On Sunday, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon – my third full marathon, but my first in nearly 3 years, so it felt kind of like the first time again. Wow – where to even start with this recap?! (Previous marathon recaps: Richmond Marathon in November 2013 and LA Marathon in March 2014.)
This was not an easy race (or training season, due to our crazy hot and long summer and lots of travel) for me which makes me even more proud that I earned this medal. I really worked for this one!
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
Matt very kindly offered to drive me near the start on race morning – we were out the door at 6:15 and snagged my friend Heather and her coworker Molly before ending up at my friend Sokphal’s place at 6:30! She lives right by Iwo Jima, where the race finish line is, and is only about a mile (or less?) from the starting line. Perfect! She normally runs this race and had a bib but unfortunately got injured about a month ago. :( So she was amazing and decided to be an excellent spectator instead – and also offered to be our bag check, so we dropped some stuff off at her place before walking over to the starting area. Thank you, Sokphal!!
There was a security check on the way to the start (right by Ft. Myer) which was quick and efficient, and the sun was just starting to rise as we arrived at the start shortly after 7 a.m.
We had no problems, despite long bathroom lines, getting everything taken care of and lining up in our corral with 20 minutes to spare. Hooray – I hate being late and stressed on race morning!
I was planning to aim for a 3:55 finish time, as you guys know, so we lined up in that general area. Heather and her friend were going for about the same, or around 4 hours.
I wore an old pair of Matt’s socks (with the toe cut off – and yes, that’s lint and cat hair all over them – just keepin’ it real over here) on my arms to keep them warm before the start – although I barely needed them since it was already so warm out. Bad sign… if you’re comfortable temperature-wise just standing around at the start you’ll be way too hot once you’re running!
I ditched the arm warmers a few minutes before it was go time. And speaking of go time – how cool was this fly over they did right before starting the race?
Here we gooooo!!!
The energy at the start of this race was amazing – it was so exciting to be there in it! Everyone was pumped – let’s do this, DC. :) I felt so lucky to be running such an iconic race – living in DC, Marine Corps Marathon has been on my bucket list for awhile now. It was finally time to experience it!
As usual at the start of a race, it was hard to get into my goal pace because of the crowds – I was doing some weaving but it was so packed that you couldn’t really get around people. Oh well – I just settled in best I could and prepared myself for what I knew was coming – a huge hill from mile 1 to 2. I was pretty nervous about the hill because I know how long and hard it is but to be honest it was totally fine – it was so early in the race it flew by and before I knew it we were done and moving on. Sweet – already on Spout Run headed towards the GW Parkway and Key Bridge!
I was excited to run over Key Bridge and into Georgetown because I knew I’d have some friends out cheering for me – that always helps lift spirits so much! Plus, by the time we made it to Key Bridge we were already at mile 4.5 – nice.
We had some downhill after the big first hill which I used it to pick up some speed, but I was still pretty off on pacing between the earlier hill and the crowds. I figured if I felt good I could try to make up the time later. (I was aiming for 9 minute miles earlier on, inching down towards 8:50/8:55 later.)
- Mile 1: 9:36
- Mile 2: 9:20
- Mile 3: 9:18
- Mile 4: 8:40
Hello, Key Bridge!
My trainer Paul (of Capital Energy Training) was out cheering around mile 5 but unfortunately I missed him – but I did get to see my grad school buddy Steph and her husband Tom around 5.5! Such an nice boost when you see a familiar face during a race. :)
From Georgetown, we headed up into Rock Creek. I wasn’t really paying attention and at first was like, wow, are we on Hains Point already?! Darn – nope! We did an out and back – 2 miles total – in Rock Creek before coming out down on the Georgetown Waterfront.
I always love this part of races in DC – so many people out cheering right along the water and on the stairs leading up to the Lincoln Memorial! I kept an eye out for Matt, who I knew was out biking around to pop in on various parts of the course, but didn’t see him – darn!
