2009-10-25 - Marine Corps Marathon 2009

26.2 miles @ 10.15 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/MCM2009/kate_z_MCM_2009_1.jpg"Kate," I ask as we pass the White House, "is this the right time for me to say, 'You need to run from your heart'? Or should I wait until mile 20?"

"If you say that to me at mile 20," she replies, "I'll push you off the bridge!"

Kate Abbott and I are doing the 47th annual Marine Corps Marathon together, along with 21,000 of our closest friends. The cliché "You need to [X] from your heart!" has become a humorous mantra around Kate's household recently.

The MCM turns out OK for Kate and me, though we don't make our goal of running sub-10 minute miles the whole way. I finish in a Personal Best, 4:25:30, slicing ~5 minutes off my previous marathon time (2009-02-15 - Washington Birthday Marathon). Kate sets a Personal Worst for the MCM, coming in ~4 minutes behind me.

But no worries: for both of us today is only a training run for future ultramarathons. We do the first 20 miles together. Then Kate tells me she feels sick and asks me to run ahead. Has she simply had enough of my bad jokes?

(photo by Bobby Gill)

After tasting the MCM in 2002 for my first marathon (see Bless the Leathernecks & MarineCorpsOrdnance), and trying another helping in 2004 (see MarineCorpsMarathon2004) I swear off mega-races with their crowds and expense (see ThePowerOfSmallNumbers). Then kind comrade CM Manlandro tells me that her comrade Deb O'Connell is ill and wishes to transfer her MCM entry to another local runner. I dither a few minutes, then ask, and am delighted (and terrified) when Deb says, "Yes!" The MCM isn't on my ill-conceived 2009 Summer-Fall Tentative Race Calendar. It falls only a fortnight after the 44.5 mile Andiamo and a week before the Potomac Heritage 50k. But whoever said I was rational?

On Sunday morning Kate Abbott and her fast young friend Jorge Lugo meet me at 0645 in the Arlington Cemetery Metro station, close to the MCM starting line. We hang a while there, then head out. Abruptly the escalator stops moving as we're riding it up to the surface—an ominous sign? But hey, anybody who wants to run 26.2 miles should be able to climb a few stairs!

Jorge moves toward the faster runners' corral (he goes on to finish nicely in 3:55:04) while Kate and I stand in line for the porta-johns, then sit on the grass near the sign for our 4:15-4:30 cohort. As race time looms we discard outer garments (to be collected for charity) and climb over the spectator barrier into the swarm of competitors. We chat and chatter in the chill until shortly after 8am when a howitzer fires to mark the start.

Then we wait ... and wait ... and several minutes later, begin a shuffle. Nine minutes post-gun we accelerate to a jog across the chip sensors under the inflated arch that marks Mile Zero. I text a message to Twitter, which auto-forwards to Facebook so friends online can track my progress.

(photo by Ken Trombatore)

Thick clots of folks who should have started farther back hamper Kate and me; we're 10+ for the first three miles. But that's OK; we'll need the energy later. After 31:26 for the initial 5k we accelerate, modulo hills and aid stations. During the eighth mile, heading into Georgetown, Kate's sharp eyes spy Ken Swab and Wayne Carson just ahead. We banter as we pass. At the halfway mark, near the end of Hains Point, we're within seconds of 10 min/mi. My MCRRC "Welcome to the Dark Side" shirt from the 2006 JFK 50 miler provokes good conversations with nearby runners.

As Kate and I approach mile 20 people on the side of the road are holding up placards. One cardboard poster is partially obscured by massed humanity in front of it, so all we can see is:


"Does that really say "YOU SUCK!?", I ask a woman running near me.

"It sure looks like that to me!" she replies. Then the crowd parts and we can see that the sign actually reads, "YOU ROCK!" Whew!

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/MCM2009/z_MCM_2009.jpgAs we begin the 14th Street Bridge crossing of the Potomac River, mile 20, Kate orders me to run onward. Fearful of her wrath (and averse to a swim) I obey, and manage to push out my fastest mile of the day, a 9:06. A sip of beer from Hash Harriers at mile 22 tastes great. As the course hairpin-loops back upon itself near mile 23 I look in vain for Kate; as it turns out, she's still too close behind me. I spot Ken Swab running smoothly along; we shout encouragement at one another.

Now I'm starting to smell the finish line. (It's not all that smells: my deodorant failed long ago.) Running now feels hard but good. When I take a short walk break, my left metatarsals twinge sharp enough to make me think "Stress Fracture", but as soon as I recommence running the pain vanishes. A clue that celerity is now needed!

Miles 25 and 26 both are at the sub-10 pace that I had fantasized before the day began. I consult my watch and, thanks to faulty mental arithmetic, imagine that I can finish in under 4:25. Alas, that is not to be—but at least I'm making an honorable charge up the final hill to the Iwo Jima Memorial finish line, unlike in past MCMs.

(photo by Ken Trombatore)

Insane crowds surround the finish area and although Kate is near I never see her. My phone has stopped working for voice calls, which I first blame on cell overload but eventually realize is damage. Perhaps it's due to sweat or jostling during the race, when I carry the phone tucked into Kate's discarded neoprene ankle brace that I wear stylishly on one wrist. I exchange text messages with Robin and report that I'm walking an extra mile uphill to the Courthouse Metro stop, since Rosslyn is packed solid with humanity.

My journey home is uneventful, aluminized mylar space-blanket wrapped across my shoulders toga fashion. I chat with a triathlon runner on the train, then walk home from the local station. No blisters, minimal soreness: I can easily walk down stairs the next day. I lose ~4 lbs. during the race, but alas it all comes back with interest after a few days.

Is another Marine Corps Marathon in my future? Or any other race with thousands of participants? Never again! ... at least, not until a friend needs company.

Raw Data

During the MCM Twitter and Facebook updates work well. I pre-compose and store in my phone four minimalistic text messages which arrive timestamped within a fraction of a minute:

The day before the race I subscribe Gray and Robin to chip-sensor text-message runner-progress updates from the MCM itself. Gray never receives any. Robin gets only about half of them, typically delayed by 40 minutes. Perhaps the system is overloaded, as it seemed to be in previous years.

Post-race numbers from the official web site for me:

Finish Time: 4:25:30
Overall Place: 8513
Gender Place: 6081
Division Place: 177
Pace: 10:09
5K: 31:26
10 K: 1:02:36
15 K: 1:33:47
20 K: 2:04:41
Half: 2:11:43
25 K: 2:36:21
30 K: 3:08:44
35 K: 3:40:14
40 K: 4:12:22

Timing information from my watch, based on mile markers:

mile time split

^z - 2009-10-28