October 29, 2014

Marine Corps Marathon - the highs and lows.

Sunday was a big day.  I was running the 39th Marine Corps Marathon, also known as the People's Marathon.  This was on my bucket list after Christine ran it last year as her first marathon. It is a hugely popular race and many runners try to gain entry every year.  I really wanted to be gushing with excitement as I wrote my race recap.  However, we try to give our totally honest opinions, so be prepared because this did not end up being a love affair. In fact, I plan to do some whining in this post so now may be the time to step away from the page if you don't want to read my complaints!

Waking before the alarm is nothing new for me on race day. At 2:30 I was up tweeting, went back to bed, slept off and on and then got up at 4:30.  After taking a shower and getting dressed, I ate my banana, had some Gatorade and double  triple checked my gear.  It was time to go!



With my bag ready and wearing a coat and throwaway, Tom and I made our way to the Metro for the trip to the Pentagon station.  After a very long walk to the Runner's Village, Tom and I said goodbye and I went through the security check and into the runners starting area.  I saw the UPS bag check trucks and headed in that direction to get rid of my bag.  A voice called to me and it was Sarah of Sparkly Runner. She was volunteering at bag check and I sat and chatted with her for about 30 minutes.  It was wonderful to see a familiar face and made the time go quickly!

Soon it was time to head to the start and this was my opportunity to use the VIP porta potty with the Brooks Running gang.  This was a seriously great benefit that included lighted, climate controlled toilets, a real sink with soap and water and tons of little items you might need like body glide, mints, lotion, band aids etc.  Locating a spot in the starting area should not be a big deal.  Marine Corps Marathon has an honor system, and you are supposed to line up with your expected finish time. Note that I said supposed. With this in mind, I found the spot for the 4:15-4:29 runners, with a goal of around 4:20- 4:23. Given my training, coach Sami and I thought that was conservative with how I have been running/training the last few months. The pre race festivities started and boy were they spectacular,  They had a super exciting fighter jet fly by, followed by several parachute groups, one with a huge American flag and followed by the National Anthem.   The Howitzer sounded and the first runners were off.  I crossed the start line with 8:50 on the clock.

Instead of giving a blow by blow, mile by mile recap, I am doing something a bit different.  Here are the highs and lows of my race day:

Highs: 
* Absolutely gorgeous race day weather.  Who could find fault with a perfect blue sky day and cool temperatures.

* The crowd support was amazing.  People cheered loud and with great enthusiasm and this helped me through some of the rough parts of the race.

* Having my family in attendance made the race very special for me.  They managed to see me 5 times, and at mile 26, Christine was in my face with the cow bell and I missed her.  That is focus and I feel really badly that I missed one last opportunity to see my special cheer squad!

Mile 19, big smile for my family (photo by Christine)

* The race course was fabulous.  Despite some early hills and a last hill to the finish, it was relatively flat and through very interesting parts of DC.  I loved passing the monuments and stately buildings and the Rock Creek area was especially nice too with the tree lined parkway that provided shade.

* The "Run to Honor" section of the course was so well done, but I must admit, it made me weak and caused a few tears.  The photos of fall servicemen was so moving, especially the ones I noticed holding their children. It also made me recall my brother in law who passed away over 33 years ago while on a training flight with the Marines. Thanks to all of them for making the ultimate sacrifice.

* The volunteers were so helpful. Marines were everywhere you turned and some additional volunteers were on the course to support the food stops. (Thanks Kathryn and Preston)

* This race runs like a well oiled machine.  The timing of the event went exactly according to plan.  This suits me, as any extra wait just cause lots and lots of anxiety!

* Having a medal presented to you by a US Marine is indescribable.  It was a wonderful moment that I will never forget.

Loved the special treatment by one of our fabulous Marines!

Lows:

* You probably figured out already that I was disappointed in the corral system. When runners with a 5-6 plus hour marathon result start within minutes of the gun, there is a problem. I could not get into a groove and at mile 5, when my family saw me, they knew I was upset. My 5k pace was 10:23 which was the best I could manage while passing hundreds of runners, weaving around large groups with some already walking.  I have absolutely no problem with walkers or anyone trying to complete a marathon, but when a race has self seeding corrals, honestly is important, both for runner safety and for the benefit of everyone racing. Training for a marathon is hard work and my goal was to complete the race at or below my goal pace.  I am certain that if I had lined up with the 4 hour finishers or better, my time goal would have been met.  There was absolutely no way for me to know that I should "cheat" and stand where I really did not belong.  After a quick review of the results and some estimation, I am pretty sure I passed between 2-3,000 runners, maybe more.

