RR: Marine Corps Marathon 2009

The 2009 MCM was my 9th marathon, my 7th since March. The goal of this race was yet another training run for JFK50 (total training races: 2 marathons and 2 ultras), but after coming so close to a PR two weeks ago at the Baltimore Marathon, I knew it could be a PR day.

Saturday: Expo and Pre-Race

I got to the expo and it was enormous, crowded and overwhelming.

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Only some of the really huge expo

The volunteers were exceedingly kind and helpful and I just love seeing the Marines in their uniforms. I ran into my buddy Dane and we chatted for a while.

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Me and Dane. He runs a LOT!

I also went to the Semper Fi Fund table where I finally got to meet Corey, an injured Marine who was helped by The Fund and now works for them. We’ve been in touch since I raised funds with Antarctica. She was so sweet and I was so happy that I was able to help the cause; if you would like to donate to an incredible organization, you can do so here.

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I also bargained a $110 jacket down to $80 (paying cash, asking for deals and male vendors all help) and got a $50 Dick’s gift card for signing up for the Pittsburgh marathon. I love deals! Next up I headed down to Ike’s where we would meet Shell to go to dinner with friends. I was relaxing on his couch, curled under a blanket when I see Shell come in… followed by Ben! Why is this notable and/or exciting? Ben is one of my very best friends and my neighbor in Pittsburgh who is supposed to be visiting his family in New Jersey this weekend. So why is he in DC?! Well, come to find out, ever since Ben met Shell and Ike at the Pittsburgh marathon, he has been scheming to come down and surprise whoever was running MCM! I love Ben! Both Shell and Ike were out with injuries so they were co-conspirators! After a lot of confusion as to why he was there, squeaking about the fact that he actually WAS there, telling him I hated him, proposing to him, and hitting him a few times so that I wouldn’t cry (and yes, I realize the diversity of that response) we headed to an awesome dinner with friends in Crystal City.

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Me and Ben at dinner

The rest of the night was spent making signs, drinking pumpkin beer, eating ice cream and watching Grey’s Anatomy.

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Shell making one of several awesome signs

Good times with great friends. I went to sleep feeling so excited for race day and so well-loved to have such fabulous people rallying to support me. If I’m not the luckiest girl in the world, I want to meet the girl who is.

Sunday: Race Day

Shell and I are up and going a million miles a minute and before 6:30 she had already rewritten song lyrics to reflect race day (e.g. “Shorty fire burning on the race course, whoa-o; Kat’s gonna run real fast, she’s gonna kick a lot of @ss on the race course, woa-o”), hosted a disco party in Ike’s car (courtesy of his emergency light/whistle) and slow danced with Ike while waiting for balloons.

I love, love, love, love, LOVE race morning. Getting to the start of the race was such a rush and we timed it so that I could use a porta potty, meet some old friends and make some new friends before the start. Perfect.

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Me, Mike, Carl (who is also running JFK50) and Chris

Since a PR was a possibility my plan was to start out conservatively (9:45-10 min/miles) and pick it up if I felt better later; I think I tend to go out too fast in the beginning of races and I wanted to mitigate that.

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MCM Start

Video of the start, and thanking Marines

Immediately after the start we pass by Arlington National Cemetery.  My step-dad’s sister was just buried at Arlington and it simultaneously shook me and inspired me. There are always inspiring stories at races, but MCM seems to have more- they are everywhere you look. But I wasn’t ready for one so early, and also not such a personal one. I turn a corner not much later to see an enormous American flag suspended over the marathon course. I’m such a giant, sappy, bleeding heart and this race is going to tug on every heart string I have.

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American flags were hoisted

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and carried

We run down Spout Run and turn onto Canal Road where I befriend Wayne, a Navy guy who is also running with Team Semper Fi.

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Running by Georgetown University

I catch up to a runner from a DC running group that I ran with when visiting DC this summer and then I have my next tear-jerking moment. I see a singlet with a very handsome Marine who was killed in action- Bill Jacobsen. The singlet also says, “My son, my hero.” I’m compelled to say something, but what can you possibly say to a father that has lost his beautiful son? I tell him that I’m sorry for his loss and am completely overwhelmed by tears that I choked back as I ran ahead. What I said felt too superficial and I regretted it, but couldn’t figure out what else to say. I spent most of the rest of the race running right behind Bill’s sister (wearing a similar singlet) and trying not to think of my own brother who is a Marine about to deploy to Afghanistan.

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We then turned into Georgetown where there are lots of great crowds and really fun personal memories. MCM was less of a trip down memory lane than the Baltimore marathon, but the house I grew up in is 11 radial miles from the White House so I’ve spent a lot of time in DC and I love so much about the city.

Georgetown spectators, Part I

Georgetown Spectators, Part II (shorter but better quality)

Before we reach the Kennedy Center I start to pass a man when I read something on his singlet that makes me realize he is Will Brown, one of the Groundpounders, a group of 4 men who have run every single MCM. All 34 of them! I know Will through the MCM message boards, but instead of treating him like a friend, I act like a total groupie and ask to take a picture of him. He humors me, but as I run on I can only hope that I didn’t annoy the Marine and ultrarunner with my obsequiousness.

As we head into Haines Point there are lots of spectators, even MY spectators!

