Friday, October 31, 2014

Marine Corps Marathon - October 26, 2014

Great Things Start Small
Emaad's throw-away remark gets me thinking.  Running on a Friday a week or two before the 39th Marine Corps Marathon he tells me that I'm in great shape and could run a PR at MCM.  Sprinkling a bit of water on parched ground can encourage a wind-blown seed to attempt to bloom and that is what his remark does.  I can't shake the idea that maybe I am in good enough shape to try for a PR.  Running 3:15 at the DC Road Runners 20-Miler three weeks before MCM adds more nutrients for the PR seedling. And a near perfect weather forecast further aids the sprout. Yes, perhaps I could be "A mighty oak /From the acorn grew."

I set a goal of 4:20. That's three minutes under my 4:23 PR which I set two years ago at MCM.  Realistic at an overall pace of 9:58/mile. Based on the 20-Miler, my plan is to get to the 20-mile mark in 3:15-3:18, a pace of about 9:45/mile, then hold on loosely but don't let go for the final 10K at about a 10:00/mile pace.  Two days before MCM I print out a 4:20 pace band.

To the Start with Cinco Amigos
Emaad, Jennifer and Barry load up on donuts pre-race
For the fourth year, Emaad, Rebecca, Jennifer, Barry and I join forces for MCM.  An early dinner at Cuban Corner Saturday night fuels the team and we gather at 0545 at my house for the drive to the MCRRC hospitality suite at the Holiday Inn Key Bridge.  I supply coffee, Rebecca brings doughnuts and Jennifer drives and despite a bit of a detour we get there in plenty of time.

We prep in the ballroom and head out for the walk to the start.  I'm clearly revved up and walk ahead of the amigos.  Walking along, I chat with a woman whose running her first marathon.  Her father is retired military and, she says, "He's proud that I'm running Marine Corps."

Parachutist descends with American flag 
After cheering the wheel chair racers and the participants being pushed by family or friends who start at 7:40 I wait for the amigos to catch up, but I don't see them.  Reluctantly I get in the road for the start of the race.  Paragliders descend, one with a large American flag and lands close to where I'm standing.  A pair of Marine V-22 Ospreys, their rotors in helicopter alignment, flies over.  Promptly at 7:55 the howitzer sounds for the start of the race.

As the other runners head forward, I stand in the median dividing the six lanes full of runners.  I'm letting the faster runners go before I step in with folks more in alignment with my pace.

The Ospreys roar back overhead from the other direction, their rotors now vertical in propeller orientation.  And then I spot the other amigos.  We form up and head to start.  I discard my trash bag warm up, cross the starting mat and we are off.

Barry, slower than the rest drops back to his pace.  The other four of us go off together,  Within a few minutes Rebecca and I seem to have lost Emaad and Jennifer.

Execute the Plan
Rebecca, who is cold-averse, is wearing three layers while I'm wearing my short-sleeved U.S. Marine Corps/Capitol Hill Running Club shirt.  As usual, Rebecca warms up quickly and before we have gone a mile she has tossed away her church rummage sale hoodie.  In another mile she sheds her long sleeved shirt, tying it around her waist.  A bit later she stashes away her arm warmers and is down to her short sleeves.

Up the hill into Rosslyn we go, missing the one mile marker.  Out Lee Highway and more uphill.  An emergency services cart works it way in the opposite direction, carrying someone on a stretcher. Passed mile 2 forty seconds behind 4:20 pace we that's to be expected due to the hill.  We head down Lorcom Lane, picking up speed and time on the downhill.

 At mile four we are seconds ahead of the 4:20 pace. Rebecca walks to eat a gel and I join other runners, all male, facing the rocks and bushes by the side of the GW Parkway. But both of us are quick about our respective missions and we are soon running up the parkway ramp and turning left across Key Bridge.

We have no sooner made it onto M Street and I feel someone grope my behind.  Emaad has caught up with us!  We enquire about Jennifer but he says he lost her.  And soon we lose him at the M Street water stop.  Rebecca thinks he has gotten ahead of us; I think he is behind us.  No matter, we go on.

Down Wisconsin Avenue we miss the mile 5 marker but are running a comfortable 9:40ish pace up and back on Rock Creek Parkway.  We see Barry after we make the turnaround and he is still headed toward it, but there is no sign of Emaad or Jennifer.

The plan is working well. At mile 9 we are about 1:30 ahead of 4:20 pace, suggesting that we'll get to mile 20 right around 3:15. Pretty good plan execution.

The Blue Mile
Near the Kennedy Center we come upon Caroline, prolific ultrarunner.  She was injured earlier in the year but she's here for her 15th MCM.  We chat a bit and then go on.