* The water stops were disappointing.  While there were enough, they were always crowded and it was hard to get in to get either water or Gatorade. I am not sure if this was a course issue or a runner issue.

* I cried when I met my family after the race and it was not happy tears. When you work so hard and feel like you did everything right, it is difficult to accept a disappointing result. The frustration just leaked out of my body!

More than anything, I am so sad that I did not love the race. It was my sister's first marathon and Christine's first and they both enjoyed it immensely. While I have run a big marathon before, this was a new learning experience and I will be better equipped to handle a large race in the future.  Moving on, it is now time to focus on some other things like this, the next big race on my schedule!




39 comments:

  1. I feel that a first marathon is one you love because you haven't done one before or know what to expect. The same for your first half marathon. We tend to compare all of our other races to that first one and the feeling(s) we had as we crossed that line. I've run many marathons and half marathons--they've been run really well, perfect weather, lots of family cheering but they don't hold a candle to those firsts.

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    1. I loved my first marathon, but the second and third were equally special. This fourth one was not so special. I am so glad to have run this race, due to it's history and location, but doubt I would run it again.

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  2. I'm so sorry to hear that you had such a disappointing experience. Its frustrating when runners do the right thing and line up correctly, and then there's so many others that cheat the system, making the race difficult for others. (I actually wrote about my own frustration with greedy runners in today's volunteer recap post.) I'm quite shocked that with MCM being as big as it is that they don't assign runners to specific corrals. I wonder if they'll eventually start doing that.

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    1. Kathryn, We must have been commenting on each other's posts at the same time! I loved seeing your smiling face Sunday, it was one of the highlights! Assigning corrals would be wonderful, but after 39 years I doubt that will happen.

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    2. I was thinking the same thing about us commenting. And you're right, after 39 years I doubt things will change.

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  3. Aww Pam, I am so sorry you had a disappointing race. I bet you'll look back on this eventually and remember more of the highs than lows, though! You still did amazing and are such an inspiration.

    I really appreciate your honesty. NYCM has a similar honor system - you submit your anticipated finish time at registration (no proof required) and then you're assigned to a corral based on that. I put 4 hours, which is my anticipated finish time, but I've had several people tell me that I should have lied and put 3:30ish because "everyone lies" so I'd be stuck with a slower than 4-hour group. That's so not cool to me -- what happened to honesty?

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    1. Jen, I am really worried you will be caged in the way I was. I have no idea why "everyone lies" but it is a real problem when you can't get into a running groove. If possible, move into a different corral at NY. Can you change at the expo? Can't wait to follow your progress Sunday. You have trained great for this race.

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  4. I'm so sorry you didn't love this race, Christine and I really did have a great experience last year! I do agree with the corraling (or lack of) issue...I remember being frustrated with this as well, and as someone mentioned above, I'm interested in seeing what NYCM is like since I know of 2 people who run MUCH slower than I do that are in corrals ahead of me.

    Don't worry about not loving the race, to each their own, right? Plus, I have a VERY strong feeling you're going to be reading a recap about someone who hated NYCM in about a week...

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    1. Danielle, You need to get your head ready for NYCM. I want you to have a better race than I did and hopefully to have some fun out there. Thanks for the kind words....the support from other running friends is what helps keep us going when things get tough.

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    2. I know...I'm really having a hard time getting out of my own head with this one. I don't know why, but I am so stressed and overwhelmed about this race that I'm literally making myself crazy! I honestly think it has a lot to do with how happy I am to have finally gotten OUT of New York, that I just don't want to go back (I know, it's New York, not prison - I shouldn't be this bothering by going back for ONE WEEKEND!) Ugh...trying to focus on breathing and that Wine & Dine is coming up right after it!

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  5. Pam, oh i'm sorry you didn't like it!! I ran it this past weekend as my first (was hoping to see you but you were WAY ahead of me! ) I had the same thoughts about the water stops, there were a few stops where there was no water on the first 3-4 tables!! And 1 stop i completely missed the Gaterade, which was bad as I had water with me but was relying on the stops for the Gaterade. I felt like i did a lot of bobbing and weaving to get to a spot that actually had gaterade made and available!! The corral start didn't bother me too much......as I was kind of hoping the crowds and walkers would help keep me from going out to fast, which it did, but maybe just a bit slower than I would have liked. I really didn't want to go out and do a 28:00 5K, but would have liked something better than a 38:00!!!

    totally agreed with all the Highs.....the Blue Mile had me chocked up and crying too. The crowd support was amazing and I'm totally happy I chose this one as my first!!!

