2011 Marine Corps Marathon Race Recap
|November 3, 2011||Posted by Lauren under Running|
It’s a little scary to me that when I think back on the Marine Corps Marathon, the race is already becoming a bit of a blur. For whatever reason, that post-marathon amnesia has kicked in earlier than ever this time. If it weren’t for the intense pain in my quads that’s still making it difficult to go down stairs, I would be convinced that this race is one that I had run in the distant past.
I can’t really figure out why my brain has decided to start blocking out parts of this marathon already. Sure, it was painful – but not moreso than other marathons that I’ve run. And I ran hard, but again, not really all that much faster than I ran in the spring. I’d like to pretend it’s because I was just so darn focused for all 26.2 miles. But I think it might be because maybe (just maybe) after 6 marathons and countless other races, my body is finally starting to realize that it can survive the assault.
Anyway, I am going to try to do this race justice, and I’m sure despite my faulty memory, this recap will be wordy (just par for the course, right?) So settle in, my friends. And I’ll tell you how my second marathon in Washington D.C. this year went down.
Funny story: before the National Marathon last March, I got “introduced” to Dorothy on Twitter because we were both trying to break 3:20 at the same race. Even though we had never met, we made plans (online) to try to race together, figuring we could push each other to PR. But the craziness of marathon morning combined with the small fact that I wasn’t exactly sure what Dorothy even looked like meant that we never met up. And it wasn’t until Hood to Coast that I finally met this girl whose blog I had been reading with awe for some time.
Marine Corps was the “take two” of our plan. Luckily, this time, things went flawlessly. Dorothy picked EC and I up from my sister’s house at 5:40 Sunday morning to drive to the start. Or, I should more accurately say – the finish. In order to beat the crowds, we decided to go to Rosslyn, where there are plenty of free parking spaces and the starting line is an easy walk away. After a few slightly stressful moments due to roads being unexpectedly closed, we made it to Rosslyn in good time. I was nervous, but not incredibly so. Normally I’m so anxious about the marathon that I have a hard time forcing down a pre-race breakfast. But on Sunday, I ate my entire bagel without complaint. A weird sort of excited calm had washed over me. Maybe it was the fact that I hadn’t put any real pressure on the race, or maybe it was just knowing Dorothy and I were in this together.
We hung out in the garage for awhile, then started to make our way down to the start. It was dark and quiet – most of the crowds had been directed to Cyrstal City and the Pentagon.
As we walked down the finishing hill from the Iwo Jima monument, I tried to think about what it would feel like to race back up that thing in a few hours. But as the steep incline forced my legs into a run down the hill, I tried to push all those thoughts out of my mind. How bad could it really be?
The walk to the start helped me keep my feeling of excited calm. I felt a burst of excitement as soon as I heard the music blaring and saw the arches that marked the starting line. And again when they started the pre-race ceremonies around 7:30. Two teams of tandem jumpers (including a Marine who was injured in Afghanistan over the summer) jumped out of a plane and carried the US flag.
A firing salute, the National Anthem, and aircraft flying overhead just as the sun was rising? Pretty amazing stuff. And as cheesy as it sounds, at that moment, I was so excited and so incredibly inspired to be taking part in this marathon. It is unlike any other I have ever run.
In the last few minutes leading up to the race, I made the final pre-race preperations as EC continued to snap pictures and fawn over celebrities.
Let’s play guess the celeb! Bonus points to anyone who correcty identifies both. In case you need a little help:
Finally, it was time to line up. As I mentioned in my last post, there aren’t any assigned corrals in MCM – you just line up based on your predicted finish time. Knowing how many people were running that day, Dorothy and I lined up near the front. It was freezing cold – all I could do was hope that the I’d feel good once I started moving.
At 8:00, the gun went off and I let out an excited yell (yes, I really did this. No, I didn’t exactly plan to. I guess I was that excited to run.) The 36th MCM had begun!
The Hilly Beginning
The beginning of the race is known for being hilly, particularly in the first two miles. Because of that, I’ve heard people say that you should look at MCM as an 8 mile warm-up and a 18 mile race. As thousands of runners streamed out onto the MCM course, Dorothy and I purposely held ourselves back. The plan was to go out relaxed and easy, and then negative split the heck out of that course.
We fell into pace easily, chatting a little and reveling in the excitement of running. We had agreed not to waste energy weaving around people at the beginning, which meant that sometimes we ran side by side, and other times one of us was slightly in front. But Dorothy’s pink hat was always in sight, and knowing that she was there, prepared to run this race with me made me more excited than I could even describe. We cruised through the first mile right around 8 minutes; the second just under. I felt relaxed and excited – inspired by all the service men and women and wheelchair participants racing around me.
