When I ran the Anchorage marathon this summer a friend forwarded me an email from the RRCA saying I could register for the Marine Corps Marathon for $43 if I purchased a $15 RRCA visor. Now if you don't know, the Marine Corps Marathon usually fills up early so it's a bit difficult to get in and if you've ever run a marathon you know that $58 is a STEAL for any marathon! I've always wanted to run the Marine Corps Marathon because it runs through DC which is one of my favorite places to visit and because it has a primarily military theme which I respect. So needless to say I jumped on this chance and immediately registered.
It just so happened that I had to travel to NY the week before the race for work so I was also able to have most of my travel costs covered too! Sometimes the universe aligns in your favor. So I spent the week in upstate NY where it was COLD!!! It actually snowed a couple days. I didn't get outside to run but I did get a good hard tempo run on the dreadmill on Thursday. I was so excited when I checked the DC weather on Friday and saw that is was in the 70s and sunny! This was a nice change for this warm weather lover.
I had a lot of friends who also registered through the RRCA and it was nice to have a big group in DC to run this marathon. I love traveling to marathons with my running friends! It adds an extra element of fun to have people with you who are easy to be around and like similar things. I actually shared a room with Maurice at the host hotel. This was nice because we got to stay at a way-to-fancy hotel and split the cost. I normally will look for the cheapest hotel or AirBnB available, which is fun but sometimes inconvenient for the race. Staying at the host hotel made getting around to the race events easy. Or so I thought but I'll get to that.
Since I'm on my BQ quest I didn't have a goal for this marathon but, of course, secretly I did. I really wanted to run around 3:30 which is 8:00 pace. I have been training at sub-8:00 pace and felt that if I couldn't hold at least 8:00 pace for 26 miles then I might be in trouble for getting to the 7:28 pace I'll need for my BQ. I've got plenty of time before my BQ race but this little boost to my ego would help a lot.
I got to the starting line and, since they didn't have corrals, I made my way up to the 3:35 pace group sign. Surprisingly there were very few people in this area compared to the hordes of runners farther back. The race organizers kept pushing our group forward and by the time the gun went off I was only a few feet from the starting line! This was a little unnerving but I was going to run my own race so I enjoyed seeing the starting festivities and didn't worry about it.
The hills on this course are mostly in the first 5 miles so I had promised myself I'd take it easy for those miles and wait until the course leveled out before pushing anything. I knew as soon as I started though that this wasn't going to be an easy run for me. The 3:35 pace was not comfortable. I could run it but it was coming easy like it had in training. I'm still not sure why but I never felt comfortable at any time during this marathon.
I made it through the hills and into Georgetown which I'd never visited before. I took a moment to look around and am now convinced I need to go back and spend some time there. It's a very pretty area and looks like a cool place to hang out. Not surprising since, you know, it's Georgetown! I think everyone but me already knew it was a cool place. Anyway, I was still having to concentrate on holding my pace but wasn't worried yet since I could hold it when I did concentrate. I was still running with the 3:35 pace group and I noticed that we were averaging 7:40-7:55 per mile which is a little fast for a 3:35 marathon. It started to bug me that this pacer was running faster than necessary. At one point he even said something about being a little fast and said it in such a way as to blame it on the group! I wanted to remind him that he's the pacers and we're following him but I kept my mouth shut and soldiered (get the Marine reference? :) ) on.
At some point I got ahead of the group and left them behind as we ran along the Potomac just south of the national mall. This was a beautiful part of the course and although it was mostly an empty park, it had plenty of crowd support. This is also where we ran through through the pictures of fallen Marines. There were so many pictures and under the pictures were their ages when they died. I will admit that I cried a little by the end of this stretch as I saw picture after picture of 19 and 20 year old kids who's lives ended before they had really begun. Some of the pictures were of young families and they looked so happy together. I couldn't stop myself from wondering about how much pain those young wives and husbands went through when they got the news that their loved one wasn't coming home. How much pain will their babies go through growing up without knowing their mom or their dad? Maybe I'm just overly emotional but it got to me and is still in my head.
