Marine Corps Marathon Race Recap
Every race I’ve run has at least one stand-out memory that seems to define the experience. Chicago: My first marathon. New Orleans: My fastest marathon. Savannah: The marathon I ran in honor of my father-in-law who we lost to cancer in 2011. Las Vegas: The nighttime marathon with the worst race logistics of all time. St. Pete: Crossing the finish line with my mom during her first half marathon. Atlanta: A post-race cooking injury that landed me in the emergency room. And the list continues.
I will likely remember Sunday’s 37th Marine Corps Marathon as the race that happened during Hurricane Sandy. But while the weather will leave an indelible mark on the memories of my fifth marathon, the race brought an equal amount of pride, joy, strength and victory that will not be overshadowed.
But let’s start at the beginning.
Arriving in Washington D.C.
I arrived in Washington D.C. on Friday afternoon with my mom and brother. We had a fabulous 5-day racecation itinerary planned, and we wasted no time getting started.
After checking into our hotel, we headed to the race expo.
After the expo, we made our way to Capital City Bike Tours, where we had a private bike tour of Washington D.C. at night. Some of you may remember that Mr. rUnladylike and I did this in September when we were here for work. The weather was perfect and this was a great way to get excited for race weekend in D.C. The biking is leisurely and slow and nothing that would affect my legs for race day.
After our 3-hour bike tour, we headed to dinner at Founding Farmers to finish off the night. I had my pasta meal here 2 nights before the race to keep the carb loading up.
Friday was such a great way to kick off our racecation. Little did we know how much the weather would affect our racecation plans in just 48 hours.
The Day before the Race
Day 2 of our racecation started with a tour of the White House.
And we also took some time to take these cheesy free pictures in the White House gift shop across the street …
We then headed to Old Ebbitt Grill for lunch. This spot was established in 1856 and is just steps from the White House. It was a favorite of Presidents Grant, Cleveland, Harding and Theodore Roosevelt and is still a popular meeting spot for political insiders, journalists, celebrities and theater-goers.
I then headed back to the hotel to rest, while my mom and brother spent the afternoon at the Smithsonian. I continued to obsess over the weather for race day, which seemed to be changing by the minute – from 100 percent chance of rain, to 90 and then to 50. I came prepared for it to rain during the entire race, thanks to these tips for racing in the rain from all the runners I know.
My pre-race dinner consisted of grilled chicken, salty mashed potatoes, a few green beans and 2 white rolls. I also drank a lot of water throughout the day, as well as 16 ounces of Nuun. All my gear was laid out and ready to go for the morning. Now all I had to do was turn all the anxiety off and actually fall asleep. Easier said than done.
On race morning, I woke up at 4 a.m. I showered and then covered myself in Aquaphor, not knowing what the weather would bring. I drank a half-cup of black coffee to get the stomach moving and got my gear check bag ready.
We headed to the metro at 5:15 a.m. to get to the start with plenty of time to navigate the crowds and wait in porta potty lines. We were staying in Arlington, and taking the metro to the start was easy and seamless. About 2 hours before the race, I ate my Clif Bar and half of a banana and drank about 12 ounces of water.
Runners’ Village was located between Arlington Cemetery and the Pentagon. Marine Corps Marathon was the first marathon I’ve run where you have to go through security to get to the start. There was a little bottleneck as Marine’s checked our bags, but it went quickly.
The next stop was of course was the porta potty. Success! What a relief *wink!*
I was then able to find my friend and training partner Stephanie, which was such a calming feeling to walk to the start and begin the race with someone I’d been running with every Saturday for years.
I saw my mom and brother one last time in the corral as we made our way to the start line. And then we we’re off.
My goal was to start conservatively – about 30-45 seconds slower than race pace (9:15-9:30/mile) for the first 5 miles. Then, the plan was to pick it up to race pace from miles 5 to 20 (8:40-8:50/mile), and then to either increase the pace slightly or simply maintain the last 6 miles. I knew this would be tough given the time I had to take off after my half Ironman 4 weeks ago and because of the 25 mph winds that were predicted during the race. But I felt pretty confident we could do it.
