Warning: This is going to be a very long recap. So go pee and get a snack prior to reading.
It was bound to happen sooner or later. Every runner dreams of finishing every race they sign up for. They hope to never have to add a notch on their bedpost under the DNF column.
I added that first notch this past Sunday. For a race that I conquered last year and declared myself a marathoner at, I couldn’t repeat that accomplishment this year.
I was swept.
I’ve never been swept before.
I hear stories of those that have been, particularly those that race the runDisney events. The emotions; the frustration, anger, tears, and genuine disappointment that collects among fellow runners who are deemed too slow to maintain course requirements as they board the busses of Doom on their way to the finish to be dropped off beside those who had crossed the finish line and sporting their sparkly new bling, shiny space blankets, and munching on bananas. We can only look on with puppy dog eyes as we long for what they have, limping along to collect our belongings and escape the scene before our friends Jealousy and Desire come raging through.
But let’s start at the beginning, pre-pre-race…
I had accepted a transfer entry back in September from a friend. Now, I hadn’t been training at all for anything, since I had entered the MCM lottery in March and wasn’t selected. I remember how I had set forth to conquer the course and Take the Iwo last year, and had succeeded. Having the Marine Corps Marathon be THE marathon to officially bestow the title of ‘marathoner’ upon me was humbling and exciting. If I could do it last year, then why not this year?
I thought on it for 24 hours (as I do with most major decisions and impulse shopping items), and with encouragement from friends, I accepted it. I had a month and change to train. Legit train. Most marathon plans are around four months of dedicated training. I know my body adapts well to fitness regimes quickly, so I thought I could get away with cram training.
Ladies and gents…CRAM TRAINING DOESN’T WORK. (Lesson #1.)
I never felt more awkward physically than when I was in the corral on race day. I didn’t feel muscular, I didn’t feel in shape, I didn’t feel fast. If I finished, it was a miracle of sorts. My longest distance was a 16-miler, and even then my workouts were sporadic due to an office job with set hours and other activities. I tried to make a workout out of everything I did: pushing through my glutes going up stairs, running stairs while barbacking, lifting heavy objects whenever possible…
Yeah, no…didn’t quite work how I would have liked it.
Now, to Washington D.C…
Expo: The expo was well layed out. I got my bib with no problem, then took off for the Brooks section. I had wanted one of the official race jackets last year, but shuddered at the $90 price tag. This year I wanted one, and it was the only thing I was going to get. The crowds were a nightmare. Waiting in line took half an hour, but I was pleased at the speed the Brooks employees were getting runners in and out of the checkout.
Shiny new jacket in hand, I wandered about the expo looking at all the things. I thought I was going to spend a lot more than I thought, but I left with two SparklySoul headbands for my collection, some new sunscreen, and that was it! I went back to my cousin’s apartment in Mt. Vernon Square, ditched my stuff, then walked about the city for awhile.
Lesson 2: Don’t walk around the city too much the day before the race. You may get time with Honest Abe seeking last-minute race advice, but you’ll kill your energy reserves.
Now on to race day…
Alarm goes off at 4:45 AM and I stay in bed until 5. I finally leave around 5:45, and take the 10-minute walk to the Metro. At this time, runners were getting rather cozy on the trains. We take off for the Pentagon, and that’s when the chaos set in.
The crowds were becoming dangerously backed up in the Metro station at the turnstiles as people used their cards to pay their way out of the station. It got so slow to the point where the Metro workers had to turn off the escalators and just let us go through the gates without paying. (Sorry, D.C., you knew it was race day!) From there, the lines to get to the security checkpoints were long, like last year. I was expecting this. So we all walked and walked some more…
And then the rain started.
I have never raced in the rain before. Biting cold and snow and ice, yes. Blazing heat and sun, yes. Never rain.
I was trying to decide whether to ditch my new Brooks jacket (the dark blue and gray one) and run with my Underarmour shirt, or to keep it. I saw another runner with one on and asked what her plans were for it. She said that I’d be way too hot in mine and to drop it off at the bag check.
That was a smart woman. I saved myself from being overheated later on.