It was shortly after this stretch that I ran up on a guy running with 2 prosthetic legs. And yes, he was running! It wasn't pretty, and he looked like he was working his ass off, but he was running damn it. This young man had lost more than I will ever know and he was finding a path forward. I felt weak and unworthy to be on the same road as this badass. I told myself that I couldn't quit on my journey, no matter how bad I think things are, I just have to keep moving forward.
I should pause here a moment and mention my wonderful high school friends who had come out to see me. I hadn't seen either of them in over 20 years and they were both on the course cheering for me! I saw them at least 4 times and each time I heard a loud "Wilcoxen!!!" I would look up and be instantly happy. They surprised me at just the right moments and I'm so happy and grateful for long time friends especially ones that stay connected when we aren't physically. John and Sandra, thank you so much for being out there!
Eventually we made it back up to the national mall and all the wonderful monuments. This was somewhere around mile 15 and I was still running strong holding a sub-8:00 pace for the most part. I was beginning to struggle but the huge crowds around the mall made it easy to keep going and keep pace. I absolutely love running around the mall and this time I had the whole street to myself! I made a point to take in the Washington monument and the Capitol building as we went by. I even noticed the Air and Space museum which is my absolute favorite place in DC. As we headed out of the mall, I knew that "the bridge" was coming up around mile 18. I had heard people talking about the dreaded bridge but didn't really think it could be that bad since the elevation profile didn't show anything dramatic around mile 18, nor did I remember any significant hills in that area.
We left the mall and crossed mile 18 and immediately started out across a bridge that I had not seen before. I thought I knew DC pretty well since I'd been there just a few months before but somehow I missed this bridge. I had done a good job of hydrating all along the course because the forecast was for hot temperatures and I knew I needed to get as much water as possible at all the stops to beat the heat. I somehow missed the memo that there would be no water available on this bridge which would take us all the way to mile 20. Looking back I can't say the bridge had any large hills but it seemed like it was a constant hill and I got really tired and really thirsty while traversing it. By the time I reach the end at mile 20, I knew why I had heard so many people talking about "the bridge"! It sucked the life out of me! I was barely holding pace and had become extremely thirsty. My muscles were cramping and everything seemed to be going to shit in a hurry! How I went from running well to a complete pile of unenergized, dehydrated, cramping horse crap in a matter of 2 miles is beyond me but it happened.
I had kept pace for a 3:30 marathon up to mile 20. I now began struggling to hang on to something near that pace as I pushed myself through the last miles. I was in that old familiar state of being behind the power curve on energy and hydration where you know you can't fix it and just have to deal with the situation and get to the finish. I hate that!!!! Survival became the name of the game as I pushed my body forward and my mind became more and more pissed off that I had let myself get to this state. It's a weird feeling to be angry at yourself while trying to ask yourself to keep going! I almost felt like I should go into Dad mode where you say nice things to your child to get them to do something while inside you just want to scream at them for not doing it when you told them to!
I struggled through the last miles and made it back near the finish where I realized the finish was up hill! Like a steep hill. Like the last 100 yards were straight up hill! WTF?? Then I remember this was the Marine Corps marathon and maybe I should expect things like this. Marines aren't known for making things easy. Well, I thought, fuck it, I'm already pissed off so let's make this hurt as much as possible. I sprinted up that hill like crazy and finished like the Air Force veteran-acting-like-a-Marine-for-a-day that I am! I crossed in 3:36 and I'm happy with that time. I wish I had felt better doing it and am slightly worried about my BQ in December but if nothing else I learned I've got some work to do and I know what I need.
The finish was lined with Marines in uniform who gave me all kinds of congratulations and encouragement. I felt a kindred spirit with them until I remember that I'm an Air Force guy and asked, "Where's the beer tent?".
Thanks for listening.