Monday, October 26, 2009

Marine Corps Marathon: Race Report

I am now a marathoner. Yesterday I ran the Marine Corps Marathon and beat my real-world goal of five hours (I finished in 4:57). In short it was a great day and a satisfying first marathon, though not without its frustrations (the issues that led to missing my in-a-perfect-world goal of 4:30).

I took the Metro to the Pentagon and made my way to the runners' village around 6:30. I think I made a Marine's brain explode a little bit. There were Marines doing the security check on everyone's bags; the Marine checking mine looked at my bag, then looked again harder. "Is that yarn?" I said yes, that I'd been knitting on the Metro, at which point he just shrugged and looked at me like I was crazy.

I really didn't need to show up so early; I think a half hour later would have been about perfect - early enough to not be rushed, late enough to not be standing around in the chill for too long. As it was, I checked my bag, got some water, and made my way to the start. The highlight of the opening ceremony was a flyover by two V-22 Ospreys. They were flying in airplane mode rather than helicopter mode, but they're still about the most ungainly-looking aircraft I've ever seen.

The start was at 8:00. I shed my cheap pants before the start and my equally cheap fleece about a mile in. The super cheap gloves lasted maybe two miles beyond that. The weather was pretty much perfect - a little cool for standing around in the breezy dark, but absolutely wonderful once the sun came up and we started moving.

I started pretty far back in the 4:30 to 5:00 corral, to try to keep myself from starting too fast. It worked for the first mile or two, at which point I sped up. The beginning of the course was pretty hilly, but I felt like I'd done enough hills in training that the hilliness really wasn't slowing me down. After the hills in Virginia, we crossed the Potomac on the Key Bridge to the District, where there were a few hills as we went around the Georgetown Reservoir before leveling out for most of the rest of the race. Even with a porta-potty stop, I was well on pace through mile 21 for finishing in 4:30 or just under. Unfortunately, at that point, my digestive system staged a rebellion and I lost at least 15 minutes in more porta-potties. I'm not sure what it was that I ate or when, but this gives me a mission for future training - figuring out food and my body really get along. At any rate, I stuck it out for the last five miles, including running up the last hill to the finish (I'm pretty sure only Marines would think it's fun to end a marathon by going up a hill) and still made my goal.

My favorite moment of the race happened around mile 18, going past the Capitol. There was a high school band playing there, and just as I was passing, they were playing the theme music from Star Trek. I guess none of the runners near me were quite as geeky, since many of them looked at me like I was nuts when I started cheering.

The most inspiring thing I saw was a group of wounded Marine veterans. On crutches, in a wheel chair, or just hobbling along, they were making amazing time (I don't know where they finished, but they were ahead of me until mile 19). Even now, the thought of their dedication, motivation, and perseverance is making me tear up.

My proudest moment was making it up the last hill to the finish in good form. Nearly everyone around me was walking up the hill, but I'd determined that I was going to own it, and charged up, surprising myself with how much I didn't feel like I was going to die at the top. There was a toll, though, since when I finished, the only coherent thought I was capable of was, "holy sh*t! I just ran a marathon!"

I know I had friends out on the course cheering for me, and just knowing they were there, even if I didn't actually see them, is pretty awesome. I also had a friend who saw me finish, and I think he was almost as proud of me as I was of myself. It was great to have someone to celebrate and go out to eat with. I wore my finisher medal all day (the only other times I've ever been so proud of anything I was wearing were my commissioning and my first communion).

All in all, it was an amazing experience, and I see more marathons in my future.