RR: Marine Corps Marathon 2008
On Sunday I ran my second marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon. After a summer full of strong and consistent training, quality cross-training and finally feeling like I had this marathoning thing down, I was very optimistic about the race. Based on several recent races and 20-mile runs, I thought that I could run 4:15 comfortably, with a margin of error for a particularly good or bad day. No matter what, I knew I would beat my previous PR of 4:42:18 since even my slowest training runs would put me under that by at least 20 minutes.
Sounds nice, right? Well, friends, welcome to the world of marathoning. Even with a lot of quality training and perfect weather, this was what I considered to be a very ugly race.
The days leading up to the marathon were incredible. It started on Wednesday, when Jen and Chris decorated my condo and was followed by Thursday when I finally started to feel like I kicked the cold that reared its ugly head on Sunday. Friday Chris and I had a safe trip to DC where I went to the Expo, met Bart Yasso, saw friends and later joined some additional friends for a long and lovely dinner. Even race morning I was able to meet up with a half a dozen friends and make some new ones while I waited at the start. I had planned to run with the 4:00 pace group for as long as I could hold on, so I was exceptionally excited when I saw that there was a 4:15 pace group, which was the pace I wanted to run from the beginning. I should note (this may be important later) that to run a 4:15 pace with even splits, you would need miles that were 9:43. I’ve run two 20 milers at less than 10 minute pace, so I was psyched for an awesome race and a PR when the gun went off.
The race is phenomenally crowded and I continued to trip over people who were oblivious because of their iPods or who didn’t place themselves in the appropriate corrals. Mile 1 is comfortable and right on target: 9:43, but both the speed and the course elevation increase sharply thereafter. I ran with the pacers until mile 8 when I realized that it was a very bad idea. Some of the splits that I ran with the “pacers” included: 9:03, 9:05; 8:59, 9:20. For the most part, about 40 seconds too fast, especially on early hills, and much closer to a 4:00 pace. I’m not sure how much of a role going out too hard and too fast played, but I know it didn’t help. By mile 11 I began to feel a blister that I later found out was solidly the size of a silver dollar (three Army guys later eagerly looked at it and took pictures) and I thankfully saw some of the wonderful spectators from the MCM message board at this point. I was rather sad to see that one of the spectators was my friend, Len, who continuously gives me wonderful running advice and was my running angel at last year’s MCM; he had to bow out early in the race due to an injury that had been nagging him.
At this point, the course turned onto Haines Point. In theory, changing the order of Haines Point and the Mall was smart, but in practice I thought it was terrible. There was an extra part of the course leading into Haines Point (11-15) that had no spectators, and this was true as you left Haines Point as well. This part of the race was terrible for me psychologically- I had lost the pace group, I felt myself starting to slow down, and there were no spectators to pull me through. Between miles 15 and 16 I saw my best friend, Hannah, and her husband, Andy. I cut off at least one poor person, jumped onto the grass and almost knocked Hannah over as I gave her a bear hug. I only remember telling her that I hated running and was never going to run again.
I hopped back onto the course, unsure how long I was going to be able to keep going before needing to stop to walk. My lungs were burning and hurt as though I had pneumonia. I couldn’t catch my breath. I haven’t had an asthma attack since high school, but suddenly found myself considering my options if my wheezing got worse. I was also favoring my blistered foot, so my knee was in pain because of my adjusted gait. My calves were knots. It was terrible. It was only mile 16.
Miles 16 through 21 were terribly difficult and really felt much more like miles 20 through 26.2. I got a boost at the beginning of the bridge where Lauren and Holly cheered me on (Lauren most definitely wins the most enthusiastic spectator award. I still smile when I think of her popping up and cheering!). A little while later, I saw the MCM support team again and I was sad to run by them because I knew I didn’t have any more spectators. The last cheer I heard was Jen yelling “Who’s a runner?! Kat’s a runner!” It would need to carry me. I did a ton of walking on the bridge and had the realization that I had a granola bar with me and I should use my walk time for a snack. Best decision ever.
I got off the bridge and suddenly, out of nowhere, had my kick back. I was able to run from mile 22 until the finish. They were not terribly fast miles, but I ran them. Last year I remember so sadly hobbling past the Pentagon and this year I felt so much stronger. I rounded the corner at mile 25, thrilled that the finish was there and I was going to make it when I saw Chris’ friend Aaron. It was so incredible to see support when I needed and wasn’t expecting it. I was so disoriented and sad because I couldn’t find Chris who was a few meters down course- Aaron was planted as an “early warning system”! I could have cried when Chris started to run next to me. Partly because his presence was so comforting and partly because I hated him for making running look so easy! He had water and a protein bar and when I turned down both, he came close to me and told me he loved me- something we save for special occasions- and would see me at the finish line. I remember him putting his arm around me and kissing me on the forehead. I might have made that last part up, but I like it and it is something he would do, so I’ll keep it as part of the memory.
I ran up the hill and crossed the finish line, relatively unscathed save for blisters, cramps and a maybe-injured ankle. My final time was 4:42:52… a personal worst by 34 seconds! (I actually find this very funny) In some ways I’m disappointed, but I learned a lot from the race. I now know to trust my own pace (and not pacers!) and that I need more fuel on my runs. I also know I have a much faster marathon in me, and I’ll continue to train hard to make sure that one day that race will end up in the books. There are always good runs and bad runs and I think I just had a bad run on a big day, and I’m okay with that.
I met up with some friends after the race at Carpool, a sports bar in Arlington (below is a picture of me and my friend, Isaac). It was wonderful to hear people’s successes and seeing everyone’s accomplishment gave me some much needed perspective on my “bad” race. Really, my race wasn’t bad. I didn’t meet my goal, but I finished, and did so with minimal injury. I was also healthy enough to have gotten to the start. I am very thankful for those things. I should also note that Jimmy successfully completed his 177.5 ultra marathon to raise money for the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund and looked better after 177.5 than I did after 26.2! Jimmy, I’m so proud of you and thankful that we have people like you in this world.
Next up: Antarctica. It certainly won’t be a PR, but it will definitely be an experience!