Event: 2014 Marine Corps Marathon
Event Date: October 26, 2014
Event Location: Washington, D.C. (and Northern Virginia)
Picking up where we left off at the end of Part One of this race review…
Along the course (continued)
TMI Alert. As we made our way along the Potomac, the wind started to get cold. And, well, this is when the nipple chaffing began. It’s a fact of life for male runners, and while I normally do not have too much trouble with this, I completely forgot to pack or put on Band-Aids. I told Joe to keep an eye out for an aid station, unfortunately there would not be one for several more miles, and I just had to endure. Accept. Adjust. Advance.
Just before we passed the Lincoln Memorial, I knew to be on the lookout for my family, and there they were ringing cowbells with giant smiles on their faces. They were wonderful and could not have been more supportive. I stopped for hugs and high-fives. My youngest nephew, Ryan, just sat there, confused as to what was going on. But he did see happy to see me.
We continued down along the Tidal Basin, past the Franklin Roosevelt and James Madison Memorials, and made our way towards Haines Point. This could have been a boring part of the course, but organizers chose this location to stage the Memorial Mile. Dozens of volunteers stood in the early morning sunlight displaying American flags that were gloriously blowing in the breeze in tribute to America’s fallen heroes. It was a spectacular sight to behold.
We turned around at the south end of the park and made our way back north. The water stations were well spaced out throughout the course, and Joe and I decided to walk them. At this point, right around the half-way mark, the road was so congested with people walking the stations and getting fluids that you really had no choice but to walk. But the congestion soon dissipated and we moved on. I finally found an aid station just before exiting the park and was grateful for the sweet sweet relief the Band-Aids afforded me.
We went back along the Tidal Basin, past the Martin Luther King Junior Memorial, and up to a turnaround at the Lincoln Memorial. Just before this was another water station, and I was starting to feel dehydrated, so I told Joe that I needed to take my time at this one. He obliged, and right after this, we saw my family again. Again there were more hugs and high-fives, they really were awesome that day.
We turned and headed up the south side of the mall and turned left at the Washington Monument, where the crowds only grew larger and more excited. A quick right turn onto Constitution Avenue in front of the Smithsonian Museum of American History and…what? Where did this hill come from? In all of my years of living in and visiting D.C., I never noticed that there was a hump right here, but nevertheless, we had to climb it (at this point in the race – miles 17-18 – any little grade seemed like a huge climb). Race Icon. We made our way along the Mall towards the Capitol building, and took the jog onto Pennsylvania Avenue. Despite the scaffolding, the Capitol looked amazing. We turned back onto Independence Avenue. For some reason, this stretch of the course seemed to just fly by, which, normally I wouldn’t mind in a distance race, but I feel like I did not get to enjoy this portion of the course as much as I would have liked.
After another water station we turned left to go past the Holocaust Museum and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where large crowds had gathered to form a human tunnel, guiding us towards the 395 Bridge. There were high-fives all around and a drum group! I love drum lines.
The only bad part about this course is the 395 Bridge. One of the mantras of this race is to “beat the bridge!” (i.e., to get across it before the course time closes), but one needs to be careful that the bridge does not beat you. There are lots of embankments on this bridge and footing gets tricky. By the time we got to the Virginia side, my left ankle was hurting because of the uneven footing. Just be careful and take your time.
While on the bridge, a police officer pulled a woman off of the course for race bandit’ing. She did not have a bib on (which is against the rules), and tried telling the police officer that she was just running with her friend for a little bit (which is also against the rules). The reason I know this is that she stood there arguing her case while blocking the course. Folks, it is against the rules, just don’t do this. You may think you are helping your friend, but you are really just interfering with everyone else.
Once across the bridge we were solidly in the 20s, and I was just wishing for the race to be over. I really didn’t think Crystal City would be all that interesting, and just wanted to be done. But, I was wrong. Wow! Did Arlington County ever bring it! The crowds in Crystal City were amazing. They had a block party set up that ran from miles 22 to 24, almost non-stop. Music was playing, people were dancing and cheering, it was a great atmosphere. A misting fan provided some temporary relief at the 23rd street turnaround, and we had just over 5k to go to the finish.
But first, munchkins! That’s right, they were giving out Dunkin Donuts Munchkins on the course right before mile 24. So tasty! Immediately after some fans were handing out beers. I’ve never taken a beer on course before, but I did this time, and it tasted amazing. Wow. Who knew?
When we reached the Pentagon grounds, the crowds stopped and we had some time to relax and collect our thoughts. Unfortunately, the marching band that was staged there was taking a break, which disappointed me, because, well, I love marching bands. So we just had to dig in and keep going.
When we hit the 25-mile marker, I started to get my second wind. Joe was a little ahead of me but I was trying to keep pace with him as best I could. Then, when we exited the Pentagon grounds, the crowds picked up and there was a wall of supporters for the last mile or so of the race. These folks seemed determined to single-handedly will us to the finish, and I was glad that they were there.
I did high-five every little kid I passed, and was rewarded with genuine smiles, from both them and their parents, which only fueled me more. I came upon a gentleman who looked so defeated and beaten – his legs were bowing and he was struggling to keep going. But he was determined to finish. I gave him a word of encouragement and was inspired by his determination, and found another gear I did not know I had.
