Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Marine Corps Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 2; 31st Edition
517.59 miles raced in 2007
Race: Marine Corps Marathon
Place: Arlington VA / Washington, DC
Miles from home: 2
Course Difficulty: 7.5 out of 10
Course Enjoyability: 7 out of 10
Weather: 50-60, bright sunshine
Finisher's Medal: 9.5 out of 10

I have done decently well in races this year. My desire to show you can do well at all different distances without specifically training for any of them is one more race away from being a resounding success. However, I have done so under varied, and often quite horrible weather conditions. From slippery icy trails, to blisteringly cold days to scorching hot and humid afternoons to well, I guess I am about "malaria" short of a completely bad year.

So I was hoping that in my last (planned) marathon of the year, I would finally be cut a break by whoever it is who controls the weather. For the most part, I would have to say that I was.

When it comes to the Marine Corps Marathon both my love affair with this race, and my recent confusion over exactly why certain courses changes were done in the manner that they were done has been well documented. And to be 100% honest, I was not really looking forward to this race per se. Sure I wanted to be able to sleep in my own bed, know 99% of the course and not have to travel. But I also wanted the course that had really been the best rendition of the MCM and that was what was run in 2005 and 2006. But that wasn’t the case and I had come to grips with that.

As was the case often last year, and many times his year, a great many of my friends would plan their races or trips to DC when I was out of town. However, this weekend, a bevy of friends were making the trip and I was going to be here. Great! Except for the fact that all I wanted to do was lounge around and do my normal nothing prior to the race. But I could not pass up the chance to meet so many friends and many for the first time in person. So Friday and Saturday I made the rounds seeing friends willy-nilly and I am glad I did.

The night before the race, I had a very fitful and interrupted sleep. I was not too worried about this as I had been well rested the rest of the week but it was enough to make me a little jittery. But when the morning broke and the cool temperatures were still hanging around, the jitters were gone.

As I walked from Iwo Jima to the start I noticed I had planned my arrival pretty perfectly. Not wanting to mill around too much, I got to the starting line with about 15 minutes to spare. Not too much time to fret. At the beginning I saw Keith Knipling, who earlier this summer accomplished the incredible feat of not only running 3 separate 100-mile races in three weeks but also finishing 3rd, 1st and 1st in those races. We exchanged pleasantries and he told me he was going to shoot for a 3:10 to qualify for Boston. I had no doubt he would do it.

As the start drew nigh, we noticed that a massive amount of runners had moved from one of the two lanes of people to the other. Not one to follow blindly but definitely curious I tried to figure out why. It was then I noticed that the right lane was definitely on the inside curve. Those in the lane I was presently standing in would assuredly be running much further at the start of the race. So I aligned myself with those in the right and began to weave towards the front.

This was only after I made one last, no modesty allowed, trip to a tree which barely had enough leaves to cover itself, let alone me and the three other guys who were doing out best to make sure the foliage was watered. I was hoping this would be the last time I bothered with this sort of thing.

As I ran back to the start with mere seconds to go before we began, I realized another curious design of the MCM this year was no enforcement of corrals by start time. Having been a victim to this starting-time-by-honesty fiasco before wherein runners lined up not with what they could do, or had done but, apparently what their wildest dream ever was, I refused to play that game today. My finish time that I planned on running would have netted me a 74th place last year so I eyeballed about 70 people in front of me and stayed put. When the overweight, clueless-looking man wearing a shirt with a collar (for chrissakes) got close and personal by trying to shove past, I gave him a look as if to say “Not happening today, pal.”

The cannon fired and the runners were off and running.

Mile 1-2: 12:54

When the very first mile of the course is mis-marked, you have reason for trepidation. While I was making sure not to get caught up with the speedsters, I also knew I was hoofing it a great deal faster than the 7:35 the first mile said I ran. Of course, when we passed the second mile (which contained part of the biggest hill on the course) and I had ran a 5:19, I figured out the perhaps the distance had been corrected by the shorter second mile. Taken the average of the cumulative time of 12:54, I was quite pleased with the two 6:27 miles to start.

Mile 3: 6:32

The 3rd mile also contained portions of the big hill but was also the beginning of the biggest downhill of the course as well (in terms of total length). So the time lost on the uphill was more or less made up on the downhill.