We rounded the corner for the security checkpoints…and came to a dead stop.
Why werent the lines moving? Can’t they see we have a race to run?!
This was around 6:30 AM, and I also noticed non-runners in these checkpoints. Ummm…isn’t this called “Runner’s Village” for a reason? Why are there tiny children and strollers and umbrellas over here?? Why are there only eight or nine checkpoints; runDisney has like, 25!
I started weaving to the left and found the security points over there. After being wanded down, I stepped away from there around 7:20. I felt fortunate as I scrolled through my Twitter feed and saw that SO many other runners hadn’t even passed security, and it was nearing the start of the race.
I squeezed into the last corral, and it was so tightly packed I could barely move to stretch out. People were shuffling around and hopping the guard rail just to get over to the other side and breathe. Once the ceremonial Osprey flyover and parachute team was complete, it was time to race. The Howtizer fired, and we were off!
As usual, it takes about 20 minutes or so to cross the start line. The rain was steady at this point, and I thought that this was either going to be really good or really freakin’ bad: I was running on rather worn sneakers with new squishy insoles. I had no idea how they were going to hold up, or how my feet were going to perform with them.
Lesson 3: Nothing new on race day. Seriously. Not even a new good luck charm.
The first 10K was Land of the Elevation Changes. With the pack being as tight as it was, I was essentially forced to keep up or risk getting trampled and dying.
With the risk of slipping on wet pavement, I altered my stride to something a little more conservative (I think I bent more in the knees), and this destroyed my legs. By Key Bridge, I felt so spent. I was run/walking at this point (more walking than anything else). Mile 4/5 in Georgetown had delicious burger smells wafting through the air…such a tease. The rain was on and off at this point, and mixing that change with my sweating from running, my body was doing this weird heat up/cool down tango that I didn’t like one bit.
Heading into the next 10K with Rock Creek Park had me on edge. I was walking a lot and constantly trying to determine where the pace vehicles were. I was heading down mile 8 and they were coming up the road on mile 6, so I was safe for at least a little bit. At this point, being in the back of the pack was a real downer; most of the spirited crowds that cheer for the faster runners had dispersed. This lack of energy and comraderie was leaving me with many thoughts of, “What the hell! Are we turtles not worthy of what the faster runners are doing?” This left a bad taste in my mouth as I plowed along the course. At Mile 11, I found fellow Kappa Kappa Psi brother, Lauren, cheering for me. I gave her a huge hug and she ran with me for a brief moment, telling me she’d meet me at mile 16. That was a definite boost! Of course, the Blue Mile at Mile 12 enabled all the feels like it typically does.
At the halfway point, I was running around a 14:40 mpm pace. It felt insanely lonely heading into the city. I was struggling hardcore at this point; the funny motivational signs I enjoyed last year were all taken down and there were hardly any spectators anywhere. Now, I had been very proud of myself for not using a bathroom, whereas last year I stopped almost every two miles. I ducked into the potty at this point, peed, and left. That two minutes was all it took for me to completely lose my groove.
I got to Mile 16 and saw Lauren again. She gave me a boost and sent me on my way once again.
I tried to get my little legs to go faster than “walk”, but I’d take a few strides and slow…and take a few strides and slow. By mile 17, I had a deep, clenching feeling that I may not finish.
A Marine was speaking into a megaphone at this point: “If you stay in front of the pace vehicle, you will make the bridge.” I turned around, and there it was. Right on my ass. If nothing motivates you to go faster than seeing the sweep vehicle, I don’t know what does. I tried so hard to keep myself going forward with some sort of velocity that was greater than what that car was driving at. I messaged Michael at this point and mentioned,
“I am dangerously close to being swept. Don’t hate me if I don’t finish.”
It was a cat-and-mouse chase around mile 17.25. If the car overtook me, I would overtake it. And vice versa. This went on a couple of times before it simply started going…and going…
And I stopped. My breath caught in my chest as tears sprung to my eyes. I couldn’t breathe. My mind kept screaming, “Go get that damn pace car! You’re stronger than this!” And there I was, moving to the sidewalk, not knowing whether I was going to pass out or not. Another runner asked if I was okay and I couldn’t even speak. She offered me her Jelly Belly beans and I nodded in appreciation as she took off again.
