October 27, 2015

40th Marine Corps Marathon Race Recap

This race can be summarized by one simple fact - I have never given so much in one race. I have never hurt so badly. I have never enjoyed the journey so much. And so begins my story of the 40th Marine Corps Marathon on October 25, 2015.

On Saturday morning, Adam and I planned to head to the expo early to pick up my bib. We arrived at the convention center just as the expo was opening and found the crowds pretty manageable, with the exception of the official race merchandise area. Collecting my bib was simple and I was relieved that there was no issue with my name change (I had my correspondence and marriage certificate just in case...). Most of the official merchandise that interested me was gone by the time we arrived at the expo so I picked out a pint glass and miraculously found a magnet still available.

Our next stop was the Team Fisher House booth to collect my jacket and bag. I was delighted to chat with Cathy, one of the two race coordinators, with whom I had corresponded in advance of the race. I also received one of the official race jackets, arm sleeves, a neat authentic cowbell, and the Fisher House 25th anniversary book as fundraising prizes. I got wonderful info and support for meeting up with the team on race morning before and after the race. We also grabbed a cowbell and cow hat for Adam as part of our spectating quad. Sadly, the cow hat didn't get much wear.

Saturday evening, my family headed to the Team Fisher House pasta dinner for some carbs and inspirational words. A Fisher House family was invited to speak and share their story. The young wife told us about her experience at the San Antonio Fisher House and the incredible support they were provided. She closed by telling all the runners to think of her and her family when we got tired during the race. I made a mental commitment to do so.

Before I headed to bed, I did some light stretching and yoga, checked the weather for the one millionth time, and organized my race gear,one last time. I had a special addition to my race outfit. Earlier that afternoon, Adam gave me his name tape from his Army uniform that he wore while he was in Iraq. When he asked me to wear it, I promptly started crying, a pre-marathon emotional mess, and told him I would be honored. He told me it would keep me safe and I told him I hoped to make him proud. We decided it would best be pinned to the shoulder of my race jersey.

Race morning started like most...I didn't sleep great and woke up well before my alarm (3 AM on Sunday - woof!). I got ready and headed to the metro around 5:35 with a fellow runner who was also staying at our hotel. Hi Gabby! Instead of getting off the metro at Pentagon, I headed to Rosslyn to meet up with Danielle and go to our respective charity tents.
Two looks: Race day chic and Hobo chic
It was simple to meet Danielle and as we walked over to charity hill, we both commented that the air was warmer and more humid than we would like. At the Team Fisher House tent, there was an excitement shared among the runners. I found a seat and chatted with some other runners while I ate my bagel with peanut butter and sipped on some water and Gatorade. It was definitely nice to have a dry place to sit and the port-a-potties with no lines at charity hill were fantastic! And given that the rain started around 6:30 or so, I was glad to have a dry place to hang out. Danielle and I headed to the start line around 7:00. Being a bit overcautious, we both elected to walk around the start line rather than cross over the timing mats.

We walked back to the 4 hour marker in the start area and hung out before deciding to hit the port-a-potties one last time. I received a text message from a friend wishing me well and reminding me to think of the Fisher House families when the going got tough. I filed that away for later. Next, the starting festivities happened fast - the National Anthem, parachuters, and Osprey flyover. Neither of us ever heard the Howitzer or starting pistol. All of a sudden we were walking up and realized that this was it, we're about to cross the start. Lots of people started running well before the starting line but we opted to save our energy and walk until just before we crossed the timing mats. We joked with a guy standing next to us about "staying strong" and not running too early.
Parachuters with huge American flags
Osprey flyover
Miles 0-4, Rosslyn: The crowds and hills are equally intense for the first few miles.  I had reviewed the course map so I knew to expect the hills but they suck a lot more when you're running up them! They definitely help keep your pace in check in the beginning. We saw our families just before the first mile, which was a nice boost and a good chance for Danielle to pass off her jacket. There wasn't anything terribly eventful during these miles.