Mile 4: 6:25

The downhill dropped even further in this mile and would have been even faster except for one thing. I really had to pee. I could not decide if I should pull over to the side of the road here and do my business in the middle of the downhill. On one hand, I could finish my business, and get rolling again on the downhill. On the other, I would kill the momentum of my jaunt. In the end the urge to purge won over. Unfortunately, I could barely squeeze out a drop. I stood there for a few seconds (in the only portion of the course guaranteed to be both wooded and spectator-free) before finally realizing nothing more was going to happen. Fellow Georgetown Running Company member Max Lockwood ran by and told me to hurry up. As I caught him on the downhill, I told him the break was needed. I had been going too fast. And since Max was shooting for a low 2:40 time, and at this point had been behind me, I had just proven to myself the stop was worth it.

As this mile flattened out, we came across a group of four running abreast. Given their relatively slow gait and the fact that they were somehow in front of us, I knew something was afoot. Sure enough, at least one of the runners was visually impaired. I shouted a few words of encouragement and smiled at the coincidence of this situation. You see, last week, in reading an article about visually impaired runners and their guides by Mitch Albom (click HERE to read), I was moved to contact Mr. Albom to inquire about how I could be such a guide. I was then put in touch with on of the subjects of the article who provided me with a great amount of information. As soon as I figure out exactly where my life is taking me in the next few months, I will most assuredly follow-up on that email conversation to fulfill yet another goal in life.

We then went up a small hill and passed onto the Key Bridge. Bruce and Steve, two members of the one of the running clubs to which I belong, shouted some encouragement and took the picture below. I think they were surprised to see me this close to the front. I was too.

Mile 5: 6:35

Coming off the Key Bridge I was glad to have a little shelter from the wind. Having made itself present near the start of the race, we had gone a few miles without feeling it blowing. However, on the bridge, the cross-breeze had been quite stiff and seemed to say “Still here. Just in case you were curious.” Down Canal Road the runners went and to the steepest uphill portion we ran. It would have been bad enough alone, but the fact that there were gigantic tour buses idling on the hill, spewing out diesel fumes, made it all that much worse. As with the reference above to the end of the race, I would simply like to have an explanation as to why this had happened. I cannot think of a single reason and I am the biggest devil’s advocate out there.

Mile 6: 6:45

Because of the steep hill and the next mile of less steep but steady hills I was not at all unpleased with my time for this mile. I exchanged a few words with a runner who was hoping to “just” run a 3:10. I told him we were on a 2:50 pace and he may wish to slow down. He evinced that he wanted to bank time so when he got tired at the end he could rely on that banking to pull him through. I did not want to say too much but mentioned that is not the best strategy but I wished him luck. I knew he would not last at this pace, as he pulled even further in front of me.

Mile 7: 6:23

The quick drop-off of Reservoir Road onto Canal was as steep as I recalled on my trial run and running at a much faster pace the turn was even more ankle breaking. I looked down Canal Road and sure enough there was a good amount of road, which could have been utilized. I shook my head as one of the wheelchair runners blazing down the hill actually had the wheels of one side of his ride come off the ground on his turn.

Mile 8: 6:32

While this portion had not been too pleasant on my trial run, it was much more pleasant on race day. First it wasn’t during the middle of the day, which meant the temperatures were lower and the road was shaded. Second, I wasn’t dodging oncoming traffic, which is always a plus. Third, well I was racing and everything is easier during a race.

Mile 9: 6:37

We finished with the small risers of Canal Road and its loneliness and burst back onto the main drag just south of Georgetown. Thousands of other runners streamed down the other side of the road, just getting ready to deal with the hill and the killer fumes.

My good friend Christine was running her second marathon in 21 days and I was hoping to see here somewhere. But running into the sun, even with sunglasses, made seeing anything difficult. Plus, there were honestly, no exaggeration, thousands of similar looking people parading past me on the other side. It was then I heard: “Go Dane” and saw Christine and a friend of both of us, Andrew, running together. I gave a fist pump and shouted back “Good luck!”

Not more than a few hundred yards down the road, a man jumped out of the mass of humanity and screamed "Alright Dane!” Wearing a shirt emblazoned with “Elora’s Dad.” I knew exactly who I was looking at: Dan Geier, one of the runners of the Drake Well Marathon was making sure I saw him. Dan lost his daughter Elora to Leukemia last year and has championed the cause to help find a cure for her ever since then (read my blog about Dan HERE). I can only someday hope to be half as proud a father as Dan is of Elora.

Down under the Key Bridge we ran and I again saw Bruce and Steve. I heard another friend shout my name as she sat, precariously, on the end of the off-ramp. A familiar voice shouting encouragement, which I could not place until later, turned out to be my massage therapist Terrel Hale.

