Marine Corps Marathon 2013

Marine Corps Marathon 2013

Happy Halloween from The District.  A little more zest can be found in daily happenings here with both Halloween and hosting foot races fitting that mold.

For a 60 second Marine Corps Marathon recap check here

I had the good fortune of photographing much of it while running since I was running for a finish, not for a time. That resulted into about 150 on-course photos. For a three minute photo recap several of them are here:

For something considerably longer keep reading.

I like chocolate. As I’m sitting munching a once sizable pile of Halloween minis I feel no guilt. Zero. After burning 3495 calories in a four hour period a couple days ago it’d take a heaping pile of these mini choco treats to replenish that burn rate. Lucky for me the holiday is only a day away so the local market will soon stop carrying these tempting devils.  Although I did notice the other morning they’ve already stocked a small selection of eggnog. My only other uncontrollable holiday vice.  It was nice to be able to suck down a few bags of treats as soon as they hit the shelves early in the month. Cutting weight was certainly not part of this cycle of training; one of the many positives of the run-up to this run. 

As one of the fortunates to obtain a general (as in non-military, non-fundraising, non-‘I knew someone…’) MCM entry during the frenzied two hour sell-out back in March I felt obligated to complete the thing at about all costs. And this one  came with a few extra costs to complement the positives.  A little over 2 1/2 years ago I enlisted a young-ish surgeon to perform a second surgery on my left knee. It had been initially injured (torn ACL) in a high-school football game in the mid-80’s. Away game at Maquoketa. Specifically by Chad Bullock, an all-state defensive lineman who went on to land on a couple top college recruiting class lists. I think he ended up playing somewhere in Illinois. At the time I felt pretty good about handling him much of the game. What’d I know, I was 17. In hindsight he put a significant damper on my late teen-age sports –career–.  I never had the ligament repaired as a youth, just cleaned up the torn cartilage and I was on my way. That’s about how things were done in our small town back in the day. 
By the time Dr. Ash repaired the ligament (nearly 30 years) after the initial tear he cautioned my (semi)-competitive days were coming to an end. Not because of the ligament, he labeled the repair successful. Rather because of the decades of bone and cartilage wear due to what he referred to as ‘the insufficient ACL’. Bummer. I knew he was correct. I’ve had the growing white shadow (pre-arthritis) on multiple MRIs I’ve received through the years explained to me several times.  I tried to prove him wrong with a final effort at a tough course  not long after moving to Tucson. That grounded me for a few weeks and I blame my over-compensating with my good leg for its failing about exactly one year ago.  Right knee (the good knee) scope in Tucson in late February of this year then it was on to another new city.

Once I settled in after my move to metro DC I found a couple running groups that seemed to fit  logistical, social and training needs. That turned out to be a little like the bears and the porridge: one group served a need as I eased back into things then I jumped in with the other group as I outgrew the first.  I was soon reminded of what I’d learned a couple years earlier in moving to Tucson: the larger the metro the deeper the talent. After working up to a respectable place in the middle of the group (Monday, Tuesday and Saturday group runs–no speed work) the pain of the pounding became too much and I left them as well. I probably pushed it post-op too much during this period and by this past June had found yet another surgeon who set up another course of treatment. This for the recently scoped right knee. This plan included no races and lots of rest. I pushed him—Dr. Najarian’s young and caves a little when pushed–he trained at The Ohio State University so has had practice getting pushed around by punks.  We concluded we’d try viscosupplementation. By the way if anyone’s had this treatment I’d be interested in comparing notes. I’m not yet fully sold. After another long stretch of just walking dogs and easy biking my total August run miles hit 11. For the month.  I pushed the Dr. after my injections were completed, promising him I’d keep both the pace and distance low and stop at anything more than discomfort. My MCM training officially began September 13.  As Marilyn Monroe was known to say, ‘I’ve been on a calendar but never on time’. Yikes, six weeks till race-time. Pushing it even by my low on-time standards.

I had planned to run with MyCross, another lucky SCRC member who managed to burn a couple hours at work getting into the sold out event. Instead, about this time I broke it to him I would not be running with him and in fact might not hit the starting line at all. His other planned running mate, Kyle, another DC area resident, also let Mike know about that time his foot problems would likely prohibits him from competing as well. Unfortunately we left Mike on his own.

