I took a leap of faith ahead of time and posted on the series Facebook page that I was looking for a roommate and someone to share the driving from state to state. I ended up with a great traveling friend in Seth who was also experienced doing some previous Mainly Marathon races. He helped show me the ropes and introduced me to some of the regulars.
I also met the other Marathon Maniac with the same nickname — Rick “Roadkill” Haase. There are now over 11,000 Marathon Maniacs worldwide but just two Roadkills. I was hoping Rick wouldn’t be upset with me using “Roadkill” since he was a Maniac long before me, but Rick was more than gracious, and we had a great time getting to know one another during the series. There were many comments about the two of us running together. One of the more dubious comments when we were seen together was “roadkill coalescing.” Personally, I prefer “Roadkill Squared” or “RK2.”
If you are working on completing a marathon or half marathon in all 50 states or are contemplating doing two or more races on consecutive days definitely consider a Mainly Marathon series. At this point, they cover all but 10 states (AK, AZ, CA, FL, HI, ID, NV, OR, UT, and WA) so at least one series is probably close to where you live or somewhere you’d like to visit. I can’t think of a better way to see the country!
Here are my notes from each day of the series…
Day 1 — Dalhart, TX
- I was struck by how flat and open it was on the drive from Amarillo (where I landed) to Dalhart — very few trees, mostly grassland and no hills to speak of. Endless sky and endless highway ahead.
- The day before I checked out the town to find a bar where I could get my traditional car bomb. I had no luck so I picked up a pint glass in a local dollar store, bought a shot glass, a bottle of Jameson’s and Baileys, and a six-pack of Guinness in a local liquor store. I was set for the series.
- The series was a pretty big deal in most of these small towns we visited, and the local XIT Museum hosted a dinner for runners the night before. They even showed up the next morning to cheer on the runners (and sell us XIT and Dalhart souvenirs).
- The Rita Blanca Park was pretty desolate-looking — like an alien world scene for an early Star Trek episode. The course was a dirt and gravel path — glad I wore my gaiters — but it was wide and well groomed for the most part.
- 12 laps out and back. Each time you return to the start you pick up a rubber band to help you track your laps. Each lap is also an opportunity to visit the well-stocked water and food tables. It took me until the last day to get my water and food quickly and not lose time in transition — so much to choose from and opportunities to visit with the volunteers and staff.
- Started out using my Gymboss timer, but found myself leap-frogging with Liz so I stayed with her and followed her intervals instead. Fell behind somewhere after mile 20 when I made a pit stop. By day 4 I stopped carrying the timer and I rarely looked at my Garmin.
- Finished just under 6:30 which was in the range of what I expected, but I must have done something to my foot because it became irritated later that night on the top where the foot and ankle flex. It’s possible I might have planted or pivoted on some loose soil on that trail and twisted or strained some tissue, or I might have had my shoe tied too tight.
- The panhandle region of Texas and Oklahoma is almost all extensive grassland in all directions — the high prairie. I knew that but didn’t process the fact that I would be running at elevation. — from 2500 in Dalhart to 4000 in Clayton. I didn’t notice the elevation directly in terms of breathing but it might have made some difference in my overall speed during the series.
Day 2 — Guymon, OK
- A wild and windy drive to Guymon with tumble weeds hurtling across the road into the cars driven by wind gusts up to 40 and 50 MPH. There was a tornado warning well to the east of where we were — no danger to us, but we did experience the wind come sweeping down the plain!
- Almost had a lodging problem. Used booking.com but the reservation never went through. Lesson learned — call for confirmation (although I thought I had). Fortunately they still had a room available and gave us the group rate.
- A cold start (ice on the car windows in the morning) but it warmed up nicely to be a very comfortable day.
- Thompson Park is a small, pretty park featuring Sunset Lake with a small island full of very noisy geese. A concrete path circles the lake and there is a miniature railroad, too, but only operational in the summer.
- Although this was probably the coldest start, the wind was not much of an issue — possibly because the park sits down below the surrounding land. When we left to drive on to Kansas it definitely was windy again.
- We ran around the lake almost to the starting point, then turned around to run back to the start for 1 lap, collecting 14 rubber bands to complete this marathon.
- I could feel the discomfort in my foot during this race, but it didn’t slow me up significantly. I did lose about 20 minutes in the porta pot, though — one of those days.
