Wednesday, November 10, 2010

227 Minutes (Exactly) At the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon


227 Minutes (exactly) at the Marine Corps Marathon

     This is one average runner’s experience at the 35th running of the United States Marine Corps Marathon. Bottom Line Up Front, the USMC 26.2 is a “must-do” event for American marathoners for many different reasons. This incredibly well-organized event is the 4th largest in the USA in terms of overall numbers of runners and the 8th worldwide. When you couple those numbers with a route that flows through our Nation’s Capitol packed with thousands of cheering people lining the streets, supporting that endless stream of thousands of runners, this race is a tremendous spectacle that’s just a complete pleasure and honor to participate in.

     This was the second time I had the opportunity and good fortune to run 26.2+ miles through the Nation’s Capitol under the organizational auspices USMC. My brother, Greg, invited me to run this signature event with him in 1999. He was adamant that we should run that year’s marathon together because that was going to be the only time he ran a 26.2, and so far, Greg’s been good to his word on that.

     Frankly, I don’t remember a lot from the 1999 event. I recall that Greg just dropped me like a bad habit around the Nation’s Capital building somewhere on the Mall between 16 to 18 miles. That 1999 USMC marathon was my slowest marathon showing for a lot of reasons, headlined mostly a non-existent training plan. I was pretty much vanquished by the course by the time I hit the RTE 1/395 bridge over the Potomac headed back into Virginia around mile 21.

     I approached this 2010 version with the intent to see just how fast I could reach the finish line for a couple of reasons. My standing Personal Record for a marathon coming into Sunday has long stood at an under-whelming 3:48:30 since the Frankfurt-ETA Marathon in October 1998. At least under-whelming in terms of qualifying for Boston. I wanted to improve on that, with the intent to finally see if running a sub 3:30 would be viable this year in order to finally qualify for the Boston Marathon at some point in the next 6 to 8 months. That was my mindset after finally procuring a bib and getting into the event, and, there was bad news and good news. I was still smoked crossing the RTE 1 Bridge at 21 miles and traversing the long off-ramp into the course labyrinth through Crystal City; but I got there a lot sooner this year.

TOP THREE MALES                         TOP THREE FEMALES

Name Age Time                                   Name Age Time

JACOB BRADOSKY 23 2:23:30         JANET CHEROBAN 32 2:39:19

RONALD KURUT 28 2:23:41             GINA SLABY 29 2:46:58

SEAN BARRETT 25 2:24:08               TEZATA DESALGN 29 2:48:35

      The male division was incredibly close. Eleven seconds separated first from second place; the difference between first and third was thirty-eight seconds. Fourth and fifth places finished forty-six seconds and 3:34 behind young Mr. Bradosky respectively.


30,000   Registered runners

48   Approximate temperature at start of race at 0800.

55   Approximate temperature at 1200.

21,972   Runners finished the event; 13,257 males, 8715 females.

39.6%   Of all finishers were female.

81   Age of Bob Dolphin, Reston, WA; 21,972nd finisher in 8:05:02.

13   Age of Lucas Salisbury, Easton, MD; youngest overall male finisher in 6:12:16.

14   Age of Julia Mayer, Fairbanks, AK, 4:28:29; 1 of 2 14-year-old female finishers.

14   Age of Alejandra Benavides, Springfield, VA, 5:22:51; 1 of 2 14-year-old female finishers.

7   Number of female finishers aged 70-74; all finished the marathon between 6:11 to 6:50.

73   Age of Diana Wallach, West Hills, CA; oldest female finisher in 6:32:29.

15   Number of male finishers between the ages of 75-84; from 4:12:11 (Jim Keck, 75, Burlington, NC) to 8:05:02.

4:12:11   I’ve never met Jim Keck, but that has to be one of the most remarkable stories in this event if he ran 26.2 in 4:12 at the age of 75.

84   Age of Domenick Irrera, Jacksonville, NC; oldest male finisher in 6:54:10.

152   Total number of male finishers between the ages of 14-19; 2:35:02 to 6:44:39.

80   Total number of female finishers between the ages of 14-19; 3:16:27 to 6:50:08.

4   “Groundpounders;” 4 males that have completed all 35 Marine Corps Marathons.

140   Total number of Marine Marathons run by the 4 “Groundpounders.”

50   Number of States with runner representation.

40   Number of Countries with runner representation.

4:44:49   Average finish time for all 21,973 runners.

4:36:22   Average finish time for all 13,257 males.

4:57:29   Average finish time for all 8715 females.