Race Icon. I sprinted towards the mile 26 marker, and then soon met up with Joe. The crowds at this point were insane, I cranked my music on my IPhone to add to the excitement, and turned and sprinted up the hill towards the finish at Iwo Jim. I gave it everything I had and left it all out on the course. Marines lined the last hundred yards or so. I high-fived the first 2 or 3, but I did not have enough energy for any more, I just kept pushing to the finish. I literally did not have another step in me as I crossed the finish line, but cross the finish line I did! And in a new PR. I had done it: mission accomplished.
The medal is awesome. It is a gorgeous depiction of the Marine Corps logo that could not be more perfectly suited for this race. The ribbon includes the moniker of the People’s Race, which it truly is. Race Icon. Having the medals placed around your neck by a Marine and having the opportunity to thank them for their service to our country is a tremendous way to end this race.
That being said, and this is not a knock on the medal itself in the slightest, but after wearing it for a little while after the race, I started to feel uncomfortable wearing it. I respect the Corps and all that they do for our country, and for that reason, I did not feel as though I was worthy of wearing their symbol. Yes, I had earned the medal, but I did not earn the right to wear the symbol of the Corps. I will proudly display it, appreciate it for being the beautiful piece of art that it is, and be reminded of what the Corps does each and every day. But, as a civilian, I just did not feel right wearing it.
The post-race experience
If there is one part of this otherwise exceptional race that is very much lacking, this is it. When I crossed the finish line, I was dehydrated big time, but the post-race area was not laid out well at all. We were immediately funneled into lines to receive our medals, which were placed around our necks by Marines (which was very cool), and then funneled into more lines to take finisher’s photos in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial. Don’t get me wrong, this is a spectacular finisher’s photo, but I NEEDED some fluids and fast, but they were nowhere to be seen. Joe and I got out of the photo line and made our way to the food/exit line, which meant navigating through a dense crowd of runners.
The food and beverage line was long and slow. After a more than 5 minute wait, a Marine appeared and was passing out bottled water ahead of the place where it was to have been distributed. Grateful, I quickly downed two bottles. As the line continued to move slowly, I consumed nearly 100 ounces of fluids before exiting the line. However, there were no bathrooms anywhere in the finisher’s area, you had to completely exit in order to get to them (TMI alert: why I was simultaneously dehydrated and had to pee, I have no idea).
While the line was progressing slowly (especially for someone who had to use the restroom), the food and drink distribution was efficient. The pre-packaged snack boxes are very similar to what they give out at runDisney events: a bag of corn chips, some gluten free almond pops, a cheese spread, some fruit snacks, a fruit cup, and a Nature Valley Granola bar. They also had bananas and Gatorade protein shakes in 3 flavors.
All of the walking in both the lines and to exit the finish area were uphill, which posed its own challenge. We had to walk across the bridge into Rosslyn before we could reunite with our family. The fact that there were no bathrooms in the finisher’s area (at least none that we could find or the Marines could direct us to) is pretty bad. Additionally, I only realized after we exited the area that neither Joe nor I had seen any mylar blankets or the lightweight hooded finishers cover ups that some runners outside of the finishers area had. Perhaps they were out by the time we got there? I don’t know, but in any event, the finisher’s area could use some serious re-thinking as it stands in contrast to an otherwise great event.
Outside of the finisher’s area, we wanted to grab a beer (which was included with your bib), but the wait was so long we gave up on that. They were serving draft beers and the service (from outside of the beer garden) seemed to be very slow. Instead we made our way to the shuttles (up yet 2 more hills), where we waited in line for 20-25 minutes to catch a shuttle bus back to Crystal City.
I have never been the biggest Halloween fan, but since this race took place less than a week before Halloween, I added the music from the Boo to You Parade at Walt Disney World. I did catch myself singing out loud a couple of times to this, no idea how weird my fellow runners though I was.
When you are running the People’s Marathon, a little patriotic music goes a long way. I added Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA, which played right as I was running east on Constitution Avenue towards the Capitol Building, which was pretty darn spectacular. I also included the Georgetown University Fight Song and Alma Mater for my crossing of the Key Bridge…and yes, I sang along to both.
Looking back now
Overall I did enjoy this race, and returning to my adopted hometown where I spent so many years was very special to me. The crowds were amazing and the sights were spectacular. That being said, I am not sure if I will run this race again. A full marathon is such a significant emotional and physical investment, that if I were to run another, I may want to try a different event. That being said, some friends are already talking about running this next year, and I may be able to be talked into running it again as it was an enjoyable experience.
If you have been following Casual Runner on twitter, you already know that the recovery is slow. I posted a few pictures of the many stairs that I had trouble navigating the day after the race, and even coined the hashtag #FearTheStairs. It will take a few more days to recover from this one, but it was certainly worth it.
There is plenty of more coverage of the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon yet to come. In case you missed, it, be sure sure to go back and review Part One of Mike’s Race Review, and stay tuned for new event videos on our YouTube Channel. So you do not miss this and other great content from Casual Runner, please be sure to like us on Facebook, follow us onTwitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel. The Casual Runner Team wants to hear from you. If you liked Mike’s review, have any questions, or want to share your story, please leave a comment below or email us using the link below. See you out on the running trails!