We were successful with our first 5 miles. We started slow and conservatively and tried not to get too caught up with the adrenaline of the crowds. We took it easy up the hills that faced us at miles 2 and 5. We were humbled by a runner pushing a young boy dressed in a Marine uniform in a running chair around mile 4 or 5, along with the many wheelchair racers that passed us. Just another reminder of how truly lucky we are to be able to run. We gradually picked up the pace at the 10K mark. I really enjoyed some of the long downhill portions that we experienced during the first quarter of the race. I took a Honey Stinger gel at miles 3 and 6.3.
The weather was about 58 degrees and humid at the beginning of the race. The winds hadn’t kicked up yet, but I was surprised how hot I was the first 5 miles (I actually stopped and dumped a cup of water on my head at mile 7).
At about mile 8 or so, I realized my goal race pace was going to be too fast for me to maintain that day. I was feeling a little short of breath and decided to dial things back to around a 9-minute mile or so. I knew I was going to see my mom and brother between miles 10 and 11 near the Lincoln Memorial, so that kept me motivated and excited.
After I saw my family, I took another Honey Stinger gel at mile 11. My mom was ready to exchange my 20-ounce bottle of Nuun I was carrying for hydration, but I still had enough left to get me through a few more miles. I was feeling slightly nauseated around this time, and that feeling didn’t really go away for the next 10 miles.
At mile 12, people holding American flags lined the course for what seemed like a quarter-mile. It was exhilarating and moving and it made me feel so proud to be part of this race.
I reached the half-marathon mark at 1:58. This was about 4 minutes slower that I was hoping, and this is also the time when the wind really started picking up. Miles 13 through 15 were quite desolate. There were very few spectators on this out-and-back portion of the course, and the winds were whipping like crazy. I lost my friend Stephanie at this point, who decided to drop back a bit. I was running all my miles in the low 9s, and I made the conscious decision to try to maintain that pace. I knew my goal time was not going to be realistic, so I created a new goal: try to finish as close to the 4-hour mark as possible. I took another gel at mile 16, and got some additional pep in my step as we turned onto the National Mall where hoards of spectators greeted us once again.
I saw my mom and brother again between mile 16 and 17. I got a full bottle of Nuun from my mom and picked up the pace a little. A group of women dressed up like candy corns made me smile and keep moving. I saw a second group of fraternity pledges wearing Viking hats chanting U-S-A! U-S-A!
I noted that although my pace was slower than usual, my body wasn’t hurting or aching much and that I’d reached the critical turning point of the race when I could start counting down in single digits instead of counting up. Only 9 miles to go!
Sometime during mile 18, the 4-hour pace group passed me. I knew that I just had to keep pushing and that I couldn’t give up. I stayed super focused. I kept telling myself that I was strong, that I could do this. That I’d done this before and I’d do it again. My mantras really helped.
I saw my mom and brother again during mile 19. Having them to look forward to really kept me going as the wind continued to pick up and the voices inside my head started to nag me. I went through several rollercoaster waves of feeling strong and then feeling weak. But I stay focused. I stayed mentally tough. I kept talking to myself and pushing myself forward.
Seeing the 20-mile marker was somewhat of a relief. I looked down at my watch and realized I’d need to run the last 10K in about 56 minutes to get under 4 hours. I decided to give it a go. I knew it would be tough because I’d already run about 0.3 miles more than the current course distance (i.e. at mile 20 my watch was at 20.3 miles). The additional mileage was going to make an even faster pace challenging.
Anyone who has ever run a marathon knows that the last 6 miles are about survival mode. We all want to run a negative split (this means running the second half of your race faster than the first part), but when it comes down to it, those last 6 miles are there to see what you’re made of. I stayed focused and chose not to let those last miles beat me. We were running several of those last few miles on an interstate with few spectators and the wind was trying to blow us to a walk. But I refused to let the wind get the better of me. I kept running. Kept thinking about how good I would feel when I crossed that line and got that medal. And before you know it, I was ticking through the last mile. A group of people holding funy signs during the 26th mile made me laugh: “Smile if you’ve already peed on yourself.” “It takes Kim Kardashian longer to get ready that it will for you to run this marathon.”