At mile 9, we entered Hains Point! I knew I was still off on pacing by this point and was starting to resign myself to the fact that it might not be my day for a PR – and you know what, I was okay with that, especially given that it was only going to get warmer out. Heat is not my friend for racing! New goal: enjoy the race and cross that finish line, no matter the time!
- Mile 5: 9:21
- Mile 6: 8:56
- Mile 7: 9:13
- Mile 8: 9:01
- Mile 9: 9:03
Hains Point was very powerful because it’s where the Blue Mile was, which has photos of fallen military members lining the course. Everyone was very quiet during that mile – so many young faces and families in those photos. The organization that puts this on (they also have Blue Miles during Rock ‘n’ Roll races and other races) is called Wear Blue: Run to Remember; it is a national nonprofit running community that honors the service and sacrifice of the American military.
Following the photos were dozens (hundreds?!) of volunteers in blue holding American flags – so amazing.
It was a great reminder to run strong in honor of those who no longer can. <3
Hains Point can be a bit long and boring during races but I didn’t mind it – it went by quickly. By the time we exited, we were already just past mile 13.1 – half way done!
- Mile 10: 9:18
- Mile 11: 9:10
- Mile 12: 9:19
- Mile 13: 9:20
Hello, Washington monument!
Coming out of Hains Point we ran down towards the Lincoln Memorial. This part of the course was insane – there were SO many spectators! The photo below doesn’t do it justice at all – they were packed in 4 people deep in some spots. So much great energy – it helped a ton!
I was also super excited to see Matt around mile 15 – he actually thought he had missed me and was packing up and saw me last minute. Hooray! He was wearing a bright neon yellow zip up so I knew what to look for to spot him later. Perfect!
Miles 15 and 16 we were running down the National Mall towards the Capitol, and I was starting to feel pretty worn out – yikes because I still had so far to go. I was also having some really bad chafing under my arms – I was thrilled when I saw a couple medical tent people standing along the side of the course around mile 16 handing out popsicle sticks with vaseline on them. YES!! That was a lifesaver – I still have terrible chafing under my left arm in particular but I’m sure it would have been wayyyyy worse without the vaseline.
10 miles to go – I could do this!
I was looking forward to getting to the Capitol at mile 17, where I knew I could look forward to seeing my friend Kathleen and her husband and their baby out cheering. I spotted them no problem and Kathleen ran alongside me for a few seconds too to say hi – thank you guys so much for coming out, it helped a ton to see you! <3
- Mile 14: 9:33
- Mile 15: 9:33
- Mile 16: 9:34
- Mile 17: 9:31
I also saw Matt again at mile 17.5, just before the big bridge – it was an uncrowded area so he was able to bike alongside me for a second, which was fun. I was definitely feeling rough by this point but seeing him was another great boost. Hi Matt!
Just after mile 18, we hit the 14th street bridge. This is one of the hardest parts of the race, according to those I know who have run MCM in previous years – not only do you still have a long way to go but you have some slight uphill getting on the bridge, and it lasts for a long time (you get off the bridge almost at mile 20). Mile 18 of a marathon is also just a tough mile in general – you’ve gone so far but you still have a pretty long way to go.
The bridge was definitely where things really went south for me – my left hamstring, which had started to feel tight a few miles earlier, basically started flipping out. I never stop during races and I actually had to stop for about 30 seconds twice on the bridge to try to stretch it out because it was bothering me so much. Oh man – how was I going to make it through 8 more miles of this?! I started wondering if I might have to walk the rest of the way, to be honest. But I did my best both times to quickly stretch, pull myself together, and get moving again. Running actually felt slightly better than walking and I knew running meant I’d be done sooner, so I kept going, but it wasn’t easy to motivate.
