Thursday, October 31, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon

On October 27th 2013 I ran in the Marine Corps Marathon.  This was my third marathon ever and my second in 2013.  I ran my first marathon in March of 2012 so this made for 3 marathons run in 19 months.  I hope it won't be my last, but I have no plans to run another one in the spring. My legs are pretty beat up and as much as I don't like to admit it, I'm starting to get a little past my prime.

The short version:
  • Training for this marathon was difficult.
  • I suffered two injuries along the way that both sidelined me for a couple weeks each.
  • I decided to shoot for 3:45 which would have been a 10 minute PR.  I was on pace to hit that until mile 17 when my calf injury really started to hurt.  I slowed my pace but ended up walking a lot after the 21 mile mark.
  •  I finished in 3:53:18 which is a PR by about 90 seconds.

The long boring version:

Training:I used Pfitz 18/55 again for this training.  I planned to get in as much of the speed work as possible although that didn't work out for me very well when I trained for my last marathon.  As I said above, my training for this race didn't go very well.  I developed PF in my right foot in early July which sidelined me for a couple weeks.  When I was able to return to running I couldn't push my pace without pain for another couple weeks so I lost a lot with that injury.  August and September went OK and I had some decent long runs.  I managed to get in a few quality sessions but not nearly as much as the training plan called for.  Still, I felt like I was getting back into the groove by the first of October when I developed a calf strain in my left leg.  I (again) stopped pushing pace wise and just focused on keeping my miles up but the injury just kept getting worse.  I went to see my witch doctor (chiropractor) for ART four times in the last couple weeks before the race.  That helped some but I knew that race day was going to be painful.  The last three weeks before the race I hardly ran at all which didn't help my confidence.

The last two weeks before the race were complete mental torture.  I was tapering and I didn't feel prepared because I had missed some runs the week before and I couldn't decide on a race plan. I considered just running it at my long run pace and enjoy the crowd support and water tables.  Eventually I decided to go for my A goal of 3:45 and see what happened.  I had never really blown up in a race before so if nothing else, it would be good experience and a chance to see what I'm made of.

My boss lives in Crystal City and agreed to let me set up camp at his apartment about a mile from the start.  It was great having a place to get myself together and use an actual bathroom instead of a port-o-potty.  I got to his place at about 5:30, pinned on my bib, took care of business and chatted with him for a while before heading off to the bag check.  Eventually I made my way through baggage check, two security screenings and found my way to the start area.

MCM is a really big race. 30,000 runners and all of them running the marathon distance.  The start line is huge and there are no corrals or a wave start.  Just signs up with projected finish times for people to line up next to. I took a few pictures of the crowd but they really don't show just how many people there are.   I worked my way up through the crowd to find the 3:45 pacer.  I asked him if he planned to run even splits and he said he was.  There was not any room to warm up my legs so I braced myself for the calf pain that comes with a cold start.

Skydivers during the national anthem.

The crowd. You can make out the red arches in the distance that are the start lines.

The Race:
The race started and that was pretty much the last time I saw the pacer up close and personal.  The crowd was really big and the streets were narrow.  I immediately got held up by a lot of people in the way.  I don't know why it still surprises me that so many people line up way too far up front.  I tried my best not to panic or get frustrated but it was difficult.  My calf hurt a little but it settled down after about a mile or so.  After three miles the crowd started to thin out a little and I wasn't dodging quite as many people.  I could see the 3:45 pace group about 10 seconds ahead and was content to just keep them in sight.  Because of the slow start I expected the pacer to try and make up some lost time but I didn't think he would try to do it all at once.  He had other ideas and took advantage of the long down hill that started after the 3 mile mark but it felt too fast to me.  I followed along anyway which was probably a mistake.  I've had both good and bad races when following a pace leader.  This was one of the bad ones.  I have decided I will not use a pace group again for a marathon.

Splits from my Garmin:
1    8:55
2    9:00
3    8:18
4    7:32
5    8:18

According to my pace band we were right on schedule here and the next few miles went well. I tried to close the gap and catch up with the pace group but couldn't quite get there in the crowd although I did get close. I didn't want to waste a lot of energy going around people so I gave up on that and settled in about 5 seconds behind them.  The next few miles felt smooth and I started to gain a bit of confidence.

6    8:30
7    8:27
8    8:29
9    8:22

On mile 10 the pacer picked it up again and I couldn't figure out why. We were still right where we needed to be.  I followed him anyway but when I saw the split time of 8:05 on my Garmin at the 10 mile mark and I decided to let them go.  I settled in to go it alone.
10    8:05
11    8:28
12    8:28
13    8:38 - According to the official results my HM time was 1:51:59 (8:32 pace)

At the half way I felt pretty good but my calf injury was making itself known.  Nothing terrible but just an occasional twinge or spike here and there.  I decided to back off my pace a little and shoot for sub 3:50.