I began to smile when I passed the 26-mile marker (watch mileage now at 26.35). I was almost there. We had to run up the steepest hill of the entire course around 26.1 miles. It was evil, but knowing when we got to the top we’d be able to see the finish line kept me powering up. I started to break out into an all-out sprint, but my calves started to seize up and I dialed back to pace and jogged across the line. [Check out this video of me crossing the finish line. Look carefully as the clock on the left of the screen hits 4:06:27-31. I’m wearing a bright blue tank top, black spandex shorts, and a white visor.]
I was done. I had completed my fifth marathon. It wasn’t the time I’d set out to achieve, but I was really proud of my performance in this race and happy with the time given the wind, crowds and how I felt on the course.
The finisher’s chute was emotional. Marines dressed in fatigues lined both sides of the chute, congratulating us and smiling. One of the Marines gave me my medal and saluted me after putting it around my neck. My eyes welled up with tears. I was so proud to be an American at that moment and so grateful for all these men and women who fight so hard so that people like me can run marathons and be free to do anything we want.
There was a LONG walk from the finish chute to the gear check bag pick-up and the family meet-up area. My legs were on fire for about 30 minutes right after the race, and it was a little painful to keep walking. As the wind picked up and our wet clothes started to feel chilly after stopping, I began to get really cold. My teeth were chattering as I waited in line to get my bag. Thankfully I’d packed several layers of clothes, including a long-sleeve base layer, jacket, and rain coat, along with gloves and ear warmers. I’d never been so glad to see those clothes in my life.
After finding my mom and brother, we made our way to the metro and were headed back to our hotel.
Looking back on the entirety of the race, I can say this is the best marathon I have run. The logistics, signage, transportation, etc. were seamless and easy to navigate. The spectator support was outstanding, as were all the on-course amenities. Marine’s handed out cotton candy, Vaseline, oranges, Gu, water and Gatorade throughout the course, and greeted us at the finish line with a box of food, bananas and lots of water and Gatorade. But beyond that, it was meaningful. No matter how hard any mile or moment of the marathon was, you were constantly reminded of how lucky we were and the many challenges that others are facing/have faced that are so much harder. It made you appreciate your life and our country even more than we already do, and it gave a sense of pride, joy and inspiration that were second to none.
Since the rain started after the race and the winds continued to pick up, our plans to spend the evening in Georgetown turned into an evening relaxing at the hotel. We had a great dinner at our hotel to celebrate the day.
The Days after the Marathon
The marathon was pretty much where our racecation ended and the point where Hurricane Sandy decided to take over. On Monday, we had plans to tour the Pentagon and Library of Congress, as well as visit the Botanic Gardens. On Tuesday, we had a tour of the U.S. Capitol scheduled and were going to spend the day exploring the Newseum. Instead, Washington D.C. shut down. All federal buildings were closed as were all the museums, the metro and most restaurants. We were forced to stay in our hotel for nearly 2 days, with little to do but watch TV and venture down to the Starbucks inside the hotel. My mom, brother and I have never gone on a vacation with just the 3 of us, so it was really disappointing that we didn’t get to complete even half of our great racecation itinerary. However, we were thankful that we were not affected by the storm and realize how much worse the situation could have been. We continue to think of everyone affected by the storm, especially in New York and New Jersey. We booked a flight home a day early since everything was closed and made it back Tuesday night safe and sound.
Sometimes it’s easy to let the negative parts of a trip or experience overshadow the good ones. As for the 37th Marine Corps Marathon, I’m not going to let that happen.
Did you run the Marine Corps Marathon or have you in the past? If so, what were your favorite parts? What did you like best? What do you wish was different?