Saturday, November 05, 2016

RunDown: Marine Corps Marathon 2016 (#29)

The Training

My training for this marathon was pretty good until the last 3 weeks. For the first time I had a nighttime "Charlie Horse" on a Friday night, which scared me so much I aborted my last long run on that following Sunday.

I also picked up a cold and this basically took me out of training for 1 week.

After so many marathons, I'm used to such things happening sometimes: it's just part of of the game. 

The challenge is to do your best race given everything that gets thrown your way.

Arrival and Expo

We decided to stay in Old Town Alexandria, near the metro stop so I could just take it to the start.  I won't bore you with the Expo which was across the Potomac River from Alexandria. MCM did have a lot of high quality swag for sale..and may people bought a ton of it,  I bought a jacket and a hat. The checkout took a looong time there were so many folks buying.

Race day: Transport-Weather-Course

After checking the website more carefully I discovered that due to track work the Metro was not opening until 7am! (Start was at 7:55) There was no way to get to the start in time, or if there was it would be tight. (The Pentegon stop was the nearest to the start and it was a long 1+ mile walk from there to the start.)

Actually because of this they were keeping the start open up until 9am. The races are chip timed so you can start long after the crowds go out if you want. However, there are some downsides to that idea: you miss the excitement of running with the crowds, and more importantly, the water stops may run low on water. It has happened in many marathons and I didn't expect the Marines to screw this up, but I didn't want to find out.

I signed up for a 'book ahead' Lyft for 5:30am on race morning..but I was nervous about that as I have never used that feature and it would be a total drag if nobody showed up.

Luckily, the hotels in the area had complained to the city and so they hired some really nice busses to go from the Metro stops every 15 min starting at 5:15am. The hotel neglected to mention this when I checked in, but I found out about them when I chatted with another runner at breakfast two days prior to the start. Whew!

Note: If I every run the MCM again I would stay near the finish in Rosslyn. You could walk to the start and then walk home from the finish. Yes, that area isn't particularly touristic, but the Metro and Lyft/Uber/Taxi makes it easy to get to those places, including Old Town Alexandria

Race day the forecast was not great: 60F at the start and about 75F by the time I would finish. Mostly cloudy at the start but some full sun by my finish time. DARNIT. Oh well, this is always a risk with's really on the boarderline of "The South" and so it can be warm.

For those of you that aren't runners, over 60F means you are slowing down big time. I think that number is really more like 50-55F..for me. The elites that run at 2:0X hour finish times (Kenyans mostly) slow down if it's over about 40F...they throw off a LOT of heat at the paces they run, even though they are pretty small (120-140lbs).

But, not a disaster thought like 90F would be..that gets into unsafe territory: I would have been DNS (did not start).  

I checked an online website that had a calculator for the slowdown as a function of the humidity and temperature. I plugged in the forecast and 10 m/m and it said I needed to add 30s.  Ok, so 10:30 pace it is! I knew I'd be slower than that because of crowding (no tangent ..aka 'course-line' running) possible) and hitting every water stop. 

My goal is always the same: to have tiny negative split and also leave nothing on the table in the last third of the race. This was extra fun to do this year because of the Strava Back Half challenge to marathoners: if you could document a negative split in the marathon, you get a pair of free New Balance shoes! 

I like contests / challenges that are about something other than running a new PR. Once you've been a runner for a bunch of years, learned how to train well and pace well and been lucky enough to have some perfect training cycles and then some fast-flat marathons on cool days sans headwinds, it's very very hard to get a new PR. 

We need some other goals to shoot for: my plan was to look at the m/m pace average on my watch at 13.1 and then try to keep that number *smaller* for the 2nd half of the race. Didn't have to be much smaller: just a second less on the watch by the finish would mean a 26 second negative split...good enough!

The course is pretty interesting, weaving around DC with the highlight running down both sides of the National Mall and passing the Capitol on the turnaround.

The course is not flat as you can see here it has some hills at the front, and some rollers just when you're getting fried..particularly nasty (and hard to see here) is a gut wrenching steep hill right at the finish. 

Race Morning

I got up early, as usual and puttered around getting everything ready. Since I have very little higher brain function on race mornings i used my pre-race checklist to make sure I didn't forget anything.

I took a larger disposable water bottle than usual  so I could preload as much water starting about 1/2 hour from the start gun.

The hotel was offering some bananas and bagels etc but after many experiments I have found that breakfast, if taken, should be at least 3 hours before the start, and it is optional, assuming you've gotten some decent carb input in the last few days before the race. (not huge total calories, but a bigger carb/protein ration) 

I have found that the ability to take as many GUs during the race is a good skill to have ...this keeps the blood glucose up and prevents bonking. I carry 9 GUs and try to have one before the start by about 15 minutes and then one every 3 miles until mile 24. When it's warm I've found sometimes the tummy can object to too much GU....this can be really bad. 