Random memory #1: Somewhere the course went under a bridge and there was a large group of young men. I happened to be running near someone carrying an American flag and the spectators started shouting "USA" in unison. It was almost deafening in the enclosed space and gave me chills.  I'm not normally a big GO USA kind of guy, but this race your national pride swell.  We might have the most dysfunctional government on the face of the earth but the American people as a whole are fantastic.

Random memory #2: There was a spot along the river on the DC side that was lined with large pictures of fallen service members. They were all captioned with the name, age and other information about the person that was killed in action. There were dozens of pictures and it was hard to take it all in.  After a few minutes I had to look away because it was overwhelming.

14    8:43
15    8:44
16    8:32
17    8:48

At mile 17 I knew I was toast. My calf was getting progressively tighter and I had to fight the urge to walk.  I told myself that if I made it to mile 20 I could take a 30 second walk break.  When I passed the 20 mile marker I told myself that I was just kidding and that I should stop being such a wimp and run this fucking thing out.  I almost made it to mile 21 and found myself walking on the I-395 bridge. I was only walking for a short time when another runner that was really struggling passed me and said something along the lines of "OK, that's enough now pick it back up again. That seemed to be enough to get me going and I started running again.  I thanked him as I ran past.

18    8:54
19    8:54
20    9:12
21    8:50
22    9:15
23    9:31

The rest is kind of a blur. I don't know how many times I stopped to walk. Maybe once each mile for about 20 or 30 seconds?  I remember seeing my boss as I hit one of the water tables on mile 24.  He yelled for me and I managed to give him a wave and then I kept going.

I stopped to walk up the ramp leading to S. Washington Blvd and saw a familiar face standing on top of the hill cheering.  The lady I know as Julia1971 from the running forum I frequent had posted that she would be on mile 25 near the Pentagon. We are friends on Facebook too so I had seen her picture but I had never met her before in person so I wasn't 100% sure it was her.  As I walked up the ramp I caught her eye and then we recognized each other. I stopped for a real quick hug (brave woman to hug someone who just ran 25 miles) and told her how much I was hurting.  She asked if I would finish and I said I would and might even PR.  Seeing her gave me a nice boost and I ran off but I didn't have much left at that point.

24    10:15
25    10:21
26    9:31

The last thing I want to mention is how great the Marines were.  All through the course you would find them cheering and encouraging runners.  It was really inspiring. I don't know how many times I yelled out "thank you Marine!" to be answered back with a loud "OORAH!" in response.

MCM ends with a short but steep climb to the Iwo Jima Memorial.  I tried to muster a sprint up that hill and was surprised to feel my RIGHT calf cramping with every step. I guess I had been favoring that leg for so long it couldn't take any more.  Half way up the hill it locked up and I had to stop.  Three Marines came to me and started shouting words of encouragement and pointing to the finish line up the hill. I couldn't do anything but try to run and I managed to limp up the hill and cross the line.
27    4:22.0     (0.45) - According to my GPS I ran an extra .25. That could be from not cutting corners tight enough or from all the dodging around other runners or just the GPS being a little bit off.  Most likely it is a combination of all three of those.

In hindsight, it was really stupid for me to run this race injured. It is now four days after the race and I'm still in a lot of pain. My right leg feels fine but the left calf is damaged and I probably won't be able to run again for weeks.  Still, it was a good experience and I would probably do it again if I had to choose over again.

Time: 3:53:18 (Previous best was 3:54:51)
Age Group (males 45-49): 330
Males: 2989
Overall: 3963

Finish Time
Finish Net3:53:18
Finish Gun3:55:40
LocationNet TimeClock TimeTime of DayPacePace Between
5K 27:10 29:33 8:29:37 8:44 /mi
8:05 /mi
10K 52:19 54:42 8:54:46 8:25 /mi
8:47 /mi
15K 1:19:39 1:22:01 9:22:06 8:32 /mi
8:30 /mi
20K 1:46:03 1:48:26 9:48:30 8:31 /mi
8:41 /mi
Half 1:51:59 1:54:21 9:54:26 8:32 /mi
8:42 /mi
25K 2:13:05 2:15:27 10:15:32 8:34 /mi
8:31 /mi
30K 2:39:33 2:41:55 10:42:00 8:33 /mi
9:09 /mi
35K 3:07:59 3:10:22 11:10:26 8:38 /mi
10:17 /mi
40K 3:39:57 3:42:19 11:42:24 8:51 /mi
9:47 /mi
Finish 3:53:18 3:55:40 11:55:45 8:53 /mi

After the finish. I talked to another runner and we took pictures of each other so we didn't have to pay Marathon Foto $1,000,00 each for race pictures.

In the car on the way home.  I wish my parents would have made me get braces when I was a kid.