And then I lost it. I just started crying. My heart was racing and my tears were splattering all over the place. But I knew if I had any chance of making it out alive, I had to calm myself and get my breathing back. The tightness in my chest slowly went away and I started walking, knowing that I was undertrained, too slow, and out of my mind to have even attempted this. It was 12:50 PM at this point. Beat the Bridge is at 1:15 PM, and I was still 2.5 miles away.
I reached mile 18, and knew I wasn’t going to make it. I thought to myself, “Well, shit. This is a first. This really freaking sucks. I’m not even going to finish and I was so psyched to do this race.” Everything was hurting, especially my knees. (The 2014 MCM really screwed up my MCLs) and I had a conglomeration of too many Clif Shots and jelly beans and EnergyBits sloshing around my stomach with lemon lime Gatorade (yeah, delicious isn’t it?). The sun had started to peek through, and coupled with the humidity, it was getting warm. I felt sick, tired, and ready to put the entire day behind me. A couple of runners ahead of me flagged down the charter bus, and I raced over to it. I limped up the stairs and sat down, wracked with disappointment. Another wave of tears seeped out as I watched other runners battle it out and continue on.
Now is when it got weird.
The straggler busses had to follow the last of the pack through the rest of the race course. This was such an inconvenience; wasn’t there some kind of shortcut that we could have taken to get to the end instead of hauling all the way through Crystal City? I would rather not look out the bus windows to see victorious finishers walking around with their medals and recovery jackets. Trust me, this made me feel even worse about myself, especially the following days when the MCM Facebook page said that they kept the course open longer to accommodate the delay brought on by the security problems.
…IF I WOULD HAVE KNOWN THAT I WOULD HAVE KEPT GOING. GAAAAAAAH.
We finally sped ahead after Marines told the runners to move to the sidewalks. The buses originally planned to drop us off at the hospitality tent…but took us down the finisher’s chute instead. We were going to back out and go back down the road. I overheard the race directors communicating that we were going to get an escort into Rosslyn for the Finisher’s Festival.
At this point, people were getting irate. Many had family that were waiting for them, some had planes to catch. It was a major mess. I mean, we were RIGHT THERE. They could have let us off the bus. But no. Not how it happened.
After 2 ½ hours on the bus, we finally ended up at the festival. I saw Lauren again, and after a big hug, we got my stuff and headed back to the Metro, leaving a sea of athletes behind. I later learned that even the latest finishers had next to nothing in the form of hospitality, which is simply disappointing and frustrating.
This entire race experience was a lesson in the concept of failure. It’s okay to fail at things; it’s a part of life. Even when all eyes are on you when you announce that you’re going to be competing in something so rigorous as a marathon, and it turns out there were many variables against you that day that prevents you from accomplishing your goal, your biggest fans will pick you up, slap your ass, and say, “Go get ’em!” for your next endeavor.
For me, eighteen miles is better than no miles at all. It’s more than what most people can say. I may not have another medal for the coveted medal rack (“Always Earned, Never Given”), but it gives me something to shoot for later on. I may return to the Marine Corps Marathon to seek my revenge against the course at a later date; I’ll probably take next year off from this race just to see the feedback for the expo and site switch to the National Harbor, and to see if improvements have been made with regard to security and hospitality.
Last lesson: Not finishing is better than not starting at all. I could have shyed away from this race easily, but I didn’t. I could have let the runner grumpies set in like they did last year, but I didn’t. I knew that if I had more time to legitimately train, I would have destroyed the course. For now, that time will remain at 6:51:51 until such a time comes later where that can be updated.
Congratulations to those that DID finish, especially to the first-time marathoners. It’s an incredible accomplishment, and you now have bragging rights forever. Display that medal proudly; it’s a pretty one! To those of us who got swept…we’ll get ’em next time. Be proud of your efforts. Some people were too lazy to get out of bed that morning. You woke up at the ass-crack of dawn and raced.
If you have made it this far, congrats! Race recap is now done. Yay.
’til next time…