Thursday, October 29, 2009

Race report: Marine Corps Marathon

Okay, so here's the victory lap race report. This two marathons in eight days is a new thing for me, was kinda concerned that my legs would not be ready for the big day. The first few days after marathon no. 1, my quads, hamstrings and calves were pretty tight. I took a DAY off running and did 3 miles on Tuesday, 5 miles on Wednesday and 5Kish on Friday. By the Wednesday run, I was feeling better and by Friday, I felt pretty good. At the expo, the race pacers suggested I try a comfortable long run pace for the week-after-the-race run. I took a 3:40, 3:45 and 3:50 pace band.

On Sunday, arrived at the site a little later than usual (took the 6:23 Metro from Archives for future reference), did a bathroom break and had plenty of time. I lined up with the 3:40 to 4:00 group and waited for the start. I told R the night before the times she'd see me (plus or minutes 4 minutes) based on the 3:50 pace.

Start to 10K: Oh these hills, I forgot I loved you so
It was really an odd feeling starting off a marathon at a very comfortable pace. So comfortable in fact that by the first kilometre, I decided to be one of those guys who went off the side of the road to take a pee break by the trees. I don't know what it is about racing, but you suddenly want to hit the washroom every 15 minutes.

That over with, I sped up and caught up with the group of runners I was with pre-pee break. For my third MCM, I found myself really anticipating every turn and rise in the first bit. Within the first mile or so, I saw R, who luckily was wearing a bright florescent green jacket. Traded a high five then tackled some of those usual hills. I took them with purpose and kept on reminding myself to keep it steady.

The goal was to hit 5:27 kilometres or 8:46 miles. I just couldn't get it right. Looking back at my long runs of 18 - 23 miles, I typically do them at 8:05 to 8:19 miles or about 5:00 to 5:15 kilometres. Pace runs, I do at 7:26 miles or 4:36s, so I didn't have the feel for it. The 5K split shows how off I was, I was supposed to hit it at 27:15 but was more than a minute ahead.

5K: 26:06

The downhills were even more fun, and I decided to really not care, just run by feel and see how the splits were turning out. We crossed the bridge into Georgetown and I saw R again (traded high fives!) and then off to tackle those hills where again I tried to consciously not attack. All through this time, I was having a blast, just smiling, enjoying the fact that I was just a few kilometres into my victory lap. I thought about the Toronto Marathon and about what a gorgeous day it was. As we climbed hill after hill, I realized that I actually had to go to the bathroom again! What the hell.

10 K: 51:46 (3:50 pace was 54:30.. uh, yeah, too fast)

10K to the half: Going with the flow

The next 10K or so included more climbs followed by a big descent. Nothing remarkable to this other than that I was looking for a portapotty or a bank of trees to take another pee break. I really loved running toward Georgetown where we saw the runners behind us. So many of them! Spotted a guy with a High 5 and proceeded to slap it for the 2nd time (and would do so again at least one more time). Surprised by the size of the crowd and how freaking quiet they were. They gave us tonnes of space and I almost wanted to get them going.

More downhills and into the Rock Creek path I run from time to time. As we reached the 'orange slice station' I saw two portapotties with only three people line up so I joined the line. I burned about 2 minutes waiting (my kilometre split in that area shows at 7:18 while I was running 5:10s or so) which wasn't a bad thing since I'd burn some time. Two pee breaks in marathon. That was a first.

15 K: 1:18:11 (3:50 pace was 1:21:45. Note to self, don't pace a 3:50 group until I practice that pace)

Running past the Lincoln Memorial on the way to Hains Point is one of the highlights. The crowds were growing thicker and louder. It was just so humbling being part of a marathon where so many people came out to cheer. Just like my first marathon in Chicago, I felt like a rock star.

Things got a lot quieter once we reached the park. It was getting so much quieter and lots of people were hunkering down and concentrating. Me, I felt so chatty but had no one to talk to. Didn't want to be that guy who was all full of energy while everyone else was suffering. We passed a gel station and I picked up two and shouted 'anyone need gels?' No one answered. I later passed a guy with a Canadian T-shirt (the second) and, like the other, I said 'nice shirt, I'm from Toronto, have a good race.'

I've read some people didn't like Hains Point and that it was windy and hard. All I have to say is that in past years, this part of the marathon was right before the bridge (to the 20 mile mark) so I think it's great we get it over with now.

20 K: 1:46:29 (3:50 was 1:49:01)
Half: 1:52:22

Half to 30K: Getting the crowd going, two pit stops
The rest of the park was pretty ho hum, was just maintaining a strong but consistent pace. We entered the Mall by passing through the Tidal Basin area and by the time we got close to Lincoln, the crowds were picking up. I really was starting to enjoy this last half of the marathon thing. The lack of pain I associate with this part of the race was not there. I was just flying (relatively) and paying attention to the crowd searching for R.

25 K: 2:12:46 (3:50 pace was 2:16:16)

I spotted her around kilometer 27 and I stopped. She thought it was so hilarious.

Me: 'hey! I feel great, this is so much fun' (grab gel)
R: Why aren't you running?!
Me: I have time to burn (eat gel)
R: Where do I go next?!
Me: (gulp down some water and throw the gel packet down) 'just cross the road.' I point at the crowded row of runners 'and then cross the bridge by the finish'
Other spectator: 'why aren't you running?!
Me: 'I just ran a marathon last week, this is for fun!'

