Race Recap: Marine Corps Marathon

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I’ve had a hard time sitting down to write this race recap. On Sunday I ran the 41st Marine Corps Marathon. It was a long race, a tough race, and it has left me a little rattled. I have a lot of feelings about this race, so apologies in advance if this post is a bit more emotional than usual.

Every race day is different. You can prepare for the race you think you are going to run and then end up running a completely different race. I was anticipating foot pain on Sunday, but instead I had knee pain. I was anticipating a somewhat easy race based on the ease of my runs lately, but ended up dehydrated and lightheaded at mile 23.

At the end of the day I have a medal that I worked hard for. This was my hardest race. Harder than Richmond. In Richmond I was mentally and physically sound, even with knee pain. Sunday, I was at times weak and questioning myself. There were times I didn’t know if I could physically make it across the finish line. But I did.

The day started bright and early. We got up around 5am and headed to Arlington around 5:45am. The parking situation was not as clear as it could have been, but we made it to Crystal City and even found parking in the free parking garage. I waited in the never ending line for a shuttle while my mom, boyfriend, and Toby walked to the start line. Toby thought it would be good to start the day by pooping right in the middle of the parking garage! If only we had gotten a picture of that. Oh, he also happened to do it in front of about 20-30 onlookers.

I was more anxious this race than the others I have done this year. Perhaps because it was a marathon. Perhaps because I had foot pain earlier in the week and wasn’t sure how it would go. Perhaps because I hadn’t slept much the night before. Regardless of the reason, I found myself with knots in my stomach and a pounding heart. After a short shuttle ride and a long walk, I made it to the start line and crossed at around 8:23am.

The first few miles of the race were great. My pace was awesome, I felt good, and the temperature was really nice. The course was fairly hilly, which I had kind of anticipated. I don’t remember much from the first 9 miles, just that I got to see my friends E & E around mile 8 and then my mom and bf shortly after that. It definitely helps seeing friendly faces when you are in the thick of a race.

Unfortunately, my knee pain started around mile 10 or 11. I decided to keep running, but took some stretch breaks, which seemed to help. My internal mantra was “running slow is faster than walking.” I knew that if I started walking too early, I would lose momentum. I was able to push through – all the way to beat the bridge (mile 18). There was a specific time you needed to beat and once I got past that beat the bridge time clock, I let myself walk. I was in pain and I knew that I needed a little break. That was around mile 19, which is 7 miles later than I started walking at Richmond.

I saw my mom and bf (again!) on the bridge and that gave me a little push to go even farther before I started walking.

The next 4-5 miles were a mix of running and walking. I was getting closer, and I knew it, but it was getting hotter and there wasn’t an end in sight yet. I don’t remember exactly when I knew the heat was getting to me, but in the middle of Crystal City (around mile 23), I was running and saw the elderly man next to me (who was carrying a flag) collapse. At that moment, I knew I needed to sit down because I could not let that happen to me. Luckily, we were in the heart of Crystal City and there were several people who rushed to his aid.

This was undoubtedly one of the scariest moments of my life. Right after it happened I pictured myself collapsing and needing medical aid and it frightened me. I had never felt this light headed before (not during any training runs) and it was scary. I was also alone, aka without any running partners, so I felt very vulnerable.

I wanted to keep pushing myself, but I knew that I needed to slow down. At this point, finishing safely became the new goal. I texted my boyfriend just to make sure he knew how I was feeling, heaven forbid something should happen in the last few miles. He kept sending encouraging texts as I slowly worked my way towards the finish.

In my races this year I have started talking more to people around me and trying to provide encouragement, especially towards the end. I chatted with a few people, but struck gold when I met two ladies who were also walking. Being able to walk and talk with them, helped keep my mind off of how far I still had to go and I felt safer being with people. We all talked about the heat and how this might be our last marathon. It seemed that all of us had a real love for the half distance, but maybe not the same passion for the full distance.

I saw E & E at mile 26 and man was that helpful. They didn’t tell me to run or push through, they told me to keep going, to take my time. Just knowing that it was okay to be slow and not push was exactly what I needed at that moment. The end of Marine Corps is pretty infamous for its wicked hill and if the circumstances had been different, I would have run up it all the way to the end, but I didn’t want to do anything dumb. My walking mates and I walked the hill and once it was flat, one girl looked at me and said, “should we run it?” So we did. I ran across the finish line and got my medal.

After I met up with my boyfriend and Toby, I decided to go to the medical tent because I felt so out of it still. I was trying to drink water, but wasn’t feeling any more steady. It was scary and I wanted to get some help. After some chicken broth and Gatorade, I felt more like myself. Toby made a ton of friends and got a lot of snacks. (It’s such a shame that he’s not more friendly!) Once I had my bearings back, I found my mom and my friends and we talked about the race and took some pictures.

Takeaways

  • You never know what a race day has in store – No matter how much you prepare for a specific set of circumstances, race day can throw you a curve ball
  • Heat can be a real killer – I had run in heat so I wasn’t too worried about it, but I didn’t take into account running such a long distance in such high temps
  • You get the same medal no matter what time you cross the finish line – This was something my walking friends and I held to as we crossed with times way beyond our goal

I am so thankful for all of the support I’ve had during this training period, the race, and even after. It’s an incredible thing to push your body to run as far as 26.2 miles and I’ve been fortunate enough to do it twice.

Now it’s time to rest and refocus on my running goals. I have a 5k coming up in about three weeks and I would love to finish it in under 30 minutes!

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