12   The Marine Corps Marathon was my 12th marathon or ultra-marathon event in 2010 since FEB.

30   Total number of marathon or ultra-marathon events completed by author.

1153   Number of consecutive streak days run since 12 DEC 2007 through 31 OCT 2010.

3   Marathon or ultra events in OCT 2010; 5th since Labor day.

3:47   Marine Corps Marathon time (to the exact second).

2   This marathon is only the 2nd of 30 events I’ve run where I finished to the exact minute; ironically, the previous was the Marine Marathon at Camp Lejeune 2000: 4:00 hours exactly.

2776   My overall finish place of the 21,972 finishers (12.6%).

2257   My overall place among all males

519   Females finished ahead of me.

259   My finishing place of 1646 total males in 45-49 age group;

39   Number of age-group females that finished ahead of me

299   My finish by age group

0   Blisters

1  Toenails lost

3  Total number of Port-o-Let pit-stops during the race at a cost of almost 5 minutes.

3  On foot mileage from my apartment through the logistics pit and to the start

26.79   The mileage on my Forerunner 305 when I crossed the finish line.

Overall Logistics.      The logistics for this for this race were terrific from an individual and an event perspective. Living during the work week about 2 miles west on the Pentagon enabled me (for the first time in 30 events) to get up at a normal time, get ready at home without any sacrifice of sleep the night prior or that morning for travel. This alone made for an exceptional event without even including the viable considerations in hygiene, latrine, eating and pre-race preparation normally conducted on site.

      Daybreak on foot; headed down to the race from Henderson Hall

     It was just getting light as I trotted the 3 miles to the MM start line from home. The shot above is from Henderson Hall just above the Navy Annex rolling downhill towards the Pentagon. The weather was very encouraging race morning; chilly temperatures and a clear sky. The best aspect to this route was that it was mostly downhill to the starting line. My gear was light; shorts, short-sleeve shirt, New Balance 993s and Injinji socks (NFI), my walkman, sunglasses, my Garmin 305, 4 S-caps, 4 Ibuprofen and 6 Cliff shots tucked into the hip pocket of my Ouachita 50(K) I was wearing. My intent was to travel as lightly and quickly as possible and survive aid station to aid station as necessary. I had a long sleeved shirt, my cell phone, camera and a couple of finisher cigars in my empty NH 2.0 backpack that I dropped in my assigned UPS truck to pick up at the finish line.

      The Logistics Pit in the Pentagon North Parking Lot

     The Logistics Pit in the north Pentagon parking lot at about 25:00 prior to the start of the race, with the starting line half a mile to the north. It’s hard to see in this picture but about 20,000 runners are in the parking lot along with the 30 UPS vans laid on to transport bags to the finish festival. There were also what had to by 100 port-o-lets with significant lines at each. The course held seven water points but you ran past #7 entering and leaving Crystal City at miles 22 and 24. There were also 2 “food-only” points located on the course. Every aid station was literally packed with race supporters, civilians and replete with Marines in digital desert camouflage uniforms. Every aid station was set up in the same format. The Marines had tall “Water Station” signs in large red block lettering you could see from a significant distance as you approached. Almost every aid station was approximately 100 yards long with tables lining both sides of the road; Gatorade tables always took up the front half of the station with water on the back half; Gatorade was served in block cups with water in white. It only took me about 3 aid stations to figure that out; “run all the way past the Gatorade, get your water.” Runners never had to reach, strain, or wait for a drink; you could almost catch your fluid of choice. There were eight individual first aid stations on the course too, according to the map. I didn’t really notice these.

The Race Itself.      The race went very well for me all in all. Early on in September and even into October, I was waffling between running this event and a 1st time running of a single-track trail 50K in western Maryland. Ultimately, I obviously opted for the USMC 26.2, in large part because I wanted to experience the entire spectacle of a large marathon the winds through some of the more hallowed and modern symbols of man-made architecture in western civilization. It had been 10 years since I ran in a large race and the 2010 MM 26.2 didn’t disappoint in that regard. We heard the speaker announcement around 0730 that everyone needed to start moving towards the starting line, and 25,000 to 30,000 people started moving from the north parking lot up the road to their respective time corrals. I was midway to the starting point when the National Anthem kicked in.

