Monday, November 18, 2019

2019 Marine Corps Marathon

I had gotten into the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) in 2017, but was unable to run after hurting my knee during the 2017 Baltimore Half marathon the day before.  Since the MCM is based on a lottery system, I totally forgot to register in 2018, so I made sure to put a reminder on my calendar so I wouldn't forget again in 2019.  Fortunately the reminder work, I signed up, and I was able to get registered for a spot.

My normal running cadence is about 40 miles a week (plus or minus 5 miles).  As I approach a marathon race I tend to ramp up the mileage to the 45 to 50 miles per week level, work on speed a little more, and then tamper in the last week leading up to the event.

Unfortunately that didn't work out.  I did the Tour de Frederick metric century ride (62+ miles) in August and frankly didn't train enough for that distance.  While the ride was enjoyable and seemed to go without much of an issue, I ended up giving myself bursitis.  I started going to my local chiropractor for relief and some physical therapy exercises that started to work pretty well.  At that point I headed off to Bangalore, India for work.  This was my third trip in 2019 and was going to be about a 8 days or so.

With about two days remaining I could tell I was getting sick.  I did run a few times while I was there knowing this race was coming up, but I could tell my breathing and lung capacity was off.  By the time I was heading to the airport for my flight I was coughing and had bad congestion.  Felt a lot like bronchitis to me.

Fast forward to today (mid November) and I still have a slight cough.  I feel a lot better, but as most of you probably know, the cough is the last thing to go away and can last for 8 to 12 weeks.  The MCM took place on October 27th.  Just a few days after my 52nd birthday actually.

I didn't feel normal, still had a pretty bad cough and still had congestion/mucus in my chest.  But I was excited for the run.  I had wanted to do this race for some time and was looking forward to running through DC again and parts of Northern VA.

The race expo is usually held at the National Harbor Gaylord National hotel. So, I book a room through the race site using their discount.  I tend to book just one night for racing events, but for this race I should have done two nights (more on that later).  I checked into the hotel around 3pm and went through the expo around 4pm just before it's 5pm closing time.

MCM Bib and some of my running gels and Nuun
This is actually a large expo with a lot of great merchandise and vendors so would recommend you to spend some time looking around at everything the expo has to offer.  I did purchase a short sleeve running shirt to compliment the long sleeve shirt that came with the entry.

I was also sure to get dinner reservations (McCormick and Schmicks) well in advance of the race.  Back in 2017 when I tried to run before, I didn't get reservations and we were not able to get dinner anywhere and ended up just getting what we could from the various cafe's in the hotel.  There is rarely only one event going on at the Gaylord and this was no exception.  There were several conferences happening at the same time and area restaurants were busy.  So, if you do this event, be sure to get reservations for dinner and perhaps lunch the next day in advance.

Pre-race dinner (swordfish and wilted spinich with mushrooms)
The weather was looking to be a little unpredictable on race day as the day approached, but race morning as I figured would happen it was raining pretty good and windy.  The temperature was in the mid to high 60s so it wasn't cold.  According to the data added to my Strava run, it was 67F with 93% humidity and 9mph winds.  What the application didn't add was that it was pouring when we started.  In fact it rained almost constantly in the hours leading up the starting time. Thankfully I found a small tent packed full of other runners trying to stay dry before the start.

Starting line photo through a Zip-Lock bag around my phone
I did have the foresight to pack a cheap poncho, so as I waited in line for the port-a-potty just before race time I stayed relatively dry (except for my shoes).  To make sure I could start Strava on m Apple Watch I kept my arms under the poncho as well, and just before crossing the started mat after starting the run, I tossed the poncho into a bin off the left side.

The number of runners for this event including the newly added 50K distance is in excess of 30,000 runners.  Staying at the Gaylord and using those free shuttle buses to the starting area worked really well.  I can't imagine trying to drive into one of the designated parking areas with that many participants.  The starting area is divided across two sides of Route 110 near the Arlington Cemetery.  As we started to merge back together a few tenths of a mile down the route, it dud cause some confusion for runners.

Strava MCM Map
As the map shows, you start near the Arlington Cemetery and head North/North West into Arlington. With the large number of participants it is fairly congested for the first 1 to 2 miles before runners spread out enough to be more comfortable.  For the first 2.5 miles or so it is largely up hill as you climb about 210 feet.  Frankly I think the large crowds help in that you can't go out to fast and you can just get into a steady cadence and work your through those first miles.  According to Strava overall elevation gain for the entire race is about 794 feet.