- We missed the wine and hors d’oeuvres at the Adobe Museum by the time we drove to Kansas and got dressed for dinner, but after the group dinner next to the hotel we found a large contingent of our group had brought the wine and appetizers back to the hotel after the museum closed so we drank wine after dinner and had a raucous conversation.
Day 3 — Ulysses, KS
- This was my least favorite course at Frazier Park next to the Bentwood Golf Course, and, to be fair, the surface was a surprise to race director Clint Burleson. What had been an asphalt path was now topped by gravel — with stones as large as 3/8 inch diameter. Even in my ultra-cushioned Hokas I could feel the surface under foot. To make matters worse, my foot pain made running pretty uncomfortable. I resigned myself to doing much more walking.
- Pivoting on my bad foot was the most problematic and at the end of each lap we had to make a U-turn around a cone. It wasn’t until the last few laps that I figured out making a clockwise U-turn was much better! Wish I had figured that out much sooner.
- The weather was not the best this day. It was a cold start and I wore my fleece vest planning to take it off later but never did — partly because I was going so slow I didn’t keep my core warm and partly because there were more clouds than sun and we had a pretty stiff wind much of the day.
- Although I struggled I knew I would finish, but I didn’t realize until close to the end that I was in the “running” for the Caboose Award. However, this day there would be two of us. Phil and I found ourselves together with just two laps to go, and we decided to share the honor. Unlike most races where the last finishers are lucky to find some water and maybe a bruised leftover banana, there was food and drink and plenty of cheers along with an official caboose photo. Mainly Marathons truly knows how to show love to back-of-the-packers!
- To add insult to injury, I developed two large blisters on the outside of my big toes. Luckily, they were in areas I could easily work on and weren’t on the bottom of my foot. I drained them that night and bandaged them for the next day.
- Once again, conversation after dinner lasted a lot longer than intended. Not as much sleep as I should have had for an earlier race start in an earlier time zone in the morning.
Day 4 — Lamar, CO
- The course was located in Willow Creek Park — the first New Deal project in Colorado which provided much-needed flood relief and a recreational area while providing work during the depression.
The out-and-back course crossed Willow Creek providing a couple of short but steep descents and ascents but I enjoyed the scenery much more than the previous day in Kansas. The weather also improved greatly — this was the warmest day of all five.
- My foot still bothered me, but I was able to maintain a quicker pace even when walking. It actually felt a bit better to run up the inclines than to walk them, and I was able to run far more than I did the previous day. I spent much of the time in conversation with “Evil Twin” Karen which helped distract me from my foot pain, and I ended up finishing more than 45 minutes faster than the day before — still my 4th worst time but nowhere near in contention for the caboose!
Near the end of this marathon, I caught up with fellow runner Mark who is a podiatrist. He graciously granted me an impromptu, informal consultation while on the move. Based on my descriptions of symptoms he said my foot pain was probably due to an impingement (tissue-on-tissue rubbing) and probably not indicative of a stress fracture. Relieved by this news, I was encouraged that I should be able to finish the final day of the series.
- I had a massage from massage therapist Mark on the first day but missed the next two days. This time, I took full advantage and it was fantastic. Mark and his wife, Sue — also a masseuse — had a small pool set up with ice water — perfect for my sore foot. Sue helped me clean and dress the blisters which had new blisters underneath. She and Mark had “Second Skin” squares they gave me to dress the blisters. These are 1-inch moistened gel squares that are applied directly to the blister (after draining). I then wrapped them with kinesio tape which formed an excellent protection from further problems. Then lent me the jar of pads overnight so I could re-dress the blisters in the morning before the last race. Then Mark went to work on me spending some extra time on my foot. He used a technique involving direct pressure while I moved the joint with and without resistance in each direction.
- That night we made it to Clayton, NM, in time for dinner at the Herzstein Museum with a brief tour of the museum afterward. Then off to bed because we lost an hour driving in Mountain Time Zone.
Day 5 — Clayton, NM
- Clayton Lake State Park was a half-hour drive from the town so it was an early rise for the last day. This was a much different course than the others featuring some hills, running across an earthen dam with gusting cross winds, an out-and-back in two directions from the start/finish area, and dinosaur tracks on the other side of the dam.
- Apparently the early morning light is best to view the tracks because of the shadows so on my second time across the top of the dam, I stopped to take the steps down to the tracks on the other side. I took the time to take photographs and walk all around the area on the wooden walkway. In the footprints of dinosaurs!
