Where to begin. I always find race reports daunting, and especially so for the marathon distance. How do you capture all the high and lows, feelings and emotions that take place over 26.2 miles? Luckily I have a lot of pictures to help me tell the story from Sunday. If you missed it, I wrote about my journey to the start line yesterday.
I’ve got a lot to share with you, but here’s the short and sweet version: It was a bit hectic getting to the start, as can be expected with any large race. I ran well, albeit slower than I had hoped, through mile 20. During those first 20 miles I got to see Barry and my Dad several times. It gave me a boost every single time and gave me something to look forward to along the way. When I hit mile 20 I fell apart. I started taking walk breaks, and finished in 5:10:37, which was a 24 minute PR.
Now we can get down to the nitty gritty (you should probably grab a snack or something). Yesterday I left off with crossing the start line. I had a decent amount of elbow room from the beginning thanks to starting pretty far back. Luckily, I had crossed the median to the left side of the road and was able to start over there. The right side was very crowded and I was able to bypass a lot of people before the course merged together. I never felt like I had to do much weaving the entire race.
The first few miles were hilly. And I knew they were going to be. My plan going into the race was to run conservatively, which I guesstimated would be about 20 seconds per mile slower than my goal pace. I wanted to run at a good effort, but keep my heart rate from getting too high early on. And that’s what I did, as the first few miles quickly ticked by. Between miles 2 and 3, I got to see Barry and my Dad for the first time after climbing what was probably the longest and steepest hill of the race.
After the long climb, we were rewarded with a 2 mile descent on Spout Run, which was a great opportunity to relax and slow my breathing. I let gravity carry me and allowed myself to just glide down the hill. The very last part of Spout Run took us up a short, steep hill toward the Key Bridge. As I turned left onto the bridge, I got to see my support crew again, just before mile 5.
After a brief stint in Georgetown, we made our way to an out and back along Rock Creek Parkway where it was shady and breezy. I was still running a bit conservatively here, as I had planned do through mile 8. Rock Creek Parkway was a gradual uphill on the way out so I focused on staying relaxed, as I cruised through miles 6 and 7.
It felt great to hit the turnaround and head back, thanks to the slight downhill. My legs were still feeling fresh, which encouraged me. During my first marathon, I started feeling a lot of fatigue around mile 8. Just past the mile 8 marker I saw my Dad and Barry cheering for me!
After Rock Creek Parkway, we ran under the Kennedy Center as we made our way through miles 9 and 10. I don’t know why, but I really like running under the Kennedy Center along the water. I’ve only done it once before, during the Army Ten Miler, but I was looking forward to doing it again. Ironically, this was also the only spot on the race course where my watch lost satellite reception.
From there, the course took us down Ohio Drive, along the Potomac River, as we made our way to Hains Point. I saw Barry and my Dad again just before mile 11. It really gave me a boost to see them, as I was beginning to feel a bit rocky. That didn’t stop me from giving them two thumbs up, though!
On to Hains Point I went. Leading up to the race, I read as many race reports on the Internet as I could find. So I knew what to expect on Hains Point. Although I hit a rough patch, I don’t think it had to do with the course suddenly becoming quiet. I’m not sure what it was, really, but I pushed through it and told myself there was no way I was stopping to walk before I hit the halfway point. This section was a bit sunny and hot, because the trees did not provide much shade.
There was about a mile along this stretch before the halfway point that honored the service and sacrifice of the American military. It was very moving, because every few feet there was a sign with a picture of a fallen soldier. The signs also included each soldier’s name, age, and the date he/she was killed. I managed not to cry, but I definitely wasn’t far from it. After all of the signs, there was a long line of people, each holding an American flag and giving high fives.
Finally, I made it to the halfway point! This was the first goal I was aiming for, when I started getting tired between miles 10 and 11. Naturally, making it to this point gave me a boost. It helped that it also happened to be farthest point on Hains Point before we started heading back in the other direction.
On the way back from Hains Point, there were a lot of really entertaining signs. Some of the ones I can remember are: Smile if you peed a little, laugh if you peed a lot!; Toenails are overrated; This seems like a lot of work for a free banana; 26.3 miles!? Ain’t nobody got time for that!; and the Soft kitty, warm kitty song from Big Bang Theory. There were a lot of other great spectator signs along the rest of the course, too. One of the perks of a big race.
The next part of the course was my least favorite for some reason. I just did not like the stretch from mile 14 to mile 16. It felt long and I hit another rough patch during this stretch. But I kept trucking, because I was going to see Barry and my Dad again between miles 16 and 17, just before the Mall. Plus, I told myself: You ran 16 miles in training and you can do it now. No walking!