Just past the Kennedy Center there is a runner carrying an American flag of a flagpole.  I ask him if I can have the honor and he graciously hands it to me.  We run and chat for a bit and then I return it to him and he pulls away.

Down the west side of Hains Point Rebecca and I go.  Good pace but easy enough that we chat amiably about everything that runners chat about.  Just before mile 12 we both duck into the restrooms.  I tell her I'll stick to the left side of the road so she can find me.

The Blue Mile starts shortly afterward.  Every ten yards or so there is a poster with the name and picture and of a fallen service member. It is a somber reminder of the cost of the past twelve years.  Also are the many runners either wearing blue or with memorials for deceased comrades and family members on the backs of their shirts.

DC fire boat salute in Washington Channel
I reach the halfway point in 2:08 and mile 14 in 2:16.  The plan is working well.  I'm a couple of minutes ahead of 4:20 pace and feeling good.  I take a brief detour to the side to get a picture of the DC fire boat shooting streams of water high into the cloudless blue sky.

The crowds along Independence Avenue are large and enthusiastic. The course is out one side and back the other to head toward the Mall. At mile 17 my pace drops to 10:05, not part of the plan, but not too slow.  I try to shrug it off as an anomaly.

Daughter Hilary has promised to be near the National Museum of Natural History with candy.  I scan the crowd for her but we have got our signals crossed and I'm looking on the right side and she is on the left side so I miss her.  Later Jennifer will tell me she saw her.  Hilary gives out six bags of candy to hungry runners. I spot An and tell him that Rebecca is likely a minute or two behind me.  Hash House Harriers are handing out beer and I get a cup.  It is not a bad substitute for missing the candy.

The Going Gets Tough
Coming toward mile 18 at the end of the Mall approaching the foot of Capitol Hill I realize that the slower mile 17 is not a fluke.  I'm getting tired too soon to execute the remainder of the plan.  My pace starts to drop but I'm going to try to hold on.  Sometimes there is just a lull before one gets a second wind.  That is what I need to find.  Get through the dark to the light.  I grimly recalled that earlier in the day I had quoted von Moltke the Elder to Rebecca, "No plan survives first contact with the enemy."  My plan had met the enemy.

Near the Smithsonian Castle I spot Ray, an older MCM regular who always runs with a flag.  Like I did last year I ask him if I can carry his flag a bit.  He agrees but warns me that he isn't moving much faster than a walk.  Not a problem for me the way I'm feeling.  I carry it a bit and return it to him.

I get to mile 20 in 3:17, remarkably right on the 4:20 finishing pace and in the plan's 3:15-3:18 window for 20 miles.  But the difference is that I'm spent.  I manage to get across the 14th Street bridge to mile 21 in 10:38, a pace, that if I can maintain it for the remaining 5.2 miles will touch a 4:23 PR.

But I'm spent. The miles in Crystal City are ugly and involve significant walking - 11:36, 12:01 11:38.  I develop a thousand yard stare and plod ahead.  More beer from another group of hashers does not revive me.

Approaching the 40K mat I spot someone familiar and catch Rebecca.  Actually, I don't think I as much caught her as I spotted her passing me.  We run together for a very short while and then I start yelling at her to go on.  She does.

I reach mile 25 in 4:15.  Now I start calculating whether I have a chance to finish under 4:30.  Maybe. But it is a long gentle incline the first half of the distance and running is difficult.  So I walk and worry and plan to run the downhill to mile 26 so that I have a chance to get up the last hill to the Iwo Jima Memorial.

I get to mile 26 in 4:26:39.  I have 3:21 left to run uphill the last two tenths of a mile.  But I cannot run the first part.  Tired as I am I simply cannot run. But the road is less steep following the right turn to the finish and now I run.  I finish in 4:29:09.  I lean against a barricade after finishing and spot Rebecca who was waiting for me.

Leaving the finish area we spy Jennifer who crossed the line in 4:26.  She had passed Rebecca and me somewhere in the first three miles and stayed ahead of us.  Emaad catches up to us on the walk back to the Holiday Inn.  He finished in 4:32. Unbeknowst to any of us at the time he had leapfrogged Rebecca and I a couple of times during the day. And fortunately for him I didn't notice when I passed him as I had threatened to grope him with two hands to repay his grab in Georgetown.  Barry finished in 4:57, still good enough for the top half of his age group.

The Results
While I didn't run a PR I did run my third fastest MCM (out of nine) and my fourth consecutive under 4:30. In my age group I was a respectable 82 of 366 and 4816 of 11,100 male finishers.

MCM Swag: shirt, finisher's medal, patch, bib
and purchased beer glass