Saturday, November 10, 2012

Marine Corps Marathon

By sheer luck, Andy's friend snapped this picture at the start without even knowing where we were in the field!
First, The Numbers:

3:39:22 (8:23 pace). 1:46:14 1st half (8:07 pace), 1:53:08 2nd half (8:38 pace), 
6:54 positive split.  Compared to:
3:55 positive split when I ran my PR 3:37:07 (8:17 pace)
9:44 positive split my first marathon when I ran 3:54:34 (8:58 pace)

Not sub 3:30, Not even a new PR, but still a very rewarding and memorable experience, and a third marathon under my belt. It is now over a week later and I am only getting to write about this experience now because of a certain storm that has completely decimated the mid-atlantic. I may write something about that at a later time, but for now, before I forget anymore, I want to record my Marine Corps Marathon experience.


I won't go into any of my training here. I got to Andy and Jenn's house on Saturday afternoon. I hadn't seen Jenn or their kids in over a year so it was really nice to see them. The boys are at an age where 1 year makes a huge difference. Especially Liam who was running around and talking.

Andy and I made our way to the Expo and we got in pretty quickly with no line. It was on par with the Philadelphia one I had been to a couple times. I enjoyed walking around and checking out the crazy amount of products that have popped up over the last several years to support the booming running industry. We picked up our bibs, Andy bought himself a hat for the race and we were on our way.

We got  back while it was still light out and played a bit outside with the boys and then it was dinner time. Jenn and Andy made chicken and rice (my favorite pre-race meal!) and it was delicious! Dinner was over and it was now time to start discussing some logistics for the morning and start worrying about the weather. Worrying about the weather was just some foreshadowing of what was to come the following week. At the time I went to sleep it looked like we'd be running in the rain which I was a bit upset about.  But aside from being nervous about my marathon, I was already starting to get nervous about heading home to prepare for the storm. I had visions of hurricane Irene from last year, and I didn't want that to happen. Despite my nervousness, I slept alright.

Andy woke me up at about 5:45, I guess my alarm which was set for 5:30 didn't work. The plan was to leave the house at 6 and park at a close by Metro stop. In my head, this seemed like more than enough time to get to the start. I didn't feel like getting there an hour early and standing there in the cold an rain, waiting for the race to start. We ended up leaving a little late which was my fault and then I got a coffee at the Starbucks near the Metro station which delayed us further.  I still thought we were fine at this point. But, then we met this other runner. Pretty much the only people out this early were runners. He had run 19 Marine Corps Marathons! He explained that we would be fine. When we got there we would just be behind everyone else  and it was OK because our time wouldn't start until we crossed the line. This is not what we wanted to hear. We were hoping to get there with enough time to get pretty close to the front so we wouldn't get caught up with the crowd of slower runners.

On the Metro heading toward the race. I really wish we took more pictures. 
When we finally got off at the last stop we only had about 20 minutes left.  You would think that would still be enough time, but not with the amount of walking we still had to do.  Also we were walking along with tens of thousands of people which didn't make it go any faster. We decided to start our "warm-up" and start jogging to the race. But before we could do that, we had to take care of a couple things. We had to drop off  our bag, and we had to use a Porta-Potty. As we jogged around, we realized that despite having hundreds of Porta-Potties, we would still be in line after the race had already started so this was not going to work. We decided to go find another location to take care of things, but it was a little farther away. With that taken care of we had about 4 - 5 minutes left before the race, but we were still about half a mile or more away from the front. We started to jog again, but this time a little faster. We were able to find some areas to get by people on the sides and it was looking like we might get pretty close to where we wanted to be. It always amazes me how many people there are. Even after passing tens of thousands of people and getting within site of the front, we started hearing them counting down to the start.

Start - 5 miles

There was so much excitement in the air. Despite the fact that we did not get up as far to the front as we wanted, we did get past the 4:00 pace group and we were definitely pumped. We passed the start about 4 minutes after the race started. I was ready to take it slow for the first couple miles and I knew it was going to be congested and we would lose a little time. Andy and I decided we would at least start together and he agreed that 3:30 was a good goal time for him as well. So as we ran we were looking down at our bracelets that we had made, courtesy of Frank, to check our pace.

The first mile was fairly slow, and there was a lot of weaving in and out between people to try to get ahead. Despite our efforts, our first mile was 8:52, 38 seconds slower than what we wanted, and honestly it didn't feel that slow, which made me think I was wasting some energy trying to get around people. The second mile was slightly less congested, but also had a hill in it. We were able to increase our pace to 8:34. We were still 13 seconds off, but not as bad as the first mile. I also realized that my Garmin was already quite off. I was already almost .1 miles off of the mile markers. This meant that we were going even slower than I thought. I tried not to let this bother me and just focus on the miles ahead. By the time we hit the third mile, we were pretty much able to run without worrying about the crowds, so we were back on track with a 7:59. The 4th mile had a major downhill and we hit it in 7:35, 12 seconds faster than our suggested pace, but it felt easy and my 159 average heart rate confirms this. We finished out the 5th mile in a few seconds over the pace in 7:58.

suggested - real = difference
1: 8:14 - 8:52 = -38
2: 8:21 - 8:34 = -13
3: 8:01 - 7:59 = 2
4: 7:47 - 7:35 = 12
5: 7:55 - 7:58 = -3

Lost 40 seconds in the first 5 miles (but really more because the Garmin was off so more like a minute 30.

