October 27, 2013

Race Report: Marine Corps Marathon 2013

I came into my third Marine Corps Marathon with a decent training year. Even as a new father, I managed to get close to my usual annual mileage, and I was looking forward to the year's peak race.

The Expo

The expo at the DC Armory was a complete hassle, as usual. Expos at the Armory are always a zoo, and I figured the Boston Marathon bombing would make security even worse...and I was right. I showed up on Friday morning to avoid the Saturday rush, and there was already a long line snaking through the grass outside the outdoor tent to get bibs. There were no ropes and no one organizing the line, and it just snaked back and forth in the grass for about an hour. There was a small security check just to check into the bib tent. Then runners had to walk across the street to the Armory where another line and a more thorough security check was waiting to get into the expo for shirts, vendors, etc. The expo had all the usual booths, Brooks was again the title store, but for some reason it seemed less exciting than in years past. Maybe I've just seen all these vendors too many times. I still picked up a few goodies like a running jacket from Wear Blue Run to Remember, restocked my Nuun supply, and even bought my daughter a few fun running items. Between security and wandering around the expo, it took most of the morning.

Turns out going on a weekday was a fantastic call though, because the lines on Saturday were hours long, hours! Add to that a power failure with a generator and some people waited four hours to get their bib. Then once inside the Armory, those same people found the Brooks store sold out of race jackets, sizes, etc. This really isn't a surprise though, as it seems like every year there are major hassles and logistical failures with MCM. I run Marine Corps Marathon because it's the largest local marathon, but I always say I run MCM in spite of all its warts; I'm not sure how it ends up on so many runner bucket lists and gets its "good for first-timers" reputation.

The Course

The 2013 course cut out a major hill after Canal Road, opting for a flatter course with miles 6-9 going along Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway. The course started between Arlington Cemetery and the Pentagon, cut through Rosslyn with some hills, and then crossed Key Bridge into Georgetown and along M Street. After coming off the course change at mile 9, it was past the Kennedy Center, Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, and Lincoln Memorial before hitting halfway on the windy and remote Hains Point peninsula. The course then passed the Tidal Basin with a view of the Jefferson Memorial and turned to run along the National Mall, eventually turning after an up-close view of the US Capitol building. The course went back along the Mall to 14th St, passed the Holocaust Museum, and then hit the 14th Street Bridge for the long gut-check miles over the water. The course finally wound through Crystal City, past the Pentagon, and up the final hill to the Marine Corps War Memorial.

Removing the hill near Georgetown was a very welcome change this year, and certainly earned everyone an extra minute or two on their time. Unfortunately there's no way to flatten out the first 5k.

Race Day

After running 2011 with ice on the first overpass and running 2012 in the opening winds of Superstorm Sandy, it was pleasant to wake up for MCM 2013 to a perfect running day. The temperature was perfect and there was limited wind along the water, even on Hains Point. After dropping my bag at the Pacers hospitality tent, I walked through charity village; it's always motivating to walk along the tents and see the wounded warriors and wheelchair racers getting set up. And it helps that charity village has some hidden banks of bathrooms. I then made my way to the starting line to listen to the pre-race broadcast and watch some of the ceremonies. Since I ran a positive split in prior years and my goal time slotted nicely with pace groups, I decided to turn the thinking over to a pacer and stood near the gentleman holding the '3:15' balloons.

The first 5k was almost all uphill, and I was thankful to be in a pace group to avoid going out too hard. Although between the tens of thousands of runners and the hill, even our pace group was already a minute or two behind when we hit the 5k mark. We were confident the pacer would make up that time and by the time we cleared 10k we were looking better at 7:31 pace versus a goal of 7:26. Our pacer was very chatty, and we kept hearing old war stories through mile 9 as we were exiting the Parkway. It was about this time where I got tired of jokes and stories and wanted to run my race, so I started getting 50 yards or so ahead of him and just making sure I stayed there. As we hit 20k at 7:33 pace and breezed through Hains Point, we were still a minute and a half off our target time and I slowed up to check the pacer's timing. He kept saying the course mile markers were off and that his watch showed us being okay; that's when I started getting very concerned. The course mile markers aren't that far off, and I know the 13.1 mat was near spot on. Also, GPS watches are notoriously wrong, and I was simply shocked that our pacer would be relying solely on that when so many external factors were saying we were behind.

After Hains Point we did a quick up-and-back for miles 15-17 along the Tidal Basin, where I saw my parents twice and even walked next to them for a few paces to say hello. I was feeling really good, getting a bit ahead of the pacer, and at this point I realized how far I'd come from the prior year. I wasn't really breathing too deep or going too hard, it was just comfortable, and I felt very confident in maintaining that effort. The run along the Mall was fun and the crowds ballooned as I crossed the 30k mat in 7:27 pace, very close to goal but knowing the bridge would sap some of that. I contemplated booing the Capitol building...the government shutdown weeks earlier caused so much drama and cancellations in the DC running world. I was at mile 20 and the bridge in no time. I gave my parents another thumbs up here and set off for the long, lonely miles of 20-22 where it's just inclined concrete with no crowds and no real landmarks. Around this point I was pretty sure our pace group was going to miss its mark, but I figured I'd rather maintain an even effort and turn it up at mile 24 if I still had anything left in the tank.

Crystal City with its twists and turns, not to mention a few small hills, is always challenging. It's after a tough stretch on the bridge and it's where the accumulated fatigue really hits. Even though I was in better spirits than prior marathons, I was still ready for it to be over halfway through Crystal City at mile 23. As I cruised to the Pentagon and hit mile 24, the pacer and the small group remaining caught up, and it was about that time I realized I probably didn't have enough in the tank to clear 3:15. I still turned it up a little bit to earn back some time lost on the bridge, pushing past my parents at mile 26 and into the finishing chute. After tackling the final hill at the end (thanks Marines!), I hit the finish line at 3:16:36, missing my target but still very, very pleased with the run.

After we crossed the pacer said "you guys can take a couple minutes off your time, the course was long." No, it wasn't. He just failed as his primary responsibility. I was a little disappointed in how the pace group worked out, but at least I wasn't going for Boston and absolutely needing to be under 3:15. I wasn't disappointed though in my effort. I feel I left it all on the road and to be honest, may not have had a 3:15 in me that morning, pace group or not.

The Results

10k :         46:46  |  7:31 /mi
20k :       1:33:53 |  7:33 /mi
30k :       2:19:03 |  7:27 /mi
40k :       3:06:19 |  7:29 /mi
Final:   3:16:36  |  7:29 /mile 

The Pictures

C's first MCM shirt

Reading the MCM children's book

Course view near Lincoln Memorial

Coming through Tidal Basin area

Mile 20, about to hit The Bridge

Final push at mile 26

MCM 2013 medal

My biggest fan

MCM signage

Early miles near water

Passing the US Capitol

14th Street near mile 20

Coming up the final hill

In the finish chute


Images marked with MCM logo courtesy of MCM Flickr page.  Image proofs from MarathonFoto used in accordance with fair use four factors