What you are about to read is a true study in race psychology. I’ve included, in their entirety, Shawn’s Race Report (first time marathoner) and my race report (marathon veteran). Both give a fascinating perspective on this sport that can bring you to your knees and keep you coming back for more.
From the picture postcard view of the sunrise over our Nation’s Capitol to the post-race beer and pizza in Georgetown, Sunday was a day I will always remember.
I spent my high school years just down the Potomac at Mount Vernon…so for various reasons, the area will always have special meaning to me. Being a son of an Army Colonel and an Air Force Major myself, I truly appreciate and understand the many sacrifices of our Servicemen and their families. As you may expect, Marines were everywhere this weekend, from the Expo to the Finish Line. Some walked with canes, some were amputees, some were scarred…all were happy to help and make us feel welcome.
I truly respect the marathon distance. I had never run more than a 10K before I met my wife three and a half years ago. Since then, I have completed 5 Half Marathons and 4 Half Ironmans. I took my training seriously (for me), making sure I got my long runs in…even if it was in California, Kona, or San Antonio. I pulled myself out of bed on the weekends at 5am so I could get my miles in before the August Austin heat set in. Despite this, I had no real Marathon time goal in mind. I didn’t want to disappoint myself. I wanted more to run a smart race and take it all in. I feared bonking and, even worse, ending up in a medical tent. I knew that would not only ruin my race day, but the gaggle of fellow runners that would be waiting for me to cross the finish line. But I knew I had to have some general time goal.
Since everyone (from Carrie to Thon to Richard) told me to go out extra slow, I decided to start with the 4:30 group and then if I felt good 8 miles or so in, I would try to move up…perhaps to 4:20. My friend Richard also was there with no time goal in mind. He wanted to enjoy the day and pay special tribute to his late step-father Bob, a veteran…even wearing his dog tags.
The first two miles felt slow…11:15 pace…but things seemed a bit hillier than advertised. We figured the elevation chart just showed the elevation at each mile, not the ups and downs between each mile marker. Oh well, “Just deal with it Shawn,” I said. I surprisingly felt like I had space to run despite the mass of runners. Then came the beautiful downhill on Spout Run with the canopy of trees. Hard to believe we were only about a mile from D.C. The tranquility was only broken by the dozens of male runners peeing into the trees along the side. As we turned on to the George Washington Parkway, the route got even hillier, but it was masked by the picturesque fog rising from the Potomac. There were people dodging in and out trying to pick up a few seconds. Even a guy running barefoot. Someone was running in a Teddy Roosevelt costume (seemed to stand 10 feet tall) in honor of his 150th birthday. Richard told me those would be the same people we would pass later in the race. As we turned to cross the Key Bridge, the crowds were packed in and cheering wildly. The fog obscured all of Georgetown but the spires of the chapel. The Washington Monument and the Kennedy Center were visible off to the right. Perfect so far…except for the fact that my Garmin battery died. I had unplugged it the night before and put it next to my shirt so I wouldn’t forget it….but I guess it was still on so the battery drained overnight. Richard said no worry. He hadn’t run with a watch or Garmin in years. I hadn’t until recently. Amy always just runs as she feels. I figured I could do the math in my head and estimate my pace per mile (math geek in my younger years). The next few miles along the other side of the Potomac were a gradual downhill, but we refused to give in to the speed temptation. We went by the 10K mark at 1:06, and Richard asked whether I had ever done a 10K in that slow of a time. It was almost embarrassing, but he said we were right where we should be. We were passed by a “Just Married” couple (that was our idea dammit) and by a true runaway bride (with a veil) who was running with a vengeance…I doubt her groom ever caught up with her at that pace. A lone guy on the shoulder was leaning on his bike, holding a boom box blasting the BeeGees classic “Staying Alive.” Sweet. We did a hairpin turn about mile 7 followed by a steep uphill (we knew it was coming after the downhill segment). There were lots of people walking it, but I just kept thinking “knees up.” There was a wheelchair athlete who was inching up with the encouragement of everyone. I got goosebumps. A guy next to me said that was the last uphill and I believed him. Turns out he was basically right. I decided to pick it up a bit and run by myself. We descended into the heart of Georgetown and the frenzy was incredible. There was a young serviceman amputee who was maintaining a good pace with his metal running prosthesis. More goosebumps. We descended back down to the Potomac, under the Kennedy Center, and out the peninsula. The crowds wained along the way and the number of “walkers” increased every mile. I kept feeling strong, picking