No story can start without a detailed background. How far should I rewind the story? I can go back to the 1972 Olympic Marathon when I saw on TV Frank Shorter winning the Gold medal. Or, I can fast forward a little and start at 1980 when I started to run, or fast forward a little more to 1983 when I went to watch the NYC marathon and saw not just the greats, but also saw and was inspired by the “regular” runners.
For the sake of not taking up too much space, I’ll go back to the Texas Independence Relay Race in March of this year. I was pretty bummed out about not finishing the Houston Marathon in January. My legs just felt like they cannot go the distance. After Houston, I had knee pain to accompany my aching hamstring. I was nervous about running TIR, however, I was able to run 20 or so miles in less than 24 hours. I felt good and nothing really hurt.
The next week, registration opened for Marine Corp. Marine Corp has been on my list of “must do” marathons. With a great deal of patience and a good network connection, I was able to register for Marine Corp. It was no simple task, the website went down several times. I almost gave up. But, I was able to get myself registered. With Marine Corp 7 months away, I was feeling good and looking forward to it.
Over the next few months, my training was coming along. And, I was making travel arrangements. This was the first marathon that I’ve done with no training partners and no travel mates. In some ways it was good. I choose my hotel near a Metro line that would make getting to and from the race very easy. I had a free ticket on Southwest that I could use. And, I could plan my visit all on my own. However, training for a marathon on my own was no easy task.
With no doubt or hesitation, I will confirm that the hardest part of the marathon is the training. I decided to use the Hanson Brother’s plan again. However, I really had a hard time staying with it. I never got into the regiment. The one run that I did not stick to, but is key to the program, was the long marathon paced tempo runs. I did a few of them, but never built up to the 10 mile tempo run. I was also having difficult time on the long distance runs as well. The summer heat and aching legs were just hard to overcome.
About six weeks before the marathon, I hurt my knee again. There was some swelling and it was warm to the touch. My knee’s range of motion was limited. The injury happened at just about the worse time. I had two more long runs on the schedule. The two-week taper could not come quick enough. I got my long runs completed. And with the taper, my knee was feeling better. Not perfect, but better.
Coming into the Marine Corp, I had some confidence, but I was still a little nervous. I don’t like using the word “fear”, but I was afraid of a DNF. To come all that way to run a bucket list marathon, a DNF really scared me. I was concerned that I might not meet the cut-off times for the “gauntlet” or “beat the bridge”. Or, even worse, my legs would give up and I would find myself injured.
My trip to DC was uneventful. I got in Friday afternoon. I already had my Metro Card. I landed into Reagan Airport, which was very convenient!!! It’s right on the Metro line. Form plane to hotel was about a five minute walk through the terminal, followed by a 5 minute train ride, followed by a quick 3 minute walk to my hotel. I dropped my bags at the hotel room, and then I was back on the Metro to the Expo. The Expo had the usual fair of vendors. I really wanted to get some Marine Corp stuff. But, the checkout line was unreal. So, I left with my bib and a very nice marathon shirt. I would say that this shirt was probably the nicest marathon shirt that I have.
Saturday morning was gorgeous. In fact, it defined gorgeous. I woke up to temperatures in the high 30s with plenty of sun. I headed out the door for a little run around Old Town Alexandria. This place is great. After running down King Street for about a mile, I was then on the Mount Vernon Trail. It’s a great asphalt trail that runs along the Potomac River. I could have run along this trail forever. But, my plan was for an easy three mile run. I wound up with close to five miles. I knew that it was wrong, but I felt great.
Saturday was my day to venture into DC. I took in a few sites like the National Archives, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, and hiked to the Martin Luther King Memorial and the WWII memorial. Again, it was little too much time on my feet; however, it was my vacation. I finished the day off at an Italian restaurant with some pasta and sausage.
Travelling and running this marathon alone was interesting. I did what I wanted, when I wanted to do it. But, I was fully accountable for everything. For example, I awoke on Saturday morning in a nightmare. I set two alarms and neither one went off. On my i-Phone, I made the fatal mistake of “AM/PM”. On the hotel clock alarm, the volume was turned all the way down. In my nightmare, I had over-slept and missed the start of the race. For Saturday night, I fixed my problem and went with two additional alarms and a wake up call.
I slept fairly well on Saturday. I did of course get up about 20 minutes before any of the alarms were due to go off. But, no problem, I double checked my stuff. I checked the weather and it looked to be ideal. It was in the high 40s and the days temperatures were suppose to get to about 60F. This made my choice for clothing rather easy. It was going to be shorts and the BARC singlet for the race. I put on a throw-away shirt and my disposable coveralls. After a shower and a light breakfast, I was heading to the Metro station.
