THE BIG ONE: Marine Corps Marathon 2013 recap (10/27/13)

Wow, I don’t even know how to start this post – there is so much to say and I am not sure my brain has processed it all, but I want to get it down before I forget anything! First off, I AM A MARATHONER! How surreal. On one hand, it doesn’t even seem like it happened, but on the other hand, my body definitely feels it! This post will probably be long because a) 26 miles is a long time and b) this race was awesome and I want to share/remember all the awesome parts of it!

I stayed at the Fisher House team hotel the night before the marathon so that I could avoid the metro chaos into Arlington. Plus, Fisher House offered the amazing service of an escort to the team tent in Charity Village (right behind the finish line!) which had tons of food and water, and then another escort from the tent to the start line. It is nice not to have to worry about those logistics when you are already stressed about the race ahead of you! Also, we bypassed main race security because we had our own security, and we didn’t have to do bag check because Fisher House allowed us to keep our bags in the tent – SO convenient. Everyone on the Fisher House team woke up to an inspirational sign on our doors which was a sweet way to start the morning, and we all shared duct tape and markers to put our names on our jerseys (such a crucial thing in a race!).

Walking to the start line with Team Fisher House was so fun and there was really a sense of camaraderie. As we were walking in towards the start, we paused for the flags and anthem. Marine and Army veterans parachuted in with a huge American flag as well as service flags from all of the military branches. It was so cool, and, because it was so early, the moon was still out, so it was a beautiful backdrop. Once we heard the National Anthem, we moved on into the starting area, took a last bathroom break, and hopped into the 4:00-4:15 corral (or so we thought but I think we got slower people with us!).

Flag being parachuted in

Flag being parachuted in

Corrals were split across a highway with a barrier, so you had a left side and a right side of people in the same pace group. Once the Howitzer cannon went off to signal the start (awesome, by the way), everyone went – it wasn’t a staggered start. The announcer said there were so many people running this that runners would cross the start line continuously for 25 minutes. That is insane! Anyway, we must have picked the nervous half of the start line because everyone in front of us was walking to the start, whereas the group on the right was jogging towards the start. Being impatient, we hopped the fence and ran in with the right side. Because people had to self-select into corrals and because there was not a staggered start, we were completely jam-packed through almost the entire marathon. It was so painful to see how slow some of our earlier paces (and even some of our later paces) were because we were trapped behind people and couldn’t get around them. We finished the first three miles in 31+ minutes, and that was really hard to see on the Garmin. I know marathon pacing is SO different, but when you can run 25 min or less 5K’s, that’s a hard number to see, especially when you didn’t necessarily want to go that slowly to start off with.

Anyway, the first 3-4 miles were the hilliest miles, and sort of lonely because it was through a wooded area and the George Washington Parkway but at that point, you don’t mind not having so many spectators. We did get to see Danny’s wife, Dominique, pretty early on which was so fun! I also happened to run into a friend from my Montana days on the course at around mile 2 – wow, what a fun and unlikely reunion! We squealed and gave each other a big hug and then were off again. What are the chances of us seeing each other in a crowd of 30,000 runners? Amazing. One of the other really cool things about MCM is that you get to race with wounded warriors who are riding their hand cycles, and there were many times when runners were instructed to move over because a cyclist was coming through (first time was right around mile 3) – talk about inspirational!

Once we hit mile 5 or so, we were running through Georgetown. There were tons of spectators there and it was amazing! The spectators throughout the whole race were just insane – they really made it so much easier! I actually didn’t even turn on music until mile 23 because of how incredible the atmosphere was. After we left Georgetown, we went through Rock Creek and the Potomac Parkway for what seemed like FOREVER. It was a U-turn part of the course, and it was hard to see people running the other way and not knowing when it was your turn to turn around! We came out of it around mile 9, and Danny and I decided to make a bathroom break. Eek, that might have been a mistake, because it wasn’t a desperate situation for us, but the line didn’t seem that long, so we stopped because we knew we’d eventually need to stop. However, the people in there took FOREVER, and the whole trip ended up costing us about 7-10 minutes. Oh well.