Mile 10: 6:25 (Cumulative time: 1:05:13)

My 10 mile time was just a few seconds slower than my time at Steamtown and I was feeling good. The familiar problem with my adductor in my left leg was present but were not debilitating.

Here, I was finally caught from behind by something I knew had been coming for quite some time: the lead women’s pack. I could hear them creeping up for miles as hushed whispers of “There are the lead women!” would echo behind me as spectators completely ignored those of us running. I wasn’t quite sure who it was at this point but felt good I had held them off so long.

Mile 11: 6:25

As we approached the huge crowd near the Lincoln Memorial, I finally had a chance to see who they were. Kristen Henehan, Lisa Thomas and Alicia Pease, all local runners, were running in a tight-knit pack with what appeared to be some male pacers. Lisa and I have met at a few races and the others I have seen at various track workouts and the like. I was so pleased to see that girls I knew were leading the charge. But I was also damned if they were going to be passing me too easily! As long as they stayed in my wheelhouse I was going to run with them.

It also helped that a huge roar erupted from the crowd as we hit this point. Both invigorating and demoralizing (I knew they were not cheering for me) I used the cheers to push me forward. One chap passed me and I told him: “I can delude myself into thinking they are cheering for me until one of them shouts: “You Go Girl!’”

Mile 12: 6:34

As we weaved down Constitution Avenue and past the Washington Monument, I fell back just a bit to allow the pack to set the pace. I expected them to blow by but instead we began running stride-for-stride. Alicia appeared next to me and I introduced myself after exchanging hellos with Lisa. Alicia was still wearing knee-length tube socks on her hands, as although the sun was shinning bright, there was still a chill in the air. And if there is one thing I have learned in 1,886.4 miles of marathon racing, it is that if your hands are cold, you are not going to be a happy camper.

Mile 13: 6:31 (Halfway time: 1:25:30)

As we ended our eastward jaunt through DC and turned back west leaving the Capitol building behind us, the wind again picked up. Nevertheless, I was so pleased to have passed through the halfway point not only close to my Steamtown time but also a few seconds faster. I decided to fall back a few steps and use the pack again to break the wind. It is rare at my pace that I have a pack to break the wind (not that I am so blazing fast but I have not run enough large marathons where there is a pack running at my pace) so I took advantage of it. I was not the only one as a few other guys trailed the lead women.

Mile 14: 6:36

For about 100 yards, it looked like the women were going to separate themselves from me at last. Then we all fell back in together and again formed quite a phalanx. George Buckheit, the coach of many of the fast women in the area, was running quite a race himself as I was seeing him on the sidelines for what was easily the 4th time of the day. He must have the course and its shortcuts memorized by now.

Mile 15: 6:33

Here Lisa was given a small bottle of water by a friend and after drinking her fill, generously passed it to Alicia and then to me. Even though I had just had a cup of water not too far back, actually being able to squirt the water into my mouth rather than try to drink from a cup did wonders.

I was whetting my whistle in preparation for where the Marine Corps Marathon really begins: Hains Point

Mile 16: 6:30

As we entered this flat but oh so windy portion of the race I braced myself for the inevitable winds. But they did not come. I was ecstatic. Seemingly happy they were not dealing with them either, the girls finally began to pull away from me. I felt like I was moving at the previous pace but I could not keep up with them anymore. I decided to just run my race and hope it was enough. Seeing I ran 5 seconds under my pace at mile 16 was a huge boost for me mentally. What exactly had they ran?

Mile 17: 6:37

Rounding the easternmost part of Hains Point, I passed The Awakening statue for possibly the last time (they may be moving it from its home here to some other place in D.C.; very dumb idea.) Almost immediately, I was pushed into a stand-up straight position from the prevailing wind. Damn it. I was so hoping that this was not going to be an issue. I also was so ticked I hadn’t stayed with the women and used there pacers/windbreakers.

Mile 18: 6:43

I lost a few more seconds on this mile as the winds gusted to and fro. I had been doing math for quite some time and barring a huge collapse, knew I was setting a PR this day. The only question was by how much.

Mile 19: 6:52
The final push out of HP provided the biggest winds. I saw Alicia had fallen off of the pace of the other two women but she was still moving along at a great pace. I was closing slightly and just wanted to stay right there with her. One guy passed me and showing great strength, made up a huge amount of time, directly into the wind. I tried to use him to break the wind but he was both too short and too fast. I did not want to blow it here.