Walked to the Metro stop for the first bus and found it hopping with other racers. The bus ride took a good long time, almost 30 minutes and dropped us off near the Pentagon. From there we walked (still pitch dark, but some lighting) on some highways and other streets to a huge parking lot where we passed through security. They were checking drop bags..I didn't have one but they still made me take off my hat to see what was underneath  (answer: a small amount of gray hair ;)

I have never used a drop bag in all my races...too much of a pain at the finish to get the stuff back! I have disposable clothes if it's cold at the start and/or perhaps a very light shell jacket that I can roll up into a belt and tie around my waist. It was 60F so I just had a t-shirt. 

As I wait for the sun to come up I spoke with a few people. This race has a lot of first time marathoners. 

One guy I was sitting next to asked me about my calf sleeves..if they "hurt my legs". He was wearing them too, I noticed. 

"Nope" I said, "they seem keep me from getting calf strains". He then shared with me the fact that it tried them on a run and they started made his legs hurt. 

During his first marathon he had terrible problems with the muscles on the insides of his knees hurting and said he was reduced from an 8:40 m/m pace to a 14:00 pace after about 10 miles. He was also wearing some tape on his left calf...something about that muscle being sore after the long drive to DC.

Basically, he seemed a bit of a mess. I asked him "How was your training cycle?" he said good, except only one long run of 12 miles. (!)  I said, "I think I see your problem here...there is NO WAY you can run a marathon at any fast pace on that kind of long run mileage. The best plan would be a walk-run strategy from the get-go."  He didn't seem to want to hear that.  

Some people just act and speak without getting the benefits of other people's learning, e.g. science and shared experiences. They have some kind of 'magical thinking' that they think makes them special. This kind of thinking is typical in small children but I guess a bit of it sticks in all of us to different extents.

Anyway, the dawn was really beautiful, with lot of red clouds. Two V22 Osprey's flew over in helicopter mode..looking like alien spacecraft.

The line up for the race got very crowded. I was finishing my water about 15min before the start and had my first gu. (plenty of portlets..used them twice in the hour before the start)

The start is indicated by firing a large howitzer (!) but we were so far back from the start it wasn't very loud at all. Took me 7 minutes I think to cross the starting line.

First Half 

The first half went smoothly...I settled in at my 10:30-ish pace and the miles ticked by, the temps were not hot, but it was warm and humid and so lots of sweating. I hit every water stop and sometimes even took two cups if they were half full.

A lot of people in this race are running it in memory of marines KIA (killed in action). Usually they had a picture of the person on the back of their shirt with their name, and when they died. I saw many brothers, sisters and friends running like this. 

This added a somber element to the race, there was plenty of chatter and high spirits but there was a constant reminder of all the young people that died fighting under the american flag in the last 10 years of fighting. 

At one point were were running along a river and there was forest and some green boarder along the road. Many guys (incl me) took the opportunity to water the ivy. The gals had to wait until a portolet...and one place near a park there was a building with toilets as well.

One guy had his beagle with him on this stretch and he was so excited to see all the running (from his owners arms) that he was howling like mad.  Many of us howled back at him which got him going even louder 8)

For a while I followed a bare shirted guy that was juggling. I have no idea how he did...he pulled away from me.

By about 8 miles the people around me settled down for a while and we gradually found our way along the about mile 9 we entered the 'wear blue' mile. On this stretch, families of fallen soldiers (both men and women) had put up pictures of them with there names and dates of KIA. 

These pictures lasted for a full mile, with one picture about every 5 feet. So about 1000 young people remembered.....nobody was talking.  At the end of this mile, all the families were along the road cheering us on with gusto. 

This left me in a pretty sad state.

About a half a mile later as I was passing a women with a picture on her back I noticed the name had a  ', daughter' after it. This was a gold family parent of a KIA daughter running the race.  That hit me pretty hard. As I passed her, I gently said hello and told her I was so very, very sorry for her loss. She replied,  'Thank you, thank you,  so much'. 

I don't think much of some of the decisions made by our leaders but it falls on ordinary people to bear the brunt of them.

I hit the half marathon split in 2:20:XX,  showing a 10:32 average pace. I was passing more and more runners reduced to walking. 

In big races with lots of first timers this is not surprising: there are lots of charity runners that aren't very well trained in the first place and they don't always  almost never pace themselves well. Or, you have the unlucky spasm or cramp due to not very well seasoned muscles acting up.

Onward to the Mall! This is where Toni was waiting for me. She could see me twice, once on the north edge of the mall headed east and then the south edge going back west toward the river and the finish. She took these pictures:

Great shot with Washington Monument

Me posing (actually not moving here ;)

Me glad to have no sun, yet.

waving goodbye and off!

You can see that it was quite cloudy still (yay). I also wore a singlet rather than a full t-shirt and that helped keep me cooler.

