I entered the lottery for the Marine Corps Marathon on a whim, and I was one of the lucky ones. I decided not long after that I would take on a really long training plan (really really long for me) at 27 weeks with Nike Run Club’s coach feature. I’ve discussed previously why that was a terrible idea for me personally! Anyways, so I got to the start line quite undertrained but pretty healthy.
Just trying to get around the Pentagon!
We started off Sunday morning plenty early at 5:15, as the race didn’t officially start until 7:55 AM. We did our thing, drank some coffee, ate some, and made our way to the metro station. We were staying in Rosslyn, where the start and finish line are, but we thought taking the metro would put us out at the best location to get to the start. This was definitely wrong, as it took us so long to get to the start line that way. The metro put us out by the pentagon, where we then just had to move along like cattle. This was easily the biggest crowd I have been in that was all trying to move to the same location, and it started to put me on edge pretty early on. After moving with this crowd around the edge of pentagon, we finally started to get close to the runners’ village, and we waited out the terrible porta potty lines. That took so long, we missed the National Anthem and the official start, so we hustled over, did our bag check, and parted ways as I headed as far into the crowd before crossing the start line as I could. At this rate, I was way further back in the corrals than I wanted, as I tend to spend several miles trying to get around people if I start in slower corrals. Who doesn’t?! So my worst fears were imagined, and the crowd didn’t even begin to dissipate until at LEAST ten miles… anyways!
The first few miles started off much hillier than I imagined, but it wasn’t anything that tanked my energy. They rolled up and down and the crowd was just so thick. It was really difficult to move around at all without nearly stepping on someone, and people were elbowing each other right and left. I tried not to “surge” too much as I pushed myself around slower runners, but I really couldn’t help it either. I wanted to run my own race, and it’s tough when your pace is being dictated by other people. The good thing about the crowd I will say though is that I was so focused on my immediate surroundings and not tripping on others that I was able to truly pay no attention to what mile we were in. It was clear by mile 2 that my watch GPS wasn’t working at all, so I had that going for me too as far as not paying attention to pacing or mileage.
By mile 4 or 5, we were across the bridge in Georgetown, and it was so beautifully scenic. Again, the crowd was extremely distracting, so I didn’t take it in as much as I wanted to. For several miles, we were running opposite the people who had already reached a turnaround, so once I was on that opposite side, I stayed right in the middle in hopes that I would catch a glimpse of my mom and check in on her. She was doing as many miles as she possibly could considering her hip needs surgical attention, so I was very concerned/curious about how she was feeling. Apparently we just missed each other, and I continued on in my jogging stampede. I really can’t recall details of most miles, but I do know I took a gel between mile markers 5 & 6. No gels sat well on my stomach all day, and this one was no exception. By mile 11, it felt fine again, but I needed to take another, so I did. I forgot to fill my water bottles that morning, so I was at the mercy of the water stops to wash the gels down. I have no idea what my pacing was up to this point, I was only able to look at the total time on my watch as a reliable indicator, but I knew I wasn’t near where I wanted to be for a sub 4. By mile 12, we were at the Wear Blue to Remember mile, and it was easily the most emotional moment I have ever had in any race. I didn’t feel much connection to this race prior to that mile, but this point hit me hard. As we started passing picture after picture of fallen soldiers, I was noticing the ages reading “20 years old,” “19 years old,” and was overcome with sadness. Then I saw picture after picture of young men holding small children, and I felt the sobs in my chest. In that same moment, “God’s Not Dead” came on my playlist, which opens with the line “Let love explode & bring the dead to life.” I sobbed for several minutes as we ran by the photos of those fallen heroes, and I was thankful to be so touched. I was thankful to feel a connection and a huge sense of gratitude to these soldiers, their families, and their sacrifices. It was truly one of a kind, and it’s plenty reason to want to run the race again.
We then reached the half way point, and I was a little over 2 hours in, maybe 2:03 or so. I knew if I could keep it up, then I could still sub 4, but it was doubtful that I wasn’t going to fall apart considering I only trained up to 14! I got pretty anxious the closer I got to mileage I wasn’t physically prepared for, but I trucked on pretty well until 17 or 18 before I started to hurt. Running by the monuments and National Mall was as an absolute blur, and I just tried to focus on music at that point to keep me going. By mile 20, I was beat. My stomach protested, my calves were hurting bad and my feet really ached, but we were on the bridge and that was supposed to be a big deal to reach. At this point, I had only walked at water stops, and looking back, that feels like a big accomplishment. I looked over on the bridge and saw a girl around my age starting to stumble back a little, so I went over to check on her. This was truly my perfect excuse to take a break, and I was so grateful to have someone else to focus on. We got her some water, and I talked to her and told her what a Godsend she was for me in my moments of pain, so we walked on together. We talked and ran again when she could and we stayed together the rest of the race. It feels like we mostly walked, but it was probably about 50/50. We didn’t want to push too much as she would start to get dizzy again, but we also just wanted it to be over with! We were both fighting dehydration, dry mouth, and really just what I call the “pain cave.”
I’m the fist pumper 🙂
The crowd helped get us through those final miles, as did Rose’s knowledge of the course. She warned me that the last mile was just a boring, sunny, straightaway, and that the last .2 was uphill. We booked it up that little hill, and we crossed the finish line together. It was absolutely triumphant, and the marine that gave me my medal saluted me and shook my head.
I was so impressed with the organization of the race and the attitudes of every single soldier I encountered. They all seemed to be in such good spirits and so genuinely involved. They made a huge impact on the race in the best way possible!
There are lots of changes I know to make because of the learning experience this race provided. For starters, I’ve known for a while I want to change my fueling strategy. Gels just don’t sit well with me anymore, and I hate being a slave to sugars in general. Whole30 allowed me to toy around with real food fueling, but I want to take it a step further and become totally fat-adapted. I love the resources that I’ve read and listened to on fat-adapted endurance athletes, and I love the idea that my body would be much more efficient at using my own body fat as fuel versus having to give it 25-30 grams of sugar every 45 minutes or so. For this reason, and many many many others, Marcus and I are currently working on the switch to nutritional ketosis. I’m going to do another post about it soon as we get in a groove, but I have high hopes that I will need very little fueling for my next marathon!
I’ve got St. Jude in Memphis on the schedule for December 2, but it’s TBD whether I’ll stick with the full or jump down to the half. I haven’t run a marathon that I really enjoyed yet, but I also want to continue facing those really hard, soul-searching moments. Those moments are where you see what you’re made of, and I need to face that as often as I can. Thanks for reading!