Just before mile 17 I saw my crew again! In that moment, it didn’t matter how I was feeling physically. I was really excited to see them! Seeing them was one of the things that kept me going. And now I was headed towards the National Mall, which I hoped would be another boost.
As I ran by Barry and my Dad at mile 17, Dad yelled “see you at mile 22!.” I already knew we had planned that as a spectating spot, but I filed it away as another mini-goal. Then I focused on the National Mall, which covered miles 17 through 20. This is where most of the museums and the U.S. Capitol are located. I had heard the crowd along this section of the race course was crazy, with an amazing amount of energy and spectators as much as 10 deep. But unfortunately, I found it a bit lackluster and underwhelming. Maybe it was just because it was later in the day and spectators were worn out. There was some cheering, but mostly people were just kind of standing and watching.
I continued to fight and focus on making it to mile 20. The stretch from mile 19 to 20 was really tough for me. When I finally hit mile 20, I slowed to a walk almost immediately. And it. felt. terrible. One good thing was that I had just “Beat the Bridge” (made it past a cutoff point on the course). But boy I wish I hadn’t felt that feeling of slowing to a walk until I had crossed the finish line. Everything hurt from the waist down. It wasn’t just my muscles it was my joints, too. I train mostly on crushed gravel and the treadmill because it allows me to arrive at the start line healthy, but it means I take a beating on the pavement during races.
My walk break didn’t last long. Out of the blue, my old friend Chris (whom I hadn’t seen for about 7 years) appeared and started running with me. He was out on the course as a coach for Team in Training, and the 14th street bridge was his last post of the day. I ran along, talking and catching up with him. It was really windy crossing the bridge, but finally we made it mile 21 and were nearly done with the darn bridge. Chris said goodbye and headed back onto the bridge to coach TNT participants, and I thanked him for running with me. As I made my way off of the bridge and into Crystal City I found myself walking again.
Crystal City was a big party, with people cheering and yelling their heads off and music blasting along the streets. But I was so done and having such a tough internal struggle to keep moving. I convinced myself to run from mile 21.5 to 22.5, with the incentive of seeing my Dad and Barry along the way. I was happy to see them, but I was too tired to do much more than slap a weak high five as I kept moving forward.
The crazy thing is, walking didn’t feel any better than running. Yet I kept taking walk breaks. I would try and run at least half a mile between each break, and then limit my break to one tenth of a mile. Another thing that was tough was the gradual uphill from mile 22 to 24. It wasn’t much, but you could definitely feel it so late in the race.
When I passed the mile 24 marker, I wanted to run the rest of the way. I made it to mile 24.5 before that goal was squashed. But by mile 24.75 I started running again and didn’t stop until I got to the finish. Now I will say, my running was more of a shuffle at this point. The final stretch down Route 110 was really tough. It was so straight and felt never ending. I could hear the finish but couldn’t see it. Finally, I saw the left turn off of Route 110 that would take us up to the finish.
It’s hard to see in the above picture, but that’s the hill up to the Marine Corps War Memorial and the finish line. It’s steep and short and torturous after 26 miles. A lot of marathons advertise flat or downhill finishes, but the Marine Corps Marathon is having none of that. They are the Marines, and they are going to make you work for the finish! So up the hill I went, hung a right, and then acquired tunnel vision to the finish.
There were probably hundreds of spectators in the stands, but I didn’t hear them. However, I did see the Marines lining the finish chute and I high fived all of them on my way to the finish. It was awesome!
And just like that it was done. I crossed the finish line in 5:10:37. Maybe a bit of a far cry from my ‘A’ goal of 4:30, but still a 24 minute PR! The last 10K certainly didn’t go as planned, but I was still really happy at the finish line.
From the finish line, I began marathon #3 of the day – making it from the finish area to my meet up spot with my Dad and Barry. But you’ll have to wait until tomorrow for that part! Also, if you made it all the way through that, you are a champion. I hope I did the day justice, because it was an amazing day!
Do you prefer big races or small? I mostly prefer small ones, but this was an amazing experience that I would love to do again.
How do you dig deep and keep going when things get tough while running, walking, or biking?
P.S. In case you were wondering, my shoes held up throughout the whole race. The shoe surgery was a success and I actually never thought about it or worried about it the entire race. It literally never crossed my mind. Barry had my spare shoes, but I never needed them. Thank y’all again for your great advice! I will still be getting a replacement pair of shoes from customer service, since the super glue is probably going to eat through the foam in the heel at some point.
P.P.S. You can see a video of me crossing the finish line HERE. I cross the finish line between 0:21 and 0:31. I’m in the green shirt and ran right down the middle, with a weak fist pump as I crossed the line. 🙂