2011 Marine Corps Marathon Race Recap

I think I only slept for an hour total the night before the marathon. I was so nervous and excited and anxious that my mind would not stop racing long enough for me to get some solid shut-eye.

Brad and I discussed his spectating game plan before finally deciding to get our morning started around 4:30am. He went straight to the kitchen to prepare my breakfast and I began getting ready.

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The temperature was a brisk 30 degrees so I went with a t-shirt, the longest capris I owned, a throwaway sweatshirt and pair of gloves. I think even if I had added a pair of throwaway sweatpants, it still wouldn’t have been enough to keep me warm. Hello, I came from Texas – it was 82 there!

I ate a bagel and drank a bottle of Nuun while I double and triple-checked to make sure I had everything. We skipped making coffee in the room because they were supposed to have a few carafes set up in the lobby by 6am. Unfortunately, the security guard misinformed us and it wouldn’t be ready until 7. It wasn’t important enough to hang around for, so Brad and I headed out on the cold trek to the starting line.

In the hours leading up to the race, the only thing I was really focused on was how cold I was. Thankfully this helped to keep my mind off the fact I was about to embark on my first marathon. Brad stayed with me for about an hour, heading back to the hotel around 7:30. I strategically placed myself behind the exhaust pipe of an MCM Straggler bus to keep my legs warm.

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Also, I bought the whole damn CD of photos from the race so I don’t feel a tiny bit guilty jacking these pics from Marathonfoto until I get the real ones in the mail.

At 7:45 I headed into the 5:30-5:59 corral. My only goal for this race was to cross that finish line in an upright position. This, however, did not stop me from grabbing a 5:30 pace bracelet at the expo on Friday and slapping it on my wrist Sunday morning. It was an attainable pace, and it never hurts to have an ‘A’ goal.

The opening ceremony was incredible:

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Yes, that’s Drew Carey with the starting gun. It was his first marathon too!

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All photos courtesy of marinemarathon.com

And we were off!

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Once I crossed that starting mat, I was overwhelmed with emotion – I am running a marathon! The race was a culmination of all the hard work and dedication I had put in over the past 4 months. A huge smile spread across my face.

The crowd support was phenomenal. I’ve never seen anything like it (firsthand) in a race. Sure, Austin has it’s fair share of spectators, but nothing like this. I fed off the crowds infectious energy for several miles.

The first 7.5 miles included a few hills:

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We started in Arlington, then ran through Rosslyn, Clarendon, and across Key Bridge into Georgetown. The beginning miles ticked away like they were nothing. Every time I glanced down at my Garmin it was about to switch over to the next mile. Time was flying by. Every mile split was within 10 seconds of what it should have been for a 5:30 finish, and felt effortless.

At mile 4, I was finally starting to warm up so I tossed my sweatshirt. At mile 8, I tossed the gloves. And at mile 9, I made my first (of many) stop at a portopotty. I didn’t feel like I was hydrating too much, but clearly I had to have been.

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After the stop, I was about 1:20 minutes off of my pace. I didn’t stress over it though – that’s not what this race was about. Just after mile 9 they were handing out orange slices. Somehow I managed to grab one from the Marine, peel it with one hand, and devour it mid-run.

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Based on the plan Brad and I had discussed, the first place I would come across him and my family would be between mile 10 and 11. Sure enough, just around the corner there they were!

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My sister was in charge of being paparazzi for the race, and she did an awesome job! Now if only I could hire her for all of my races…

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And there I go!

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I continued on to Hains Point. I recalled countless race recaps and training runs on DC natives’ blogs which referenced this out and back trek. None were positive, and I mentally prepared myself for it.

Honestly? It wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. This probably had a lot to do with how gorgeous the weather was. I took in the sights and enjoyed the beautiful views. Just past the 20k mark was the second food stop, and I grabbed a chocolate Clif Shot.

When I hit the timing mat at the halfway point, the “oh my god I’m running a marathon” feeling hit me again. And I felt great.

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The members of my awesome spectating family planned on setting up camp at mile 15, so I kept my eyes peeled for them.

Apparently I flew by too quickly!