- Between the detour to see the tracks and taking photographs of all the informational plaques I probably added at least 15 minutes to my marathon time for the day. And, in spite of my foot still hurting, I was able to run much better than the previous three days finishing with my 2nd best time of the series — about 15 minutes more than the first day when I didn’t visit dinosaur tracks! Maybe it was just a case of “smelling the barn!”
- What a great euphoric feeling to finish the series! I treated myself to one more Mark Massage before embarking on my 3+ hour drive to Santa Fe to meet my wife.
- Then one last car bomb:
The last day of the series also featured a drone filming us running during the early morning hours. Very cool!
One of the runners that ran all five days — Lynn “Cornbread” Forbus — made a video of his experience using a Go Pro camera. It gives a great sense of the experience as it happened. (about 30 minutes running time)
In two days I’ll be on my way to Dalhart, Texas to begin the Dust Bowl Series — 5 marathons in 5 states in 5 days. The first leg in Dalhart will be on Wednesday followed by marathons in Guymon, Oklahoma, on Thursday; in Ulysses, Kansas, on Friday; inLamar, Colorado, on Saturday, and in Clayton, New Mexico, on Sunday, March 29.
I am really looking forward to this series. I have heard only great things about the organization, support, and camaraderie in the Mainly Marathon series of races. Once finished, I will have 15 states on my quest to complete marathons in all 50.
If all goes well with this series, I would like to run another series later this year, then two series per year in 2016 and 2017. That should bring me to about 45 total. If I can schedule Alaska and Hawaii along with the remaining few in the following two years, I could be done when I’m 70. We shall see…
It certainly has been awhile since I last posted (other than my better-late-than-never year-end/new-year review). My winter long break from blogging was not intentional. But I didn’t stop running. In spite of pretty challenging winter weather for training, I have been putting in a lot of miles to prepare for my up-coming 5-day, 5-state, 5-marathon binge next week. Yikes! Already?
With the help of a lot more treadmill miles than I’d like to remember, and a one-week spring training blitz in Florida, I managed to average over 200 miles per month in January and February. Thank goodness for the Chester Valley Trail — it is quickly plowed and salted after each snowstorm providing safe extended mileage for my long runs. Here’s a little fellow that guarded the trail after one snowstorm:
It looks like we’ll have one more snowfall with accumulation this week before I head to Texas for the Dust Bowl Series next Monday. It will be tough packing with my fingers crossed for good weather next week out west. If you’re so inclined, how about crossing your fingers for me, too? Thanks!
Well, this is long over-due! I took an unintended blogging break over the winter so here’s the post I intended to write around New Years Day… I rarely look back when running unless I’m starting a walk interval or resuming running afterward, but as one year closes and the next lays before me I like to reflect as well as look ahead. So here are highlights from 2014 and what I’m looking forward to in 2015.
- The Dopey Challenge at Disney World in January was definitely a highlight event in spite of having to overcome plantar fasciitis to get it done. The hardest part of doing four races in four days of 5K, 10K, Half and Full Marathon distances was actually getting up at 2:30 AM each morning! It was fun, though, to have my wife and my friends along to celebrate the finish, and I got to enjoy the parks, too!
- This year I made a point of volunteering at several races with my local club, Fast Tracks. I helped out at the Valley Forge Revolutionary 5-Mile Run in April, our club’s Radnor Red Run Steeplechase in August, and the Mile 10 water stop at the Philadelphia Marathon in November. If you are a runner and haven’t yet volunteered at a race, I highly recommend it!
- I ran two races with the Marines this year. The first was the Marine Corps 17.75K (just over 11 miles) in April which allowed me to by-pass the lottery for the Marine Corps Marathon in October. That was definitely a special event and a must-do for any marathon runner.
- I ran the Vermont City Marathon in May in Burlington and had the delightful opportunity to finish the last two miles with legendary marathoner Larry Macon who ran over 250 marathons in 2013 and, as of the end of 2014, has completed over 1400 lifetime marathons. The Energizer Bunny is a piker!
- In August I completed the runDisney Coast-to-Coast Challenge by doing the Dumbo DoubleDare at Disneyland in California — a 10K and Half Marathon on Saturday and Sunday. The Disney folks do an outstanding job of supporting races and making them memorable and fun events. Of course, I followed this up with a marathon the next weekend in Ventura to check off California.
- In October, upon finishing the Marine Corps Marathon which starts and ends in Arlington, Virginia, I completed my 10th marathon state and was able to join the 50 States Marathon Club. It’s now official — I’m on the quest for all 50 states.