up my pace ever so slightly. The second 10K in 59 minutes! One older lady was decked out in red, white, and blue and was talking to herself and crying. Only at mile 11. We rounded the peninsula at the 13 mile marker and they were yelling that we were halfway done. I knew better. The “halfway” point was mile 20 so my “coaches” told me. My first 13.1 mile was in the bag at 2:11:54, which I was satisfied with. I was for some reason optimistic that I could continue to pick up the pace ever so slightly the second half. I had no aches or cramps…I guess that I just assumed I would by this time. I was going to take this marathon on one mile at a time though. The crowds picked up as we approached the Lincoln Memorial, zipping by the lawn of the White House, and then the Mall. Lots of high school bands (one all the way from Richmond, VA)…the weather was perfect for spectating…a bit hotter than ideal for running. I didn’t care. Every water stop I dumped at least one cup of water on my head and drank a cup or two of Powerade and water. The volunteers (most of them Marines) were awesome and very organized. Bystanders on the course offering Vaseline, Twizzlers, sweets…you name it. I rounded the Capitol with a marching band playing hip (Blink 182) music on the steps of the Grant memorial, past the Smithsonian (someone passing out Jelly Beans..they were everywhere…got one in the tread of my shoe), past the Holocaust Museum, past the Mint (no Bailout needed for me!!)…so cool I knew the ‘hood. Heard a spectator yell: “Remember why you’re running today.” I got the chills thinking about all servicemen, past and present…from my father to Richard’s late step-father to the current war casualties. Heard someone yell “Go Teddy” at the 19 mile marker…no way that costume monster could be catching me. I didn’t want to turn around to check. Feeling good even as I zipped past the 20 mile marker…the all-women drum corps on the left providing an energizing rhythm. The 3rd 10K in 58 minutes! The 14th Street Bridge was tough, but I kept pushing. A man’s shirt exclaimed that it was his 60th B-bay and his 15th Marine Corps Marathon. Inspiring. He was obviously moving at a good clip. Saw many of the people that had passed us earlier…Richard was right. Saw three Marines running with large flags up ahead and told myself I was going to catch them. And I did… as we climbed the hill of the bridge off-ramp. The next 2 miles were the out and back through the buildings of Crystal City, where the big after-party was to take place. Lots of crazed sororities and fraternities. I began to breakdown the remaining miles down into Lady Bird Lake Loops that are my everyday runs back in Austin. The 4th 10K in 60 minutes! The last 2 miles were lonely stretches of road around the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetary. I felt in control. None of the hallucinations that others talk about. My body felt great. Even had something for a sprint up the short, but steep hill (the final 0.2) to the Iwo Jima Memorial. I did it!! Time 4:17:45! I ran a race I was proud of. I only slowed down briefly to chug fluids at the water stops. I ran the whole thing, which kind of surprised me. And I negative split…running the second half 6 minutes faster than the first. Receiving my medal from a Marine Officer nonetheless and then having my picture snapped in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial was a great way to finish. And a hug and kiss from Carrie.
What’s next? Another Marathon…this one with a 9 hour warm-up (1.5 hr swim + 7.5 hr bike)…Couer d’Alene 2009, Baby….
My Version: Gunning for a 3:20
I’ve been training with a little bravado lately and I attribute that to the strength and endurance that comes with Ironman training, good solid cross-training and the always challenging core classes. For the Marine Corps Marathon, I set my sights on a very realistic 3:20 race; a far cry from my first marathon of 4:52 and a pretty lofty improvement from my most recent 3:29 almost two years ago in Dallas. Coach Gilbert warned us against Marine Corps proclaiming that it wasn’t a “PR Course.” You know what? People say that about Boston and NYC all the time and I know many people who have left them in the dust.
What made this race even more special was that Shawn was also running his first full marathon. He’s done four Half-Ironmans and several Half-Marathons. This was a natural next step (and I promise I didn’t force him into it—contrary to popular belief!)
The whole trip was totally relaxing and I had absolutely no race anxiety whatsoever. We went to the Expo (ok, a few nerves popped out here), and then spent the rest of Saturday afternoon at a sports bar watching the Texas vs. Ok St. game. Richard, Shawn, Amy and I then headed for our customary pre-race meal of sushi and wine. I know, I know…sushi the night before a race??! I tell you—it works! It’s nothing but good lean protein and carbs. I had one glass of red vino (for my heart, of course) and was back in the hotel room and in my PJS by 7:00pm. Shawn headed out to another sports bar with Amy’s husband to watch the Ohio State game. I wasn’t going to put myself through that torture, although I did watch the first quarter in my room before the Bucks fell apart again.
