The Marine Corps Marathon
Each year, thousands of people run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.. In 2006, there were 20,879 finishers, making it the fourth largest marathon in the United States. The largest three in 2006 (based on the number of finishers) were Chicago, New York and Honolulu. The Marine Corps Marathon is extremely popular, and registration fills up within a matter of days.
I thoroughly enjoyed running the Marine Corps Marathon last October. The weather was perfect, the crowd support was unmatched by anything I’d ever seen at a race, and I felt strong throughout the entire run. This race was very well organized and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to run a marathon.
The morning of the race, my friend and I took the metro, checked our bags, and walked to the start line.
I started off wearing two pairs of gloves and a hooded warm-up jacket over my top. I quickly shed the gloves and jacket at mile 1. I ran the first mile in about 11 minutes, but I didn’t worry because I knew I could make up the time later. Unlike a 5K or a 10K, if you go really slow at the beginning, you have plenty of miles at the end to compensate. The 2-mile hill at the beginning was not as steep or as bad as I expected, and the downhill was a nice reward. I saw a shirt that said “I have been Carb loading for 25 years”.
By Mile 5, the crowd thinned out and I was able to go at my own pace without having to worry so much about the crowd. I ran the first 5 miles in 52 minutes, and then decided to step up the speed a notch.
These were very strong miles and they went by very quickly. I passed one of my friends at mile 11, and she surprised me with a HUGE sign that said “GO ELIZABETH” in big bold colors. It reminded me of when we were in high school and she hand-made me cards for things.
I had been predicting a pace of 4:28, so I was really excited to pass the halfway mark at exactly 2:14. I knew that I was running strong, and I told myself “Okay, just repeat exactly what you just did, and you will be fine!”
Someone who had run the Marine Corps Marathon before said “running around Hanes point at miles 17-20 is where most people hit the wall. If you can make it through there, you’ll be fine.” So, I kept telling myself that I would NOT hit a wall running around Hanes point, and that I would enjoy being close to the water with the cool breeze. I actually zoned out and even forgot which mile I was on. I asked someone else and she said we were coming up on mile 19. Funny that I hadn’t even recalled passing mile 18.
I became re-energized at mile 20 when there was a timing mat and I realized I was going faster than a 10-minute mile. Every time I passed a mile marker, I looked at my watch, and I held a pace of approximately 10:00 for most of the race. The crowd at this point was extreme and everyone was handing out food and candy. I crossed over the 14th street bridge and into Crystal City, where I knew my mother was standing at mile 23. She later told me that I looked like I was at mile 1 because I was so strong and energized, whereas almost everyone else looked like they were actually at mile 23. I was happy to hear that. She said I made her proud, and that made me so happy. When I passed her, she handed me a bag of skittles, which tasted extremely good.
My legs really started to hurt at mile 24 and suddenly, I really wanted the race to end. For the first time, I felt like running 2.2 more miles would be impossible. But I told myself that I had come this far, and if I kept running at my pace, I only had to survive 22 more minutes. But if I stopped, the wait would be much longer and I wouldn’t be happy with my time. So, I pushed my way through these last few miles. Mile 25 was probably the hardest mile of the whole race because the wind was going about 5-10 mph right in my face. I felt like it was making me run in slow motion. I was really, really tempted to stop, but I refused to let myself stop. I reminded myself of the Philadelphia Distance run where those last two miles were so painful, but I just focused on the music, zoned out and went for it.
When I saw the finish line, I got so extremely excited and I made a sprint for it. I looked at my watched and realized that if I sprinted, I could get in under 4:25. So I powered past everyone, all the way to the right hand side of the course, and came in at 4:24:39. It felt awesome to have such a strong finish.
After the Race
I thought that the race had been well-organized until the end. Immediately after a marathon, you’re supposed to keep walking. But this was impossible because everyone was crowded into such a small space and you couldn’t even move. I made it through the food line, and then made my way toward the baggage check to get my things.
I found myself on a bridge, packed in like a sardine. People weren’t even moving, I was just stuck there. I met a really nice woman and we started chatting. I didn’t like the crowd at all. I felt like I was suffocating and I didn’t have my own space to breathe. I don’t consider myself to be claustrophobic, and I tolerated this crowd for about 10 minutes. But the longer we stood there without moving, the worse and worse my anxiety got. I calmly told the woman I just met that I thought I was going to have a panic attack. I asked her to please calm me down and re-assure me that there was no reason to panic. But I did anyway. Before I knew it, I was hyperventilating, crying hysterically and having a full-fledged panic attack. My heart was pounding and I couldn’t even speak. Two EMTs came and got me and pushed me through the crowd to an open area. I was still hyperventilating and breathing heavily. It was weird. I just felt like I really, really, needed some of my own space- especially after just having run 26.2 miles.
The EMT took my pulse. “You have a runner’s pulse”. He said. “Well, yeah,” I replied. I calmed down and the EMTs walked me to the baggage claim area. That was much less crowded and I was fine.
Eventually, my friend and I made it home, and got massages at a spa near me. We treated ourselves to Carvel ice cream, too. What an incredible high and an amazing day.
I strongly believe that a marathon is more of a mental challenge than a physical one. All throughout the race, I kept thinking of all the people that were tracking me remotely. I knew that they were rooting for me, and that helped push me through.
During the run, I refused to let negative thinking get me down. I simply did not allow myself to feel weak, tired, or un-supported by friends. If I could do that all the time and not let negative thinking get the better of me, I would be a much happier person. I now realize that I do have the power to control my thoughts (and therefore my feelings) so I can prevent myself from having thoughts that are only going to make me feel bad. Running never ceases to teach me things about myself and my life. That’s why I do it.
Motivated by Music
My iPod, more than anything else, was what pushed me forward in this race. I am extremely passionate about music, and I lip synced a lot of the songs, and occasionally even “danced” to them with my arms. I made sure to put the slower songs at the beginning, the upbeat, rhythmic songs in the middle, and the inspirational ones at the end. I created the play list about three weeks before the race so I would be “surprised” by it. There were four songs that I wanted to finish to, but since I came in earlier than I expected, I had to fast forward through a few songs to get to a “finishing song” at mile marker 26. Here is a sampling from my list, in order, with yellow highlights for the ones that were especially great to run to:
– Steady as She Goes (Raconteurs)
– Perfect Time of Day (Howie Day)
– Hazy Shade of Winter (The Bangels)
– Especially in Michigan (Red Hot Chilli Peppers)
– Get Another Boyfriend (Backstreet Boys)
– Rockstar (Nickleback)
– So Long Jimmy (James Blunt)
– Nos De Caraid (David Gray)
– Square One (Coldplay)
– Had Enough (Breaking Benjamin)
– Headstrong (Trapt)
– Common Pleasure (Jason Mraz) Played this one TWICE
– Square One (Coldplay)
– Headstrong (Trapt)
– The Distance (Live)
– Through Glass (Stone Sour)
– It’s Raining Men (Weather Girls)
If you are considering running this marathon, I highly recommend it. The crowd support is incredible and if you’ve never been to Washington, D.C., then you get a nice view of all the major monuments and the White House.