Miles 4-10, Georgetown, Rock Creek Parkway, Kennedy Center: I expected more course crowding but never really felt too much, unlike our first year. I enjoyed the bridge into Georgetown where the views are great and there were some funny spectators. There's one very steep downhill coming off M Street that really bugged my knees but I tried to put that out of mind quickly. As we turned to head out to Rock Creek, our families were there again to give us a boost.

Seeing my family at mile 5-ish
I actually really enjoyed Rock Creek this year. The leaves are changing and the out and back offers a good chance to see more runners. I kept my eyes out but didn't see many friends. As we headed to the Kennedy Center, I knew we would be seeing our families again and they were there cheering again!

Miles 10-14, Jefferson Memorial, Hains Point: My legs really started to tighten up in here. I kept telling myself to relax and hang on. There were tons of spectators but I found the course to feel surprisingly quiet. This was definitely a big disappointment since Hains Point is known to be a quiet, lonely spot on the course and I was eager for crowd support as we headed that way. Danielle and I actually were yelling to them and throwing our arms in the air to get them to make noise! I knew to expect the emotional blue mile at mile 12. I stayed to the left side of the road and read every photo that I passed...well I usually read one piece of info because I couldn't take it all in. When I noticed a photo of a man in his West Point dress uniform, I got a little choked up. Adam is a West Point alum and showed me photos and told me stories of his classmates who died during their service. It hit close to home and reminded me that Sunday's race was bigger than me. It was truly a chance to honor our service members.

We crossed the half mats at 2:08 and change. I felt pretty good about this split, but could sense that I was in a bit more pain than I probably should have been at the halfway point. I kept telling myself that marathons aren't easy and I should be running at a comfortably hard pace to PR. From the halfway point to mile 14 or so, Danielle continued to pull away from me. I kept trying to catch up and simply couldn't. After a walk break, she was so far ahead that she was out of sight. She stepped off the road and onto the grass to look back for me. I motioned for her to go ahead and smiled as if to say, "it's ok, I'm ok." A few minutes later, she was completely gone from my sights. I was sad to have to say goodbye so early in the race but I started feeling relieved that I wasn't going to be chasing her anymore and could run my own race. I think at some point in these miles, the rain stopped.

Miles 14-17, Hains Point, Jefferson Memorial, DC War Memorial: These miles felt very, very long for me. I noticed that I was extremely thirsty and constantly anticipating the next water stop. I contemplated sending a text message to my family telling them I needed water but didn't want to mess with my phone. which was safely tucked inside a ziplock bag in the back pocket of my skirt. As we came off Hains Point, I looked off towards the mall and could see some of the notable DC tourist sites. I told myself to have an open heart, to be open to whatever came of this race. Don't get me wrong, I didn't throw in the towel with respect to time, but I made the conscious decision to shift my focus during the race. This stretch has huge crowds and I tried to feed off their energy. I knew I would see my family soon and just tried to focus on getting to them. My pace climbed in this section but I wasn't overly concerned.

Miles 17-20, National Mall: I saw my family just past mile 17. I happened to be at a walk break but the minute I saw them, I started running again and was so excited to see 5 friendly faces in the crowd. Adam handed me a banana and then ran with me for a moment. I think I told him I was hurting and was having trouble. He gave me some encouraging words. The spectators on the mall are so incredible so I focused on enjoying the various museums on the route and enjoying the crowds. I started hurting really badly in this stretch and kept thinking about how many miles were left...too many to be hurting so much already. I think it was during this time, that I started telling myself "don't quit" out loud when I was really having a tough time. As we turned past the Capitol, I noticed a woman with an Old English Sheepdog and I yelled that I loved her dog and have one too. After we turned to head back down the mall, I noticed a woman with a Team Fisher House jersey. I had been running close to her for a while and decided to ask her if she wanted to run with me. Her name was Leah and we chatted for a moment. It was nice to have a buddy and we ended up running together for about a mile and a half.