The race didn’t start until 8:00am so it was great getting to sleep in until 5:30am in plenty of time to eat, drink coffee, and take care of business. We walked over to Craig’s parent’s condo which provided us with the most breathtaking view of a glorious sunrise over D.C. Their condo overlooks the Washington Monument, the Capital, The Potomac, Arlington Cemetery and many other places we would be running around in just an hour or so. After a few pre-race photos, we walked over to the start line, took care of some pre-race business and then said our “goodbyes” as we all headed to our respective starting corrals.
I lined up with the 3:30 pace group. My goal was to run with them through the first 8 miles (through several climbs) and then gradually pick it up throughout the rest of the race. Piece of cake…I was also running by myself. Amy and Craig lined up behind me and had a 3:30 goal. As always, my goal was to run within myself and try not to be influenced too much by the crowds, other runners, etc.
The canon went off and I was surprised at how quickly our pace group advanced through the start line. For 33,000 runners, I expected a bit more backlog. I guess it didn’t hit me until now that most of the backlog was behind me. I was lined up with “the fast people.” (ha ha) I hit the start button on my Garmin and off we went. The first two miles are always hectic as people weave in and out of spaces in the first moments of panic. I stayed right next to or just in front of the 3:30 pace balloons. The first 3 miles did have some climbs, no doubt. They were nothing huge, but enough to say, “Good Morning Heart Rate!” It was after those first three miles that we were blessed with some major down hills and flats. Immediately, I picked up a ton of speed and went from a 7:50 overall pace to a 7:35 overall pace. That should’ve sent a signal, but it was just too darn fun and “easy” at that point. I was running completely within myself. I wasn’t cheering, talking or expending any unnecessary energy. It was all business, so to speak. I do remember seeing the sun rise and the fog settling over the Potomac as we ran along tree shaded streets with the leaves changing colors. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of peace and gratitude at that moment. The whole world just felt so beautiful. Ironically, it was shortly after that zen moment, that I turned ugly just for a second.
I was approaching the Mile 4 water stop and veering slightly left to grab a cup. I slowed a tad, but was still chugging along when I felt a push on my back. Someone had their hand on my back and was literally pushing me over. I lost my balance slightly and dropped my water. “Mother F*cker!” I yelled at him and at no one in particular.
“Well, you’re slowing down in front of me,” this grown man said as he pushed his way by me.
“I’m at a freaking water stop,” I shouted back.
Suddenly a random voice from the surrounding pack said, “Hey-Settle down.”
Like a parent scolds their children, we were rightfully put in our place by a stranger. Indeed, we needed to be settled down as we were both a little caught up in our selfish mindsets. I saw the back of his black shirt run by me with fervor and secretly hoped that I would pass him again along the way. I don’t know if I did or not.
That’s pretty much the extent of the conversation I had on the course throughout the 26.2 miles. I regained composure and just stayed locked into that 7:35-7:37 average pace. I would see Amy’s husband at various points and he would give my time difference between me and the 3:20 pace balloons. I could see them frequently and they were no more than 50 yards away at most points. Early on, I definitely had the energy to catch them and run with them the rest of the way. However, I held back assuming I’d have plenty of energy for my finishing kick.
I wish I could say I remembered much about the course. The descent into Georgetown was cool and had plenty of crowd support. I was feeling so awesome at that point. It was Mile 8. I remember the guy on the bicycle with the boom box. When I ran by, he was playing “Beautiful Day” by U2. It was, indeed, a beautiful day. Miles 10-14 took you out on the peninsula. Not many crowds, but early enough that most of us were still feeling good. I remember the Christian Radio station had their van out there pumping some uplifting music. It reminded me of an Oprah quote after she ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 1994. She said, “I don’t care what religion you are. At Mile 20, you will see Jesus!” Was I seeing him already?
