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.

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