Haphazard, erratic, and ultimately desultory training over the last six months led to my anticipated unremarkable performance. In fact, the official time was my second worst for the distance, taking the runner up position only to the haul up Mt. Lemmon of a couple years ago.  On the up-side I skipped the whole pain-while-training thing. No speed,  no hills, no food or drink deprivation. It was the best training period— ever!  While Dr. Najarian advised against competing he admitted the chances of further damage were quite slim; the key issue would be flat out pain, swelling and an even further delay in healing that’s already taken far longer than it should have. My call to make. 
By my own doing I waited until Saturday pre-run to hit the packet pick-up line. Mistake in so many ways. I had time the previous two days and my out-of-town guests would be going late Saturday so no excuse for me to wait until arguably the worst time. On the upside Amy was able to come along since I waited until Saturday.

Waves of lines snaked in tight curves around a large portable tent in a small grassy field just outside the Armory.

Lines upon Lines upon….

Even at less than one hour past opening we waited well over 30 minutes to get into the tent. Fortunately Dan the Coffee Guy had his truck on the lot and was so popular that by 10:30 a.m. he was out of cups and was serving in soup bowls. Before we were allowed to enter the canvas dome we were subject to a full bag search by armed contract detail. Annoying at best.  I live across the street from a mall and carry a non see-through bag and non-clear, non-plastic liquid containers in there all the time, no search required. They should have considered setting packet pickup inside my neighborhood cavernous mall.

Inside the tent my eyes immediately went into shock at the darkness. Complete darkness. After a few stumbling steps tiny pen and phone lights could be seen at the bib stations staffed by energetic young Marines. At first I thought it was a deliberate ploy of some type but once at my booth I saw a staffer hanging up a pen-light so realized they had a problem with the temporary Canvas Dome lighting. They made the best of it and were ever-positive and efficient through ID check and tag issuance. Once we walked out of the tent we were immediately blinded by the brilliant sunshine and made our way to the second of two lines; this one to the Armory itself. Another lengthy wait culminated in yet another full bag search. Again by apparently socially inept, marginally trained contract detail.  Once complete we grabbed our bags and were forced to step on a tape line on the floor. Arms up, bags down for the full wanding(sp). Yup.  Just like the TSA. Once again, I present the giant four level mall across our street. Been there 100 times with thousands of people and never been wanded(sp) walking in.

Amy was even more irritated as the entire contents of her purse went flying across the table as the unprofessional detail went through it. Not a good experience. We spent a few minutes in the expo and could not wait to leave. We even did what appeared to be the right thing and walked toward an entire bank of doors that had bright red, fully lit signs above them reading: Exit.  As we moved closer yet another contracted agent approached us and would not let us leave through the Exit doors.  She pointed down the hall. I kept pointing at the bank of doors in front of us with the bright red, fully lit Exit signs. Again she pointed down the hall, back through the throngs of people we so badly wanted to escape.

My patience left by the time we were finished with the canvas tent. My good-humor abandoned me at the entrance to the Armory. My wits were now infighting somewhere in my head, unable to process what was happening and also looking for their own way out.  It was surely Halloween season as my nearly lifeless body now hovered just above the cold concrete floor numb to the yammering created by acres of athletes walking around like zombies, bumping into one another with their outstretched arms begging for gifts from vendors as if they depended on them for their very survival.

She won. We floated down the hall to an identical bank of doors with the identical bright red, fully lit Exit signs. Only this set of doors had a small sheet of paper taped to one of the narrow walls between them. In thin, faded black writing I squinted and managed to read on the sheet: Exit.  Of course, surely we should have known to look for the single Exit sheet of paper. 

Lights Out For Tag Pick-up

Local Pub Pre-Race Meal

Fortunately Mike and Kyle, our house guests for the weekend had a much better experience at the expo; I believe it’s because Kyle pulled the military card. Even so. later that evening we were all in favor of walking down the street for dinner, drinks and walls full of large screen TVs showing every sport available. Yet another advantage to the no-pressure marathon: a pre-race meal of bar-food and buckets of Yuengling  Yum.

Race Day

I’d think it’s relatively uncommon to be able to sleep in your own bed, wake up and leisurely walk to the start of a marathon. This was the first time for me and admittedly I liked it. I need to keep that in mind for our next move(s). If I could teach my dog to feed herself and operate the apartment elevator buttons I could have slept another 30 minutes. 

We walked across the street, under the I-395 pedestrian tunnel to the Pentagon South parking lot then around the building to yet another security check. After the day-before experience of packet-pickup I immediately felt myself tense up in anticipation of another sour experience. Fortunately the Marines were handling it and they were once again energetic and efficient even in the pre-dawn hours of what would surely be a long day for them. A quick bag drop, an even quicker pre-run photo and we went our separate ways; me to the I-just-want-to-finish corrals while Mike headed to the I-kick-@$$ ones. By the time the sun started peeking through the trees and over the Pentagon I was ready to drop my throw-away clothes.   I took out my headphones for the first time ever during a marathon. Without a heart rate monitor, pacing partner or visible timepiece to follow I needed something to help chew up the hours on the familiar road miles ahead.  
Giant! Flag Bearing Parachuters. 
The Sun Does Shine on the Five Hour Corral!