Picture taken by R. I'm gulping down the gel

I kiss R good bye, and am off my merry way.

That pack of gel must have been magic, cause two kilometres later, as I'm running down toward the Capitol, I start waving my warms. You know, that conducting type of wave to incite the crowd to cheer. Let me tell ya, it works! I'd wave three or four times and they'd respond. SO. MUCH. FUN.

Then I saw some portapotties and decided to take my THIRD pee break.

We ran around the Capitol building and I saw a guy with a 666 bib who was running as the devil. He was having fun, and so was I, and there was this band at the foreground just launching into the Rocky theme song. What is this, a freaking movie?

30 K: 2:40:00 (3:50 pace was 2:43:31 - 3:30 gap)

30K to 40K: Thrash the bridge
To put it lightly, I felt fantastic as we were making our way out to the famous bridge that leads to the highway to hell, which leads to the final out and back and that leads to the crappy last few miles on more highway.

The last 12.2K of the Marine Corps Marathon is what marathoning is all about. It's about grinding your way through tough miles. If this marathon ended its last miles with crowds everywhere, maybe it'd feel easier, but these marines, nope, they place a freaking highway in the last 12K.

Last year, I was defeated before I hit the bridge. Well, I had stupidly made my second 3:10 attempt in four weeks when I should have been going for a negative split. Two years ago, I made it past the bridge but was done in by mile 23.

This year, I decided to turn it on. My slowest kilometres were my first 32K. My fastest came after the bridge. I didn't go slower than 4:57 kilometres, and many were a lot faster. It's on the bridge where you start to see people stop and stretch. You see people walk. But that day, I was just gaining and passing dozens of runners every few minutes. In fact, with every few strides, I was either gaining on, or shaking out, other runners.

Bridge conquered this year. If I run it again at BQ pace, hopefully I've learned some lessons. We finished it and I passed a water station looking to fill up my bottles again. It proved again smart to have my own water supply that I would rely on for taking gels and my safety net between water stops.

We hit Crystal City and I grabbed a cup of beer from runners! Took a big swig and threw the rest away. I was still passing people.

35 K: 3:05:02 (3:50 pace was 3:10:45 - 5:43 gap)

The next 5K I was just concentrating on racing. I had at this point abandoned the thought of running a 3:50 and was just looking to see if I could smash through the marathon distance by running a progressively faster race. My splits between 35 and 40 were 4:51, 4:54, 4:47, 4:34, 4:53, 4:56. Yes, I can run faster but get this. This was a week after BQing! Awesome.

40 K: 3:29:51 (3:50 pace was 3:38:02 - 8:09 gap)

I hit the 40K mark and looked at my watch and suddenly saw that I could hit 3:40. And as I hit a downhill, a band was playing "Sweet Caroline" and I was singing and laughing while increasing my stride.

We hit the last stretch and even in a healthy and happy state, I totally realized what a depressing march that part of the course is. I blasted through the final water station and just trying to keep up the pace. I did a 4:41 followed by a 4:43.

To the left, I saw the cemetery and it humbled me. To the front, I saw a growing crowd that got louder with every step. I was still passing people left and right and I must have looked like I was in a near sprint compared to the paces around me.

The crowd cheered and I saw R. from the distance. She was now wearing a red TFC (Toronto Football Club) and shades and as I passed her, I screamed "VICTORY LAP BABBBY" as we high fived.

Then I eyed that massive hill at the end of the course, and in my gaze, it became a much smaller hill. I and a group of runners tackled it and I had so much energy that I again raised my arms five or six times while scaling it, conducting the crowd to whoop it up. They did! (LOVE IT, I TELL YA). I was passing people left and right even going up the hill.

I wasn't going to stop. I increased the pace, saw Bart Yasso (of the Yasso 800s), called his name, raised my arms and crossed the finish line of my eighth marathon in 3:40:09. My slowest, but really one of my best times.


Marlene said...

Quite possibly the most fun marathon ever.... and still faster than I can ever hope to run. ;)

Amazing that you were able to run such a strong race just ONE WEEK post-BQ marathon. Congrats!! Thanks for a great report!

Anonymous said...

Your race report makes me want to sign up for another marathon next weekend. ;)

Marky Mark said...

Your slowest is my dream race! Sounds like a ton of fun.

I bought the CD of my Toronto half. I've never used a CD to print them on good paper but suppose I can take them into a store for the job and for good cropping. You going to get both Toronto and MCM?

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the great race! The crowds — especially the ones around the Lincoln Memorial — are one of the reasons I finished the race despite feeling physically ill. SO inspiring to run through that kind of spectator support! And I couldn't agree with this more: "The last 12.2K of the Marine Corps Marathon is what marathoning is all about. It's about grinding your way through tough miles. If this marathon ended its last miles with crowds everywhere, maybe it'd feel easier, but these marines, nope, they place a freaking highway in the last 12K." INDEED!

N.D. said...

Sounds like a great race- you sound like a pregnant runner with your pee stops! haha. You got me motivated. I'm looking into Marine Corps for next year!