We are all different as runners, and my “thing” is that I’m a bit OCD with constantly doing the math on what pace I need to average to reach certain goals. I think I do it as much to take my mind of the fact that I’m running than to actually strategize all that much. Unfortunately, this practice led a bit to my downfall this last weekend, as I had my slowest road marathon finish (I did finish) for any race I ran on my own. For those that might be reading this to strategize, I will tell you up front that I don’t think the MCM is a good race to try to go get a PR, and I wish I had known that before. If you are a good enough runner to just go and run for the experience, without a specific time goal, that is probably the way to go. I learned on that day that I’m not a good enough runner for that. But I’ll get in to the race in a bit.
Karen and I drove down Saturday morning to check in to the expo and get my bib and goodies before meeting up with some good friends that live in the area for lunch. The expo was well run, though very crowded at lunch time the day before the race. Tough to move through the crowd so may want to try to get there earlier. Another friend of mine that ran the race and arrived even later to the expo said it was even crazier. It was however very inspiring to see all of the marines there helping out. Helped drive home the real meaning of “the people’s race”.
After lunch we checked in to the hotel we had gotten near the Metro so that it would be an easy shoot over to the start in the morning. We learned after booking the hotel that the Metro is not open early enough to actually use to get to the start, so don’t get your hotel based on the Metro or plan on Metro or driving from the city to the start. I decided to drive myself and my friend Kate to the start in the morning to avoid the Uber madness and we had quite an adventure because the police had shut down all of our paths across the river. We ended up having to park and take a shuttle from somewhere only a few blocks away from our hotels. Anyway, plan on using the shuttles that they provide for a less stressful moring, or staying over in VA near the start. Even with the shuttle we arrived just as the race started.
Karen and I had a quiet evening and carbed up a bit at a cool restaurant called Founding Farmers near our hotel. We were near GWU and had a fairly relaxed evening before the big race.
On to the race. After Kate and I finished our adventures and actually got to the start, we were rushing t make it to our corrals. Kate had been dealing with an injury and knew she likely wouldn’t finish but wanted to at least have the start experience and see how far she could go. We made it to her corral and I got slightly further and almost to my corral when the crowd just got too much to move forward. It turns out that it didn’t really matter that much.
In keeping with “the people’s race” idea, the corrals are just sort of suggestions telling you to go to where your projected finish time is but nobody seemed to actually follow that. Many, many people had gone up front that had not intentions of running fast or in some cases, even running. There were many people walking right from the start. To you runners thinking or running this race, get there very early and get all the way up front, or you are in for a frustrating day. So when the race began, if you want to keep any kind of real pace, you would have to be very aggressive and weave and maneuver hard through people. I’m just not that type of runner, so I ended up getting pinned in between a lot of walkers and large groups of people running very slowly but stretched out four or five people wide. There is basically no chance to keep up a pace.
For the goals I had set for myself, I knew I needed to start out running around 7:45 to 8 minute miles in the first portions of the course. I was struggling to go quicker than 9 minute pace in those first couple miles and I knew my day was already getting away from me. My thoughts were that I had a couple of choices, run frustrated and angry all day and still probably not be able to catch up to the pace I needed, or just take it in as an experience and run comfortable. I decided on mile 3 or so that I was just going to run it for fun. I knew I would have to run unsafe pace to catch up to the pace I needed for my goals and I just didn’t want to put that kind of stress on myself the rest of the day.
So I settled in and just “ran for fun”. I ran pretty comfortably and tried not to look at my pace very much other than to drink my calorie/salt solution at each mile as I had trained. The trouble with that is that you can tell yourself you are running for fun but your body may not listen. I was running comfortably, but once the course opened up, I started speeding up and I probably shouldn’t have. It was already too late for me to PR or any of that stuff. Around the 7th mile it opened up a little bit and I was able to run around 8 minute pace for a while. I actually did feel comfortable, but when you are used to focusing on your time and your pace and doing all the math in your head and you no longer really have any math to do, it becomes an entirely different exercise that I wasn’t really prepared for.
My aunt and uncle and cousin and his wife were all in town to root me one. I knew they were around mile 15.5 and then would see me again on the other side of the mall at 18. This gave me a little goal to just get to them at around the time I said I would. So I manufactured a goal and run around 8:10’s or so to them. Wanted to see them and say hello and slap five and all of that. It was very cool to see them there and was a nice mental break. My Aunt Jean and Uncle Cliff are the picture I attached to this post. They were holding the giant cut out head Karen made of me to help spot them in the crowd. We also have one of our dog Giorgio.