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    1. Wow, no water on the tables. That is awful Jennifer. I think they need more tables and a longer stretch at each water/Gatorade stop. Clearly this was an issue. Congrats on becoming a marathoner. It was a great race for your first from a historic perspective. I hope you had fun!

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  6. So sorry it wasn't the experience you hoped for Pam! I agree with the corral issue. It's awful having to weave through runners and walkers for miles!

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    1. Thanks Mindy. I hope I did not sound too whiny!

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  7. It's totally fine for you to have lows for the race. No race is perfect. I wouldn't even want to read a race recap where the person just ranted and raved on how good it was. Even if the event is top notch, races hurt! They are hard! Plus those reviews seem kinda fake.

    I do not think it is right for people to line up with a corral or finish time they know they will not make. Yes, things happen and sometimes those who train for and are probably capable of a really good time have a rough day and don't meet their goals. But if a runner does a half in 2.5 hours they should know they are not going to run a 4 hour marathon and not line up with that. It sounds like they need to go to a corral system and make people submit a time or something. We have the same thing in the Cooper River Bridge Run, everyone thinks they can run the bridge in under an hour and it's a 10K.

    Overall, I think you had a really good marathon. Your time is pretty amazing despite these setbacks and you have Boston to look forward to!

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    1. Amy it never dawned on me that people would line up in an inappropriate spot. But I knew as soon as I crossed the start that there was a problem. Thankfully I finally let it go after about mile 5 or 6, but I burned too much energy being ticked off. I understand now why you want that elite corral for Cooper River Bridge Run. I hope you get that this year.

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  8. What a bummer! For a race that should be so special just because it's that particular one, it's sad to see that something so simple as corral seeding can ruin what should be a great experience. I'll never understand why people feel the need to cheat the system when all they end up doing is hurting themselves and other, more honest, runners.

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    1. Thanks for the consolation Km. It was not my day, but hopefully I can be happy when I look back on the race in the months ahead.

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  9. Your marine is a cutie! I must be getting old, because those guys are starting to look like little kids to me. I'm sorry your time was not what you wanted it to be. Crowded courses make things difficult. Those corrals get so crazy crowded just before the gun, I can imagine people just trying to find any place they can find instead of being able to really figure out where they are supposed to be. That's probably what you were up against, rather than people intentionally trying to block others.

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    1. Jennifer, I agree, my marine was adorable. One friend asked me if he was my "prize" for doing well in the race! LOL Yes, I think alot of the lineup issue had to do with all the first time marathon runners who did not know better.

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  10. Congrats on your race! Sorry to hear that your expectations were not held on some of the things. Yes, I do agree it was crowded at time. It was a very well organizd race for as many people running it I thought. -L

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    1. The organization of the expo and the race were great. I just hope they implement some type of better way to corral the runners so what happened to me and others will be avoided in the future.

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  11. Although this is my absolute favorite race in the whole world, there are some things that I don't like about it, also. I agree with your take on the corrals. The last time I ran (2012), I overheard a conversation while walking to the start. I learned from that conversation that not everyone knows what the times on the corrals mean. The people I was near thought it meant what time of day they'd hoped to finish. I really wish they had a wave start, but I don't think that will ever happen. The one other thing that I wish would change about the MCM is the reroute. There is always a reroute near the entrance to the National Mall. Sometimes it is advertised as a time to beat (in 2012, it was called "The Gauntlet") and sometimes it is not. Those who are rerouted do not run the Mall and head directly for the bridge. You can always tell who was ultimately rerouted because they will not have 30k split times and no Marathon Foto pictures at the Capitol. The MCM has always asked that those who are rerouted go by the Honor System and NOT accept a medal at the finish. But most of them do because there is no way of anyone telling at the finish who was rerouted and who actually completed the entire 26.2 mile course. I have a family member who was rerouted three years in a row, yet he still accepted a medal each time. The MCM does a good job of weeding out those who were rerouted from the "Official Finishers" list that comes out in November. But unfortunately, those people already have those coveted medals!
    I think that the MCM places a lot of value on honesty and integrity, the same values that you would find in a Marine. It is a shame that not all participants can hold the same values.

    For the most part, the MCM is a great experience! It sounds like you had more pros than cons (even though those cons were very frustrating!). I am so glad you were able to be there and I have to say that I am a bit jealous of your time! You are such an inspiration, Pam, and I am so grateful to say that I know you!

