"If you’ve raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in thickets by the Jordan?" (Jeremiah 12:5). Our journey is intended to be more than simply "stumbling" through the days while the world "wears us out.” We are made to experience the thrill of "running with horses” and to navigate life amongst the "thickets." The RWH blog focuses on both the spiritual race of which Jeremiah speaks, and the physical act of running that I absolutely love. In short, it's where "the miles meet the Message" to provide insight, perspective & encouragement that might enable you & I to successfully run either of the races set before us. May our course be purposeful and may we be passionate in our pursuit of the abundant life He desires for us.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Final Word : MCM 2011 Race Report

Last week, a reader asked if I was going to provide any insight into the Marine Corps Marathon that I ran in late October.  Yikes! Talk about testing an old man's memory. That marathon high has long faded, but I decided to do my best and recap what was an absolutely wonderful weekend in the nation's capital.  The following is a summary of the event and the experiences that stand out the most as I reflect back, three months post-race.  Hopefully you will find interesting information regarding the Marine Corps Marathon and general race weekend hints and tips. Enjoy. 

Why MCM?  I really like large crowds and big events when it comes to marathons. I love the energy and the support that is given for races of this size.  However, when selecting the MCM, it was more about reputation and destination, than anything else. The People's Marathon is well known for military precision and marine pride.  Starting in Arlington, VA and running through the Capital, it is easy to imagine what a super cool route this is.  Additionally, my brother and I decided to meet up in D.C. to run it together.  So in early Spring, we signed up, (fortunately in the first 24 hours as it sold out in less than a day!), and training officially began on June 29th. 
Pre-race with my brother
Training:  I decided to up the Hal Higdon Intermediate One plan by a few miles here and there.  Not enough to make it an Intermediate II plan, but enough to get in 670 miles through 89 runs within 18 weeks. I had put in a good amount of mileage in the off-season (since the January 11th WDW marathon) and came into the training in pretty good shape. I was blessed to have another strong cycle, free from injury with only one missed workout.  Follow the plan and good things will happen.  Oh, and I trained to a pace that would provide a 3:49:59 finish.  I also did a lot more hill work in this cycle based on some of the elevation charts and feedback from others that had run the course prior.  I was so glad that I did (more detail to follow).

Ryan Hall
Race Expo:  Ultimately, the race expo becomes less and less attractive the more events I attend.  Pick up the bib and get back to the hotel. But this one became a pretty cool experience due to a few minutes of conversation with Ryan Hall. Ryan was signing books and hanging out at the Nissan Leaf area.  I obviously think a lot of Ryan; his running and the openness of which he proclaims his Christian faith.  The line moved quickly and the opportunity to meet and greet was really great.  We talked about his church, his wife Sara's bible studies and the Northern California area (he noticed the UCD sweatshirt). He signed the photo as he signs most everything else, 'Ryan Hall, John 10:10'. One observation, he's much smaller in person.  He's also an extremely gracious and engaging young man.  (I expect all of you will be watching the London Olympics and rooting Ryan on!)

The only other comments about the MCM expo is that you do need to take the metro to get to the Armory, and with sleet and ice coming down, the transit outside the metro station was a bit messy and cold.  The expo hall was extremely crowded and the process of going through one building to get the bib and another to get the packets, was a bit confusing.  Again, pick up the stuff, speak to Mr. Hall and get back to the hotel.
Official Starter - Drew Carey
Pre-Race:  Race morning was full of good news.  First, the snow, sleet and extreme cold of the past two days was clearing and sun would make this a near-perfect weather marathon.  Also, unlike Disney and a few others, the race starts after the sun comes up and the wake-up call is at a more decent hour - 5:00 a.m. Finally, the transportation from the Crystal City hotel area was humming like clock-work.  We walked a block, boarded and were carried to the pre-race collection area around 6:30 a.m.

The pre-race ritual stayed pretty much according to plan.  In the 37 degree, pre-dawn morning, we remained bundled up and awaited the T-minus 1 hour warning.  It came, and so did the sunrise.  We made our way to the starting line, of course by way of a porta-jon line and some time in the warmth of said pj to prep the glide, the bib, the fuel belt, etc.

The wait at the start flew by ..... literally! Between the jets and the stealth choppers, it was an eye to the sky for pre-race events.  Following the national anthem, Drew Carey took the starters position and got the thing going.

Race: The race plan called for a few improvements to the prior marathon; 1) get a better start - the first mile needs to be as close to the 8:30 pace as possible; it was.  2) stay consistent on pace for the first 20 miles; I did.  3) negative splits; yes, as always.  Other than that it was to run my race, enjoy the scenery and have fun.  The highlights included:

* Crossing the bridge from Arlington into Georgetown
* Passing the monuments, up close and personal
* The warmth of the sun with the chill of 40 degrees - Perfect!
* Running strong back across the river around mile 20
* Fear of a hamstring starting to pull in mile 22
* Grabbing chocolate from one spectator angel and orange slices from another
* Rounding the final turn and facing the final hill to finish at the Iwo Jima monument

Rather than bore you with race strategy and mile-by-mile commentary, I’ll just say that the race played out perfectly.  I knew I was on to a really good time after my hamstring issue started to work itself out around mile 23 - 24.  I crossed in 3:43:39 and felt really strong.  I left it all out on the course and am certain that for that day, it was all that I had.

Regarding the course, it is not flat.  It seemed as if the entire first 7 miles was uphill.  From there it was downhill and then a few more elevation changes that you definitely felt.  I think that was part of the issue of the hamstring tenderness.  Another consequence of the course is that because of the hills, the wheel-chaired competitors, despite a half hour head start, were constantly leap frogging the runners.  So up the hills I would pass several that were struggling to go the next yard.  Then downhill there would be shouts of “to your left” or “down the middle”, and you would need to clear the path as they sped by.  It seemed sort of dangerous and I’ve never been in another race that this situation was present the entire route.  

Recap:  The Marines really do make this marathon a must-do event.  From organization to aid stations to hanging the medal around your neck, the marines take care of you.  The crowds were pretty good as well. There were some lonely miles along the river and into Arlington, but the populated areas were loud and the signs were great.  The most inspiring one I saw, or at least the one that struck me at the right time, was around mile 19, it read, “Think about it, what would Pre do?” I answered, “keep running hard!”

I was very fortunate in 2011.  I ran Disney on a trip with my wife - we had a blast.  I was then able to run the Marine Corps with my brother and nephew along - we had a blast. In March, it’s on to Wrightsville Beach with the family - we will have a blast.  As I have said over and over, the marathon, to me, is not as much about the 26.2 as it is about the 650 miles to get there, the crowds, the destination and the sharing of this experience with others.

If you are planning on running the MCM, let me know if you have any questions or would like to know more.

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