6 - 10 miles

Somewhere around this point, I turned to Andy and suggested that we really need to try NOT to make up the time we lost during the start. We would be tempted to do so, because we would be feeling good this early, but we would end up paying for it later. He agreed with this, and that's sort of what we did.  At this point we were about a minute and a half behind our time at each mile.  Here are what the next 5 miles looked like versus the suggested pace:

suggested - real = made up time we were trying not to make up
6:   8:00 - 7:54 = 6
7:   8:01 - 8:06 = -5
8:   8:08 - 7:47 = 21
9:   7:49 - 7:49 = 0
10: 7:53 - 7:49 = 4

Total time made up was 26 seconds over 5 miles, so not exactly what I wanted, but I don't think this is what killed the race for me. Although, by the end of the 10 miles even though I was feeling pretty good still, it wasn't quite as effortless as I was hoping for. Somewhere in this section we saw Jill who had come out to cheer. That was nice and Andy and I were feeling pretty good at that moment.

11 - 15 miles

This is the only picture taken of both
Andy and me and this random dude
At this point, I was pretty happy that Andy and I had continued to run together for so long. The chance that we both happened to be in such similar shape when we finished our training was not high, so I was not expecting this. It was a happy surprise. I really thought he would run away from me sooner, and he thought he was going to start slower and let me go out faster.

We started the 11th mile with another GU. I should mention that every 5 miles I took a GU which worked out quite well again. Somewhere in these next 5 miles, I realized that I was going to be slowing down instead of speeding up. But, I didn't slow up yet. I continued to try to follow the bracelet. Here were our next 5 miles:

suggested - real = difference
11: 8:02 - 7:54 = 6
12: 7:57 - 7:57 = 0
13: 7:57 - 7:58 = -1
14: 7:57 - 8:08 = -11
15: 7:57 - 7:58 = -1

So I only lost 7 seconds over these 5 miles, but by the end of it I could tell that there was no way I could continue for another 11 miles. At this point, I turned to Andy and told him that I was going to have to slow down to make it the rest of the way and that he should go ahead. Again, I was still happy we were able to go 15 miles together. I didn't know why I was tired this early, and I hoped that Andy would just be able to continue this pace and maybe even pick it up at the end.

16 - 20

These miles are where I really started to slow down. In the 16th mile I saw Andy slowly get away from me, but I hadn't slowed down too much yet. But, each mile after that was slower than the last, and the last few here were especially rough because we were on this part of the course that was exposed to the wind and I really started to feel its effects.

Because this storm was coming lots of spectators had made signs referencing the storm. The only one I remember now was "Run you fools! Sandy is coming!" Despite the windy weather, I was happy with the amount of crowd support and it was always cool to see the Marines at all of the water stops. At this point I had gotten rid of the water bottle I was holding and stopped at every water station for water. Having the bottle for the first half was definitely a good idea (thanks again Frank!)

I stopped looking at my bracelet because I knew I was not on pace anymore, but I definitely still thought I would get a PR. I even thought that maybe I was going through a rough patch and I would get a second wind. Ha, not even close. Here were my mile splits:

suggested - real = difference
16: 8:02 - 8:04 = 2
17: 7:58 - 8:12 = 14
18: 7:59 - 8:30 = 31
19: 7:56 - 8:31 = 35
20: 7:59 - 8:42 = 43

So this block was my first real slow down with 2 minutes and 5 seconds slower than I wanted. But the real slow down was still to come.

21 - Finish

Every mile got harder than the last and somewhere in the 21 to 22 mile range I started to have muscle cramps on top of everything. I knew that things were really heading down hill. This was definitely more on par with my first marathon than my second. I was only concentrating now on finishing and with each mile I became less and less worried with my time. Although it was still a little in the back of my head. Somewhere around the 23 mile mark I calculated (as best as I could in my state) that I might still have a chance at a PR if I was able to pick it up a bit. I actually did start to pick up the pace a bit thinking that I had to give it my all for just 3 more miles, but then the cramps got more frequent. Each time I would get a cramp, in my calf, I would be forced to slow down and try to adjust my stride. I knew better than to try to stretch it out, because it would just make things worse.