The logistics seemed too easy. I left my hotel at 6:15. The Metro came and by 6:30, I was at the Pentagon Station. It was a hike from the station to the start line. I’m guessing that it was a mile, but it was not too bad. I was in my corral at 7:00. The porta-pot line was not bad.
At 7:40, the starting line festivities started. Disable vets parachuted in carry flags. It was really a great way to start the race.
The howitzer sounded and we were off! I was about 2minutes from the start line. My strategy for this race was simple. Run it easy and finish it. I had some hopes for a sub 4, but I did not care too much about my finish time. The first mile was fairly easy as we went through Roslyn.
Suddenly, the marathon got tough. There was a series of hills for the first 4 or so miles. I was not prepared for this challenging of a course. At about five miles, I faced another tough hill. My legs were not feeling good, and I started to walk up the hill. After 20 or so seconds of walking, I was able to get back at grinding it out. We were now in Georgetown and headed out the Rock Creek Parkway. This is not an easy section. The road is cambered and there are hills. Also, it’s an out and back. I’m not crazy about out and backs. However, I was starting to feel OK about running.
After running the Rock Creek Parkway, I was feeling pretty good. We are now running around the memorials in DC. Very pleasant scenery and a lot of fan support. At about 10 or 11, we headed out to East Potomac Park (Teddy Roosevelt Island). It got quiet in this stretch. It was also the must touching part for me.
Early on in this stretch, there were people holding flags both young and old. There must have been 100 flags and people. Soon after this, there was a series of signs honoring the fallen Marines. This really hit me. The pictures of these brave soldiers touched me deeply. So many, and so many young people have perished for us. I enjoyed the peace and quiet at this point.
I hit the half marathon mark at 1:58. Not bad, but not very good either. I was feeling OK at this point. Somewhere around mile 15 we leave the park and head to Constitution Ave. It was great to run this stretch of road. The Capital was near and I made it to the Gauntlet. This is a nice long stretch of road that made the miles go by fast. Then, we are on the bridge heading back to Virginia. I beat the Bridge and beat it easily.
When I got over the bridge, I was at mile 21. I was feeling pretty good. I had just five miles to go and thought that a sub four-hour marathon was in my reach. But, I soon was getting tired. There were no dramatic hills, however, there were a number of rises that really slowed me. I was OK going past the Pentagon, but I really slowed in Crystal City. I found myself taking some walking breaks. No big hills, but the steady climb was tough on me.
We were now heading back toward the start line. There was a long down-hill ramp that caused a lot of runners some problems. Many folks were starting to cramp. I kept my pace slow and steady. Heading up another rise, my pace slowed even more. But, we were in the last mile. The final rise to the finish line was narrow and crowded; however, I did not think it to be too bad. It’s a short rise. I crossed the finish line in 4:04. I’ll take it!!!
The finish line was well organized. Having a Marine officer put the medal over my head and then salute me for doing a “great” job was an awesome experience. I visited the Marine Memorial and had my picture taken.
I had no checked bag. I made my way to the Ultra beer tent. They took pity on me and gave me two beers for my one ticket. After enjoying my beer and some conversation with other runners. I was back heading to my hotel.
For dinner, I treated myself to a great steak and a crab cake at the Warehouse. It was a pretty fancy place for me. After dinner, I wondered around Alexandra and found a place called Bilbo Baggins. I had some of the local brew to ease my marathon pains.
Marine Corp has my stamp of approval. The logistics are very good. The course is challenging but not impossible. The crowd support is top notch. All the aid stations were well manned. The Marines along the course were inspirational. The medal is one of the best I have. Of the big marathons that I’ve run, Marine Corp is in the top tier.
As always, I learned a little. First lesson is about fear. I showed up at the race and stared it down. My legs and gimpy knee did just fine. No more negative talk. And, just take what you gave. My training was not great. It was good enough for about a four-hour finish. I’m pleased with my results. I also learned that eating a donut at about mile 23-24 is not a good idea. It’s really hard to chew and run. Also, the donut did not sit well for the 2-3 mile journey that I had left.
Monday was tough. I got up and went for a three mile run. It was a tough 3 miles. I then went to DC to sight-see. In all, it was a hard day on me. I did enjoy seeing all the sights. Tuesday, my legs were far better and I ran OK for 4 or so miles. On Wednesday, I was in NYC. I ran 6 plus miles with no pain, just a hint of soreness. Thursday, I was on my feet all day in NYC. I walked about 12 miles on Thursday. I ran on Saturday. I ran a fairly hard 6.2 miles. The legs felt pretty good. The last couple of miles were sub 8 pace. It looks like I survived another marathon.