Strava MCM Elevation Chart

Once you get to the turn back towards the Potomac you start heading back down hill.  At this point the remainder of the run is mostly flat with just a few minor elevation changes until the end of the race where you climb the last few tenths of a mile.

The rain continued to start and stop throughout the race.  At times it would stop and you feel like you are starting to dry out and then all of a sudden it would pour and within second you could feel your socks squishing in your running shoes.  I could have done without the hard downpours, but what was amazing was the number of people in ponchos holding large golf umbrellas cheering the runners on.  And of course all the volunteers at the different aide stations standing in the rain making sure we all had what we needed.

After crossing the Francis Scott Key bridge you do an out and back up the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway.  It was still raining during most of this section, but it wasn't a downpour and the section of the run was actually very beautiful with the trees and greenery. 

At mile 11 you start to run past West Potomac Park, the Jefferson Memorial and then around Potomac Park.  The rain picked up heavy again during this section of the event and it unfortunately impacted the highly anticipated "blue mile".

After going around the Tidal Basin you make your way down Madison Drive heading East down the "Mall".  As we turned the corning around the Tidal Basin the rain picked up again, and became a string downpour.  The crowds cheering us on started screaming and cheering even louder as the rain continued to get stronger.  It was raining so hard that water was several inches deep at each cross street along the Mall area.

View of Capital through a Zip Lock bag
As we approached the Capital to head back West along the Mall area, I stepped to the side and took the photo above through the Zip Lock bag I had my phone in.  It was still raining at this point but not has hard has it was a few minutes earlier.

After you get passed the museums heading West you cross over the George Mason Memorial Bridge.  It was at this point, around Mile 21, that the clouds broke and the sun came out.  As I mentioned earlier it wasn't a cold morning, and after all the rain, the sun breaking out caused temperatures to climb into the mid 70s quickly and the humidity levels were nuts.

I was trying to keep hydrated during the entire race even though with the rain it didn't feel warm or that I was loosing that much water.  I grabbed water at each water stop, and Gatorade at some of them.  I was also carrying Nuun Hydration with me to take along the way.  The overall conditions of the race were difficult, but after the sun came out I saw several runners being treated with IVs and a few runners being taken off on stretchers and via ambulance.  You never know what happens after you run by something like this, so hopefully everything worked out okay for everyone.

The Sun is out now!
After crossing the bridge and short out and back through Addison Heights, runners start to head towards the finish line at the Pentagon.  I started to struggle back at mile 21 and with the added heat I was fading fast, so knowing I was getting into the last few miles of the event I was trying to keep pushing.  With my lack of training and the fact I still didn't feel well, my overall time was horrible and I was starting to walk more frequently.

While I wasn't happy with my running performance, I was happy I was able to complete the event and run through DC again.  Once you finish the run, you are presented your medal by a Marine.  You then work your way out the chute where you can get your snack box, water and Gatorade.  You also get a light weight recyclable jacket.

2019 MCM Finishers Medal
With this many runners, the number of participants finishing every minute is fairly high.  I should have anticipated large crowds trying to exit the area, but I didn't expect it to be as bad as it was.  I have done large running events in the past (such as Disney) and perhaps it is just the constrained area where we finished, but with runners trying to exit, and allowing friends/family to merge into the same exit area it took me 45 minutes to an hour to just get out of the chute.

Once you get out of the chute, you have to make your way to the Rosslyn Metro station (Blue Line) so you can work your way to the Eisenhower station (Yellow Line) to catch the bus back to the Gaylord Hotel.  So, make sure you have a Metro card with you to make this process easier as you return.

In all, it took me about an hour and 45 minutes once I finished to get back to the hotel.  That delay, coupled with the fact that it took me 5 hours to run the race (my worst time ever), meant I didn't get back in time to take a shower since checkout was 2pm.

So, I changed cloths in the lobby and cleaned up the best I could and then we headed to lunch at Grace's Mandarin restaurant.  The food was excellent.  I wish I had booked another night at the hotel so that we could have enjoyed a few cocktails, I could have showered and we could take in the sites before heading home.

Post run lunch (chicken and shrimp fried rice) and Bok Choy
When I first finished the race and returned to the hotel, I was thinking I would never do this event again. The logistics of getting back from the race and the crowds just wasn't worth it to me.  But I know that a lot of this was tainted with the weather as well.  So, I might do this again, and in fact, maybe I will try the new 50K distance,  Most runs that long are on trails, which I don't love, so this may be one I can target and train for in 2020.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

2019 Delaware Marathon

I had planned on running the Delaware Half Marathon in 2018, but I had to defer due to an injury.  Once I heard that in 2019 they were changing the Full Marathon course from two half marathon loops (which we all know is kind of boring)  to a new route that included a newly constructed paved trail area through a wildlife rescue I switched to the full marathon.

