On Sunday, October 22nd, I ran the 2017 Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC. I’ve been having sleeping issues over the past few weeks, so I felt a bit under-trained coming into this race…and then life decided to split 8’s and double down on the challenge when I began getting nauseous and extremely congested the evening before the race. My charity team – Do Away With SMA (“DAWS”, for short) had four runners competing in the marathon, myself being one of them. As President of the charity, I really felt a duty to suck it up and fight through whatever evil microscopic annoyance turning my stomach into the biological equivalent of Disney’s California Screamin’.
The marathon expo was held at the Gaylord National in Arlington, VA. Obtaining the bib and race shirt was an extremely quick and seamless process. The long sleeve shirts issued to every runner have always had a reputation for being of the highest quality – and this year was no exception. The race gear contained a decent selection of designs – but Large and Extra Large sizes were unavailable by Saturday morning. So – note to 2018 runners – go to the expo on Friday if you are looking for large or extra large jackets and quarter-zip shirts.
Getting to the starting line on Sunday morning was a simple process, as I stayed at the Hampton Inn across the street from the Gaylord National, and the marathon ran buses from the race’s home resort to the runners village beginning at 4:30am. Another note to 2018 runners: pack a throw-away sweatshirt, as early morning temperatures can get into the mid 40’s in mid October (I didn’t pack anything to keep me warm, and I couldn’t get the chill out of my chest until the race began. Two hours of standing in the cold, unprepared). Once we headed to the starting line, the sun decided to show up, taking some of the chill out of the air.
A parachute team flew the American flag in to the starting line as the anthem played. This was followed by an amazing flyover…and then the howitzer went off, starting the long march to the finish line.
Within the first two miles, there are several hills – so be ready for that and stay under control early on – don’t go out too fast, or else this course will punish you in a way that other races can only dream of. As it was, I felt solid early on pace-wise, even struggling through the congestion. The one thing on my mind during those first few miles was my like of fuel in my stomach, as that evil microscopic annoyance basically yelled “EVERYBODY OUT!” about an hour after dinner Saturday night. The good internal vibes existed up until mile 9….and then I began to feel like I was already running on empty. Not a good point in the race to feel like this. Yet another note to 2018 runners: make sure you take in calories 2 hours before race time – top off your tank – because you’ll need the energy later.
By Mile 10, I knew this wasn’t going to be my day. I was coughing a lot, and felt like I didn’t take in enough water – remember that water stations are every 2 miles, not every single mile like lots of other marathons. This was something else I didn’t plan for – and not knowing the distance between water stops was a pure rookie mistake on my part. Mile 10, however, provided the runners with a view of the Lincoln Memorial and the sounds of the Marine Band. This lifted me up a bit – and I was already beginning to need the motivation. As it turns out, one of the most amazing moments of the race was just ahead of me.
If you really want to know where the heart and soul of this race resides, it beats within the Blue Mile, which begins at Mile Marker 12. To the left and right of the runners’ lane were plaques with fallen soldiers’ pictures, names and ranks. It went on for what felt like 3/4 of a mile. Any chatting between runners ceased the moment you crossed into this part of the course. You could literally hear a pin drop. Some runners stopped in front specific plaques, lowered their heads in silent prayer, and then Marined Up and soldiered on. At the end of this 3/4 mile tribute, family and friends of the fallen held American flags on either side of the course and yelled inspiration to us all…….for what felt like another 3/4 of a mile. If this part of the course didn’t lite your fire, then quite simply your pilot light is out. I get chills just thinking about it 48 hours later.
At Mile 17, the course brings you onto The Mall, where you enjoy the views of hte Capital Building, The Smithsonian, and other awesome museums. It was at this point where I met Al. Al is pretty amazing, as he has completed all 42 of the Marine Corps Marathons, from 1976 to present. I said my hello and congratulations on this incredible streak. His response was simple “…it keeps me young!” It was a quick exchange – but one that was pretty awesome.
By Mile 19, I felt like I wanted to quit. I had been fighting this feeling most of the morning, but by this point it almost overwhelmed me. Thank Zues that a marine happened to be there at that moment and began to yell encouragement. “Time to suck it up!!! REMEMBER WHY YOU’RE HERE!” I must have heard those words from a number of Marines throughout the race – and those are the words I’m embracing as my mantra from now on. They got me through the final 7 miles, and up the final hill at mile 26.1.
After I received my medal, I waddled over to the water / gatorade station. During my walk, I met a man who was in his late 60’s / early 70’s. He was standing alone under a tree and looked somber. I asked if he was OK, and he said that he was fine – but the toughest part of his day comes next. I asked him to elaborate. His response “I’m going to visit my brother in Arlington right now – he’s earning one more medal.” I congratulated him on finishing and left him to his duties. Another moment I will never – ever – forget.
The race is not easy. Lots of concrete. A congested start / first mile. Not much shade. Temperatures that began at 45 degrees and went to 80 in 4 hours. Hills early in the course sap you more than you realize. It’s a hard race – but it’s the hard that makes it great.
A HUGE OORAH to my teammates, and everyone that supported us.