I thoroughy enjoyed running the Marine Corps Marathon for many, many reasons - the Marines volunteering on the course as well as all of the volunteers were extremely courteous and helpful, the race as a whole is one of the most well-run races, the scenery running in and around DC can't be beat, I enjoyed spending time with my brother, loved seeing many of my Strider friends during and after the race, and I also managed to break my 3 race in a row slowing down streak.
The weather was also helpful, nice temperatures, not much wind, just a little bit of drizzling rain before and during a good bit of the race. I had no expectations for this race, other than to try and enjoy it and finish it.
Started out at a pace (I was a little worried that I was going out too slow and would end up being stuck at that pace the whole time) I felt like running. First mile was an 8:36, and fortunately that would be my slowest mile of the race. The fastest mile would be mile 24. The first and second half splits were pretty close as well (first half: 1:43:34, second half: 1:44:38) - I have to go back a long ways to find a race where 1st and 2nd half were that close.
Anyway, mile 2 was 8:19 and that was also pretty much at the top of the only really big hill of the course (about 200 feet or so), followed by a nice downhill leading to the bridge from Virginia to Georgetown in DC. After that it was either slightly rolling or pretty much flat.
From mile 3 to about mile 14 I didn't really look at my pace while I was running other than the average pace for the entire run every now and then and would sometimes see the mile splits when my watch beeped. I regularly would be off from the mile markers, so I'd sync up again when I reached the actual marker and knew my average pace on my garmin would need to be faster to match up to the actual pace. However, this race I wasn't trying to be that precise. Mainly running by feel, I had some hopes of catching back up to the 3:25 pace group if I could.
Mile 12 was the very moving "blue mile" which was first lined with pictures of fallen service members, followed by a flag for each picture with each flag pole held by a volunteer who was a family or close friend of the service member. I was thankful for the sacrifices and moved by the tribute, that mile felt almost surreal.
The half way point came and went and I saw that my clock time was a little under 1:45. Then to mile 14 where I was still under 8:00 pace and was thinking that if I could stay steady maybe I could actually run a negative split. At about mile 16 I was feeling a little tired and was having some negative thoughts about mile 17 ("oh no, here we go again" thoughts). I decided that no matter what I'd run through mile 18 on pace (under 8:00) even if I was tired.
But then, I had some good luck. At about mile 18 I saw three familiar figures ahead and as I got closer I recognized the zebra patterned shorts, it was "the herd" (aka Melanie, Beka, and Andrea). I came up alongside them and called out "Great job herd!", to which Melanie replied a very polite but slightly generic, "You too, finish strong". Then all of the sudden they were like "It's Mark!", followed by a slightly more robust "finish strong!". I thought about falling in alongside them but since I had picked it up a little to catch them I kept on going. Mile 18 and 19 were a little bit of a rally with paces of 7:37 and 7:35.
Next, on was on my way to the 14th Street bridge and on my way back to Virginia. The bridge crossing is a timing checkpoint which closes to people who don't maintain a 14:00 minute mile pace. I wasn't in any danger of that but it did feel good to get that past me.
Across the bridge led to a stretch of highway running and a little bit of a slowdown, but still under 8:00 (although just barely). Finishing mile 21, I was thinking about how I really just needed to make sure I didn't go any slower than 8:30 pace for the next 5 miles and I could still make it sub 3:30.
I'd get a little more help from a friend. Up ahead a little I saw a pretty big guy running shirtless with alot of him covered with tattoos - so that must be Mike, and it was. It took a while to catch up to him. We were nearing the last turn around in Crystal City. I could see him wave to a runner who had already made the turn (Brian) and then another runner we knew (Stan). Right by the turnaround I finally caught up to Mike. This was his first race of any kind in about two and a half years and he was running with no GPS. We stayed together for a bit. Mile 23 was almost my slowest mile, but it was a few seconds faster than mile 1 (8:32 vs 8:36).
I'm not sure exactly what happened next, but mile 24 was my fastest mile of the race at 7:19.
With only two miles left I felt pretty confident of making it in under 3:30. Ok, just hang on I thought as I cruised past the Pentagon. Finally, I hit the mile 26 sign and was soon at the bottom of the very last hill, not a very tall hill, but definitely the sharpest one. The entire race I had run with no cramps, but as I tried to power up the hill I could feel my calves getting close to locking up. So, no spectacular sprint through the finish line, just keep it together and cross.
Just over the finish line, they had these jackets (some sort of paper material) to keep warm with (much warmer than a space blanket - although it soon warmed up enough to not need them). They had plenty of snacks and goodies and kept the line moving along. Saw a few more of my Strider friends, many of them with new PRs or very solid races.
Eventually, found my brother's wife, Nancy (who had adventures tracking us around the course on foot) and then found my brother Jim. We were able to celebrate with a free beer at the beer tent. They also had some really awesome cut-up watermelon in individual boxes (had a couple of those) before getting onto the metro and heading back to the hotel.
(garmin distance: 26.67 miles, it's kind of a winding course with enough crowds to prevent really good tagent running).
The numbers in parentheses is where I periodically would sync back up with the mile markers.
- 8:02 (+ :22)
- 7:43 (+ :28)
- 7:31 (+ :18)
- 7:22 (+ :26)
- 7:32 (+ :08)
- 7:38 (+ :13)
- 7:37 (+ :12)
- 7:55 (+ 1:13) 26.2 1:57 (0.23 @8:28)