Once we hopped back on the course, it wasn’t too long until we had our first Brian sighting! He found us (and startled me) around mile 10 or 11, right before we hit Hains Point. Hains Point was, well, Hains Point. For those who don’t know what Hains Point is, it’s a long stretch (5 miles?) along the Tidal Basin/Potomac River and it is SO lonely. I usually don’t mind it, and it wasn’t that bad for most of it, but the isolation gets to you after a few miles. It was also an emotional stretch because there were pictures of fallen soldiers, their names, and ages lining the roads. I know I got choked up, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. All of a sudden I was like, “Why can’t I breathe easily anymore?! What is going on?!” and then realized it was because I was getting emotional. After we passed by all of the pictures, there were people lining the route single file holding American flags. Wow. It made you really stop, think, and reflect. I think we left Hains Point around mile 14 or 15, but I felt my first “down” moment of “yikes, this is a long race” at the half marathon mark. I was still feeling okay physically, but coming off of that isolation and realizing I still had a long way to go definitely wore on my spirit for a little while. Being alone for so long with just the people you were running alongside did allow for some extra bonding time among strangers, though!

Once we emerged from Hains Point, the crowds were so intense!  It really felt like they were carrying you. Miles 15-20 might have been my favorite stretch because of that, and also because that’s when we ran through the Smithsonian area, the Capitol, and the memorials. We saw Dominique and Brian about 2-3 more times each within those 5 miles, and each time we got a huge boost! Brian even ran with us for a few steps to coach us on the final hill before the finish (shh, we won’t tell security). He had run the MCM 10k which finished at the same spot, so he had all the intel and it was so cute. He also passed me his headphones because I had accidentally dropped mine at the start and was panicky about not having music as a possibility to carry me through the last 2-3 miles.

Feeling great at mile 17!

Feeling great at mile 17!

We passed the Gauntlet at mile 17.5 (the first timed cut-off) and still felt great, and we hit miles 18, 19, and 20 and still felt AMAZING. We knew that we had to “beat the Bridge” at mile 20-21 (the second and hilly timed cut-off at the 14th St Bridge) and head back into Virginia, so we made sure to hydrate and fuel up, and off we went! Once you “beat the Bridge,” within the time allotted, you knew you were going to be finishing that marathon one way or another. Pretty sure I choked up for a brief second there, too. One thing that surprised us, though, was how many super fit-looking people started walking REALLY early into the race, and that made us feel really good about our training.

No more pictures!

No more pictures!

We took the 14th St Bridge a little more conservatively than we did last weekend at Army 10-Miler (no 8:30 pace for us, ha), but we finished it strong and kept on going. We had said to each other that we would be happy if we hit 22 miles feeling good and constantly running (especially since our longest training run was 20 miles), and after that, we’d take the next 4 as they came. We accomplished that (hooray), but oh my gosh. Mile 21-22ish was when it got HARD. I think it was a combination of so many things. Obviously, we had just run 21 miles and that is a lot, but we were now in the sun (the rest of the course was pretty nicely shaded) and it was getting warmer, there were less people there cheering, the bridge is no joke, you are just tired, and it seriously feels like you are NEVER going to be done. It’s so weird because it’s only 4 miles to the finish at that point, but those 4 miles just seem insurmountable. Based on everyone around us, we all started struggling at the same time.

We took a few short walk breaks starting at 22 to the end, but nothing super long (proven by the fact that our paces stayed so consistent through the whole race!), mostly enough to conserve energy for the finish and to stretch out painful muscles/cramps. I don’t even really know what to say about miles 22-24 heading into Crystal City other than they were the hardest miles I have ever run in my life. Even once we got into a more spectator-filled area, it just didn’t matter anymore. At that point, nothing brought me up! My feet were killing me, my toes hurt, my muscles hurt – everything hurt. I did see the Lululemon cheer people at 23, and that was a good pick-me-up, but then we saw someone who collapsed at mile 23.5 and heard medics reminding us to drink our fluids because it was getting warm out, so that was a major womp womp moment. I finally turned on some music with headphones in just one ear so I could still hear the crowds, and hoped that would carry me through. It helped a little bit, but not much.