- I finished up the year with the Bucks County Marathon — a last-minute addition, but a wonderful small race along the beautiful Delaware Canal Towpath from Washington Crossing Park on the Pennsylvania side of the river. This was a fun race but gave me my best finish time for the year. And afterward I got to catch up with many family members from Bucks County for a post-race dinner.
- In spite a year-end head cold, I managed to squeeze in just enough miles to log 1600 miles for the year — not bad considering I took off a full 6 weeks after the Dopey Challenge to heal my plantar fasciitis.
- I’ve now logged over 8000 total miles (training and racing miles). One of my long-range goals is to run 15,000 miles by the time I’m 75 years old. That means I have 10 more years to run another 7000 miles which should be fairly easy even allowing for possible injuries and slowing down as I get older. But, it is also reasonably possible for me to hit 15,000 miles by the time I’m 70 — if I can maintain my current level of activity. I’ll keep the stated goal of 75, but I’d love to get there 5 years ahead of time!
- I’ve been working on my general fitness levels by taking yoga classes at the YMCA and doing some core exercises. I’d like to ramp this up a bit and be more consistent.
- Next up is the Dust Bowl Series — 5 marathons in 5 states (TX, OK, KS, CO, and NM) in 5 days (3/25 through 3/29). I am now seriously on a quest to complete a marathon in all 50 states.
- Assuming the Dust Bowl Series goes well, I may register for the Appalachia Series — 7 marathons in 7 states (WV, VA, TN, NC, SC, GA, AL) in 7 days (10/11 through 10/17). I already have Virginia (Marine Corps Marathon, 2014) so I may skip that day or just run the half marathon option or maybe volunteer to help with the food/water station. If this happens, I’ll end up 2015 with 21 states completed.
The Bucks County Marathon was the coldest marathon I’ve run so far, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable race! Not severe cold — low 30s to start and barely 40 to finish, and it didn’t start raining until after I drove away, thank goodness! It was a small field of a little more than 300 finishers — a far cry from the 30,000 I ran with three weeks ago at the Marine Corps Marathon, but I loved the low key vibe and the absolutely delightful Delaware Canal Towpath. I would definitely recommend the runBucks Series to fellow runners.
This wasn’t a milestone race for me — just a last-minute addition for fun since I felt pretty good after Marine Corps and realized that the Bucks County Marathon wasn’t the same day as the Philly Marathon like it has been in the past. I’m not running Philly, but I am volunteering with my club, Fast Tracks, at the Mile 10 water stop so I was surprised and delighted to discover that I could add Bucks for one more race this year — my 16th overall marathon/ultra on November 16, and my 5th this year.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve been to Washington Crossing Historical Park in Washington Crossing, PA, where the race began and finished. I grew up in Bucks County, but I was a lot younger when I was last there and on the towpath so this was almost like visiting for the first time. The park itself is quite small and unremarkable (especially compared to Valley Forge National Historical Park where I do a lot of training runs). The course begins and ends with about a mile loop around the perimeter of the park on an asphalt road.
At every race, I enjoy meeting new Marathon Maniac friends before the start. It was special to meet the youngest Marathon Maniac Nikolas Toocheck and his dad, Dan (second and third from the right in the photo above). At 11-years-old Nik is the youngest to complete all a marathon on all 7 continents and raising money and awareness for children living in poverty through his website, Running the World for Children.
I was a little surprised that they had nine waves to start the race given the small field size, but once I was on the towpath, it made a lot of sense. The initial loop in the park allowed the field to spread out a bit, and on many sections of the towpath there was only enough room for two abreast in either direction — often when passing under one of the 15 camelback bridges along the course.
The course itself is really pretty — even on a cold, gray day. In addition to the bridges, we had views of the Delaware Canal and River and many stretches of beautiful woods. Somewhere near mile 2 or 3 there was a magnificent white swan in the canal, and it was still in the same spot when I got back. Of course there were ducks and geese, and one very loud gaggle of geese flying north over the river as I was running back south. The course included a brief run through New Hope with one road crossing and a very brief flight of easy steps. Some of the homes along the canal and the river are also quite magnificent — especially along the stretch just north of New Hope.
