I ran my first marathon in 2013, the Rock ‘n Roll marathon in DC. I finished with a satisfying time of 3:52, but was left wondering how much faster I could have run had I had prior marathon racing experience.
I spectated the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) in 2013 and loved the ambiance. With an Ironman programmed for August 2014, I wanted to leverage my conditioning to improve my marathon time this Fall. Based on this year’s running gains, it seemed possible to shave 25-30 minutes off my 2013 marathon time.
I was unlucky getting into the MCM lottery, so I started contemplating marathons in the region. Luckily my plans changed when Gabi found a bib transfer for me, which I happily paid $120 total for (cheap relative to triathlon registration fees!). Gabi was also going to run MCM, as she got in through the Team in Training charity that she so wholeheartedly supports.
Training after Ironman Louisville was a little bit erratic, with a mix of Ragnar, sprint and olympic triathlons. Even on my peak long run weekend I had to cut my run short because of a sprint triathlon earlier that day. I was truly hoping my endurance conditioning held through Oct. 26th. The taper period came and I began to wonder whether I was feeling rested and really good or out of shape and improperly trained!
Unlike the Ironman marathon during which I executed a run/walk strategy, there would be no planned walking at MCM. However, I still needed to mentally break the race down into pieces. My strategy was to run 15 seconds above pace (8 min/mi) for the first 6 miles, then run a 7:45 min/mi through miles 18-20, and then give it all I had left for the last 6-8miles. I established 13.2 miles as additional mental milestone to further break the race into pieces and evaluate how I was feeling.
Race day came and my racing juices started flowing in the early morning. My goal was to run a 3:25 marathon. I stopped by the Pacers tent near the finish line around 7am. It was really nice to meet up with fellow runners from my Alexandria running group.
I was in my starting corral by ~7:30am, not before catching the paraplegic group start. What an amazing group of athletes and source of inspiration and motivation! I also enjoyed seeing the Marines holding country flags near the start line, and quickly found the Costa Rican flag to snap a photo. I met with my friend John W. as anticipated and enjoyed watching the skydivers descending with US flags over the beautiful sunrise sky.
John and I ran together the first 10 miles. Having a running partner made those miles pass by quickly and helped to keep me from deviating too much from my pace strategy. I ended up averaging closer to a 7:45 min/mi pace over that section of the course, faster than my predicted pace. I was aware of this and made the conscious decision to go with that pace as I was feeling good. I parted ways with John at mile 10, which meant maintaining my pace would become more mentally challenging. It’s easy to slow down when you are alone. I managed to stick to my pace very consistently though, in part thanks to the awesome fan support along the Mall and the monuments. I was wearing a bracelet that I picked up at the expo that listed the necessary times per mile to finish in 3:25. I found myself 30-90 seconds under total time for most of the race, and I found the bracelet to be very helpful to stay on track towards my goal.
I was also executing my nutritional strategy just fine, one Gu and salt cap every six miles, one or two sips of water every mile, and an occasional sip of Gatorade from the aid stations on the course. I carried my own water so as to not slow myself down at the aid stations and in order to be able to hydrate any time I felt the need to.
The last major “block” of the race in my mind was the 14th street bridge, crystal city and the last couple of miles of the course. I struggled through these in part due to exhaustion and in part due to strong winds and various false flats that were really uphill sections, as is the case of the start and end of the 14th street bridge. I was pleasantly surprised to know afterwards that my average pace only slowed by about 15 secs per mile.
In the end, I finished in 3:25:05 and placed 92nd in my division (top 5%). I couldn’t be any more satisfied with my performance and my improvement from my 2013 marathon time. I loved every aspect of the race and was super happy to see so many friends — from the DC Tri Club, Yale and Pacers — along the course to keep me running strong and make MCM my favorite marathon experience!
After my run, I took pride in seeing Gabi finish her marathon. She struggled in the last few miles due to an injury, so I walked the course back to go meet her. We finished her race together, and it was really nice to share that time and experience with her.