I was feeling pretty good at mile 16. The sun was coming out more and more but I pressed along and got the average pace down to 10:28 at one point. My legs felts actually pretty tired on the outside, but there was a feeling of strength on the inside.

It's a subtle feeling that is important to track, by mile 18 I wondered if I was pressing just a bit too hard (I'm talking seconds per mile). The climb over the bridge at mile 19 left me feeling a bit spent but I was hanging in there..on the downhills I came back.

This continued....the downhills and music stations would let me recover and the uphills would be oh so hard. I was bouncing now between 10:29 and 10:30 on the average...ominous. 

By mile 21 I was passing tons of walkers, one or two every second it seemed. This made me feel better about my state but could tell I was working harder and harder to keep the same pace. 

As usual, time slowed down. The last minutes from mile 24 to the finish were extremely tough. I was entering the wall gradually and I ended up having to walk for 10-15 seconds a few times in this stretch...but always was able to resume.

The finish is placed in such a way that you can't see it until the last minute of the race, cruel really, and then you get to see a 50' hill..ouch! I had read about it but it was just crazy steep so I power walked it and then once on top sprinted to the finish


Chip Time  4:41:50
Place                   7549 / 19917
Sex Place            4807 / 10640
Age Group Place     93 / 395

Not bad placing considering the slow time. Top quarter of my age group, top half of all men. My results were good because of the even pacing/not fading. 

I clicked on lots of folks that finished around my time and most had faded by 10-20 minutes or more in the last 10 miles. Not fun.

Here's the list of splits, first half done in 2:20:35, even splits would give a finish of 4:41:10, I got a 4:41:50. Therefore I lost 40 seconds in the second half. 

I had build up a decent negative split of about a minute but in the last 2 km I lost that back and 40 seconds more. No free shoes for me!

I'm not unhappy about that at all. It's a very very fine line we are talking about and if you don't know the hills during the last miles of the course really well you can't really pace yourself to that precision. And the increasing temps took their toll...a 40 second positive split suits me fine 8)

That's why races like CIM are so nice: no hills at all in the last miles and often nice and COLD on race day.

Nice splits from timing mats every 5k. Hard to cheat the course in this race (it does happen that people cut the course believe it or not, check out this website of a guy dedicated to tracking them down.). 

I ran 26.74 miles on the garmin due to the crowding. 

LocationNet TimeClock TimePacePace Between
5K33:5950:5210:55 /mi
10:38 /mi
10K1:07:041:23:5710:47 /mi
10:33 /mi
15K1:39:511:56:4410:42 /mi
10:47 /mi
20K2:13:232:30:1610:43 /mi
10:33 /mi
13.12:20:352:37:2810:43 /mi
10:36 /mi
25K2:46:203:03:1310:42 /mi
10:27 /mi
30K3:18:503:35:4310:40 /mi
10:52 /mi
35K3:52:374:09:3010:41 /mi
10:34 /mi
40K4:25:294:42:2210:40 /mi
11:59 /mi
FINISH4:41:504:58:4310:44 /mi

Post Finish

Oh my was I thirsty. Even after drinking at every stop (and by the way they had a lot of stops with tables on both sides of the street.)  I was really feeling it. After getting the medal they handed us a bottle of energy drink and I drank it down competely in about 30 seconds.

I came upon a grassy area and just plunked down a while to rest. I ate a banana and just relaxed and pondered the race. There was a Marine that kept telling us to not rest there but get up and move on and everybody just totally ignored him, including me.  I mean really? WTF is the problem?

Eventually I got tired of listening to his human-tape-loop, got my old bones up and kept walking. Took a long walk to get to the metro at Rosslyn, which was super crowded but they had very nice folks manning the station to show us all where to go. I had my Metro card so got to the track pretty quickly and road the 20 min back to my stop and walked about 12 min to the hotel. 

(All that walking after the finish was a good thing..keeps you from stiffening up)

Sadly I never found any more fluids to be had after the finish. I asked here and there and people pointed ahead, but nothing turned up. 

When I got back to our room, Toni had bought me some food and drink so I chowed down after a long then I was passing fluid ok and 'clearly' (cough) had not been overly dehydrated. (Unlike the Tacoma Marathon where it got hotter and I ran stupider ;)

The Swag

A nice medal and a nice, but very heavy shirt. I would never be able to run in this shirt but it might be good for and undergarment for skiing ;) The shirt is a large that is closer to a medium..I can just barely fit it.

I did see people on the course wearing this shirt in the race, BTW.  Goofy!

The Beer 8)

Didn't get to have this beer until we had to drive to Charlottesville so we could visit  Monticello (Thomas Jefferson's house) the next day. The car ride left me pretty stiff for while!

The beer was divine!..I was still a bit dehydrated but never dangerously so.