Yesterday, I had the immense pleasure of running the Marine Corps Marathon with my brother-in-law and former Marine, Kevin, with the goal of helping him run a 3:30.
We didn’t hit our goal, but it sure didn’t feel like a failure. On a day when the weather was perfect, on a beautiful course that ran by national monuments and with aid stations staffed by uniformed Marines, our 3:33 represented a PR by seven minutes for Kevin. For me, the success was in finishing the race, given some uncertainty about my knee that threatened to ruin such a perfect day.
MCM also represented a big change from the races I’ve been running: This was my first actual marathon in over a year. After months of intense speed training to qualify for Boston last October, I shifted my focus to ultrarunning, and found a lot of relaxation in longer-but-slower running on quiet, crowdless trails. (At 35,000 people, MCM was also the biggest race I’ve ever run.)
Rather than a standard mile-by-mile recap, which I can sum up much more briefly with “monuments, marines, crowds, knee pain, and lots of warm-and-fuzzies,” I figured I’d just list some things I learned during this race which was so drastically different from everything I’ve run for the past few years. So here you go!
5 Things I Learned at MCM 2010
Crowds are a blessing and a curse.
Cheerleaders and bands on the sides of the course. Huge crowds of people at big street corners screaming and cheering. Even better, seeing your own supporters among them. These sorts of things give you chills and a surge of adrenaline that you just don’t find in smaller races.
Not so nice is having to shuffle along in a huge crowd after you’ve run 26.2 miles. Especially with a jogging stroller. Or the subway being so crowded that you have to walk most of the two miles back to your hotel after the race.
You can run through a lot of pain if you’re willing to pay for it later.
At least three times during this race, my knee hurt so much that I thought I had to stop. But just at the point when I was ready to tell Kevin he was on his own for the rest, the pain would lessen or go away.
If I were running this race by myself, I probably would have stopped. If I didn’t know exactly what this injury was, I definitely would have stopped. But I dealt with IT band syndrome in my other knee a few years ago, and I know that it’s something I can handle. I’ll be sore and unable to run for a few days, maybe even weeks, but in this case, it’s worth it.
After a year of running ultras, I’ve gotten slower but can handle a lot more.
I knew deep down that focusing on running far, not fast, over the past year had made me slower. But I didn’t have proof of that until this race. Sure, if not for the knee issue, I think I could have run faster. But definitely not 3:10, and probably not 3:20, either.
By the same token, I couldn’t help but be struck by how easy handling the marathon distance has become. After 10 minutes of blissful motionlessness and a bag of pretzels after we finished, I realized that this marathon hadn’t obliterated my body the way they used to. I couldn’t have run any faster, but I could have gone much farther.
Powerade is really good.
In learning to run ultras, I’ve made an effort to consume fewer sugars and train my body to stay in a fat-burning state for longer. This isn’t about weight loss; it’s about having far more energy in the form of stored fat than in your glycogen reserves (even if your mother tells you you’re all skin and bones).
But a marathon is short enough that you can burn sugar the whole time and keep replenishing it without your stomach totally revolting. (For me, it starts to revolt after about three hours of eating sugar, but in a marathon, that’s manageable.)
So I must admit that I really enjoyed drinking sugary, red Powerade at almost every aid station. I think it could have been Kool-Aid and I wouldn’t have known the difference.
There’s something to this whole buying-bigger-shoes trend.
I first heard of it from Stu Mittleman, but it seems it’s catching on with others. For the Vermont 50-miler I went with shoes a size bigger than I normally wear, and even though it was my first run in them, I came out of that race without a single blister.
This time, I again bought brand new shoes the day before this race. Not something I recommend, but you gotta live a little, right?
I got Brooks’ Green Silence; they’re eco-friendly and extremely light. But I didn’t buy them big, because they’re so flimsy and light that I worried my feet would slide around in them too much. As a result, I got a bunch of blisters on my left foot.
But besides that, I loved the shoes. I’ll write more about them in a future post.
Huge thanks, as always, to everyone who volunteered at the race, and of course to our supporters, Erin, Colleen, Joel, and Holden. (Holden dressed as an NMA-carrot for his first Halloween!) And just-as-huge thanks to all of you who donated to support the Semper Fi Fund for injured Marines. Our team raised over $18,000 dollars (the most of any team, so we got some sweet Camelbaks as a reward), and entire fund raised over $400,000.
And of course, thanks to Kevin for the opportunity to be involved with the Semper Fi Fund and to run this special race. Next time, we’ll do 3:20!