The new trail is called the Jack A. Markell Trail and is a combination of board walk style areas as well as paved trail.  This part of the race doesn't start until past the half way point, so while the runners had already spread out, the trail itself is very spacious and getting around runners was not an issue at all.

We stayed at the Double Tree hotel in Wilmington since that was also the official race hotel and included packet pickup and the race expo.  I booked the hotel really early to make sure I had a room and in fact didn't even use (or think to go back and use) the group rate sponsored by the event.  So I know I paid more than most runners, but I don't know exactly how much more.  In general the room rates were reasonable around $130/night and runners were allowed a late checkout of 2pm which was awesome.  Plenty of time to get back shower, pack up and head out.

The area right around the hotel was nice enough, but to be honest it felt slightly unsafe with a few homeless around asking for money as you walked by.  We had reservations at a local restaurant, but after viewing their menu one final time we decided to eat in the hotel.  The food in the hotel was actually really good and they had several dishes that worked well for me the night before a race.  In this case salmon, asparagus and roasted potatoes.

The main dining area was doing a pasta buffet clearly targeted to all the runners staying at the hotel, but I have never been one to carb load with pasta before a race.  So we had to eat in the bar area which only had a few tables (about 8 or so).  They would not allow ordering off the menu in the main dining area, that was buffet only.

Starting Area Advertisements
We learned the next morning that this actually did cause a backup in the bar area as many guests didn't want the buffet and those that did found it to be sub par.  Not sure why they wouldn't serve the menu in that room given you could get it in the bar area.  Hopefully they will change this for 2020.

Christina River near starting line; you pass by here at mile 2.3

The race start/end was located at the Tubman Garret Riverfront Park which was about a half mile walk from the hotel.  A perfect location which allowed me to really arrive just before the start of the race.  Given that proximity I was able to sleep in a little longer before getting up and getting ready for the event.

SIS, Huma and Nuun

After I showered to help wake up and loosen up the muscles I made some "in room" coffee and started to get my clothes Nuun and SIS gels together.  It was at this point that I realized I FORGOT TO BRING RUNNING SHORTS!  I had my shirt, a sweatshirt to discard since it was going to be chilly and old pajama pants to discard as well.  I was at a total loss of what to do and yet didn't want to just pack up and do the 3 hour drive home without actually running.

I made the decision to have my wife go downstairs with the pajama pants, ask for a pair of scissors and cut them off into shorts.  I knew I was going to look totally ridiculous but at least I would run.  I gathered my gels (thankfully the pajamas had pockets), got my bib in place and headed to the starting area.

The starting area was organized really well.  The full marathon and the half marathon started at the same time (7am) and the 5k was going to start 30 minutes later.  Overall the race is fairly small with only 5,000 runners total across all three events.  In fact, only 324 runners completed the marathon out of the 327 that started.

Delaware Marathon Starting Line

I didn't have any real set expectation for this event since I had never run it and I also knew the overall course was new so I really couldn't get a lot of details from fellow runners except for the first half.  I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by how beautiful the course really was.  When you start in a city like Wilmington you tend to expect to stay within a very urban area.  This is certainly true with the Baltimore events.  While there is nice scenery around a few parks and the inner harbor area, for the most part you are in the city.

As you can see from the overall Strava map, this course meanders outside the city to the North in the first half along nice water ways and park like trails.  You start to work your way back to the starting area going through some amazing houses that clearly shows that Wilmington was founded by residents that definitely had money.

Strava Map of Delaware Marathon
Overall elevation gain for a race of this distance wasn't bad at all.  According to Strava the overall gain was 715ft.

Strava Elevation Map of Delaware Marathon

As you can see from the Strava elevation map, most of the gain is in the first half of the race as you travel North and then around the Brandywine Zoo and Brandywine Creek.  This part of the race was beautiful with lots of water views, ornate bridges and given the timing the trees and grass were a really bright and lush green.

Running uphill along South Park Drive
After climbing the South Park Drive hill you work your way around Wawaset Park which was full of amazing homes and large trees.  The race photographers captured me a few times in this area sporting my PJ running shorts with pockets full of gels.