Mile 20: 6:47

Wanting so bad to hit the 20-mile marker at a 2:10, which would give me an outside shot at my dream goal for the race (2:49:49) I was slightly disheartened to hit this area at 2:11 and change. But this still allowed me a great chance at getting a 2:52.

Mile 21: 6:42

Still a little slower than I had hoped for, I felt good as I crossed the 14th Street Bridge. Always a big barrier for me, this desolate, undulating lengthy behemoth can crush many marathon dreams. Mile 21 was at the bottom of the off-ramp and I was ready to crush the last 5 miles. The winds, which had whipped slightly on the bridge, would be negligible soon as the buildings of Crystal City would shield us.

Mile 22: 6:53

Um, hello Buildings of Crystal City?! How the hell were the winds getting through? So strong at one point I actually declared “mother effer” so loud that a Marine manning the station here actually laughed out loud. Stay together and let’s go.

Mile 23: 7:09
Damn. More wind. I was passing runners in small handfuls at this point and knew I was not “slowing down”. I knew if Crystal City was bad, the open parking lot and highways near the Pentagon would be even worse.

I was right.

A woman passed me like I was standing still. I could see she was going to catch Alicia soon and I wanted to yell out to her. It would not have helped.

Mile 24: 7:16

I passed Alicia and told her to fall in behind me and use me to block the wind if she could hold my pace. I did not have the energy to say much more or look behind me to see if she had done so until I went down the last circular off ramp and saw her a few steps behind me.

Mile 25: 7:18

Hitting this last stretch, the wind picked up again. I had been tracking one chap for quite sometime who was blatantly breaking the No Headphones rule of the MCM. So, I decided to use this to my advantage and tuck in behind him to save some energy for one last surge. However, he either heard me or saw my shadow, and seeming to not like this too much, made a direct and abrupt left sidestep. So I took off into the wind.

Seeing the turn we normally made to make the finish was extremely deflating. I was watching a few runners come back towards me on the other side and frantically searching for a familiar face of a runner who I knew was not too far in front of me. Before too long I saw Kristin with Lisa a few seconds behind. Then I realized they were running downhill. Which meant I was going to have to go up a hill to get there. Seriously, explain this portion to me again.

Mile 26: 7:24

One last direct 180-degree turn up a hill and soon I would be in the homestretch. My leg really began to bother me but I only had about four more minutes of running to suffer through. I searched frantically for the 26th mile marker.

Where is the damn mile marker?

Last .2: 1:24
Hitting the last climb to Iwo Jima with the cheers from a handful of friends and scores of strangers (I would later find out via video there was a guy right behind me who I proceeded to leave in the dust on the hill) I gave everything I had. Most of my “A” goals were gone and I was now settling for “B” goals. I wanted so bad to run sub 2:55 and get the automatic NYC qualifier but it wasn’t going to happen.

Striding across the line, I pumped both fists nonetheless and broke my personal best by almost exactly 3 minutes. A 2:55:34 was now in the books.

I accepted my finisher’s medal and paused to thank the Marines handing them out. I told them I wanted to thank them not only for today but also for what they do always. Looking at the medal, which is definitely one of my top 3 favorites ever, I was definitely moved.


This is my fourth straight Marine Corps Marathon and may be my last for a while. While one of my favorites of all time, there are many races out there to taste and only so many more years of my life to taste them. Given my current search for a new vocation, I am not even sure where I will be in a few months. In fact, after my 24-hour national championship race in 3 weeks, I have, for the first time in 4 years, a completely-open running schedule. I have nothing planned, nothing paid for and it may stay that way. Sure I have ideas. I want to do the 55-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa; I’d like to plan a Titusville (PA)-to-Titusville (NJ)-to-Titusville (FL) run to be completed in 30 days (40 miles per day) and eventually a trans-continental jaunt. But not being a lottery winner or a trust fund baby, those all depend on sponsors (I have none) and a job (I am looking for one).

In the meantime, I will savor this race. But if there is anyone reading this who is aware of someone who’d like to help me complete these dreams, well, you have seen my pictures: I’m all ears.

I mentioned many friends who were running this race. In no particular order, allow me to update their days.

* Christine and Andrew did not have the races there were hoping for, but nonetheless accomplished an enviable goal.
* My friend Natalie, who was expecting very little from this race given a rash of injuries, not only set a personal best but also qualified for Boston.
* Keith Knipling also showed his mettle by getting exactly what he needed, running a 3:10:21.
* Elora’s Dad? Running stride for stride with his son in what might have been his son’s first marathon, they crossed the line in 4:26:23.
* Many of my friends from various online running groups also set milestones. Some were running their first marathon ever, others were recovering from Ironman Triathlons and still others smartly stayed on the sidelines because of injury.
* Kristen ending up winning the first marathon she ever ran, with Lisa just behind in 2nd place. Alicia, in a battle to the finish with a few other girls, placed an extremely impressive 6th (4th, 5th and 6th were a mere 13 seconds apart).