Unfortunately this was turning into my first marathon experience, where I actually started feeling like maybe I could go faster, but the muscle cramps were stopping me. These last 6 miles were pretty slow:

suggested - real = difference
21: 8:00 - 8:32 = -32
22: 8:06 - 8:48 = -42
23: 8:09 - 8:46 = -37
24: 8:02 - 8:38 = -36
25: 8:05 - 9:09 = -64
26: 8:07 - 8:57 = -50
.2:  8:14 - 8:44 = -6 (because it's 1/5th a mile)

Total lost in the last 6.2 miles = 4 minutes and 27 seconds

When I got within a mile or so from the finish, and I realized that it wasn't going to be a PR, I pretty quickly switched my mindset to being happy to just finish this race and see Andy and celebrate the finish with him. I was hoping that he ended up having the opposite experience that I was having. With about a half mile left, I started to pick it up just a little bit and the muscle cramps were not coming as frequently any more. I kept thinking the finish line was coming soon, but I hadn't realized how off my Garmin was from the course. Then I remembered that the last couple hundred meters are up this crazy hill and there it was. You would think when you were this close, it wouldn't matter, but it definitely did. I tried my best to run up this thing, but I was barely moving. Then I was finally able to pick up the pace a bit for the last hundred feet and I crossed the line just under 3:40. Really, when I finished I could care less about my time.  I was so happy to be done. I was hurting and I knew I gave it everything I had even if my plan was not the best.


I saw Andy pretty much right after I crossed, and I could tell he hadn't been waiting there for too long. It turned out that he had a pretty awful last several miles too. He experienced muscle cramps in the last few miles and had to walk a bit. He ended up finishing about a minute ahead of me. But aside from our rough finishes, Andy had finished his first marathon and I was there with him and that was what was really important.

He wasn't doing too good though and said he felt a bit faint and I could see it in his face. I wasn't doing that great myself, but I knew that over time we would get better. Unfortunately the way the finish is setup with so many people we had to walk quite a long way to just get some food and water. My first bite into this little bagel was awesome. I drank a bottle of water, and I started to feel better. After about 15 minutes Andy was starting to feel better as well.

Even though I was so happy to be done and so proud of Andy for his first marathon, I started to feel guilty about how it all went down. First off, it was my fault that we got there late.  I really didn't realize that it would take so long to get there and then once we did, there would be so much farther to go on foot. Secondly, it was clear that we had both gone out too fast in the first half. If Andy just followed his own more conservative pace in the beginning he would have been better off. Running at the pace I suggested may have caused him to run a slower overall time, and I am sure it contributed to him having such a miserable finish.

Andy assured me not to feel guilty about it and who knew what would happen if we ran it differently. I started thinking about the 3:30 goal and what went wrong. It really didn't seem like that much of a stretch goal. Even with all the time I've spent thinking about it, I'm not sure exactly what happened. I have a few ideas though and I'll break them up into race day vs. training factors.

Race Day Factors
It was a bit windy throughout the race, but especially in some parts of the middle miles.
I knew it was going to be hilly in the beginning, but it was even hillier than I thought, and there is no question the hills were worse than Philly. I don't even remember being phased by the hills in Philly, and here I was feeling them.
The first two miles were quite congested and as a result we were constantly weaving in and out of people and accelerating and then slowing down like a mini fartlek workout.
I think the combination of these factors was enough more effort to push a little too hard for the first half and that difference didn't leave us with enough for the end.

Training Factors
My decision to go for 3:30 was largely due to one awesome training run I had where I ran the last 10 miles of a 20 mile run at 7:45 pace. I think in order for me to run a 3:30 I would had to have an equally amazing race day, and that just didn't happen that day. I also had grand plans to lose some weight in the months during my training, but instead I gained a couple pounds. That is definitely one area I need to work on. And finally, I just wasn't able to get the volume of training I wanted to get in based on recovering from my injury. Honestly though, I don't think I should have pushed it anymore. I could tell when I was hitting the 50 mile weeks, I was getting close to my limit and my knee would start to ache again.

In Conclusion

So how do I feel about this race? I have mixed feelings. Personally, I wish I could have been a bit more prepared for the race and in fact, even while I was finishing I thought about how I definitely need to train a lot harder for NY next year. I didn't get the time I wanted and I didn't get a new PR which I kind of thought was in the bag. But, that's where I'll end with the negative feelings.

I was so happy to run 15 miles of it with Andy. With a marathon, it's not just one day. There needs to be  many weeks of training that go along with it, and it was great to go back and forth with Andy over the weeks and comment on each other's workouts and talk over the phone about how things were progressing. It's not that uncommon to not even make it to the marathon because of injury so the fact that we both made it through our training and then were able to run together for any of it was just a bonus.

And I have to remind myself that I've come to a point in my running that finishing a marathon is not enough for me. That's actually pretty cool. That I'm in good enough shape where I am disappointed with merely finishing. That actually makes me happy. So I walk away from this experience overall quite happy.

This is us coming back home after the race. You can still see some salt lines on Andy's face. At this point we were
feeling pretty good and ready for some real food!