Somewhere near Wawaset Park
After running around the Wawaset Park area, you get back down to Brandywine Creek, run along the water and turn right on North King Street heading back to the starting area.  You run right past the Double Tree hotel at this point taking the path you did to walk to the starting line,

As you pass under the railroad tracks, the half marathon runners make a left to finish and the marathon runners make a right and head towards the Wilmington Riverwalk area along the Christina River.

Overall I think signage and directional arrows were pretty good, but there were a few places that had no signs and frankly unless you could see other runners, you weren't really sure if you were still on course.  As I ran along the riverwalk area, which we had run the other direction after first starting, I wasn't sure that I hadn't messed up.  After working my way around one of the shopping center areas I finally saw a water stop and knew I was still okay.

The runners handbook that was mailed out before the start of the race (which was very informative) had indicated that at this point in the race we would be entering an area approximately 3.5 miles long without support.  Instead of a standard water stop they were handing out bottles of water so you could either take one with you or fill up your own hydration system.

As I made my way into the Russell Peterson Wildlife Refuge, I was astonished by the new trail system.  It was absolutely stunning.  The bridges, the lookout areas, the birds you could see and the marsh areas were spectacular.  There was a nice little breeze here and it started to rain a little.  Just enough to cool you down but not get in your face.  I managed to fish my camera out of my running belt again and take a few photos as I ran along the boardwalk style trail.

Russell Peterson Wildlife Refuge

Russell Peterson Wildlife Refuge
As you can see the runners are fairly spread out at this point, but the boardwalk is about 10 or so feet wide, so plenty of room to maneuver if necessary.

Right before you get back to full race support you run past the Baylor Women's Correctional Institute facility.  I didn't know that is what it was when I went by, but it was clear it was a prison of some sort.  I wasn't surprised that no one was outside on break given the amount of traffic that was about to go by.  Seemed like a prudent decision.

As we approached the turn around point at the New Castle Elementary School it was starting to rain pretty hard.  I wasn't wearing a hat so the rain was starting to get annoying, but since the humidity and temperature were steadily rising, I knew the rain was helping more than it was hurting.  Was starting to get concerned about the boardwalk section being slick, but by the time I got back to that part of the trail the rain had stopped and the boards were mostly dry.

Of course the race photography got me again as I was still a little wet in my stylish custom pajama running shorts.

Coming out of the wildlife refuge; about 2 miles left
I was starting to feel the strain of the marathon with about 2 to 3 miles remaining.  My quads were screaming to stop and I was really hungry.  My hydration was really good as I had water at each of the water stops and was carrying Nuun with me.

Getting tired; a mile to go

I think the photo above shows how tired I was.  My form is all over the place.  Thankfully the fabric my pajamas were made out of didn't bother me. I was a little concerned that it would rub or chaff my legs.  Especially when it started to get wet, but it tried fairly quickly and ended up being more comfortable than I thought.

Crossing the finish line
Seeing the finish line is always a welcome sight.  There was a lot of great support on the course from volunteers and actually a lot of spectators cheering us on through the course.  The 6 miles out on the trail to New Castle Elementary School was quiet for sure except for race support, but otherwise lots of folks were out on the street and in front of their homes cheering us on.

I grabbed a water at the finish line after getting my medal and quickly dropped in a Nuun Rest tablet I had been carrying around with me.  I grabbed a bag of Utz chips, found my wife, and back up to the hotel we went; stopping at Starbucks along the way of course.

Delaware Marathon Finishers Medal
The finishers medal is actually really nice and can double as a bottle opener. It even has a magnetic strip on the back so you can place it on your refrigerator for easy access.

Overall I would highly recommend this event.  It is smaller in size which makes it really nice.  The course was really pretty and had a lot of great scenery to keep you energized.  The Expo was pretty weak, only about 5 tables, but based on the post race emails, they took feedback and will work on attracting more sponsors for next year.

If you aren't local, staying at the host hotel worked really well.  The staff was reasonably nice, but the employee that checked me in was fairly rude.  A quick look online shows that this seems to be a theme at this particular hotel, but the rooms were nice and the beds were comfortable.  As I mentioned the dinner in the bar was really good and worked great as a pre-race meal.  Just don't forget your running shorts.

Friday, March 22, 2019

2019 Planned Runs

This article outlines the runs that I am planning to run for the 2019 Runner year.  As each run completes I will post a retrospective on the race so others can decide if it is something may be interested in trying and I can document for myself if I enjoyed it so I can remember to sign up again, or not, the following year.  Feel free to comment on what runs you will be doing this year!