This could also be called "The Race That Almost Wasn't," or "How to NOT Run a Marathon." Either way, here we go!
When I registered for the Marine Corps Marathon, I knew I was in for a lot of work to get ready. My big fear would be that my IT band injury would act up again and derail all my training. 3 weeks out, it acted up. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to be able to run, but I took the trip anyway. Since I wasn't sure if I was going to run, I didn't do all the typical race week prep of carbo loading, sleeping more, drinking extra water. I kind of just...winged it.
After picking up my race stuff at the Marine Corps Marathon Expo and exploring Alexandria with Mandy, all I could do was head back to my hotel and wait for the next day. I had picked up plenty of water bottles for the room, so I sat around, watched football, and hydrated. When it was dinnertime, I started looking for a place to have pasta and realized...I was out of luck. The only place that had pasta near my hotel was Buffalo Wild Wings, and having buffalo chicken mac and cheese sounded like it would murder my stomach. I headed down to a sandwich place, got a roast beef sandwich, and went back to my room with it. I also wrote my name on my shirt, pinned a picture of my dad to the back of the shirt (I couldn’t run NYC in 2014 in his honor, so today was the day!), and applied plenty of KT tape to my IT band and hip. It was lights out at 10:00 PM...and tossing and turning all night. At around 11:30, my hotel room phone rang once, and then whoever had called hung up. I think I dozed off around 2:00 AM.
Wakeup call was around 5:30. Since I could barely sleep, I woke up before my alarm anyway. My mom also called to make sure I didn't oversleep. I couldn't find a place for a bagel (my planning for this was trash), so I had 2 Honey Stinger Waffles and a few bites of my sandwich. My plan was to carry my handheld water bottle, refill as needed, and take a GU every 6 miles or so. I made my way out the door at 6:00 and grabbed a bagel from the hotel breakfast. To the Metro we go!
The metro opened early (6:00 AM) for the runners, but man, they needed more trains. We were squeezed like sardines, and once we got to the Pentagon, it was a zombie walk to get upstairs. I had a few bites of the worst bagel in history (that's not me being a snotty New Yorker. It was horrid), and tossed the rest.
The race was scheduled for a 7:55 start. Unlike other big city races, this one has everyone start at the same time. You line up where your pace is (5:00 - 5:30 hours for me, since I knew I wasn't 100% and had no idea what to expect for my first marathon), and go. I got to watch the flyover and parachutes (sorry for the terribly tiny picture), and soon we were ready to go!
About 30 seconds before the start line, I started up my Garmin and......it didn't connect. I had been having satellite issues in my neighborhood all summer, but I figured it would be fine for the race. The first half mile or so, I kept turning the watch off and turning it back on. Nothing connected, and I was furious. I guess it doesn't really matter since I wasn't shooting for a specific time goal, but running a marathon blind to your time is really infuriating.
The first 3 miles were pretty relaxing. I tried to go as slowly as I could, because we had a long way to go. I figured by the overall time it was that I was around an 11:00 minute per mile pace, but I couldn't really tell. The crowds were great here, and I was hopeful that my IT band would hold it together.
More of the same. We ran through Georgetown, which was pretty sweet. I was happy I wrote my name on my shirt, since I got a lot of "Go Jenn!" cheers.
We went out and back on Rock Creek Parkway. I was feeling good, stopping to walk through each water stop (every 2 miles or so), and just soaking it all in. And then at mile 7, my IT band started getting iffy. I panicked - it was so early on! I wasn't going to stop and walk 17 miles. I pulled off the side of the road and stretched it out the best I could. I hopped back on the course and kept running. After about 6 minutes, the pain just...went away. I crossed my fingers that it would stay away.
I knew the Blue Mile was coming up soon, but man, this was miserable. The race takes you along the Hains Point Peninsula, and it's pretty boring. The sun was also starting to peak out. I was just happy I had my sunglasses.
We hit the Blue Mile a little after the Mile 12 marker. The Blue Mile includes photos along the course of fallen servicemen and women. It was especially emotional because the photos included the ages - so many were younger than I am. Further up, family members of the fallen were holding American flags and cheering us on. I was still feeling okay, but getting a little tired.
One thing I do when I run is picture the remaining distance as something I've done before. When I hit the halfway mark, I thought, "Just a half marathon left!" It usually works, but it didn't on this day. I was getting bored on the peninsula, and I kept wondering when we would be seeing all the monuments.
At mile 15, I got a wicked side stitch. At this point, I stopped and went to the side of the road. I tried to breathe through it, but it wouldn't go away. I pulled out my phone and tried to track myself on the app, so I could at least see how I was doing time wise. At this rate, I could still finish in under 5 hours, but I needed to get going. I remember cursing out loud because there were no water stops anywhere nearby, and I needed to refill my water bottle. At that moment, I was so grateful that I had spent the money on the bottle. If I had just relied on the water stations, it would have been really bad.
I knew Mandy and many of her Oiselle teammates were at mile 22, so I kept telling myself to just get there to see them. This part of the course took us through some of the monuments, around the National Mall, and by the Capitol building. It also takes you to...The Bridge.
"Beat the Bridge" is one of the big parts of the race. You must be at the 14th Street Bridge by 1:15. I didn't think this would be a huge deal, since I run on hills and bridges (thank you New York City) all the time. On this day, it was so hot and sunny that I felt completely delirious. The highlight of these miles was the big hose someone put out right before the bridge. I've never been so happy to be soaking wet.
The Bridge is tough for a few reasons. Not only is it a bridge (um, duh?), but there are no spectators, it's crazy sunny, and you are fully exposed. There's also a super long ramp, so once you're done with the bridge, you've still got a long way to go.
I finally made it to Mandy and her group, and I was so insanely happy to see a friendly face. They gave me a few pretzels, a hug, and sent me through Crystal City.
Crystal City was my favorite part of the race. The crowd support here was amazing, there were hoses out (thank you), and I knew I was going to finish my first marathon. Just...keep...going...
For anyone who thinks 2.2 miles isn't a far distance to run, try doing 24 before it. I told myself in training that I'd have no problems booking it through the last few miles, since it wasn't that far. This was torture. I was exhausted, hungry, overheated, and there were zero crowds here. I just had to keep going, but I admit that I stopped to walk more than I wanted to.
Once we hit Mile 26, it was time for the hill. There is a crazy incline that takes you the last .2 miles to the finish line, and I could barely move up it. I fought like hell, and there was the finish!
To be honest, I'm surprised I didn't cry once the race was over. I had never felt so accomplished in my life, but I still had so much moving to go. After walking what seemed like forever, I got the salute from my Marine, and my finisher medal!
I took some selfies, zombie walked through the finish area, and somehow got to the metro without taking that long. My legs were done, but I was still able to make it back to the hotel in one peace
My final time was 5:10:04, which is slower than what I wanted, but I think I did great considering how terrible the previous 3 weeks had been.
Naturally, it was time for my post race meal.
Other than fueling like trash, not running for 3 weeks before the race, and not sleeping the night before, my other big mistake was scheduling my flight home for the next day. I could barely move through the metro station, and walking down stairs was literally not an option. But, I mean, check out what I got to wear!
After grabbing some coffee at the airport, it was time to head home. My usual 13-minute walk from the train took about 25 to complete, thanks to the complete death in my legs.
And, of course, I celebrated with another trip to Phantom.
So, where do I go from here? I definitely want to tackle another marathon one day. I loved tackling the distance, and I really believe I could have done so much better with the proper lead up and fueling. My goal is to run New York City next year, and I'm hoping I can take some serious time off my finish!