After the second mile, there was unspoken agreement to pick up the pace. We cruised along for the next couple of miles, not talking much except to point out random things – or Dorothy telling me what to expect coming up on the course. I knew we might be seeing EC around mile 5, so as we headed into Georgetown, I started scanning the crowd searching for a familiar face. When I didn’t find him, I settled back in again, knowing that I wouldn’t get another chance until mile 8 or 9.
Our pace had dropped below 7:30 but I was still feeling pretty relaxed. The only problem was – my legs weren’t feeling fresh. I didn’t feel like I was on the verge of falling apart, but my legs felt sore and a little bit heavy, as though I had run an intense hill workout the day before instead of just sitting around on my butt. But when you’re only a few miles into a marathon, the only choice you have is to ignore the pain – so I pressed on.
We hit another steep hill in the 7th mile, and then headed into Georgetown. People were everywhere. And because I had ironed my name onto my shirt (first time ever doing this!) so many of them were shouting my name. It felt pretty amazing.
And then, suddenly in the midst of all this, I felt an intense pain in my right quad. It was as if the entire muscle had seized up in protest of what I was doing to it. I had a quick panic attack, wondering what the heck was going on. But I didn’t stop. I just kept running, took a Gu, and prayed that I’d be able to just run the pain out. Fortunately, after what seemed like forever but must’ve only been a few tenths of a mile, the pain loosened up. Unfortunately, after that my quads didn’t feel quite the same.
Soon after the quad episode, EC came sprinting towards us out of the crowd. I was so incredibly excited to see him. It gave me a huge boost, and in that moment I convinced myself that everything was going to be alright.
Hello, good to see you, now give me my things!
He ran next to me chatting for a bit, snapped a few glamour shots, and then we were on our way. It was then and there that I admitted something to myself that I had really known all along. I wasn’t just going out there to “see” how I could do. I wasn’t just enjoying the sights and sounds of MCM with the plan to stroll leisurely to the finish. No matter what my training had been like over the past few months, today I was there for one reason only – to race.
I was going to run until my legs fell off.
The “Flying High” Miles
The next several miles passed by in a bit of a blur. We had picked up the pace a lot and that fact had made me strangely giddy with excitement. Normally in marathons I get anxious about going out too fast and blowing up later. But not on Sunday. We were racing. And it felt.so.good. We passed the 3:15 pace group right at mile 10, and I told Dorothy that was the first time in any race that I had done so. That next mile was my favorite of the whole entire marathon. People were lining both sides of the course, holding awesome signs and cheering so loudly for us – as though #teamwatermelon were famous celebrities. I was never more in love with marathoning as I was at that minute.
I hadn’t really looked at my watch at all over the past couple of miles. My only thought was to keep running with Dorothy. I didn’t care what my pace was, I felt like I could run forever. So imagine my surprise later when I looked through my splits and saw that I ran mile 11 in 6:59 – my fastest mile of any marathon ever. In hindsight, this may not have been the smartest racing plan, but I’m glad that I at least didn’t see the split and give myself a chance to freak out about it.
And then, because a marathon is a roller coaster ride, everything suddenly started changing. The high I was feeling during Mile 11 began to slip away and I found myself starting to struggle in Mile 12. My legs didn’t feel right, and I was having trouble focusing. So I put in one headphone, turned on the music, and told myself to stay with Dorothy until the Half.
Half Marathon Split: 1:36:55 (7:23/mile)
It’s All Downhill From Here
As bad as I felt to be ignoring Dorothy, the music helped with my focus. The next several miles were a bit lonely as we ran through Haines Point and around the Tidal Basin. I willed my legs to continue carrying me forward. I knew I would see EC again around Mile 15 or 16, so my new goal became to stick with Dorothy until I saw him. I didn’t let any negative thoughts about how far I had left to go enter my head. Instead, the race became solely about those next couple of miles. Finally, just before I saw EC again at Mile 16 I told Dorothy that I was going to have to drop back. I was struggling with a strange pain in my quads that felt like ripples of tiny cramps. And my legs just did not want to move. She told me to hang in there, that I would feel good again, and pressed on.
When I saw EC again, I tried my best not to fall apart. I told him that my legs were hurting and that I could feel my pace crumbling. He told me to hang in there, and that he would see me again at Mile 20. I turned up the music, and focused on just making it to Mile 20. If I could get there, I could finish.
Can we just take a minute and reflect on what is going on with my stride here? Apparently “tip-toeing” through the course helps you feel better when your legs are hurting.
