This post is a bit overdue, but better late than never, in my opinion. After Sunday’s marathon, I was busy with travelling and catching up on ‘real life,’ and this post had been pushed to the wayside.
For all those who follow my blog, you know that I made the decision to start the Marine Corps Marathon after suffering a bulging disc in my back only five days prior to race day. I had no idea what would happen over the 26.2 mile course (or 26.6 miles that I ended up running), but the short version is that I finished my first marathon! My official time was 4:41:24, which was longer than what I had trained for and planned on running. However, considering I could barely walk the Tuesday before the race, this was an incredible accomplishment, with me running most of the distance (walking about three miles in total, from my best estimate). I averaged 10:45/mile, which is not fabulous, but not bad. Overall, I maintained a pretty steady pace throughout, and it was only in the last eight miles that I slowed down on a significant level. But I am jumping ahead of myself.
I left Cayman on Thursday, October 22nd, with my back all taped up from my physio appointment. Let me tell you, I am a believer in the kineseo tape! I got off my flights feeling BETTER than when I had left, and I think it was at this point that I knew I was going to line up at the start. My husband, when I told him this, said he never had any doubt that is how it would go.
I headed to the expo on Friday to pick up my packet from the Runners World Challenge, a VIP level experience that was a really nice up-sell on the marathon experience. Sadly, I didn’t enjoy most of the benefits of this due to our hotel location and family obligations, but next time, I certainly would take advantage of strategy sessions, the shake-out run, the post race massages and celebration (food) that await runners in this group. I found the booth and picked up my packet, then went to browse all the booths to see what other goodies I had to have in my life. Body Glide was a must-buy, but other than that, I didn’t really get anything. The Marine Corps Marathon store by Brooks was ridiculously busy, and the line was wrapped around the perimeter of the store. I didn’t want to wait in line. So I’ll have to check online when the items go on sale in mid-November. It was fun to be in that atmosphere, as everyone was buzzing with excitement and anticipation of the race to come.
That evening, I attended the first timers pep rally, which I could give a miss the next time. It was fun to meet others who were in the same boat as me – nervous about the event and unsure of what we were doing. I did get a selfie with Bart Yasso, which adds to my collection from Cayman (2014) and Bermuda (2015).
Saturday was time with my husband in Alexandria, Virginia. We stayed here, and while it was a short metro ride from the start/finish line, it was a bit out of the way for the rest of the activities. One of those activities was the carbo dine in pasta dinner, which was held at the host hotel in DC. Again, I registered because I wanted to experience everything at my first marathon, but this was another event that I would give a miss to on the next one. The best part of the evening was running into ultra marathoner Harvey Lewis. I follow Harvey’s Facebook page and all his running adventures, so it was awesome to meet him in person. He ran 19 miles to the airport earlier that day, was pacing the 3:30 group (or something like that) and then ended up ‘hiking’ from DC to the airport to fly home after the race!
Sunday arrived, race day. We woke up early and took the metro to the start line. We arrived pretty early because that is the type of person that I am. It turns out this was a good move because later in the morning, there was a problem at the security screening area and many runners were delayed getting to the start line until well after the start of the race! Marines manned the security area and were efficient at processing runners and spectators. We continued walking to the start line, stopping in the runner’s village when it started to rain. Because I was in the Runners World Challenge, I had access to a special tent that had food, hot coffee, tables, chairs, our bag check and a private set of port-a-loos for our group to use. Which is one of the main reasons I signed up for this. Runners know the importance of the pre-race port-a-loo accessibility!
Around 7am, my husband and I headed to the start line, and I nervously lined up with 29,999 of my new best friends. Chris went to the start line to take video of me as I ran by. I shivered in my garbage bag in the rain, and waited for the race festivities to begin. The Victory Belles sang the national anthem, paratroopers descended from the sky with American flags and we had a fly over. The howitzer signaled the start of the race, and we were off!
I honestly don’t remember too much about many points of the race. I was so concerned about my back and how I felt that I really focused on that. In general I do remember these snapshots:
- mile 2 was basically all uphill, which was brutal for me, since I can’t train uphills except on the treadmill (which is NOT the same, by the way)
- miles 3-4 running next to the river through all the beautiful fall foliage was a highlight
- the Blue Mile was emotional and so well done
- at the half way mark, I started getting sad that my marathon experience was half over
- running on the National Mall was not as interesting as I thought it would be – I was looking for my dad in all the many, many faces and really didn’t take time to notice the scenery around me
- the mile and a half after you Beat the Bridge sucks! You run across a bridge that has no one on it and it is boring!
- Crystal City was filled with so many people! It was a great way to pump me up a bit when I was starting to get tired and sore
- the last mile and a half felt like it would never end
- it is CRUEL to make us run up that hill at the end!