I saw my family again just before we headed over the 14th Street Bridge. At this point, I was struggling and when I saw Adam, I ran over and threw my arms around him for a hug, saying "10k to go, I can do this." I thanked my brother- and sister-in-law for being there, then hugged my Mom and high-fived my Dad. Apparently Adam said I looked really happy at this point...I was genuinely happy to see them but feeling pretty rough. I took off to conquer the bridge feeling joy in my heart.

Miles 20-22, 14th Street Bridge, Crystal City: Oh, the bridge. That bridge chewed me up and spit me out. I was hurting. It's lonely. I lost Leah at some point. About three quarters of the way over it, I contemplated walking the rest of the race. I took an unscheduled walk break to try to collect myself and get rid of the negative thoughts. In that moment, I thought of Lilly Scott who spoke to us at the Team Fisher House dinner. She and her husband Blaine didn't "walk it home" when Blaine was recovering from third degree burns and countless other injuries. Adam didn't "walk it home" when he was serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And countless other service members didn't "walk it home." I wasn't going to quit. My body hurt and I was feeling totally wrecked, but damnit I wasn't going to quit. It didn't matter how slow I ran, but I was running. As I came off the bridge, with tears running down my face, I saw a huge cheer squad and heard someone yelling my name. My friend Becca was there with the Oiselle team cheering. She gave me a huge hug and yelled "you got this" over and over to me. It was so huge for me. I fed off that hug and encouragement for at least a mile. In some respects, I feel like she might have helped me save my race. I was in a dark place coming off the bridge and that was just the encouragement I needed to make a push the final 5 miles.

Miles 22-24, Crystal City: I don't remember reading about a course change from 2013, but the Crystal City route was different from when I ran MCM previously. The crowds were on point in here and I really enjoyed the many Team Fisher House cheer stations. It one point a spectator yelled "Go Suter," clearly noticing my arm band. I touched it, and once again told myself to keep going and "do it for them" (words I told myself throughout the last half of this race). I gave many high fives and tried to spot friends. I noticed Danielle in this section and yelled her name. For some reason, I didn't think she saw me even though she yelled back to me. Chalk that up to mushy marathon brain in full effect! I could sense that the end was nearing and while I felt so exhausted, I tried to pick up the pace. My legs simply felt like they were churning in cement, but I kept working. I clicked through my shuffle to find my pump up songs and listened to them on repeat. I was desperate for another water station and was relieved to see one shortly after the munchkin stop, which once again, I skipped.

Miles 24-Finish, Pentagon, Marine Corps War Memorial: The mile from Crystal City to the Pentagon was long and boring. I think there were more Team Fisher House cheer squads but I can't remember for certain. Each time I saw someone wearing a Team Fisher House jersey, I cheered for them or gave them a thumbs up. After we passed the Pentagon, I started doing some mental math. I hadn't really contemplated my finish time for a while, knowing that a PR was way out of reach. I realized that I had a chance to beat my first MCM time (my C goal), but I had work to do. Remembering the advice of Jeff Galloway and the commentary about Deena Kastor in the Spirit of the Marathon movie, I started pumping my arms. My legs were dead but I worked my arms. And on the stretch to mile 26, I slowly picked people off. I desperately needed a distraction from my aching legs, so I started focusing on someone ahead of me and slowly attempted to pass them. It worked. I think I passed 3 people using this strategy.  The beloved mile 26 marker was in view and I could see the turn for the finish. I figured my family would be in here somewhere so I kept my head up. I saw them on the left side of the hill yelling wildly, flashed them a smile and then moved as fast as my tired body could carry me across the finish line. I was so happy to raise my arms in triumph, click my watch, and stop running!

Official time: 4:36.36, about 80 seconds faster than 2013. C goal achieved!

