October 26, 2014

Race Report: Marine Corps Marathon 2014

I came into my fourth Marine Corps Marathon with a few hundred extra miles of training this year and the goal of dropping another couple minutes off last year's PR. Unfortunately I also came in a bit off my mental game due to a few questionable taper runs; however, I was determined to power through any obstacles on race day, especially with the inspiration of the Marines and my toddler on course watching her first marathon.

The Expo

The expo at the DC Armory was actually a bit smoother than the past few years. Packets and bibs moved inside, removing the need for two separate security lines; although that one security line still stretched out of the building even on Friday morning. The expo vendors and sponsors were consistent with prior years, but that didn't stop me from picking up some more swag at the Brooks store. I also managed to restock my Nuun watermelon supply! I snagged another entire box, with free water bottle, before heading into the dark days of winter. I also picked up a bandana for my mutt from Dogs of War and sifted through the usual sales racks.

The Course

I won't spend much time on the course since I've covered in the past few MCMs. It was similar to the 2013 course, cutting through Rosslyn, crossing Key Bridge, along Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway to mile 9. Then past the Kennedy Center, Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, and Lincoln Memorial before hitting the winds of Hains Point. Views of the Jefferson Memorial, National Mall, and the US Capitol building rounded out the first 20 miles. The final push was over the 14th Street Bridge, through Crystal City, past the Pentagon, and up the final hill to the Marine Corps War Memorial.

The course looks deceptively flat, although the bridge miles from 20-22 are very lonely and mentally challenging. Not to mention the winds this year were up to 25mph gusts and that section offers no relief.

Race Day

It was unseasonably warm as the sun rose on marathon morning. I dropped my bag at the Pacers Running tent and walked through charity village. I then made my way on the long walk past Arlington Cemetery and to the starting line. The pageantry of the Marine Corps was in full display as usual, several parachute groups, two Ospreys flew over, the howitzer marking the start of the race. Targeting a 3:13 finish, I stood in the mass of people at the front of the pack and tucked between the 3:05 and 3:15 pace groups.

The first 5k was up the only real inclines of the race, and in what's become an unfortunate trend for me this year, I started out a bit fast. I cleared the first 5k and 10k timing mats at 7:08 pace, well ahead of my 7:22 plan, but I didn't feel like it was an unsustainable effort so I focused on consistent energy and tried to pull back just a bit. The Rock Creek Parkway miles were on wide roads with plenty of space to avoid runner traffic, and I picked my way through the pack to find some open road. I came up to the memorials at miles 10-11 looking for my support crew; my wife, mother, mother-in-law, and toddler were all supposed to be waiting. Unfortunately they were delayed, as is life with a little one, and I spent a couple miles searching in vain. I cruised down Hains Point to the halfway mark in 1:33:42; the 7:08 pace far closer to a BQ than the PR I was targeting.

I forced myself to ease of the pace a bit in the next few miles, including two miles around the Tidal Basin where I managed to catch my support crew and cheering daughter at miles 15 and 17. I still didn't feel like I was laboring too hard as I ran past the Capitol and the large crowds along the National Mall. It was about this time that the winds started to howl through the building, and as I passed my support crew at mile 20, that howl became a gust. Miles 20-22 over the Bridge and into Crystal City was a long stretch of concrete with nothing to protect runners from the 15-25mph winds roaring down the river and battering us from the side. I could tell my pace was slipping a bit, and I was losing time from fighting the wind. Any hope for respite in the buildings of Crystal City was quickly forgotten.

Miles 22-25 featured wind tunnels between buildings, at one point blowing so hard I thought I may not be moving. I watched my pace slip a bit more, still very confident I would beat my goal time but obviously in a large positive split. The final mile featured more wind and a side cramp that struck for a few minutes, but I pushed through as best I could and crossed the line in 3:11:33, shattering my target time and dropping five minutes over my 2013 finish, wind and all.

After a tough few weeks of poor tapering runs and a slight injury the week prior, I was extremely pleased with the race. I didn't follow my race plan, I went out too fast, but I relied on my training to push through and maintain focus at the end. Maybe I should have a bit more confidence and ignore those taper demons.

PR! Now THAT was a two-banana run!

The Results

13.1 mi: 1:33:42  |  7:08

Final:   3:11:33  |  7:18 /mile