I wasn’t sure what the conditions of the towpath would be, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it in excellent shape for running. It was mostly hard-pack dirt and/or very small gravel that wasn’t loose so footing was quite stable. I worry a bit about running on newly fallen leaves that might hid stones or twigs potentially twisting an ankle, but there were only a couple of spots with leaves — probably due to recent windy weather. In general the path was an excellent surface to run on. There were only 2 or 3 muddy spots that were quite easily avoided, and it was pretty easy to pass or be passed in spite of the relatively narrow towpath. The size of the field of runners was very good for the venue, and I believe it can easily accommodate its stated cap of 500.
The Runners’ Guide gave us a heads up about low clearances at some of the 15 camelback bridge underpasses along the course, and I wrote a quick parody of the Erie Canal lyrics for the occasion in my last blog post. Most of them had plenty of head room, but there were a couple that actually made me feel like ducking although I don’t think it was really necessary (for me). In some cases the underpass included a bit of a dip in the towpath and many of them were only wide enough for two abreast, but they provided a nice scenic element and a perfect perch to race spectators.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from myself since this was my first marathon that wasn’t entirely on asphalt, and I was primarily doing it for fun. Since Marine Corps I had eliminated walking intervals in my training runs of up to 15 miles long so I decided to start out without them as long as it felt comfortable, and I did that for the first 10 miles. At that point I was averaging about an 11:15 pace. I felt pretty good decided to switch to 1:45/40 intervals then to see if I could conserve something for the end of the race. For the next 5 miles I actually maintained close to that pace in spite of the intervals and I was still passing other runners, but I slowed to around 12-minute pacing for miles 15 and 16. I’m not sure why because I was back down in the mid-11 pacing for miles 17 and 18. Mile 19 was another slow one — 13:12 pace — but I picked it back up to close to 12-minute miles for the next 2 miles. I think that was the stretch that I had a companion runner. Once he ran ahead, I slowed to about a 13-minute pace for mile 22. By the end of the next mile, I switched my intervals to 1/1 since I was not even close to finishing around 5 hours. At that point, I figured I’d keep it comfortable to the end and even stopped to take the selfie photo above.
Some complained about the loop inside, especially at the end when you have to pass alongside the finish chute as you begin that last loop, but that didn’t bother me at all. Once I actually see the finish line in a race it gives me a boost — no matter how far away it is — and you can see the finish all around that loop. My only complaint with the loop was the condition of the asphalt in spots — you had to be alert for an occasional pothole or worn section, especially at the end when your focus is not quite as sharp.
I actually finished with my best time for the year — 5:20:48 — so I was happy with that even though I think I should be closer to finishing in 5 hours. Still, it is a far cry from my worst time of 7:28 in January at Disney World on my plantar fasciitis-ravaged foot. Running the first 10 miles as fast as I did in this race without any walk intervals wasn’t a great strategic decision, but I still had a blast. It’s always fun to beat the beast no matter how you do it!
Race Director, Pat McCloskey, greeted the finishers — even those of us at the back of the pack — one of the nice advantages of running a small event like this. And the post race food was great! They had hot dogs, hamburgers, meatballs, chili, and beans for refueling along with more typical fare. I enjoyed some chili, but I didn’t eat too much since I was going to meet my family for dinner after I got cleaned up and changed. But you could certainly get your fill if you wanted or needed to.
If you are a runner and get a chance, consider doing one of the runBucks series. I will definitely consider doing this one again and other of the series in the future.
Now, it’s time for me to rest briefly before I begin training in earnest for the Dust Bowl Series in March, 2015. Doing 5 marathons in 5 consecutive days will be a major new challenge for me as well as making significant progress on my quest for all 50 states.
Relentless Forward Progress…
Next Sunday (November 16) I am running the Bucks County Marathon starting in Washington Crossing, PA, then following the Delaware Canal towpath up river 13 miles and back down the same way. The runners’ guide includes this information about the course:
“The towpath has several camelback bridge underpasses with low clearance. There are 15 bridge underpasses along the course, for a total of 30 under-passings. Taller people may feel the need to duck under a few of them.”
And so I have Bruce Springsteen’s recording of Erie Canal firmly stuck in my head…
Good thing I like the song!
I had a great training run this morning in the cold, and the long range forecast looks like similar temps next weekend. I am really looking forward to it!