- Mile 18: 10:02
- Mile 19: 10:05
I’m pretty sure the hamstring situation was due to the crazy intense hike that I did the weekend before (that time I summited Mount St. Helens only a week before my marathon… not smart, I know), because my hamstrings are not something that normally bother me at all on long runs. If anything, it’s always my knees/calves that ache. Also, my left leg in particular (I think because I favored it more on the hike) was definitely more sore from the hike – it was basically sore until Thursday right before the race, which I knew was not a good sign.
I remember having this moment while on the Mt. St. Helens hike where I was about 1/3 of the way up. I thought to myself: “This is a lot more intense than I thought it would be. If I turn around right now and go back down or just wait for the others, my legs will be fine for next weekend. If I keep going, I know it’s going to seriously impact my performance at the marathon.” And you know what – I decided to keep going. I obviously wasn’t going to bail on the marathon or not finish (a DNF was not an option – when I say I will do something I will do it barring anything extreme), but I knew that by continuing that crazy hike (which was essentially a 7 hour stair stepper followed by 3 hours of quad trashing downhill) that I was throwing away my chances at a PR. And I did it anyway. I wanted to do both, and I would accept the consequences. Do I regret this? No. It obviously made this marathon a MUCH rougher experience than it would have been, but to be honest I don’t think I could have set a new PR in such warm temperatures anyway. Plus, my training was solid but not exactly stellar given all my travel and the really hot training runs – I wasn’t 100% confident I’d put in the tough work necessary for a PR.
That said – wow, was this hard. By the time we got off the bridge and hit mile 20 I was seriously falling apart. Despite how I felt, though, I was determined to get to that freaking finish line, even if I had to crawl.
I think the absolute biggest low point of the race for me was mile 21, when we were in the Pentagon parking lot. I had 5 miles left, which seemed so far, and I was at that point of exhaustion where I was having trouble regulating my emotions, especially with how much my hamstring was bothering me. I remember feeling so overwhelmed at how much farther I had to go that I almost burst into tears. That was when I stopped, walked for a second, and thought to myself: “PULL IT TOGETHER. You are out here because you want to be and because you CAN be. Do this for those who can’t. Stopping is not an option, and neither is not finishing. This will not be fun or pretty, but you CAN keep going, and you will.” And so I did.
- Mile 20: 10:50
- Mile 21: 10:56
- Mile 22: 10:23
I was still feeling really rough once we hit Crystal City at mile 21.5, but it was basically one massive party and there were TONS of spectators which helped a lot with lifting my spirits. I started stopping at all the water stops, walking through, and drinking a big cup of water because I had actually drank my entire 2 liter hydration pack (that never happens!) due to the heat and was really thirsty, so that took some extra time but helped mentally. I’d just tell myself: “Just run to the next water stop, then you can walk again. Just. Keep. Going.”
Around mile 22 a blog reader who was also running said hi, which was fun – she was looking so strong and I was really excited to hear she was eating some of my Nut Butter Stuffed Salty Dates. Yay! (I was eating them during the race, too!) Way to go girl – I hope you crushed it out there! Thanks for lifting my spirits when I really needed it. :) I was also really pumped to see one of my AnneTheRD clients around mile 23!
I kept up with my “just run to the next water stop and then you can walk” approach the rest of the race. Around mile 24 I saw Matt again – I’m so impressed he was able to bike around and find me so well! He was in an area where almost no one was spectating and it was so good to see him because the excitement from Crystal City had worn off. I was so tired and emotional I nearly burst into tears when I saw him but instead I smiled/grimaced and was like “This is really hard and I just want to be done!!” He was so sweet and just said: “You have so much to look forward to later today – a nice epsom salt bath, and brunch, and a delicious dinner, and all you have to do is run 2 more miles to get there.” Thank you for cheering me on, Matt – you’re the best. :)
- Mile 23: 10:13
- Mile 24: 10:52
By the time we reached mile 25 I was still really struggling but thrilled – it was SO CLOSE! I just had to hang on a little bit longer and that finish line would be there.