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As I came up on Tidal Basin bridge, I came across the most memorable sign I saw during the race:

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I laughed out loud when I saw it, and when I ran by someone yelled “Go Melissa!” (By the way, putting my name on my shirt was a great idea – I definitely recommend it!) Every time someone encouraged me along the way during the race, I made sure to wave and thank them. When I turned to thank her, I realized it was Megan from MegaNerdRuns! Thank you Megan and Jess for coming out to support the runnersspectators make all the difference!

Around mile 16 I made another bathroom stop, and this one cost me nearly nine minutes. There were only three portopotties, and the lines were a mix of runners and spectators. Again, I wasn’t worried about the time so it didn’t make me too anxious to have to wait.

My cheering brigade was now stationed at mile 17 waiting for me. I don’t know what I would have done without them; they gave me something to look forward to every few miles!

Mile 17 – still going strong:

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And still smiling!

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My family headed to hang out near mile 20 to wait for me, and I made my way down Madison towards the Capitol building.

I started taking frequent walk breaks after mile 18. I tried to tell myself it would hurt just as bad to run as it would to walk, and if I ran I would be done quicker. But the only thing my brain could process was that I was less than two miles away from that damn bridge and I was going to beat it.

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There were so many photographers lined up down this stretch. They positioned themselves on the ground in the center of the road about 6-7 feet from each other. I was so paranoid I was going to end up tripping over one of them!

Somewhere around the 19 mile marker I grabbed a packet of Sports Beans from the third food station. I don’t think I would have been able to choke down another Gu if I tried, so I was thankful for something different.

Once I made the left onto 14th Street, I spotted my family! Brad had been holding onto a pack of Shot Bloks for me so I slowed to a halt to grab them and tuck them into my handheld.

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Nice face. I must have just remembered I still had more than a 10k to go:

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Stretching out my back before I take on the bridge

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Ah. So let’s talk about that bridge, shall we? Once I crossed the 20 mile marker, my mind registered that point as the finish line. Before I knew what was happening, I was walking. I tried to pick up the pace but I felt I was running slower than I had been walking.

The 14th Street bridge took FOR-EV-ER. I had heard for many months about how I needed to “Beat the Bridge” but I had never realized how long the damn thing was. Long, as in, we passed the mile 21 marker while STILL ON THE BRIDGE. I graciously accepted a package of Skittles from a spectator and inhaled them. The spectators on this stretch were few and far between but I appreciated each and every one of them.

I flipped through my playlist and finally came to a song that got my legs moving faster than a snails pace. I powerwalked the uphills and ran the downhills. After what seemed like thirty minutes (and it very well could have been), I arrived in Crystal City. The homestretch! Ha – not quite.

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I grabbed a chocolate munchkin at the fourth and final food stop. It tasted like a little piece of heaven.

Brad jumped in with me as I came up on mile 22.

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I had heard a lot of good things about Crystal City, but I wasn’t that impressed. Having to watch the runners coming back in the other direction KILLED me. Out-and-backs like that mess with my head. All I kept thinking was “where is the turnaround?!” I knew Morgan would be in Crystal City with her sparkly silver pants but unfortunately I never saw her. I think I was in my own little world at that point.

At mile 23, I said goodbye to Brad. And to my water bottle. I knew there would be two more water stops and really didn’t feel like carrying it anymore. Honestly I’m surprised I didn’t ditch it sooner.

Stretching my quads before heading out to tackle the final three:

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More stretching…

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Then I hit the road again to finish up the race! To give you an idea of how much I had slowed down, it took me 20 minutes longer to finish the last 5k than it did the first. Those miles were ROUGH.

I do NOT look happy

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But I managed to slap on a weak smile for this photographer:

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I spent most of the last miles reflecting on how far I had come in just over a year as a runner. It’s hard to believe that I finished my first half marathon last October, and I was in the midst of finishing a marathon. My thoughts were nothing but positive, and not once during the race did I think I wouldn’t finish. My legs were going to fight me until the end, but my heart was in it 100%.

Once I passed the mile 26 marker, I kicked it into high gear and headed towards the finish. The uphill finish. I contemplating slowing to a walk, at least until the top of the hill where it turned towards the finisher’s chute, but the Marines lining both sides of the hill were yelling to stay strong and keep moving.

So I did.

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As I neared the finish line at the Iwo Jima Memorial, a huge smile appeared on my face and I threw both arms up in the air

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And as I crossed the finish line of my first marathon, I received high fives from two Marines at once. Amazing.

