Sunday, November 3, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon - October 27, 2013

0545 AIS
It's 5:45 a.m. Sunday morning and all five 'As' of Cinco Amigos Tres are 'I' 'Ss' of Jennifer's new-to-her Honda Odyssey. Rebecca, always fearful of being without food, has brought a box of Shoppers' Colossal Donuts (no joke - that's what the box accurately calls them) and a bag of pretzels. We also have the remainder of the pumpkin ring cake that Rebecca brought for dessert to last night's pre-race dinner at our house.  She also brought a chocolate cake and four cartons of ice cream for the seven of us at dinner. The ice cream and chocolate cake don't make it into the car for breakfast.

On the way Emaad entertains us with a description of the Brazil Butt Lift infomercial that he watched when he awoke early.  Jennifer offers her children's leftover jelly beans that are rolling around in the tray between the front seats.  Barry's back is still bothering him from a strain but he is willing to give MCM a shot.  He will be carrying a Metro card in case he finds that he needs to drop.

Getting in Position
Without incident we drive to the Rosslyn Holiday Inn where MCRRC has its hospitality suite.  Along Lee Highway we drive past Marines setting up the water stop just beyond mile 2.  We secure a table, and then discuss what to wear. The morning promises to be cool but the day looks to be mostly sunny with temperatures rising into the mid 50s.  After much of the usual discussion of what to wear - tights? shirts (how many? Long or short sleeves?) Throw away top? Trash bags? Hats? Gloves? Arm warmers? - everyone settles out on their apparel and we move out for the walk to the start line.

Parachutist descends with flag pre-race.
As we approach it - our path takes us along Route 110 toward the start from the front of the course - we see the parachute team descending carrying large American flags.  Just before reaching the start line the Marines stop us by the starting howitzer and I'm excited that I'll get a close-up picture of it firing for the start of the wheelchair racers at 7:55.  After a couple of minutes we are waved along and we make our way into the starting area.    We walk a bit toward the rear so as not to be up with the faster runners.  We move to the median of Route 110 to be out of the way of the runners on both sides.

(l to r) Emaad, Rebecca, Barry, Jennifer and I keep warm at the start.
At precisely 8:00 a.m. the howitzer fires again for the start of the race.  MCM does not use corrals to separate fast runners from slower runners.  Instead it has pylons with estimated times that allows runners to self-seed themselves.  Since we are standing toward the front of the crowd, we allow runners to flow past us.  We allow the 4:00 pacer to go by with her sign and balloons and in a short while discard our trash bags and other disposable warm-ups before joining the runners walking toward the starting mat.  We comment about the amount and quality of warm-up gear disposed as runners head forward and I briefly pick up a banana before reluctantly putting it back down.

Runners descend Spout Run past mile 3.
Barry drops back but the other four of us trot on ahead.  Emaad's goal is to run 4:10.  He's asked Rebecca to help pace him.  Jennifer plans to finish.  She can run fast, but a lack of training may keep her from using the speed.  My goal is a bit fuzzy.  I'd like to run abut 4:30 and I'm wearing a pace band for that goal, but I'm also planning to be happy to be under 4:45.  I'll let the day unfold in its own manner.

Less than a mile in we head up the slight hill into Rosslyn and I tell the others to go on.  I drop back and go thru the first mile in about 10:35, a pretty leisurely pace that suggests that it won't be a fast day.  But even before we get out of Rosslyn and turn onto Lee Highway I catch up to the other three.  That apparently is enough of a spur for Emaad and he takes off.  About mile 2 Rebecca and Jennifer decide to avail themselves of the Porta-potties and I go on alone.

Scenes from a Marathon
On Rock Creek Parkway about mile 9.
As I catch up with a pair of women running with shirts with 'Mexico' on them, I greet them with a "Viva Mexico!"  They respond with a "vamos!" which I do.

Running up stream in Rock Creek Park around mile 6 I pull even with a woman wearing the technical shirt given out at the expo to the runners.  It replaced the traditional mock turtleneck that was reviled by every woman runner that I know.  "You are tempting the marathon gods," I tell her.  "What do you mean?" she replies. "You are wearing the shirt for the race before I have run it," I say.  Another runner chimes in, "It's bad karma."  "Never heard that" she says and goes on to explain that she hadn't brought enough shirts for the cool weather.  Since this is her fourth MCM, I tell her that I'm sure it will be OK.

 Eighty-six wheel racers finish the race, most in the hand crank division.  Most runners are encouraging to these athletes and admire their ability to get their bodies and wheels up hills using nothing but their arms and hands.  Unfortunately there are also ignorant, self-centered runners who insist on running with headphones and the volume turned up so high that they can't hear the shouts of "Move left" and impede the progress of the wheel racers, especially on the downhills.  Fortunately for the ignorant - and maybe for me - they are too far in front of me to for me to do anything but shout.  And shout I do.  Had I been closer . . . .

It isn't just wheel racers and persons in shirts with pictures of fallen friends, siblings, spouses and family members who remind the rest of us at MCM that there is high price paid by those who practice diplomacy by other means.  About mile 9 I come upon the runner pictured above. And the sign on his back indicates that he runs for others as well.

Somewhere past the Kennedy Center near mile 10 some runners and I joke about where we are relative to other runners.  I note that while there are thousands of runners ahead of us there are also thousands behind us.  I say that my goal is to finish in the top 4 digits, i.e, not be beaten by 10,000.