After missing a photo with the Marine Corps War
Memorial in 2013, I made sure to get one this time!
After I took a few photos and picked up my post-race food, I headed to meet my family and over to the Team Fisher House tent. Adam immediately signed me up for a massage and we found a spot to hang out and enjoy some post-race refreshments. I had a bag of animal crackers and the fruit bowl from the race box. Per usual, my stomach was a little off and I wasn't really feeling most of the food. Luckily my Dad, Adam and brother-in-law took care of my serving of wings in the Team Fisher House tent!
Marine Corps Marathon finisher and my #1 fan
The best MCM race buddy!
I finally caught up with Danielle to celebrate our races and decided it was time to head back to the hotel. I was feeling a bit cold and didn't want to wait around any longer to get a massage. While we didn't get to recreate our "Mission Accomplished" photo from 2 years prior, we did get one on the overpass into Rosslyn.

I'll be sharing more thoughts in another post, but I am so pleased with this race. It wasn't my best time, but I'm totally at peace with that. I have never given so much of myself in preparation for and during a race. I left my heart and my guts on the course on Sunday.
{Christine}

43 comments:

  1. Great job, Christine! Way to go! I can feel the heart of you in this post. I love how despite how hard this was for you, that mentally you kept feeding yourself positive stuff no matter how difficult it was or found things to focus on! I'm so proud of you!! Way to pick runners off the end.. I love the mentally imagery of that... Great tip too!

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    1. It's something I learned from reading various running books and it's really helpful as both a good distraction and motivation! Thanks for your kind words and support!

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  2. Great job on the marathon! I felt the exact same way after Chicago. I didn't get my A goal time but I was extremely pleased with how I ran that race. Sometimes it's not about finish times, is it? You must feel great!

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    1. Thanks Wendy! Yes, it is great to hang up the burden of PR attempts at every marathon I run!

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  3. I love everything about this race and sharing it with you now for the 2nd time! I don't think either of us ran the race we were hoping for, but like we always say, this race really is about so much more than the run. You did an amazing job pushing through the pain, remembering that you were there running on behalf of an amazing charity and getting up that hill and across the finish line!

    I am so proud of you for staying strong. I know we're only a few days out, but let's just say I'm not opposed to running with the marines again in the future…

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    1. Yes! MCM part three! :) Thanks for all of your support. I really love running with you!

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  4. I have tears in my eyes because I have been through that struggle and know the pain. So proud that you kept with it. The marathon is tough but we choose to do it to prove to ourselves all that we can accomplish. Keep up the good work.

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    1. Oh thank you Emilie! I think at some point or another, every runner has a race like this where you somehow find the will to persevere even when you want to quit.

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  5. way to go! it was a tough day for me as well but i'm so glad you pushed through. seeing my oiselle gals (becca included!) right before mille 22 was a HUGE highlight for me. it probably saved my race as well.

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    1. It seems like everyone I know had a lackluster race but finishing a marathon is such a huge accomplishment! I'm not sure I smiled like you did when I saw the Oiselle group (pretty sure I had on the pain/ugly cry face), but they were perfectly timed for when I needed them! :)

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  6. Congratulations on your finish! That is so sweet that Adam gave you his name tape for your shirt. I would have teared up too. It's always nice to see familiar faces along the course. It really keeps you motivated to continue on. You even saw a Patty look alike...how cute! Way to push thru when it got tough. I'm sure just thinking about your charity helped you keep going. Enjoy your accomplishment!

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    1. Thank you! Yes, running for a charity team definitely was a different perspective and gave me a different mentality for sure.

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  7. Way to go, Christine! MCM is a tough course, and the bridge is no joke (I remember running it during last year's Army Ten Miler). But you finished, and that's what's most important. You ran for a great cause, and one that's close to your heart. Way to go!

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    1. Thanks Kathryn! The bridge was so much worse than I remembered. It's such a notable part of the course and so cruel at mile 20-21!

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  8. Congrats! I have heard how hard MCM is course wise, way to get it done. You are amazing.

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  9. Congratulations! I had tears in my eyes several times reading your recap... Well done, now rest up!

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    1. I have been doing my fair share of resting this week....I actually think I need to get back to the gym to work out the kinks in my legs. I've been a lot more sore than I expected after this race.