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I finished in 6:16:07. I know, it’s not the fastest time. Could I have pushed myself harder? Yes. But I didn’t want to hate my first marathon and swear them off forever. I enjoyed every single moment (even those last 6.2 miles) of that race, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

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I am a marathoner!

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43 Comments

  1. Congratulations! You are such an inspiration!

    Roya
    royaghorbani.wordpress.com

  2. Congratulations! What an amazing experience!

  3. Great job, Congratulations to you and looking forward always for more races to come. I love those pics and looking forward.

  4. Congrats, I really enjoyed reading about your experience. I eventually am hoping to do a marathon one day. I just started running so I am slowly working my way up to a half-marathon. Good job!!! You should be soo proud of yourself.

  5. Yay!!! I loved reading your story! I want this to be my first marathon next year and I am scared to death…(also, I just moved to FL from Austin and used to run the same Brushy Creek trail you do..I loved that trail) 🙂 Congratulations on your first marathon!!

    • Thank you so much! That’s funny you moved from Austin to FL, because I just moved from FL to Austin haha. I love BC trail also, it’s so much quieter than Town Lake

  6. proud of you, congrats!

  7. I could not agree more with your comment about Crystal City. Out and backs drive me crazy. Hate em. Congratulations on an awesome race. Hopefully the first of many.

    • Right?! “Here’s a munchkin, now go watch all of these people who are closer to finishing than you are” Evil. Pure evil.

      Thank you for the kind words Randy! 26.2 & I will be meeting up again in 2012 🙂

  8. Congratulations! Looks like they sort of got you high-fiving the marines! Just blurry and far away 🙂
    I’m glad you enjoyed it so much. I love the MCM. And actually, I really love Hains Pt. Beautiful water views, what’s not to like?

    I do hate that bridge, though. I don’t remember it being so bad last year, but this year it killed me!
    Still, I’ll be back again next year!

    • I actually did a screen shot from the video of me crossing the finish line since the photographers weren’t able to get the shot. Close enough for me 🙂

      I really loved this race and hope to be back next year!

  9. Awesome recap Melissa. Congrats on your finish! MCM was my first full too and I’m so glad I chose it (or it chose me) to be first. Your feelings about the 14th st bridge AND Crystal City mirror mine…exactly! Great job!

    • Thank you John, It seems as if everyone had the same thoughts about Crystal City and that damn bridge! Congrats on finishing your first 26.2 – such an incredible accomplishment 🙂

  10. I loved your recap! I saw all the food stops, but didn’t get anything. In retrospect, I really wish I had gotten one of those doughnuts. 🙂

  11. Thanks Kara! Loved your race sign post, a different take on the marathon. The “everyday I’m snufflin” one still cracks me up haha

  12. So happy for you, Melissa! Loved your race report. You look so happy in most of your pics. This is reminding me to smile sometimes when I’m out there in December.

  13. Way to go on your first marathon!!! Crazy that you’ve only been running for a little over a year and you’ve already completed a marathon! Sounds like you had a very positive experience. The weather was gorgeous!!! A perfect day for a marathon.
    That bridge was the devil for sure. I was also worried about Crystal City going into the race and it was tough but I think I mentally prepared for it knowing it was going to be an awful out and back. They try to market it as a party but I didn’t really get that vibe when I ran through.

  14. The goal with the first 26.2 date should definitely be ENJOY & Survive! 🙂 I’m so glad you had fun racing through DC! Congrats on your first Marathon finish!

  15. Congrats again!!! 🙂 So glad you had a great experience! It was definitely an amazing race and one I will definitely do again. I always love reading recaps of a persons first marathon, I’m a sap like that. 🙂 (plus reading this helps me remember all the things that I forgot!)

  16. Loved your recap!!! (sorry it took me so long to recap!!). Awesome job on pushing through. There is NOTHING harder than pumping yourself when you are feeling so down. Not only are you a marathoner – but you are awesome!!

  17. Congrats!!! Those last 6.2 were definitely tough!

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  22. I am Laying here not sleeping 2 nights before my first marathon(dc mcm) and your post from last year has really inspired me to stay optimistic and think I can do this! Great job on your first marathon and thank you!

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  25. wow! I just did my first marathon MCM yesterday and your experience remind me of my experience yesterday. thank u for this!

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