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    1. Roxanne, I will definitely go with you and cheer for you next year when you run this epic race. But I will not run with you, but might consider the 10k! I remember one day at practice you told me about the rerouting on the course for the slow runners, but I completely missed that. I was too busy making sure I did not trample someone on the course. Oh wait, I did then when an older couple walked in front of us around mile 24 and I hit the man. I felt bad, but he clearly did not look and came out of nowhere. I agree totally about the whole medal thing. No one should take a medal when you are told not to if you could not finish the 26.2 Cue your cousin! Thanks for all your kinds words. I am anxious to get back to training with the group, but my body needs a little rest right now!

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  12. pam, i would've been just as frustrated as you. i saw many many people walking from my first vantage point around mile 10 (where i saw you) and was surprised since i hadn't even seen the 4:30 pace group come by yet. it is frustrating when you are slowed by people walking. i think walkers are totally fine but they shouldn't be starting in front of 4 hour or faster marathoners. still you ran a great race and should be proud!

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    1. Thanks Courtney. I loved having all the loud cheers on the course and it was so nice of you to give me a shout out. I hope to meet you in Richmond....you and Christine will have a great time racing there.

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  13. Pam...you continue to inspire me....I've been following you for a long time...since the first Half I did at Disneyland in 2013...This race is a bucket list for me....I'd love to attempt at some point. It may not be the time you had in mind...but given the dynamic of what you had to deal with that day....I'm sooooooooooo proud of you! Hugs! Melissa

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    1. Oh Melissa you are very sweet. It was a race I was happy to run, but it is definitely a one and done, unless I planned to pace a friend or just take it super slow.

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  14. So sorry you didn't enjoy it. I felt like is was so much more congested this year than last and several people have said that. I totally agree, they need to implement a wave system of some sort. Like you I have no issues with walkers, BUT when they start walking immediately after crossing the start...there is a problem for sure. I felt like I never got my groove, and if you've read my recap, this one chewed me up and spit me out. Congrats on finishing and with a great time despite not hitting your goal!

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    1. Thanks Sue. I did comment on your post and wish it had been a better day for all of us. I can't be too disappointed though and will just chalk it up to big race experience. And how can you not love getting a medal from a Marine. The history associated with the race and the running through DC is really quite special.

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  15. Thanks for your candor, Pam, and I'm sorry it wasn't a positive experience from top to bottom. I recently had a bit of a disappointing race in Chicago because I missed my time (but I did PR), but it was more attributable to the way my legs felt that day (and to amazingly stressful week at work that preceded the race) than to the race itself, which was the most amazingly organized and supported event imaginable. That said, if I were feeling sluggish from the start and had to contend with walkers and crowded drink stations, I probably would have lost it.

    But here's the deal for both of us...there is another big race on the schedule!!! I'm signed up for the LA Marathon in March (new training cycle begins in a couple of weeks), and then I get to decide which big one to run in the Fall!

    And I am so excited and happy for you because of where you'll be running in April!!! While I know you'll have some events between now and then, I imagine you have mapped out your schedule already...and I imagine you're just a month or so away from putting it into action...how fun is that???

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    1. Pete, You don't know how much I appreciate this comment. Chicago is supposed to be a perfectly executed marathon, and it is on my bucket list for next fall, that or NYCM. The corrals would be so helpful in allowing runners to actually be seeded where they belong. I'm worried about a few of my friends running NYCM this weekend because they allow suggested finish times and evidently alot of runners are overambitious with their times. I am so glad you have another big race on your calendar and yes, I will be meeting with my coach soon to map out a plan.

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  16. I am so sorry you did not love this race. But, you are right, now it is Boston time.

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    1. Thanks Abby, I am now getting so excited for Boston!

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  17. Congrats on the MCM finish and sorry you did not have the race experience that you imagined. It is frustrating when people do not abide by the honor system. At Cherry Blossom I passed 2,000 people and I am usually in the lower quartile of runners. It would be nice if some of the larger races institute a proof of time. Congrats again and I am excited for your next April adventure :)

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    1. Wow, this is interesting Jenny. I had heard that there were problems at Cherry Blossom....I do think it is a shame when trained runners end up passing people who either don't know or don't care to line up in the correct starting area.

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  18. I'm so sorry your race wasn't what you had hoped for, especially for such a wildly popular marathon. Marathon training makes many of us dig deeper than we ever thought that we could, so to have all your hard work tarnished by things beyond your control is disappointing. Youve got Boston on the horizon and it will be the most amazing experience ever, I'm sure of it!

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    1. Thanks so much Jamie. This comment really means alot, because you also understand training for a marathon and the work that it entails. It is no different than you training for that huge horse show. And by the way, I am still bummed you did not get second place and that special invitation!

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