Like I have done for the past 2 years I signed up for the race. I actually waited for several days, convincing myself that I didn’t really want to do it again. After all, the previous two years results proved that I could not run the race well, at all. Two of my worst times were both at MCM (4:06 and 4:09, respectively) and I felt as if the race in general, was frustrating. It’s always crowded, it’s partially on a course that I love when it’s only 10 miles (the Army Ten-Miler) but the Haines Point area and Crystal City and the final run down 110 is just not my cup of tea. So I told myself that if it was still open come end of the signup week, I’d do it. And sure enough, it was.
The weekend started badly – I felt awful Friday night before the race and didn’t sleep a wink. Saturday I woke up feeling just as bad and nothing stayed in. How could I possibly get in any calories and fluids when the race was less than 24 hours and I was constantly shoving things in only to have them come back out? Towards late afternoon I pulled myself together enough to go to a friend’s apartment for one of those Tupperware-esque jewelry parties. Thankfully she had really good brownies and no surprise, those stuck with me. I then decided to trudge out in the pouring rain and pick up my “winner dinner” of turkey sandwich and french toast bagel from Panera. Both times I’ve had these two things, I have gotten my 2 best marathon times. Call it what you will but voodoo magic works. At least for me.
Sunday morning I woke up and felt surprisingly well. The weather was a tad bit cool but otherwise the temps were forecasted to be perfect and I slipped out into the morning calm, albeit a bit nervous but otherwise, optimistic. I arrived at the Pentagon with the usual thousands and thousands of other runners and we dropped off our gear and started towards the start line which, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, can be a long ways away. I skipped the port-o-john knowing that last year, that cost me a good starting position as I fell in to the walking group and had a hard time getting out of it. I thought I’d give the 3:40 group a try – I only needed 3:45 for Boston and my foot seemed to be doing well so I figured if I jumped into 3:40, I’d have 5 minutes to spare when I started sliding off that pace. I knew I could probably hit it – after all, for once I had done “all the right stuff”. I had tapered in the previous two weeks running 70% of my weekly 70-80 mile average, then cutting back to 30% the week leading up to the race. I had slept a lot and generally just did what I always preach, but rarely practice. I crammed into the 3:40-3:59 corral and shortly thereafter, the gun went off and we were on our way.
For those who don’t run large races (or any races for that matter) there is this silly moment where the gun goes off, everyone surges forward and then BOOM, dead stop. And then everyone starts running, and then BOOM, dead stop. It’s comical. We did that twice before finally crossing the start mat.
As usual, the first couple of miles are the hardest. I do not stretch beforehand and my body is usually cold. So it’s always those first 20 or so minutes where I question my decision. Add to that the throng of people around you, pushing, shoving and generally just sort of elbowing and you’ve got a recipe for crabbiness. And the first few miles of MCM are pretty hilly. I made sure not to bring my Garmin – I didn’t want the distraction of knowing how slow I was running. It was me, a pace band and my “kleiner Freund” (“little Friend” aka my Casio watch from World Cup)
I couldn’t find the pace group – it was so crowded at the start that there was no way that even if I saw the guy I’d be able to get near him so I had to employ my inner pacer and watch the mile markers and compare to the paper wrapped around my wrist. We ran through Rosslyn, then through Georgetown. On M street I glanced right and saw my coaching instructor, Mike Broderick. I gave him a high five and he in return, gave me a boost of self-confidence. He’s an amazing guy – die hard ultra-runner and running coach for some of my ultra-friends. In short, good guy to see yelling your name.
At about the halfway point I realized that I was getting “hot”, meaning my pace was faster than it should be. I had about 2 minutes in the bank which would normally be bad but I felt ok and told myself that I’d need those later. So I stayed with it. We went around Haines Point, which I’ve never liked – it’s a loop and can be dull as very few spectators are there but on that day it was a welcome reprieve from the hills we had earlier in the race. We then wound around the mall area and I noticed that my pace was picking up. I had 8 miles to go and 7 minutes in the bank. I wasn’t thrilled but I still felt really good so again, I promised myself that I’d use those later, when I needed them.
I came over the bridge and saw several more VHTRC friends including Bobby who snapped this shot of me at mile 21:
I came through Crystal City (another area I typically don’t like) and still felt good – it’s flat there and again, I’ve done so much flat speed work that it paid off in a big way. I picked up another 2 minutes somewhere between there and mile 25. I now had 10 minutes extra – I could WALK the entire last mile and still qualify. But walking the last mile is silly if you don’t have (I’ve walked enough of those in the past few races with injuries) so I continued to run. Suddenly I was at Iwo Jima, charging the hill and hitting the end mat. I was astonished – 3:35. I blew away my old PR which, incidentally was set on the flattest course in the country, set when I was healthy and completely injury-free.
I didn’t stay to enjoy the festivities. I realized that the upside to finishing MCM around 3:30 or so is the easy ability to hop on the metro before it becomes an insane sea of spectators and other runners. Last year it took an hour or so just to make it through the line to get ON the train. So I gathered my things, trucked down the escalator (note – the big advantage to doing a lot of running is the relative ease at which you recover after such an event) and boarded the train home. And as we pulled out of the station, I happily waved goodbye to the little monkey looking at me from the tracks. Mission accomplished.