Ben, Ike and Shell cheering for me

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Lined up and ready to cheer

I also remember that last year this is where I started to fall apart and, in contrast, this year I feel great and I’m keeping my sub-10 splits as planned. I find Haines Point peaceful and I see my friend’s girlfriend who cheers for me and I stumble upon Ray, who is carrying an American flag. The theme for the day is tearjerkers and seeing a Ray immediately made me think of my friend Ray who is currently deployed in Afghanistan. I thank runner Ray and try to shift my focus to anything but worrying about “my” Ray. On one hand, as an American I am so proud to have amazing men like Ray doing good for our country; on the other hand, as a friend, it breaks my heart that someone that I care about is deployed. After dating my ex through 2 deployments, I want my heart in the US and not in Iraq or Afghanistan.

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I think it is so amazing that people carry flags the entire race.

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Check out this amazing tree in Haines Point!

After Haines Point we turn onto the National Mall where I see Ike before I am swarmed with spectators. I’m holding onto my pace but it’s a little more work now. I keep telling myself just to run the mile I’m in, make  it to the Sports Beans, and to get to Ben, Ike and Shell.

A high school band playing for the spectators

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Pink gorilla. There were also spectators dressed as a beaver and a bumble bee

Mile 15 had an awesome band and a great view of hte Washington monument

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Runners and spectators behind the Lincoln memorial

Around mile 16 I see a man who is walking on crutches who is missing some of his calf and he is being followed by men pushing a wheelchair. I have this overwhelming wave of feeling so thankful that I have two working legs and lungs and heart that are more healthy than not. A flash of an e-mail that Corey once sent me sticks out: she asked me to enjoy running because she misses it so much (she is paralyzed). I suddenly feel so thankful yet burdened by wanting to do well for all those people who can’t do what I take for granted more days than not. I keep running, trying not to cry. I can’t believe I’ve held back so many tears in one stupid race.

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It was such a perfect day for a race

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Capitol Building

Bagpipers played for the runners on the National Mall

A ridiculous womens drumming group that comes out every year

I see my friends at Mile 20 coming onto the bridge. I hate the bridge. It’s long, boring, there are very few spectators and it’s a hill. Plus, people start to fall apart here so it’s easy to thinking about stopping to walk with everyone else. The problem is, if you’re strong enough to keep running there are so many runners who have stopped or slowed that it becomes a contest in weaving which makes running even harder. I see my friend Tuan, who is running across the bridge with runners from his running group and I run with him for a bit before I tell him to go take care of his own. He later told me I looked “so relaxed” like I was “going to get the paper.” I don’t believe him based on how I was feeling, but I get to the end of the bridge and turn into Crystal City.

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A member of Team Semper Fi

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Best end of bridge spectator EVER!

I also don’t like Crystal City. There are lots of spectators but it’s an out and back and that late in the race it’s tough to mentally have a loop going in the wrong direction just to tack on mileage. I make it to mile 23 and I start to have problems breathing. Stupid asthma. I’m so angry and frustrated, it feels like I’m sucking air through a straw into lungs the size of golf balls. The rest of my body feels great and mentally I’m so in the game but it’s all I can do just to get enough air to keep moving forward. This means I also can’t cheer for spectators, encourage other runners or thank the volunteers- my favorite parts of racing. Add to this that I see a group of motorcyclists who escort the coffins of members of the armed forces who were killed in action. Tears well up as they cheer for me and I choke them down again, telling myself I can cry at the end.

The last few miles are some of the hardest I’ve run because I feel muted by my difficulty breathing. I want to interact with people around me, but don’t have the air to do it. I run in silence and as the spectators begin to thicken near the finish line so many people look me in the eye and cheer for me by name. I can’t thank them and it kills me. A thumbs up just doesn’t express how thankful I am that they are cheering for me. I see friends Brett and Steve and begin up the hill towards the finish at the Iwo Jima memorial. The hill isn’t terrible but men are walking and limping up it and I think of how hard it would be to be a wheelchair athlete. There are Marines standing near the chute and I muster all I can for a high-five as I cross the finish line at 4:26:53.

Final hill on the way to the finish line. What’s it like to cross? You’ll need to find out for yourself.

A Marine puts a medal around my neck and I think of Dan, who I met at the start. Dan said that he had ordered a hundred medals that he passed out to runners so that the runners could give the Marines a medal that was so deserved. Dan, thank you for sharing such a wonderful idea; I hope you don’t mind if I borrow it next year.

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Salty and not cute after 26.2 miles but so honored to be getting a medal from a Marine. I tried to thank him for his service but ended up a stupid, stammering mess and shook his hand.

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The medal Dan was going to give a Marine at the finish.

My race wasn’t a PR, although I think it could have been if a) my asthma wouldn’t have started to give me problems and b) I wouldn’t have run an extra (are you ready for this?) 0.8 miles! I love this race, but it’s so crowded and so many runners stop to walk in the middle of the course (please move to the side), which resulted in a lot of weaving which really compounds over 26.2 miles. My pace applied to 26.2 miles and not 27 would have been a PR by almost 2 minutes, but such is racing. At the end of the race I got to give the pink balloons that Shell and Ike carried to help me locate them to little kids! I am the biggest fan ever of random acts of kindness so this was possibly the best part of the race! Next up: JFK50!

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At the end with great friends and awesome signs

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