I took self-inventory at the halfway mark. Totally still on target. Feeling about 75%. Hmmmm….75%. I was hoping to feel a little stronger. My legs hurt. I felt freakin’ awesome cardio-wise. Nothing strenuous at all. The 7:37s were ticking off like clock-work. My quads and hip flexors were starting to get sore. Mental note taken…
Miles 15-19 take you into the Mall area and around some of the famous monuments, or so I’m told. I think I must’ve been running with my head down the entire time because I pretty much missed all of it except for the Capital Building—which, at that point, could’ve been the White House for all I knew. Things were starting to get a little hazy as I began the mental struggle of hanging on to that pace. Literally, one minute I’d feel great and the next minute I’d want to walk. Up to that point, I hadn’t walked a step and was hoping not to. Crowds were abundant and energetic, but they were all a total blur as I focused on those 3:20 pace balloons ahead of me. Should I make my move now? No…you better wait. There’s still 8 more miles in this rodeo. Holy crap. Eight more? It was at the 18 mile marker that I began to feel a hint of the dreaded, “Oh no…you started too fast” regret. Hunker down and don’t do anything stupid. I wanted to speed up to grab onto those 3:20 pace balloons, but my legs were aching and on the verge of cramping. Every now and then I’d feel the subtle cramp twinge, but they allowed me to keep pounding away. Cardio still felt great. I could recite the Declaration of Independence if I had to (or if I actually knew it?!). Perry shouted that I was about 30 seconds back. Cool…And 8 miles to go. Surely, I’ll have that finishing kick.
I made it through the Mall area and only vaguely remember one high school band in uniform playing on some monument and some chicks playing drums. Other than that, I could’ve been running in Butte, Montana and not known the difference except for the hundreds of Marines who handed me water and Powerade every mile. Miles 20-21 absolutely sucked!! It’s the portion of the race where you enter the highway ramp and cross over the bridge from DC back to Arlington. This reduced a lot of people to walking and almost broke me. The fact that I was passing people is about the only thing that was keeping me going. It’s a long (but not steep) climb onto the bridge and then descent into Crystal City where the crowds were huge and very encouraging once again. I only wish I would’ve been able to acknowledge them with high fives and thank yous. I just used their energy to keep moving forward. Miles 22-23 were a self defeating out and back. I knew I was quickly running out of energy because I actually contemplated cheating by crossing over the median. I swear. And this is coming from a person who uses my Garmin to make sure I hit every mile to a “t.” When I say I’m going to run 8 miles. I run 8 miles…not 7.92. I was losing ground at this point and began the “you’re not going to make your goal” battle. I would look at my Garmin Avg pace…7:35, 7:36, 7:37 per mile. Still pretty damn good, but there was still two more miles.
I gotta be honest. At this point, I had resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to catch those darn 3:20 balloons, but maybe they were ahead of pace, or maybe I would still get that kick, or maybe it didn’t matter since I had started behind them and my chip time would still reflect MY time and not the time that THEY crossed the start line. I was confused enough to just keep pushing for the last two miles. I cared, but I didn’t care—if that makes sense. I just wanted it to be freakin’ over! Mile 25 did reduce me to a walk as we apparently ran around the Pentagon. We did?!?!!? How did I miss that one? Seriously, I had no clue that it was to my right as we entered onto the main road again towards the famous Iwo Jima Memorial. I walked and counted to 10. At 10 seconds I would start running again. My legs were toast and started that tremor feeling. As I was walking, I quietly heard a spectator say, “Finish Strong” to me. It wasn’t loud, but it felt full of compassion. It seemed like he almost said it with some apprehension too, like he expected me to haul off and punch him. For some reason, that had an impact on me and I started running/jogging that last mile. “Finish Strong” became my mantra with each step as I ran that last mile as quickly as I could before the cramps got the best of me.
We made the final left turn and the finish line is an uphill to the memorial. My quads started to cramp as soon as I tried to accelerate. I walked for two seconds, but the crowds were deafening and so encouraging. They were not going to let me walk. And I didn’t. It wasn’t a finishing kick, but I looked at that watch when I crossed the finish line and it said 3:20:58…59…3:21:00.
When I hit stop, the Garmin read 3:21:01, with an average pace of 7:39 per mile at 26.23 miles.
The website has my official chip time at 3:23:05, so there’s still some confusion and debate. Regardless, it was an effort in which I couldn’t be more proud.
Check this out:
16th out of 1148 in my age group! (W 35-39)
86th Female overall out of 7156!
812th Place overall out of 18,296 Finishers!!
It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to dig through. To say it was “fun” is a misstatement. It was work…with a monumental payoff. I do think it’s unfortunate that my eyes missed so many of the wonderful sites, but this race was never about that for me. In hindsight though, if I ever go back, I’ll make up for that and relish every little moment! It was so much fun, however, being with Richard, Amy and Craig who have the most upbeat attitudes. Of course, the stellar day was only topped off by seeing Shawn finish his first marathon with his trademark smile.
Hubster and Carrie Post-Marathon Bliss!
Watching the sunrise in DC before the Marathon. It was a glorious day!
(from left: Richard, Shawn, Carrie, Mark, Amy, Craig)
This is what it’s all about! We all finished happy and healthy!