Soon we started to enter the spectator-packed last half mile. Ahhhh – almost there!! I was still hurting and the sun was out and beating down on us but knowing I was so close was amazing.
I know the steep but short hill that leads to the finish line very well – I finished a lot of my long runs on it, and I was ready for it. It actually didn’t phase me – I was SO CLOSE and the adrenaline had kicked in big time. I wanted to finish out as strong as I could, and I powered up it.
I saw Sokphal out cheering right before the finish line – she snagged this photo of me running by!
I spy the FINISH LINE – YESSSSSS!!!
I was so proud to have made it to that finish line – it was not easy! It was such a cool finish line, too – there were tons of Marines lining the sides after the finish giving us high fives and fist bumps and lots of congratulations. I was thrilled to be there. :)
Final mile splits:
- Mile 25: 10:27
- Mile 26: 10:57
- Last 0.69 mile (watch distance was long) nubbin pace: 10:02
Official finish time: 4:19:28 – average pace 9:53 minutes/mile. My slowest marathon but damn I was proud to have made it through – especially that last 10k.
Shortly after finishing, we were funneled into little chutes and our finisher’s medals were put around our necks. Hooray! Aren’t they gorgeous? I realized later on when I got home that they actually open up too – Iwo Jima is inside! So cool.
Here’s the inside:
Shortly after finishing everything ached so badly that I found an area to the side where I could sit down – it felt amazing and I didn’t move for about 10 minutes. I finally got myself together and got up to slowwwwwly walk/hobble the rest of the way through the finisher’s chute to try to find Matt. Yay – there he is! Matt, thank you so much for putting up with months of me being gone for hours on long runs, going to bed early for long runs, or exhausted after long runs. And thank you for being out there supporting me on race day – you’re the best. <3
Once we were reunited we went and found my Watermelon Board friends and got some watermelon! As you guys know, the Watermelon Board is the whole reason I had the opportunity to do this race – they are a race sponsor and as part of a multiple month partnership involving some recipe development (see also: Roasted Salmon with Watermelon Salsa and Watermelon Rosemary Popsicles) they also gave me a bib for this race. I also received two extra bibs to give away to blog readers – a HUGE congratulations to my bib giveaway contest winners, Molly and Caryn, who both rocked the marathon – so proud of you ladies! My Watermelon Board friends were at the race giving out free watermelon in the finisher’s area – it was especially amazing on such a hot day – hello, rehydration!
Here I am with Summer and Stephanie from the Watermelon Board – loved meeting you ladies in person after months of emails! :) Thank you again so much for the opportunity to run this race – and for that delicious watermelon post-race!
Matt snagged some post-race photos of me by the Brooks apparel tent after saying goodbye to my watermelon friends. :) I was feeling good at this point and basking in the post-race glow!
The last stop on the post-race adventure? Sokphal’s apartment right by the finish line! She is AMAZING and since she couldn’t run the race she instead decided to make breakfast for all her friends running the marathon. Seriously, how nice is that?! She also let me shower at her place which felt absolutely amazing – I was so gross between the heat and all the vaseline glopped all over under my arms.
Post-race breakfast at Sokphal’s featured pumpkin pancakes with butterscotch chips, berries, and bacon! Plus some unpictured crackers and cheese that she brought home from her Europe trip. I went back for more multiple times. :) So good! She also had chocolate milk which I drank while showering – also majorly hit the spot.
So there you have it – my third marathon is officially in the books, and given how deep I had to dig to get to that finish line I’m especially proud of this one. If I wanted to do something easy, I wouldn’t be doing a marathon, right? But damn, you guys – that was tough! I’ve been wearing my gear all week with pride.
One last thank you to the Watermelon Board for having me, and to all of the spectators and volunteers who were out there supporting us on race day – we couldn’t do it without you!
And now, I am looking forward to a nice break from long distance running. :) Can’t wait to re-incorporate boot camps and shorter miles back into my rotation!
Did you run on Sunday, too? How did it go?!