Anyway, I set my sights on mile 15.5. I also knew there was a “blue mile” during the race but didn’t remember where it was and didn’t fully appreciate what it was all about until I made it there. It was mile 11. For a mile they have both sides of the course set up with pictures of fallen soldiers every couple of feet. It is very touching and emotional and though I knew it was coming, it still is a bit of a shock. I took my hat off for that mile because you search for anything you can do to show respect for these people. It is an amazing and emotional experience. I have never removed my hat during a race before and probably won’t be again, so taking it off for that mile was my little way of showing my respect. At the end of the mile there are people dressed in blue holding flags. I didn’t get any video but found this on Youtube to give you an idea. This was the coolest experience of the whole day and made it all worthwhile.
Toward the end of the “Blue Mile” I seemed to be pacing about the same as a woman next to me. When it came to an end she told me she was looking for someone that was running her pace and ran next to me. We got talking for a bit. She was from Barbados and has run the Berlin, Paris, and Chicago marathons. She said she loved this race and was so excited to run. She and several others from Barbados travel together and run marathons. She told me that it gets so hot there that they get up and run their long training runs at 3:30. Just goes to show you when you get up early to run, somebody is always getting up earlier. I haven’t done a 3:30 yet. She was very nice and so appreciative of the opportunity to be there, which again put things in perspective for my grumpy self that was annoyed at the loss of my PR opportunity. I told her my family was coming up at 15.5 and I was going to stop and chat with them and take off my vest so it was great to meet her but I didn’t want to slow her down. One of those mid-course friendships that every runner has experienced. Sadly, I forgot her name.
I spotted a giant version of my dog’s head up the course and knew I had reached one of my goals. Slapped five with my cousin and his wife and exchanged items with Karen and got a drink. They told me my aunt and uncle were just around the corner so I run up and got a great high five from them before heading up the mall to the capitol building where we looped around and came back. I saw them again at 18, but with a little less fanfare as it was a little more crowded there with onlookers. Great to see them and so happy they came down to the race. Hope they had a great time.
So there I was nearly 18 miles in with no chance at PR or my goals and now my little goal of getting to them with a decent time was over. This was sort of the start of bad things. My last fall marathon (NYC) I had trouble taking in fluids and I ended up dehydrating and had to stop. At the mile 18 marker, I went to take my standard drink I took every mile and at this point, due to the record hot weather, my fluids just tasted like hot salt and it caused me to dry heave. I had to stop at the side of the road and gather myself because I was hacking. This kind of killed anything I had going. After that I wasn’t really able to drink my solution and had trouble getting running again. I walked much of the last 8 miles. When there are no goals to shoot for (other than finishing) and the pain sets in, it makes it tough to want to run through it. Then my body started doing weird things when I would start to run like sharp pains in my gut and my chest that scared me. Every mile or so I would say ok, you can run now. Then I would start running and feel one of those pains. I’m not sure if it was dehydration or just the running or what was causing it, but since there was nothing on the line so to speak, I figured I’d enjoy a nice walk in VA as the rest of the race was all over on the other side of the river.
Despite walking most of the last 7 miles or so, I still ended up with a time that I may have been happy with after my first marathon, but unfortunately was a bit disappointing to me and slower than what I know I can do. Though I knew in those first few miles I wasn’t going to end up with a fast time, I learned a lot about how to focus mentally when those goals are not reachable. At some point, every runner is going to stop getting PR’s every time they race, and when you have over 26 miles to run, you have to take it seriously. If you have no motivation once the PR gets out of reach, you need to come up with something else that makes running through the pain worthwhile. I didn’t have that mental crutch ready. That is something I need to work on and have ready. Hopefully I won’t ever need it again as I don’t plan on running any more races for a while with 30,000+ people. But if it happens, you have to be ready mentally and be focused or it is going to be a long hard day.
Though I can’t say it is one of my favorite marathons, and I though the organization at the beginning was lacking a little, it was a tremendous experience and that “Blue Mile” was absolutely amazing. There is nothing like that anywhere that I have experienced. I’m glad I did it, and like every race, you learn something about yourself, whether it be good or bad. I learned that I’m just not a good enough runner to run a marathon for fun. Or at least it isn’t fun enough for me to push through the troubles that inevitably come up. I will need to develop important other goals to go after if I run another road marathon. I’m not sure on that front yet. I hope this proved helpful to anyone that is looking to run the MCM. You will definitely have an experience that you can’t have anywhere else, but don’t necessarily look at this as a fast course to shoot for a PR on.