Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Marine Corps Marathon - October 25, 2015

Sometimes you're the windshield / Sometimes you're the bug
- Mark Knopfler, The Bug

Cinco Amigos V
Once again we've put the team back together for the 40th Marine Corps Marathon.  Barry, Emaad, Rebecca, Jennifer and I are prepared, as the MCM exhortation reminds us, "to charge the District, beat the bridge and TAKE THE IWO!"

We register in the Masters team category as Cinco Amigos V, as it is the fifth year we will be carpooling and running MCM together.  Only the top three finishers count in the team scoring, but we are allowed to have five on the team.  We expect another last place finish.

Sometimes You're the Bug I
Unexpectedly the casualties begin early.  Jennifer complains of plantar fasciitis in her foot. It's a sudden onset as she and I had been doing long runs in September in preparation for October marathons. She tries stretching and a short run but the pain persists.  As she plans to go to Seattle the week following MCM and do hiking and walking out there,she wisely decides not to risk aggravating the foot by attempting MCM.

Sometimes You're the Bug II
Rebecca is the next one down.  A couple of weeks before MCM she develops a fever and her knees swell up so much that she needs to have one drained and use a crutch for several days.  Tests for various illnesses - tick-borne and otherwise - come back negative but the illness saps her strength and she decides not to run.  She feels well enough however to come out and support the efforts of the remaining three Amigos.

Soft Targets
With me at the wheel, Emaad, Barry and I have no difficulty in getting to the MCRRC hospitality suite in Rosslyn.  At the appropriate time we head out for the mile walk to the start, which takes us past the Iwo Jima Memorial.  But shortly before turning left from N. Meade Street to walk down N. Marshall Drive toward Route 110 and the start, the crowd of runners comes to a halt. People begin to get antsy about getting to the starting line on time as there seems to be no reason for the delay.

New this year, however, about half a dozen metal detectors have been set up to screen everyone walking in that direction.  In year's past, there has been bag screening, but runners have been able to by-pass the bag checks since they are not carrying bags. With a handful of metal detectors, perhaps balky in the damp, misty conditions, the crowds have come to a packed standstill trapped with metal detector lines to the front, an armored police vehicle to the right, a fence and earthen berm to the right, and more runners to the rear.

Security has created not only a perfect mess of disrupting the smooth progression of runners to the start but have created what would be an ideal situation for a terrorist: a densely packed crowd in an area conducive to concentrating an explosion. A terrorist might not be able to get beyond the metal detectors, but would have no need to - security has neatly penned up hundreds of potential victims just outside the perimeter.

Finally a Marine takes control of the situation and orders runners without packs to move to the right and bypass the metal detectors.  The crowd quickly moves past the unnecessary (and unsecure) bottleneck.

Other locations lacked a take-charge Marine.  Long lines at other entry points resulted in hundreds of runners getting to the start line more than a half hour after the start. The race director extended the "beat the bridge cutoff time and kept the finish line open an additional 30 minutes to accommodate those runners.

Walking up Route 110 toward the start, a pair of Ospreys thunder overhead in helicopter orientation, then fly back in airplane orientation.  We get out of the road as the wheelchair racers start and come toward us.

Trying to get to the proper side of the start line.
We get beyond the howitzer that is fired to begin the race just before Marines stop the stream of runners trying to get to the far side of the start arches.  We walk past the corrals for the elite and other fast runners and duck into the starting area.  The howitzer fires, we allow a stream of faster runners to go by and seven minutes after the start gun, we cross the mat to begin the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon.

Got A Plan
Barry falls back while Emaad and I set out with a plan. While we both had somewhat disappointing results at the Wineglass Marathon three weeks previous, we figure that if we can run the first half in 2:10 we can go under 4:30 today. Both of us have run MCM the past four years in under 4:30, so our goal is fairly modest - about a 10:17 per mile pace overall.

We take the first few miles easy.  At the downhill at Spout Run (mile 3) we try to pick up the pace a bit.  A pushrim racer is trying to get through the dense crowd but people are slow to move out of his way.  In my best imitation of a Marine DI I start screaming, "Clear the center! NOW! Clear the center!" I come alongside one woman with ear buds oblivious to the request. I resist the urge to rip them out of her ear and simply yell at her.  (There are more than 23,000 persons running today and tens of thousands of spectators and by running with headphones she might as well have run alone.) The crowd parts for him, he gives me a thanks, and gets to go on and take advantage of the downhill.
In the sprint to help clear the path, I lose Emaad. I won't see him until back at the hospitality suite. Based on our splits, he passes me somewhere around mile 7. I pass him around mile 20. Neither of us sees the other. Given the way the day turns out, that might have been best for both of us.