“Low bridge, everybody down! Low bridge, we’re comin’ into town…”
(Sunday, November 9):
I took the liberty of writing alternate lyrics just for the occasion. Everybody sing along…Delaware Canal (to the tune of Erie Canal) I got a pair of Hokas and a running pal Thirteen miles on the Delaware Canal I’m not very fast but I run anyhow Thirteen miles on the Delaware Canal We trained for months and we’re feeling fine Can’t wait to toe that starting line And run all the way to the end of the line Then from Virginia Forest to the Finish Line Low bridge, everybody down Low bridge, we’re coming to a town And you’ll maybe chase your neighbor While you’re running with a pal When you run a race on the Delaware Canal instrumental line.. Pick up your cadence; don’t throw in the towel Thirteen miles on the Delaware Canal When you wear the medal everyone will say “Wow” Another thirteen miles on the Delaware Canal Pick up your pace — don’t worry ‘bout the clock We’ll pass New Hope long before 2 o’clock Huffin’ and puffin’ and we’re almost done One more circle and the race is won Low bridge, everybody down Low bridge, we’re coming to a town You’ll maybe pass a neighbor Or fall behind your pal When you run the races on the Delaware Canal Instrumental verse We’d better pack some gels if we go too far Thirteen miles on the Delaware Canal You can bet your life I’m gonna limp to my car After 26-point-2 on the Delaware Canal A real fast runner can win the race Or take her age group & come in first place But even if you’re slow and running for a lark You’ll still wind up back here in the park Low bridge, everybody down Low bridge, ‘cause we’re coming to a town You’ll maybe beat your neighbor Or come in behind a pal When you run the race on the Delaware Canal Low bridge, everybody down Low bridge, ‘we’re coming to a town You’ll maybe beat your neighbor Or come in behind a pal When you run the race on the Delaware Canal
The 2014 Marine Corps Marathon was a great experience for me. I loved the course and the crowd support and the energy of a well-executed large event. I definitely recommend MCM as a destination race if you don’t mind big crowds. My results were what I expected though not what I hoped or thought possible — a 5:33:24 finish instead of a sub-5 — but I’m satisfied and feel pretty good physically.
This was my 50th race overall (all distances), my 15th marathon, and my 10th state to complete a marathon in. I’m not sure what multiple of 5 mean in numerology, but it was a good day for me!
We made this race a mini-vacation to include a little sight-seeing so my wife Marie traveled with me along with my training partner Ashley who also ran the marathon. We arrived Friday late morning in surprisingly light traffic and no long lines at the Expo. Ashley has run MCM before and always attended the Expo on Saturday with huge crowds and long lines, but we sailed through the packet pickup and the expo without any problems.
We had a little extra time on Friday so we visited the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. The last time Marie and I visited, there was just a little temporary sign indicating the future site of the memorial. It was very impressive and included some of his more poignant quotes.
That night we had a carb-loading dinner including my traditional pre-race car bomb. I’d already had one earlier in the week, but it just seemed right to have a local one just before the race.
Saturday was an open day so we tried out our Metro cards and headed to the National Mall.
We headed to the Holocaust Museum – another place we hadn’t visited before . It is a very sobering and intense experience — almost overwhelming. It is hard to comprehend how inhumanity and intolerance can be inflicted on such a scale in a relatively short period of time, although the prejudices and hatred were built up over many generations. It is sad to realize how much hatred and intolerance still prevails in the world today. Lots of work left to do.
After the museum we had an early dinner and headed back to our hotels to prep for the race and get some rest. With 30,000 runners to assemble, it’s a very early call for race day.
I left my hotel near the Washington Convention Center shortly after 5:00 AM. The 3-block walk to the Metro station was eerily quiet — I saw no other runners and very few cars on the street. Once I got in the Metro station, however, I saw more runners. By the time our train got to the Pentagon station, it was full of runners — some chatty, some deep in thought, and some still groggy (my group).
We had a bit of a hike from the station to the runners’ assembly area which served to wake me up. I struck up a conversation with someone with an immobilization boot on her lower leg and using a scooter. She was originally registered to run MCM, but because of a stress fracture she switched to volunteering at the start area instead. Initially they had her scheduled to work one of the remote water stops but changed her to the starting area instead because it would be too difficult for her to get to the water stop area. She had a great attitude and our conversation was a nice start to the day.
I arrived early enough that it didn’t take too long to get through the security check. But they did have everyone go through metal detectors and Marines with hand wands did follow up checks as needed. I forgot my little flashlight in my pocket and had to go through remedial wanding. Fortunately, I passed the second screening and entered runners’ village.