Those next few miles were the lowest point in the race for me. I felt like I was literally watching my time slip away, and I was powerless to stop it. It’s one of the most frustrating feelings you can experience in a marathon – wanting so badly in your head to keep moving fast, yet feeling helpless to actually move your legs. The only saving grace for this part of the marathon is that you run through the National Mall. I tried to focus on the beauty of the course, but I was in my own little world.
Eyes closed = Lauren is in pain
Finally, after what seemed like forever, I was at Mile 20 and seeing EC again. He was standing with his cousin, who had come into D.C. just to cheer for me. Both of them were screaming and yelling my name – and I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t really give them the warmest welcome. At this point in the race, I was just mad. I knew I had no business thinking I could PR, but I had tasted it. I had seen what it felt like to run sub-3:15 pace and I wanted it. And now that my legs weren’t doing what my head told them to do, I just got pissed.
This is the first and last picture Evan tried to take of me around Mile 20. See that face? It’s not one that welcomes cameras.
Despite my anger, EC did his best to cheer me up. He ran with me for a little while, and I tried to regain some of the positive attitude that I’d had earlier. I passed off my water bottle and arm warmers, and prepared to grit it out for the last 10K.
The Final Push
Somewhere after Mile 20, the 3:15 group passed me again. I tried to hang with them for a few minutes, but it just wasn’t happening. I remember looking off into the distance, seeing Dorothy’s pink hat bobbing among the crowd, and willing her to keep that group away.
As the course ran along the never-ending 14th Street Bridge, I started calculating how much time I had left for the last 10K. All I could think about was the 3:20 pace group. I could not let them pass me too. I realized that if I managed to keep my pace under 8:00 minutes/mile, I just might PR – or at least tie my time from National. From that point on, that became my sole goal. And when I reached Mile 21, something came over me. My legs still felt heavy, and I was still so tired, but I was suddenly hit with a new resolve. I picked up the pace (sort of) and knew with all my heart: I was going to run a sub-3:20 today.
We finally got off the bridge and ran through Crystal City. I saw runners coming at me in the other direction, and just focused on making it to the turn-around. I don’t remember much about this part of the course at all. I remember there were crowds of people, and I remember that at some point, I realized I was catching back up to Dorothy. I focused on her back and kept running. When I finally caught up, I asked her how she was doing and felt awful to hear that she too was struggling. I tried encouraging her, but at that moment, I really had nothing left. I kept running, half expecting that she would stay with me. Dorothy – I’m really sorry that I left you there. My head wasn’t thinking straight.
Miles 25 – 26 seemed to stretch on forever. I knew I was going to be so close to my time at National and kept trying (and failing) to will my legs faster, all the while dreading the hill that was coming before the finish. My watch finally ticked off 26 miles, but the finish was still nowhere in sight. I didn’t know how much further I could go.
Suddenly, we turned the corner and there it was – the wall. I felt like I had been hit with a ton of bricks. If I hadn’t been in so much pain already, the situation would have been almost funny. Scaling a mountain on trashed legs? I can only imagine what I looked like running up that thing. I gritted my teeth and tried to focus on taking one step at a time, but I knew my pace had slowed down to a crawl. I was afraid to look down at my watch, convinced that my hope of PR’ing had just completely disappeared. Somehow, I finally reached the top of the hill, but it didn’t matter. There would be no glorious sprint to the finish – my legs were shot. I saw the finish line and it was all I could do to waddle toward it. Apparently there were crowds of people (including EC and his cousin) cheering us toward the line, but I saw none of that. All I saw was that line, and a PR time that had gone out the window.
Finally, after an eternity, I crossed that finish. And I looked down at my watch and immediately burst into tears. I was shocked to discover that I had done it – I had PR’d by the skin of my teeth.
Dear Marathonfoto – I’m sorry for stealing your pictures.
Final Time: 3:18:09*
Overall Place: 578; Gender Place: 76/8,530; Division Place: 20
(*This originally said 3:18:08 when I crossed which meant that I PR’d by 10 seconds. The site now has me listed as 3:18:09. I know I shouldn’t really care about one little second, but I can’t help but wish I had moved just a teeny bit faster. Oh well. Next time I will crush that PR by more than mere seconds.)
If you’ve read this far, thank you! Going into MCM, I did not expect to PR. But apparently 2011 was the year of the 3:18 marathon. I have so many thoughts about my training and what this means for the future, but I won’t bore you with them now. What I will say, though, is thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for your encouragement and support throughout the weekend. Every time I crossed a mat on the course, I knew you would be seeing my times – which gave me strength and helped me keep going even when things started looking rough.
Marathon #7 – I am ready for you.