- nothing was like finishing that race, smiling, upright, hands in the air, high-fiving the Marines that were standing on the sides
- I teared up at the finish line and when getting my medal from a Marine. I hope he didn’t mind the sweaty hug I gave him!
I ran the first 10 miles without stopping, and I only stopped for a walk break at the next water stop after I reached 10 miles. I was running a really steady pace at this point and felt surprisingly good. But there was the start of some pain meds wearing off, so I decided that I would continue on and when I reached the National Mall, I would eat something and take my second pain killer for the day.
The Blue Mile, Mile 12, should be something at every race. I loved this stretch. It was through a peaceful section of the course, and it really was an inspirational point on the course. Volunteers from Wear Blue to Remember line a section of that mile with the faces, names and ages of service members killed during their service. I slowed down and walked this section because I wanted to read the names and take the time to see each face. When I finished the line of pictures, I started to run again, running through a tunnel of 300 American flags that were held by volunteers. I wore a Wear Blue to Remember shirt, and almost everyone one of them cheered me on with a ‘go Blue!’ or similar call out. I chose to wear that shirt because I was also running this race in memory of Captain Michael Lawlor, a high school classmate, who was killed on a training mission in 2004. I wore a back bib with his name. So this mile, thinking about what it represented and what it meant had a special meaning for me, and I hope that his family liked knowing that he took that run with others honouring his sacrifice for the country. I admit, I choked up a bit when I ran past the flags. It was a moving experience.
The other moving moment for me on the course was getting to Mile 20, which is also the infamous ‘Beat the Bridge’ landmark. When I saw the mile marker ahead of me, I started to tear up and couldn’t catch my breath. It was at this moment that I knew I was going to complete the marathon, in spite of the crazy week I had dealing with my back. I pulled up and snapped a selfie to mark the occasion, one of only a couple pictures I took along the way. But this one was one I had to have. I felt so strong, so powerful at that moment, and even though there were 6.2 more miles to go, I knew that I would make it to the end.
So off I ran with a bit of a loose walk/run interval plan. I knew I was well off my hoped (original) finish time of 4:15 or so, so I eased up a bit because I was experiencing soreness in areas that I never had any issue with before. I’m pretty sure it was because in an effort to protect my back, I changed my stride/body position ever so slightly, and as a result put extra strain on new muscles – namely my hips. I also was dealing with some hamstring and calf tightness, but I think that was more from the uphills/downhills that I was not used to running. I did walk a bit more than I had hoped through the last six miles, but it couldn’t be helped. I needed the break. So I ran when I could and walked when I had to, all the time moving forward to the finish line.
As I passed the donut food station (and I did NOT grab any munchkins, which I kind of could kick myself for not eating them), I realized that I was in the last 15 or so minutes of my marathon. This is a powerful feeling. We turned and headed past the Pentagon, retracing our steps from the morning as we continued towards the race start line. At this point, I started to feel like I would never get to the finish line. Seriously, that was the longest mile of my life! Then we made the turn towards the Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial, and that hill. Oh that hill! It is a cruel finish to a distance race. I started running up the hill, not realizing how steep it was until about half way, when I decided to slow down and walk a few step. It was at that exact second that I heard my name, looked over and saw my husband and my mother (and other family members) waving to me and videotaping me. It never fails. So I kicked it back up to a run, waving at them and took my camera out of my fuel belt. I snapped a few pictures of the finish line ahead, ran across with my hands in the air, a huge smile on my face and high-fived the Marines to celebrate my finishing the race. Receiving my medal was so special – having a uniformed Marine place it over my head and around my neck and congratulate me on the accomplishment – it is a special feeling. I gave him a hug, teared up and headed to get my finishers jacket to stay warm. (To watch me crossing the finish line, click here. I cross the line, on the far left, around 9:06.)
There were so many people at the finish area, that it was hard to meet up with my family. Getting back to the hotel was even more difficult given the number of people who were trying to get on the metro. Ugh. During this time, I started to feel ill, getting nauseated because I had sweated so much during the race. Our post-race dinner plans were scrapped as I needed to just rest and get some salts into me. I eventually was able to eat some food and enjoyed a few celebratory beers with my husband that evening.
Yes, it took me 4:41:24, but it seemed to go by so quickly. In all, the whole event was surreal, almost like it wasn’t happening to me. But I have the chafe marks and sore legs to prove that I did indeed run a full marathon. And now, I’m taking it easy this week, resting, focusing on healing my body so I can be ready to conquer the Tulsa Route 66 Marathon on November 22nd!
Thank you for all your thoughts, prayers, encouragement and kind words. It was all a part of helping me reach my goal of finishing the Marine Corps Marathon!