It was still quite dark but not too cold — mid to upper 50s at that point — and the anticipated wind had not kicked up yet so it was fairly pleasant to walk around. I found the scheduled spot for the pre-race Marathon Maniac photo so I hung out nearby while waiting for more Maniacs to gather. Another good reason to be early is having clean portapots and no lines to wait in!
Soon more Maniacs began gathering. According to the Maniac website, there were about 230 of us scheduled to run MCM. Of course, the photo didn’t include everyone. Some intent on a fast finish no doubt skipped the photo to claim a spot in the first corral. Others came running just as the photo was about to be taken, and more were surely stuck in the crowds still pouring into the runners’ village area or waiting their turns in the portapot lines. It was great to catch up with Maniacs I had met before at various marathons as well as getting to meet other Maniacs for the first time. Just a few days after MCM, our international club topped 10,000 members! I doubt I’ll ever run a marathon where I’m the only Maniac in the field.
After the photo, we all made our way to the starting corrals. I was somewhat surprised how well the corral system worked. There were simply large sign banners with anticipated finish times listed and runners were allowed to pick their own starting position. On reflection, however, it made sense. The start line is also the 25.5 mile section of the course. Everything had to be broken down after the start and cleared away before runners came through on the way to the finish line — and it was. And the corrals move fairly quickly through the start in spite of the number of runners. By contrast, there were fewer runners at the Disney World Marathon last January, but it took well over an hour or more for all runners to get across the start line. Then, again, there were fireworks and a separate start for each corral at Disney.
The MCM start was impressive in its own right. First there were 11 parachutists including Medal Of Honor recipient and retired US Marine Cpl. William Carpenter who also ran the marathon after landing. He and the other parachutists also delivered at least 4 huge American flags to the start line. Here’s a video sampling of that part of the starting ceremonies:
After that two Osprey tilt rotor aircraft flew over the corrals from the back to the front with rotors up, then flew across the field of runners with rotors down. Very soon after that the howitzer fired — right at the scheduled 7:55 start time — and the field advanced. Ashley and I made it to the start line about 14 minutes later.
I like to think about the marathon distance in chunks so that’s how I’ll describe the course and my experience. The first chuck was the climb into Rosslyn and the descent to the bridge over to Georgetown. The first 2 miles or so was noticeably uphill. I was definitely glad I trained weekly on the Valley Forge Park outer loop, and it was good that the only extended climb occurred at the beginning of the race when legs are fresh and adrenaline is pumping with the excitement of the start. We held a pace just under 12:30 through the first 3 miles, then picked up some speed on the downhill of mile 4 before crossing the Key Bridge into Georgetown and resuming our 12+ pace.
After mile 5 we hit the out-and-back section through Rock Creek Park. It was very pretty and an opportunity to see the other runners ahead of us as they came back while we were going out. Lots of high fives with other Maniacs along this section which was nice because there were not as many spectators in this section. As we finished mile 10 past the Kennedy Center, I bid adieu to Ashley and headed on ahead — still hoping to possibly reel in a sub-5 hour finish.
The next section of the course took us behind the Lincoln Memorial and near the FDR Memorial on the way to the Blue Mile and Hains Point. As I headed into mile 11 I noticed the wind gusting for the first time. Fortunately it was not a head wind and it wasn’t blowing constantly hard so I didn’t feel that it was a factor for me. The Blue Mile is at mile 12, organized by the wear blue: run to remember organization that honors the service and sacrifice of the American Military. The mile is lined with photos of the fallen and organization members holding flags. The normal runner chatter and spectator shouts are replaced by the relative silence of runners footfalls during this reflective and somber mile.
The mood shifts, however, at the next food station and water stop and the return trip from Hains Point along the channel to the Tidal Basin is lined with lots of funny signs. Here’s one — I had to stop to take a photo when I saw it:
As we finished this section, we passed the Jefferson Memorial and the MLK Memorial. Most of my splits were under 12:00 at this point, and I thought I still had a shot at truly negative splits — and maybe a sub-5 finish.
The next section, miles 16 through 20, brought us to the front of the Lincoln Memorial, behind the Korean War Memorial, the World War II Memorial, and the DC War Memorial before running past two sides of the Washington Monument as we headed up 14th Street to the north side of the National Mall and headed toward the Capitol Building. We crossed in front of the Capitol about mile 18.5 and headed back along the other side of the Mall in front of the Smithsonian Castle. I started noticing the heat before getting to the Capitol Building, and I see that my sub-12 pace began to falter and everything after mile 16 was 12:00 or slower.