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  10. This is such a wonderful write up of your race, thank you so much for sharing. It really comes through what a hard time you were having but that you managed to push through by thinking of other people and their struggles. So impressive. Congrats on a great race.

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    1. Thank you so much. I really enjoy writing and particularly when it comes from the heart.

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  11. What a great recap! I felt like I was there experiencing it, too. You toughed it out and came in with a great time. Congratulations on your accomplishment! Sometimes the tough races feel so awesome afterwards-- you really worked for it and kept going.

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    1. Thanks Elizabeth! Yes, the tough races are so much sweeter. I feel like I've grown so much as a person this year so I am enjoying the after glow of this race a lot more.

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  12. I totally teared up after seeing you on the course on Sunday, and I totally teared up while reading this just now! Your face at the time just said it all -- all those emotions! The amount of mental strength it takes to complete a race like that is truly amazing. I am so proud of you for being so strong, and I'm so happy I could help power your way to the finish! Stories like these are a huge part of the reason I love running and the running community!

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    1. Oh Becca! Thank you!!! I saw some photos that Fisher House took after the bridge...I didn't know they were there or else I would have attempted to look decent. I looked so ridiculously pathetic so I can't imagine what you saw! yikes!

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  13. Congrats! Added your link to our list of recaps, too! :-)

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    1. Thanks! And sorry about your DNF Malinda :(

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  14. I loved this recap! I've sworn off fall marathons since training in AZ in the summer is so hard, but I really do want to do MCM one day. I loved the Fisher House jackets- they look awesome. Great job!

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    1. I think I've sworn off fall marathons now too! Training during the summer just sucks so much!

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  15. this is a fab recap-thank you so much for sharing!! I have the NYCM coming up and this definitely gave me a lot of motivation !

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  16. Your attitude about this race makes me so stinking happy.

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    1. Thanks Abby! I'm actually really proud of how I handled the race. :)

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  17. I loooove your recap! Totally getting emotional right now, haha. CONGRATULATIONS! :-D

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  18. Wonderful recap, Christine! Seeing friends/family on the course did help out during those tough dark times (and I had plenty). Fun you are friends with Becca - it was nice having that cheer squad at Mile 22 - I started tearing up when I saw them. It has been years since I've run over that bridge....I forgot how long it feels.

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    1. Yes that bridge sucks so much! The Oiselle girls were in the perfect spot for a pick-me-up! I definitely needed that. Congrats to you too!

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  19. Wow great job! That sounds like such a tough race but I love that you kept finding ways to push through the pain. Congrats on meeting your C goal and on finishing strong!

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    1. Thanks Kristen! I think I learn new things about myself at each marathon.

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  20. Love all the pictures, you had a really cute race outfit:)
    I think it's awesome you beat your 2013 time. Not every marathon goes how we want and sometimes even if not in the moment, the ones like this where it's a bit harder and you have to dig deeper and do all you can even if it's making those arms go to push your legs to go. Those are the races I find I have the greatest memories from. If marathons were easy everyone would do them, these hard moments show how strong you are and how much you were willing to put into it and leave on the road! Great job!!!!

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    1. Thanks girl! I probably put as much thought into my race outfits as my training lol! Ok maybe not...but kind of!

      Wise words! Marathons are definitely very hard and I've learned a lot about myself in my past 2 marathons about what I can deal with during the race and still finish.

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  21. Congrats Christine! Girl, I felt like I was reading my recap, lol. We were feeling the same things at the same exact spot. It definitely was a challenging race this year and I agree, it seemed a lot quieter out there spectator wise this year. Maybe the weather kept people home. Job well done and LOVE that you wore your hubbies name strip on your shirt!! <3 xoxoxox

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    1. Thanks Sue! I was thinking about you a lot during the race and hoping you were crushing your time goals! All things considered it was a good day!

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  22. what a wonderful recap.I love how you ran this race for so many others. Very sentimental. I actually saw you at Mile 22. I was with Becca and the Oiselle gals and saw you hugging her. I was screaming at your back but you didn't hear me! You definitely had a strong rooting station!!! Congratulations!!!!

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