Once we headed towards the Pentagon and mile 25, it got a little easier because there was a nice downhill and I knew we would be finished soon-ish (I add that “ish” because never before has a mile felt so long). I knew I’d see Brian soon, and we’d be done soon, but we were definitely moving slower than before…at least it felt like it, but our pace isn’t that different once you look at it. We got heckled by a Marine, too, so that helped us pick up some speed, ha.

Something that was mentally tough for me was my watch was 1/4 of a mile ahead of the mile markers so every time it beeped, I knew we weren’t really at that mile. We saw Brian again right around when my watch beeped mile 26 (so in reality we had about half a mile left), and I gave him a sad face. He told me later on that he didn’t understand why I gave him that face because we only had half a mile to go at that point, and I gave him a look and said, “seriously, that is the LONGEST half mile ever and everything just hurt!”

Once we hit the actual 26 mile marker, everyone dug deep to conquer the hill leading up to the Marine Corps War Memorial (aka Iwo Jima). We saw Dominique at the base of the hill which was a nice boost, and the pavement itself had a ton of sayings on it like, “Marine up!”, “Take the hill!”, and there were bleachers set up for people to watch the finish. The hill was HARD, but short, and the finish was not far after you made it up the hill. It was so, so sweet to hit that finish line and be greeted by tons of Marines giving you high fives right before crossing, and then all of them congratulating you afterwards. Honestly, I don’t remember how I felt the second I crossed the finish. SO happy, of course, but I don’t think I actually teared up as I crossed it, though I was positive I would just start crying right away. I teared up at some earlier miles when I realized that I was actually going to finish this, and I teared up in line to get my medal, but I probably just felt relief at the finish line itself!

Once we crossed, it took forever to get our medals and jackets and food, etc, but Marines lined the entire chute, and each and every Marine shook my hand and congratulated me and/or thanked me for running with them. It was the greatest thing ever. I felt like such a superstar the whole race, but never moreso than in this moment. I felt amazing, as evidenced by the giant grin in the below picture right after a Marine handed me my medal.

SO happy!

SO happy!

We took a minute to take a quick picture in front of the Memorial (the official pictures will actually have the full Memorial in it) and we sat down for a few minutes  (painful in case you were wondering) before embarking on the search for family.

In front of the Iwo Jima memorial

In front of the Iwo Jima memorial

It was a giant mess to get from the finisher area back to Charity Village where we were meeting our families (even though the Village was right there!), but what else can you expect with a race this size? I think having to wait so long to see Brian allowed me to get some emotions in check – otherwise, I might have been a sobbing disaster when I saw him, though I did tear up a little and gave him the biggest hug ever. I cried when I said bye to him that morning, and I cried when we got home, but I kept it together in public (ha!). I was just so exhausted and happy at that point that it was hard to keep emotions in check. Literally, every single feeling that exists in the world, I probably felt at some point that day. I also felt so, so grateful to him and touched by both his unwavering support of this ambitious goal and his pride in me, and all of that came pouring out, especially once we made it home and had a few minutes to ourselves.

I was really proud of the way we ran this race, even though it was just outside our goal (goal was 4:00-4:30, and with our bathroom stop we were a smidge over). There came a point when we realized that we either had to stick with a 10ish min/mile pace or risk continuously wasting energy passing everyone and we just sort of adapted our end goal to accomodate that. Neither of us anticipated this being an issue, but we rolled with it. I’ve been religiously reading other people’s race recaps and the overall consensus was that because this race didn’t thin out until mile 20, it would be near impossible to run it for time unless you were at the very front of the pack. It was probably for the best because even running that pace, it really hurt at the end!

I tend to be wary/nervous during new longer distances because I don’t know what to expect and I don’t want to burn out at the end, but I feel way more confident now and know that next marathon is going to be even quicker! That being said, I couldn’t ask for a better first marathon performance – I am so happy with this. One of my goals was to find the balance between pushing myself but also allowing myself to enjoy the experience – you only run your first marathon once, after all! I think I accomplished both, and I had so much fun interacting with the crowd (and even had enough energy to heckle a Va Tech supporter!).