Anxiety of finishing time and place typically dominate my pre-gun time in the corrals. This time I felt anxiety closer to that before running a lengthy trail-type event—whether I’ll finish at all. With my timekeeper safely tucked into an oversized waist pack I continued to push my way up the corrals…..7:00(hr, not pace) finishers, 6:30, 6:00….until I fell comfortably in the middle of the 5:00s. At that position it took nearly eight minutes after gun-time before I caught my first glimpse of the starting banner.  The finish line is located about 1/2 mile past the starting line which is followed almost immediately by the densely populated neighborhood of Rosslyn so spectator noise was steady and motivating from well before the start through the first several minutes. So much so, in fact, that I lost track of distance and missed the One Mile banner until parallel with it across several traffic lanes. That’d be the last time; every other mile marker is represented in my photo-bucket for the morning. Without a timepiece on my wrist I needed something as targets to supplement my radio distraction.

Rule Violation: Backpack

Running up on Mile 2 I noticed a similarity to the first mile marker which proved to be the case for every marker: two Marines stationed at each. Typically one would be yelling, often through a megaphone, and the other was often taking a photo of someone in front of the marker or slapping the hand of someone. Nice touch. Really nice. Throughout my run two of them asked if I wanted to be in the photo of their markers. Really nice touch. Between 2-3 I saw the second specific rules violation (the first being someone dressed up as RGIII, complete with mask, tossing a football and starting around the five hour banner). Rules violation two was someone running with a backpack–specifically forbidden in the rules for this year.  He had on full military gear so perhaps he was granted an exception.

Miles 3 to 4.5 by far were the most scenic as we left Rosslyn and headed down Spout Run and the GW Parkway to the Key Bridge. Out-of-towners might argue for the scene of the The Mall; but for me it was all about the dense tree canopies blocking out the sun as we made our way downhill parallel to the creek. It was the best section of the run for my knee as most of it had a dirt path just off-road, alleviating the pounding of the roadway as we headed downhill and began the trip over to Georgetown. Running on the Key Bridge then M Street in G’Town was a treat–normally the bumper to bumper auto traffic moves about the same pace we ran so it was a nice perspective to see how vehicles feel as they’re creeping along.

Key Bridge

As we headed down to Water Street which would wind us around up to Rock Creek Park, I felt my first sense of accomplishment. See my long-run during training was a ten-miler at the end of September and a 9.7 miler a couple weeks prior to the race. Passing five meant I’d gone half the distance of my long run. That’s something, right?

Heading up Rock Creek Parkway was plenty familiar. The bike path heads all the way through the park out of The District and into Montgomery County. Rock Creek Park is a phenomenal urban park with miles of paved and unpaved trails, all manners of wildlife and one feature that makes it a favorite among the locals: each weekend a long section of roadway is blocked to auto traffic. Walkers, runners and bikers converge on the park to take advantage of a true rarity in the DC area: traffic free roads. It’s one of my favorites and the only reason this section took a back seat to the Spout Run section was the steady incline. My take-it-easy on my knee training program included no speed or hill training so while this section was easy on the eyes it was a little rough on the knees.  Less than 1/2 mile up the parkway I spotted MikeR heading toward me, clearly on pace, and gave him a shout. He’d tell me later it took a couple seconds to register and he was well gone before he could yell back.
I hit another run highlight for the day on the way back down the incline. As I pulled off the road to snap Mile 8 I was about attacked by an overly friendly Golden.  He was a great pup so I stopped a minute

Keeping an eye on the treats

to give a pet and chat with the owner. She was friendly as well, offering me gummy bears as her runners were nowhere to be found.

By Mile 10 we were firmly back into the concrete jungle of Monuments and Memorials so I was anxiously awaiting our entry into Hains Point. Hains Point is similar in one respect to Rock Creek Park to me: I’ve ridden the 3+ mile loop countless times. It’s a little man-made island in the Potomac with a one way street that leads to nowhere but back around the park.  As such the park (and road) are used only by locals looking to get away, tour buses and cabbies. And bikers and runners.  In fact three afternoons/evenings during longer daylight hours large groups of riders treat it as a long-course criterium and a couple of local running clubs hold timed events during lunch runs and the occasional evening. My personal best is about 15 laps on the bike around the loop…usually trying to suck the tire in front of me just to hang on. Large urban areas have a way of driving up the local talent. A couple nights out I met a guy from Denver who’s a Drake Alum~~ believe in the last five years. Nice guy, young guy. Very fast. Yeah, I’m a little to a lot over my head when I jump in with those groups but they’re always willing to let the new guy hop on for a few laps. Hains Point also used to be the home of the sculpture The Awakening. It’s a pretty cool piece of art and was moved down to National Harbor in Maryland a few years ago.