DC fireboat salutes runners.
The stretch of the course along the Potomac approaching the halfway mark at Hains Point is nearly 2 miles long.  Race photographers sit near the entrance to East Potomac Park and on scaffolding over it to snap pictures of the runners cheering and waving for the cameras.  Past the photo location crowds drop off appreciably and the runners are left to contemplate what, over the past several years, has become known as "The Blue Mile."

Along the side of the course is a row of equally spaced signs with blue backgrounds.  Each sign has the name of a service member and their picture along with the date and location of their death in the wars of the past eleven years.  Each year the row gets longer. A row of persons clad in blue suits holds American flags after the row of pictures.   It is a somber moment even for those self-absorbed with their run.

Throughout the race I have been seeing members of the MCRRC First Time Marathoners group.  I give them encouragement and sometimes chat with them.  Quite by chance I chat up Conroy Z, one of the directors of the program.  In response to a question he tells me that only 40 percent of the persons in the program are actually doing their first marathon; the other 60 percent have completed one or more marathons.

Approaching the Capitol near mile 18.
About mile 17 I catch up to Ray, an MCM fixture who carries a flag in the race.  I ask him if I may carry it a bit and, like last year, he agrees.  A Marine along the side of the course comes to attention and salutes.  I carry it a bit and then he says that he needs to walk and can't keep up with me.  I thank him for allowing me the honor and return the flag to him.

The Marathon Begins NOW
At mile 20, I tweet "Mile 20. The marathon begins NOW."  There are shirts that joke "A marathon is a just 10K following a 20 mile warm-up."  There is some truth in this, especially at MCM.  At mile 20 the course heads across the 14th Street bridge from DC to Virginia.  The next two miles are a long stretch with none of the crowds that have been inspiring runners for most of the day.  Runners start to walk.  One can see far ahead and progress seems slow.  I try to stay focused.

I'm getting a bit tired but it is more mental than physical.  One side of my brain says it is OK to walk, the other side says stay strong. Finally about mile 22 we make the turn into Crystal City where more crowds await to rejuvenate the runners. I've slowed down a bit in mile 22 but the crowds give me energy to maintain the pace thru mile 23.

But the course turns into a long slow uphill with fewer crowds on the back side of Crystal City.  I avoid walking in front of the enthusiastic rooters at the milepost, but start walking afterward.  I spot the refreshment tables up ahead and veer toward them, but retract my hand and swerve away when I see that they are not giving out drinks but instead are offering donut holes, about the last thing I want to eat at this time. The next water stop is about a third of a mile along and I drink before heading under I-395 for the run - without crowds - around the Pentagon parking lot and onto Washington Boulevard. By now I'm walking more.

On Washington Boulevard, just passed the Pentagon 9-11 memorial, I spot shadows approaching on either side. "Hi, Ken," Rebecca bubbles as Jennifer pulls up on the other side.  It has taken them 22 miles, but they have run me down.

"Go on," I urge.  Rebecca nods and pulls away.  Jennifer claims that she is spent from their effort to catch up with me but I know that she is just being kind.  When I walk she walks.  I try to gain strength from her and it helps, particularly on the downhills.  She's talking away.  Meanwhile my world view is shrinking and all I can concentrate on is moving forward.  I'm not sure that I can even hear her or process what she is saying or even understand the words.  Finally I apologize and ask her to stop talking.  She says she understands and stops.

At mile 26 we make the left turn to go up the hill to the Marine Corps Memorial.  I walk, then I run, then I have to stop running.  As we approach the last 100 yards in front of the spectator stands Jennifer tells me we have to run.  It's what I need to hear.  We run - probably slowly - but it feels right and we finish side-by-side.

Top Four Digits 
My 4:27:58 is my second fastest marathon time (4:34 slower than my 2012 MCM marathon PR) and is good for 113 of 394 in the M60-64 age group and 6594 of 13,530 males.  More importantly it is good for 9627 out of the 23,521 finishers, allowing me to finish before the counter turned over the fifth digit.  Oorah!

Emaad finishes in a 12 minute PR of 4:08.  Rebecca finishes in 4:26.  Barry, after passing the Blue Mile, decided that quitting was not appropriate, especially as his back started to loosen up, goes on the finish in a bit over 5 hours.

Bonus Post Race Report
Jennifer and I get congratulations
from USMC lieutenant at finish.
Just beyond the finish I lean over the railing at the side of the course to catch my breath and regain some strength.  After a couple of minutes we get in line to gather our finisher's medals.  In the tradition of MCM, a USMC lieutenant drapes the medal over one's neck, straightens up and salutes the finisher.  I return the salute.

As we work our way to the exit from the finisher area, we get our snack boxes, bananas, Gatorade, water and disposable poncho.  We are nearly out of the area when Rebecca spots us and joins us.

Rebecca stands by fence separating finishers
from 'zombie' spectators.
Leaving the finishers' area we see hundreds of spectators and family members on the other side of a temporary chain link fence anxiously scanning for their runners.  It reminds me a bit of the zombies outside the fence on the Walking Dead.  The spectators don't seem amused when I share my observation that they look a bit like zombies to me.

With the Watermelon Queen post-race.
Finally we exit the area and start our walk back to the Holiday Inn.  But there is one more treat still to be had.  There on the street are representatives of the the National Watermelon Promotion Board handing out packages of the refreshing red fruit including Watermelon Queens from various states.

Not a bad way to end my eighth MCM.

MCM Swag: Shirt, Medal, Patch, Program, Snack Box and Bib.