It’s funny because a year ago to the day of MCM, I ran my FIRST 5K. When I think about how far I have come in just a year, it’s incredible, and there is nothing but pride there. I never would have thought last year during that 5K that I would complete a marathon (and four halves, 3 ten milers, etc etc) the very next year. And I spent the majority of the race with a huge smile on my face, so that in itself is a win.

Final shot of the Garmin

Final shot of the Garmin

Marine Corps Marathon itself was an incredible experience, and I felt lucky to be a part of it. It was inspiring from start to end. Where else do you get Marines handing you water, fuel, high fives, and encouragement? And the crowds were the best. I had so many people cheering for me individually (that’s why you put your name on your jersey!) and it was so uplifting! And I will run for Team Fisher House every single opportunity I get because that was an awesome experience, too. The support they offer on course, afterwards, beforehand, etc was unmatched. Running for a charity is seriously the way to do it! The historical and meaningful setting of the race added to the poignancy of the day, and I really can’t believe I have to wait a whole other year before running MCM again! I think that living in such a huge military community, being a military spouse, and raising money for a military charity also affected how personal this race was for me. It was so special!

The first thing I said (well, whimpered) to Brian when I saw him was, “That was so hard, that was SO HARD!” and I repeated it for 2-3 hours after meeting up with him, yet I am already looking forward to running another marathon…runner’s amnesia for sure! It’s just like childbirth, which I also loved because apparently I am a masochist.

Medal & finisher warm-up jacket

Medal & finisher warm-up jacket

Anyway, wow, I cannot believe it is over! I think I am going to have a running identity crisis for a little bit. I have a 12K in mid-November and a couple of short races before the holidays to look forward to. There are a bunch of halves on the spring schedule already, and I think my plan for now is to work on PRing them. But for now, I rest (and eat) and feel eternally grateful to my amazing and supportive husband and babies…time to dedicate some weekend mornings to them!

13 Comments

Filed under Celebrations, Fisher House, Fitness, Marathon, Marine Corps Marathon, Race, Races, Racing, Run, Running, Team Fisher House, Washington DC

13 responses to “THE BIG ONE: Marine Corps Marathon 2013 recap (10/27/13)

  1. I’m obsessed with this post!! I feel like I was there every step of the way (well minus all that pain and good stuff lol) but really what an incredible experience. I LOVE that you saw an old friend, that must have been so cool and really made you feel like you were meant to be there. So proud of you…what an awesome accomplishment and I can’t wait to see what you tackle next!!

  2. Lindsey

    Gosh, I teared up reading this. (Thanks motherhood). I am so happy for you, what an awesome experiene.

  3. Caroline Thomas

    Congratulations! And I really love your outfit!

    • Thanks so much! I ran for Fisher House, so it was easy enough to decide on a top ;)

      I see you are doing WW1/2! I am so jealous. I was signed up for the original date this year, but can’t make the postponed date because of an out-of-town wedding. Can’t wait to run it next year! I hope it’s a MUCH smoother experience for you than MCM :)

      • Caroline Thomas

        Wedding are great too! Yea, its fun running across the bridge, and National Harbor Has lots of craft tents for the holidays!

  4. Ryann Groseclose

    I love this post so much, Liz! You are such an inspiration. I hope to write a similar post one day soon! Go YOU!!!!!

  5. Congrats! When we beat the gauntlet, my running partners debated walking the rest of it. I talked them into running more than walking until we Beat the Bridge.

    God Bless you for running with such a great charity partner!

  6. What a great recap, Liz!! I love it and it ALMOST makes me want to do it.. ;) I think the best part is that you ran your first 5k just one year ago.. so amazing. Such an incredible accomplishment!

  7. Jen

    Congrats on finishing your first marathon! You did awesome! Not that I’m an expert (having only run 2 marathons), but the MCM course was way tougher than I had expected. There are a few hills, but it was the crowding, number of turns, and the lonely sections that really got to me. Enjoy your accomplishment!!

  8. Great recap – I wish I’d written more about the actual experience.
    Congrats on your race!

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