Monday, October 29, 2012

Marine Corp Marathon - Outrunning Hurricane Sandy

Summary:  This past weekend, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, VA and Washington, DC.  It was my 29th marathon/ultra, in my 22nd state.  I finished in 3:54:15, 3530 / 23515 overall, 2705 / 13520 gender, and 55.6% age graded placement. 

Leading up to this race, I've had a very busy year, focusing on completing events in different states, but also am just coming off a 24 hour event just 4 weeks ago, so I knew going into this race that it wouldn't be a PR effort.  Still, I felt good leading up to the race, and really wanted a sub4 race here, and couldn't be more happy with the results.  3:54 is still 11 minutes off my PR of 3:43, but that's OK.  This race was a solidly strong race for me, and I'm happy. 

Pre Race Weather Drama: I had great hopes that this would be a fun getaway weekend with my wife. It was a chance to see some of the sights in DC (we have both been there several times before, but never together), while also checking off another running marathon state (Virginia).  However, earlier in the week, Hurricane Sandy developed and it was clear that it may impact this race, in a negative way.   We even thought about not going, as we didn't want to get stuck in DC leaving our daughter home alone for upwards of a week.  I tried to change flights to arrange to come back home Sunday night after the race instead of Monday morning, but it was going to cost $400 each to make the change.  We decided that it was too expensive to make any changes and thought we'd take our chances. 

We indeed headed to DC on Saturday morning, and immediately headed to the expo.  I'm not a big fan of crowds, and the 30 minute wait to just get inside was annoying, but we eventually got in and had fun shopping at all the booths. My wife bought a new armband holder for her phone and I bought a Nite Beams running armband.  The photo above is myself and my wife cheesing for a shot at the expo. 

Meanwhile, all during the day Saturday, I kept obsessing about the weather.  We had flights out first thing Monday morning, but being a meteorologist, I kept checking the latest computer models on my phone and was becoming increasingly worried that we were going to get stuck in DC, and possibly for several days.  We ate an early dinner and headed back to our hotel so I could watch the Nebraska Cornhuskers play football on TV and try to relax. It was at this time that our airline had offered anyone with flights on the east coast the chance to make flight changes for free without penalty so I immediatley got on the phone to see what we could do.  After about 4 hours of trying (no luck the first time because our reservation was still on hold from flying just 5 hours earlier), and eventually being put on a call back list, we got a call about 11 pm Saturday night from the airline.  My wife was able to reschedule her flight home for 6 am Sunday morning and would miss spectating the race. She got the last seat on that flight.  She resecheduled my flight for 6 pm Sunday night, and I got the last seat on that flight.  So that was one less worry on my mind, which honestly, consumed me more than the race itself. It was mentally exhausting worrying about it.  It was a relief knowing that we would be able to escape the area before the hurricane hit and wouldn't strand our daughter at home.

Ok, on to the race:   I got up early to see my wife off to the airport, knowing it was the only choice we had.  She would miss the race.  I dressed and headed down to the shuttle a couple blocks away at 530 am.  I arrived at the Runners Village very quickly and milled around. I sat and rested.  I stretched.  I used the porta johns a couple of times.  I was very impressed on how well everything was organized.  It was awesome actually.  For a mega race, the organization was superb.  I tried to meet other forumites for a pre race meeting and photo about 7 am, but didn't see anyone, so headed over to the starting corrals, placing myself in the 3:45-4:00 corral.  I did jump the fence a couple of times to use the trees along the sidelines, and was ready to run at 7:55.

In the hotel ready to head to the starting line.

While the rain from hurricane Sandy was supposed to be on us, the western edge was actually just 20 miles to the east so we got incredibly lucky. And in fact, it didn't rain the whole race.  It rained down leaves from the beautifully colored trees and that was it.  Temps were in the upper 50s, so it was a great day to run actually. It became increasingly windy though, with gusts up 25 to 30 mph as the race continued.

Overall, I just loved this race. Yes, it was very crowded, which I'm not a big fan of, but the course was awesome.  Some hills in the first 8 miles, but the scenery was just so much fun.  Running through Arlington, along the Potomac, through Georgetown, and eventually into DC, through and around the Mall, around the monuments, the capitol, back into Crystal City, and a finish at the Iwo Jimo War Memorial.  The crowd support was phenomenal, so much fun and they showed up along the most of the route!  Really, while I don't want to diminish how hard a marathon is, because it is hard, but at the same time, this race felt easy for me.  I was running well, everything felt OK, and I was having fun!  That's what it's all about.  My knee hurt a little bit midway through so I stopped to stretch it briefly a couple of times. Running past the capitol around mile 18 was maybe a highlight of the race.  It kind of choked me up, thinking about the history.  It was windy, but I had a long sleeve compression shirt on underneath a short sleeved shirt so I felt very comfortable. I also enjoyed the donut holes around Mile 24.  Ha.

I also walked the water stops, which was part of my original plan.  I was ahead of schedule, but solidly on pace for the entire race.  First half in 1:56:36, and second half with a slight positive split in 1:57:39.  The last mile got hard though.  My heart rate was starting to spike, so I did do a couple of walk breaks there, otherwise it probably would have been an even steven split.  The last surge up the hill to finish at the Iwo Jimo Memorial was hard and I really thought I might throw up, but it still was an amazing feeling to finish.

The finish area was annoying though.  So many people.  We funneled through to get our medal from a marine, a picture in front of the memorial, then got water, Gatorade, and a boxed lunch, and a nice recovery jacket which felt so good since I was now getting chilled.  After about a half mile walk, wading through a sea of runners that were not moving, I finally hit the baggage pickup, then another 1/2 mile walk to get back to the shuttle. I should also say, the medal is perhaps one of the nicest medals I've received. 

Post race pic in front of the Memorial.

The medal. Very classy, with a spinning globe.

Post Race:  I headed back to my hotel on the shuttle bus and ate my box lunch on the way (which included a fruit cup, hummus, crackers, a bagel, a banana, granola, and a piece of chocolate).  The shuttle bus driver got lost, and we ended up back over in DC, so I got another tour of all the monuments again.  Ha.  I grabbed a quick shower once I finally got to my hotel, checked out of the hotel (they were kind enough to only charge for one night instead of two because of the storm), and headed to the airport. After enjoying a post race beer and a club sandwich (with a 25% marathon discount) at the airport, I was grateful to be able to go home early.  Many people weren't so lucky.  All the flights were full.  My flight was overbooked by 24 people, who were not so lucky.  Hundreds more were scrambling to make other arrangements, trying to escape the storm. Hurricane Sandy was looming.  And our original flights, along with nearly all other flights on Monday were cancelled by the time I got on the plane Sunday evening. 

Final Summary: This was a great race. A very well organized race, with marines everywhere. I tried to thank every one of them that I encountered.  I got to spend a weekend with my wife, even though it was ultimately cut short.  We were able to make last minute arrangements and got back home before the hurricane hit.  And today, I sit and watch at how large of an impact it will have and think about all of my running friends on the east coast that will be affected.  Stay safe! 

Overall, even though this wasn't a PR race, it was still a really strong effort for me though, and that's more important.  Priceless memories from this race, and I have no regrets.  I've got more races planned in the future.  The St. Jude Marathon in Memphis in a month, then the Livestrong Marathon in Austin in February.  One by one, I'm seeing the USA 26.2 miles at a time!  22 down, 28 to go!

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