I am sure there are many who I have forgotten in this recap but that doesn’t mean I did not have them in my mind both on race day and beyond. Congrats to all. I hope our running paths cross soon.

Like stats? Check these out (These are all me):

118th place with 20504 finishers behind. Less than 1% of finishers ahead.

115th place with 12456 finishers behind. Less than 1% of finishers ahead.

My Age:
28th place with 1869 finishers behind. About 1% of finishers ahead.


Yellow Scuba said...

Awesome race, Dane. I am so glad you got that PR on this course! Congratulations. Good luck at the Ultracentric and enjoy sitting on your behind for the rest of 2007...and maybe the start of 2008! :)

CharlieM said...

Whoa Nellie, what a race! I told you to run a SUB-2:55 though! Why were you sandbaggin'?

Seriously though, many kudos to you Dane--congrats on a superb race on a beautiful fall day in D.C.

Best of luck at the 24 hour, and at figuring out your next path to follow.

1L said...

Again congratulations, Dane! Great race and a wonderful recap.
I especially loved this line: And if there is one thing I have learned in 1.886.4 miles of marathon racing, it is that if your hands are cool, you are no going to be a happy camper.

How true!!

La Maratonista (AKA Jenni) said...

Nice work - congrats on the PR!!!

Texas Transplant said...

Congrats Dane! One of your best recaps as well. :) And it reminds me - I never sent you an email contact. Will do so via your email or myspace today, I promise.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't have asked for a better day. This was my first marathon and I had horrible cramps before the half way point and had to suck it up and walk it out a few times, but I did finish. I didn't get the time I wanted but it's not a big deal, since I learned a lot and had a good experience (plus it shouldn't be hard for a PR after that kind of cramping). I loved the signs though, like the one near Hains Point: "Of course your feet hurt, you're kicking ass!" "If it were easy, I'd do it!" (held up by a fat man on the 14th St bridge).

Monica said...

Congratulations on your PR! You were almost twice as fast as my brother Matt and I!
We were freaked out by the mismarked first mile and had many of the same experiences as you.
Some of my highlights:
-Actually enjoying most of the race.
-Having someone to talk to and get moral support from the entire time.
-The scenery and amazing spectator and volunteer support. Also, the water stops seemed to be exactly when you needed them.
-Matt realizing that his years of marching band were causing him to run in tempo to the bands.
-The extreme relief when we realized that we beat the bridge with time to spare, followed by hatred of the neverending bridge.
-Matt broke out into a strong run at the base of the final hill and kept it though the finish. When I asked him where that burst came from, he said it had to be stubbornness.
-Crossing the finish line with Matt, holding hands with arms raised.
-FINALLY getting a foil blanket when I finished a marathon (although I LOVED the fleece blanket at Drake Well)!
-The weather in general.

Runner NYC said...

Wow!! Congratulations!!

Good luck at the national championship!!

Nice stats!!

Nuke Runner said...

I loved reading your race report. Congratulations on your PR!

Dan Geier said...

It was good to see you speeding past us and I was worried that you might not approve of my running out to greet you....I thought it was a great day all the way around....can't believe I met Christine at the starting line which is strange enough among all those people but coupled with the fact that we had never met before....what are the odds....
I enjoyed your blog and thanks for the mention......You and I ran two different races.....As a speed demon you have a different view from most of us.....One thing you missed, or at least not in the quantity observed by the middle of the pack runners.....the number of shirts in memory of fallen soldiers and sailors or those who had lost their lives to cancers and were being honored that day....
and at the speed I run, and on a day when I was in no particular hurry, I could afford the time to talk to some of the people and was inspired by their stories....
Anyway....I'm glad I got to share a few seconds of time with you and to see how well you did.....congrats......Elora's dad
ps....I agree with Monica...the fleece at Drake's Well was the best.....

Trail Goat said...

FYI, they moved the Awakening statute yesterday. Lame, indeed.

cymrusteve said...

Great race report Dane. We must have been pretty close at certain points throughout the race and if the marathon was a few miles longer, you would have caught me.

My race report is over at runbulldogrun.com

Going to read some of your other blog posts now - specifically your 24 hour race report...

Keep up the great work,