realize my vision. I end up taking the desirable picture with my mom and Cindy and ponder photoshopping myself into it. After a few minutes of chatting it is time for me to get back into the race. The course now takes us up Constitution Avenue.

It is now time for some sightseeing! First we approach the Washington Monument on our right. Then the White House is on our left. As we are passing these sights I hear my name. Apparently wearing the same outfit, flowers in my hair and a sparkeley fanny pack makes me easy to spot. It is some friends from the Frederick Marathon. I ran several miles with them in 2007. They observed me eating a HUGE ice cream cone the last mile of the race and were just amazed at my eating and running ability. Also they observed my picture taking during the race which enabled them to repeatedly pass me. This occurs again at MCM this year. We catch up briefly until I decide I need to run off course at the outdoor art museum (near what becomes a skating rink in the winter).

At the outdoor Art exhibit, I snag a few tourists to take my picture in this area. At one point I reciprocate by taking a cute couples picture. They have no idea I am running a race and it is only towards the end of our conversation that they realize they may have impacted my time. They are very apologetic. I am not running for time so it doesn't bother me. I pass the Museum of Natural History. I get some tourists to take my picture going up the stairs. Last year I went in this building for the public restroom but I have to say it is very far from the entrance (about 200-300 meters and you have to go through bag check). And my picture did not come out well because the museum is not well lit. I decide because I am conserving pictures to skip this museum. I get to the Capitol and a band is playing a song with a good beat. I take a moment and stop and appreciate the music.

Heading back along Independence Avenue, I immediately veer off course and take a side trip into the Botanical Gardens. This is a beautiful conservatory right next to the Capitol. I gamble on no security and am pleased to be able to just walk in. I ask some tourists to take my picture and everyone is very helpful. A few people try to congratulate me and I have to explain I have not finished (although in my mind I know the finish is likely in the bag). I make my way through the building and arrive a the restrooms. I use the facilities and savor the warm water and soap. I wash my hands and my face. I wish for a moment that I had brought a small toothbrush/toothpaste or small bottle of scope. But I am somewhat clean, I smell fresh and I am happy. I sit down and appreciate the moment. I then get up have some more tourists take a few more pictures of me then head out back to the course.

Getting back to the race I jog down Independence Avenue appreciating the Museum of American Indians, the National Air and Space Museum, the Museum of Modern Art among others. I take a few pictures along the way. As I approach Washington Monument, I run into Cindy and my mom. This is my last time to see them. My sister recently had foot surgery and is starting to have some pain. I understand and am suprised I saw them 3 times and that they have clearly traveled about 1-2 miles in their quest to see me. I get a final picture of us then I get back to running. It is the final push.

I cross the 14th street bridge well in advance of "the Bus". I am a little suprised when I run into my friend Tom who race walks most events (we met at Frederick, Baltimore and several other marathons this past year...walkers frequently pass me when I am making purchases or taking one of my numerous breaks: bathroom, pictures, sightseeing, etc.). He got rerouted at the start of Constitution Avenue. This is puzzling to both him and I because he really paces himself well and was never in any danger of getting passed/picked up by the lag vehicle. We catch up briefly, then I continue on. During one of my breaks with Cindy and my mom I notice my friend Amanda from George Washington Birthday, Baltimore, Frederick and many other local races has passed me. I end up catching up with her on the bridge. We chat and catch up briefly. She is pacing a friend who is clearly struggling but is definitely going to make it. I continue on.

As I enter Crystal City I hear my name again. It's Tristan! He's taking pictures of me, I'm taking pictures of him. It is not an ideal location because he is right in an aid station. Even this late in the race, the water stations are chaotic. I try to get out quickly. I run the out and back to Crystal City. The crowds are amazing. The energy is building and I am excited. I can taste the finish line. I finish the loop at Crystal City excited to cheer the runners whom I can see ahead of me and cheering those who are behind me. I don't see anyone I know but it is still crowded on the course. As I exit Crystal City I see Tristan again. I am really running low on memory (camera not personal). I ask Tristan if we can switch media sticks. He agree's so we spend a few minutes exchanging memory sticks. We give each other a quick hug and I am ready to resume my race. As I head off, Tristan mentions my friend Angela is not too far ahead of me. I decide I want to see her. I run fast. I catch up to Amanda. I chat with her again and wish her luck. I then catch up to Angela. She is in alot of pain but getting it done. We chat briefly but she is struggling. I continue on because my friends from Frederick are just a little further ahead. I do not catch them, but after the finish I do. In fact after the finish I stumble on my friend Peter from Reston Runners. He finished in about 5:20. He wanted to go faster but was satisfied with his race. After catching up it was time to experience the saga that was picking up my drop bag. It was tough to navigate the crowds but I finally got my bag back. I then headed backwards to mile 25. I successfully ran into Tristan. I asked if we could wait until the final "regulation" runners. He agreed. During this time I saw my friend John from Potomac River Run, 24 hour race, Lower Potomac Marathon. Ray from Reston Runners who always carries an American Flag arrived a few minutes later. I also saw my friend Betty from Montgomery County Runners. We had volunteered at several races together and have run several other marathons together. I jogged with Betty for about half a mile and we caught up just briefly. She has reduced her race schedule but is doing well.

I had a great race. It is amazing to think that I have only been doing this (marathoning) 5 years. I have been so incredible blessed to get to know so many wonderful people. It was icing on the cake to run into so many friends during this my 5th Marine Corps Marathon just 5 years into this journey that hopefully will continue for the rest of my life

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