Sometimes You're the Bug III
Emaad was beginning to develop a cold or other respiratory problem in the days before MCM. Today he pays the bill.  While getting through the first half in 2:15, he so runs out of energy in the second half, staggering through the second half in 2:59. He walks the last several miles. On the plus side, it is his ninth MCM finish even if his slowest since 2005.

Time for Plan B, or Maybe Plan C
I make decent progress for the first quarter of the race, getting through the first 10K in a 10:17 pace. In fact, for the second 5K, I've dropped the pace to just under 10 minutes per mile. The next 5K is a bit slower, but that includes the crowded out and back part of the course in Rock Creek.  Then it is past the Kennedy Center at mile 10 to begin the long straight flat to the halfway mark at Hains Point.

Beginning of the Blue Mile
A mile to remember them.
Mile 12 is the always poignant Blue Mile, lined with the images of those who have died for their county in its past twelve years of war in the Middle East.

My pace isn't what I want it to be. I'm running with the effort I want to be at, but the pace is dropping into the upper 10:20s.  It is too soon to be slowing down, but I am.

I reach the half in 2:16.  I know that 4:30 is out of the question.  By the time mile 14 passes in a slow and labored 10:39, I realize that it is time for Plan B.  I try to ascertain whether I can finish in 4:40. That will depend on how the teen miles go.

And they don't go well.  My pace per mile drops from the upper 10s to the mid to upper 11s.  I'm not suffering any pains. I'm just spent.  While I'm usually a pretty chatty runner, I don't feel the urge today.  My last real conversation was around mile 4 with a bunch of Australian runners who I teased should be watching the Wallabies playing Argentina in the semifinals of the rugby World Cup rather than running a marathon.  They assure me that they will be done in time to see it, and anyway, they are confident to advance to the finals, where the All Blacks of New Zealand await the winner. (Their confidence is justified as Australia easily beats the Pumas 29-15. The next week, however, the all-powerful All Blacks summarily dismiss their down-under rivals 34-17 to win the Cup.)

By mile 20 - proverbially where the marathon 10K starts following the 20-mile warm-up, I'm just hanging on.  I'll run mile 20 in 11:35, which shockingly will be my best mile split for the last eleven miles of the race.

It's not that I'm doing a great deal of walking at this point.  I'm only walking one minute at the beginning of each mile.  But I have little strength or energy, even as I drink Gatorade, take salt tablets and consume gels. I'm just trudging along.

Crossing the 14th bridge my goal now is to get to the finish in under five hours. As I tell a first-time runner who asks about the remainder of the course, the course on the bridge is a surprising  mile and a half long.  A police boat and a Coast Guard boat patrol the Potomac below.

Once over the bridge only five miles remain. I look forward to getting a taste of beer from the Hash House Harriers in Crystal City, but I miss them.  At each mile marker I do mental arithmetic to determine what pace I need to maintain to finish under five hours.  Depressingly, it continues to hover in the low 13 minutes per mile, a pace I am just running ahead of.

Not looking great at the finish.
Food offerings of donut holes at mile 24 have no appeal and I trudge (there's that description again) onward.  At mile 25 I weigh the time lost for a visit to a portapotty, against the likelihood of making it to the finish and decide the stop is prudent.

Finally to the turn to the finish, I can't even run up the final part of the hill to the Memorial, but I manage to run the last, mostly flat, 150 yards to the finish and cross the line in 4:56:06.

Past the finish I lean on a railing to recover.  I walk to help banish some lightheadedness, get in line for me medal, accept the salute from the Marine lieutenant bestowing the finishers' medals and find my way out and back to the hospitality suite.

Barry has a workmanlike finish.  Rebecca meets him on the Mall around mile 17.5 and paces him about five miles to Crystal City.  She was there when I ran by, but I missed seeing her.  It was that kind of day.

Sometimes You're the Bug IV
This was not one of my finer performances.  Half splits of 2:16 / 2:40 contribute to an overall pace of 11:17/mile, more than a minute per mile slower than last year.  It is the second slowest of my MCM finishes. Places were AG 160/430; Males 7812/12
774 and overall 12456/23186.

On the plus side, it was my tenth MCM finish.

The team Cinco Amigos V finishes like expected: last (11/11) in the Masters category and was the slowest of all 37 teams in all categories.  There is no award for being DFL, be we award ourselves the Lanterne Rouge.

Swag: Shirt, patch, medal, bib, program, box of snacks
(All ruby for the MCM 40th Anniversary)

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