The Awakening @ National Harbor – October ’13

Given its over-familiarity, Hains Point went quickly; the first mile  dominated by flag-sized photos of young, very young, soldiers killed in the recent wars. They were followed by as many flags being held by members of the Wear Blue group responsible for the photos. It was eerily quiet for part of that section. My only cause for pause came with a hard glance to the west in which I could almost make out my apartment building. So close….yet so far.  Once around the tip and solidly past the 1/2 it hit me that I’d just run my longest distance in over four months! I scarcely had time to celebrate when something on the ground caused me to stop in my tracks and turn around. A tightly creased yet fully intact $20!  Once again, fast pace be damned! I scooped it up, stuffed it into the rest of my haul in my stuffed waist pack and continued forward toward The Mall.

Signs: Another advantage to the slower pace was the ability to read all the support signs. Surely they’ve all been done before but I’ve just never noticed. In hindsight I wish I would have stopped to photograph more. A few of my favorites:

One of Multiple Variations

Claustrophobic I’m not; yet between 16-17.5 we hit several sections that rivaled the best support spectators can offer. Long sections were fantastically loud and unbelievably narrow and  slippery. Along this area several groups brought boxes of their own treats and drinks to complement the official course fare. Supporters leaned well into the road cheering and handing out goodies. I believe this was the first section of orange slices which added to the slippery cups and gummy bears spilled on the road. Heading toward/around Washington meant we were back out into the open for nearly the rest of the run.  As luck would have it the sun remained tucked just behind a thin layer of clouds, keeping our temperature at a near perfect level.

Most of the middle/upper teen miles through mile 23+ are part of my regular bike commute to npr.  Normally I might frown upon the need to painfully run where I so joyfully ride but given my physical condition I was happy for the over-familiarity. Fun took a little break beginning around 19.5. Knowing every step of what lie ahead the next 2.5 didn’t make it any less of a true trudge over the 14th Street Bridge and down into Crystal City. Tough to get excited about running across two miles of interstate bridge concrete.  Made worse I could almost see our apartment for a couple of the miles. Surprisingly my pace quickened through the 22 marker, mostly likely because I knew my support crew would be close at hand. Sure enough shortly after 22 my pup and my gal were making nice with neighbors and cheering on the masses. I only stopped for a couple minutes; just long enough for Samantha to jump on me and leave a few scratches. Exactly what was needed as a distraction as the sun started peeking out, heating up the sweat glands to pour salt into the fresh wounds. Good dog.

Running Crystal City is another area that’s been overdone. It’s my access point to the Mt. Vernon Trail as well as routine fountain swim-outings for Samantha. Fortunately we were in for a couple surprises: first, free beer! That’s right. Just after 23 and 1/2 way up the freeway onramp an energetic and colorfully dressed group was handing out Dixie Cups of still-cold beer. It hit me a little late so I had to circle back around to grab my two. A few feet beyond was a tent handing out something better than beer. Donut holes! Mine were chocolate! Even better! Again, a quick stop to grab my two Dixie Cups and I was set for the grind around Army Navy Drive and back to the south side of the Pentagon.

My timepiece and distance monitor had me a little over 27 miles. I think that might be just a little long but not by much.  I hit the go button a little early since I needed to put it in my pouch, zip it up then put it around my waist. Add in the off-course trips I took at every mile marker (except #1), a couple other off-course personal detours plus running every tangent long that was likely pretty close. Regardless I was pleased to have finished with little more pain in the knee than my series of 4-6 mile training runs.  A look back shows a solidly negative split effort; that’d be by accident.

Would I recommend running a marathon to someone with swollen, thrice operated knees still under treatment and on a couple ten mile long runs? Probably not. Do I feel worse now than had I taken the last couple weeks off (per recommendation)? Probably. But I don’t feel near as bad as running a fast race. Stairs and walking the dog presented no problems later that afternoon or subsequent days. I’ll find out the true toll at my next scheduled appointment with my surgeon in a week.

A phenomenal event (minus the unnecessary amateurish show of force at packet-pickup). Consider adding it to your list if you’ve not yet had the pleasure.

As Always,