The crowd support, however, was fantastic — especially as we hit the section along the mall. I remember one spectator in particular because he was a very large man with a big jack-o-lantern shirt on. I had seen him first along Rock Creek Park, then at least twice on the mall, and again near the finish line. He really put out a lot of effort to get around the course!
By the time I “beat the bridge” I knew I wasn’t coming close to a sub-5 finish, but I was still feeling good in spite of slowing a bit from the heat. The course returns to Virginia from DC across the 14th Street Bridge. Runners have to cross the bridge by 1:15 or be swept from the course so the bridge can be re-opened. I had plenty of time to spare in beating the bridge, but I had hoped to drop my walking intervals by then. That just wasn’t in the cards, though.
The next section of the course was another out-and-back through Crystal City. Lots more crowd support along here and the opportunity to see runners ahead and behind. At the turn-around there was a huge water spray across the entire four lanes of the highway — no way to avoid getting wet but no one wanted to avoid the refreshing water. We were all hot and tired and welcomed the shower. On the way back toward the Pentagon, I could recognize many runners I had passed previously on the course. That was encouraging, but my pace was still slipping. I put in a 13;27 for mile 22 and a 14:03 mile 25. My tank was pretty empty as I passed the Pentagon and I still had over a mile to go. I held on with a 13:46 for mile 26, then I ran hard the last uphill climb to the finish at the Marine Corps War Memorial. I had taken the Iwo. Oorah!
Here’s video proof that I finished:
I was tired, thirsty, and somewhat sore, but didn’t really feel too bad. It was a long walk through the runners’ chute for water and food and to get to the finisher festival in Rosslyn. At that point I was looking forward to my free beer. That was a disappointment, however. By the time I found the beer tent, they had run out! Big fail! There were still an hours worth of finishers behind me and they already ran out of beer? Definitely not cool.
I soon found Marie at the intersection where they had painted a Mission Accomplished sign on the road. Here’s my RoadKill photo:
Marie and I found a place to sit and waited to catch up with Ashley who had checked a bag. I was surprised to find that my clothing was completely dry. I was barely sweaty when I finished the marathon — very unusual. The humidity was incredibly low — 59% at the start. I think the heat and wind along with the low humidity actually resulted in more dehydration than you might expect with low humidity. I was very glad I decided not to wear a long-sleeved base layer shirt and go with just a tee shirt. I only had a light sweatshirt on before the race that I tossed off before the start. As the we sat in the shadows after the race, though, I was glad to have the light finisher jacket they were handing out. But I was surprised that it was all the way near the end of the finisher festival in Rosslyn and they weren’t handing them out closer to the finish line.
Once we reconnected with Ashley we also met up with some other Maniacs, and as we walked to the Metro station, Ashley was interviewed by the race announcer who was still working the crowd in Rosslyn. He later interviewed me and another Maniac friend, Doug. Then the Race Director Rick Nealis came over. He’s originally from Philadelphia so he and I had to do some Mummer strutting — just what I wanted to do after running a marathon!
Overall, the event was extremely well organized, and I would absolutely recommend it as a destination race. Just be prepared for large crowds and lots of walking before and after.
One minor complaint: they tried to initiate a Stash the Trash program and encouraged runners to put all trash in trash receptacles. However, you can’t do that with 30,000 runners and one or two trash cans just 10 yards from the end of a water stop. One of my pet peeves is runners dropping used gel packs on the road. Those things are sticky and can be a hazard to land on. I always put my used packs back in a pocket in my pants until I can dump them in a trash can. But I had a tough time finding trash cans to use! You can’t stash the trash if they don’t stick out the can!
But that’s definitely a minor rant. This was a great race, and I really enjoyed it. I also enjoyed my post race meal:
As I wrote at the top, this was my 10th marathon state which qualifies me for the 50 States Marathon Club. My application and check are already in the mail, and I am anxiously waiting to get the welcome packet and add the 50 State emblem to my blog page. Look for that soon.
In the meantime, I realized soon after finishing that I really do enjoy the marathon race so I’ve decided to go ahead and register for a local marathon three weeks following MCM. I’ll now be running the Bucks County Marathon on November 16 as my 16th marathon. Got to love when the numbers work out that way! After that, I’ll be training through the winter for the Dust Bowl Series in the end of March — 5 marathons in 5 states (TX, OK, KS, CO, NM) in 5 consecutive days. It’s the Big Gulp method of collecting all 50 states. Oorah, indeed!