     I usually start every race completely to the rear of the formation but I squeezed my way forward until I was located in the 3:40-4:00 pace group. It was chilly enough to see your breath. A young lady and I discussed the upcoming JFK 50 as we passed the waning ten minutes prior to the start. All of us consistently crept forward and packed the massive group of runners in closer to the starting line arches, perhaps motivated by the Race Announcer’s booming epithets over the loudspeaker: “15:00 until you start the Marine Corps Marathon and change your life forever.” “Every runner here embodies the Spirit and Honor of the United States Marine Corps.” I thought a couple of the pronouncements were a little melodramatic, but the Announcer was caught up in the event; we all were. Fortunately, I checked my Forerunner 305 and saw that it was still on from when I left my apartment and was at exactly 3:00 miles since setting out. I would have been pretty disappointed had I not re-set that prior to race launch.

     The starting howitzer fired and we all moved forward at a lurch. It took over two minutes to cross the starting line and that was about the point where I was able to ease into a slow trot. It reminded me of how cars all compress and slow down to a crawl on the highway until they pass the State Trooper issuing the ticket. I felt pretty good right from the start; light on my feet, rested, and confident I could run the distance without stop. But how fast? We’d see… I just tried to flow along with the thick crowd ambling north through Arlington-Rosselyn. The route actually passes below the Iwo Jima Memorial in the first mile; I eyeballed that, looking forward to the finish line I hoped to cross within 3:45 to 4:00. I was also apparently well hydrated as I had to step over the guardrail and visit the deeper piece of the wood-line before we entered the downtown section. As it turns out, there were plenty of port-o-lets along the route, but I didn’t know that at that early point. Neither did the guy who just stepped over the railing and urinated into the bushes with about 17,000 runners passing along behind him as close as six feet away.

     Spectators lined the route the entire way starting right in Rosselyn and that was encouraging as the route mostly climbs, albeit it gently, for the first three miles or so. This was the most crowded piece of the route, as the first few miles are in any long distance event I’ve run in. There was almost always room to slide around runners headed up the first long hill going west through Rosselyn. I maintained about a 9:00 pace, just warming up through the first three miles until the course turned east and started heading downhill towards the Key Bridge Potomac crossing. The early hills had thinned the crowd out a little and I just let my pace go at that point with the intent to run every downhill as fast as I could, without breaking or slowing, but still running steadily without gasping for breath. There was a long, long stretch of significant downhill that flowed right to the Key Bridge, up and over, and then downhill again all the way to mile 7.5 or so.

     That’s pretty much how the first sixteen to twenty miles went for me; I ran hard downhill, somewhere between a 6:45 to7:00 pace, leveled off around 7:30 to 7:45 on the flats, and worked hard to stay sub 8:30 when we hit hills. I knew I was running hard as opposed to a more comfortable stride when I developed a deep side stitch around mile 6. I ran through that in northern Georgetown for a couple of miles including the up the second and, last, really significant hill on the course at mile 7.5. That’s one of the reasons a large percentage of Boston Qualifiers come out of the Marine Marathon; the hills are gone early. I just sucked it up and ran through the stitch. When I finally fired up my Walkman at around Mile 5, it was a whole new race for a while, as it is every time I start my Walkman at some point into an event.

      The route runs north on RTE 29 once over and away to the north from the Key Bridge. The outbound piece of the course splits to the left at the 5 mile point and stays on the Potomac and loops back around the reservoir, runs up hill to the northeast, and then flows down MacArthur Boulevard back into Georgetown leaving most of the uphill behind you on the course. MacArthur flows back into RTE 29 where you originally split off at Mile 5 after adding another 3 miles. I was just hitting the 5 mile split to the left when the two race leaders came flowing down MacArthur and merged now running south on RTE 29 at a dead run; they were running hip to hip with thousands of runners cheering them as we headed out around the reservoir. The 3rd place runner was striding smoothly about 75 yards behind 1 & 2. It was really something to witness.

When I finally re-entered RTE 29 at Mile 8 with the still-outbound runners, I really got a sense of the amount runners in the race as thousands were still flowing towards the reservoir loop. There were still hundreds of runners coming across the Key Bridge when I passed that headed south about a half mile later.

To Infinity and Beyond.      As discussed, Washington D.C. is certainly an entertaining venue to run through, as was the cast of characters in the race. With a race date of 31 October, we were assured of sharing the course with a full spectrum of costumed runners. I passed SuperGirl somewhere around mile 4. She was young, maybe nineteen, and had a great stride and I think stayed somewhere close behind me throughout the course. I say this because her SuperMom kept landing ahead of me at strategic points on the course to view her daughter. My final sighting of SuperMom was crossing the RTE 1 bridge back into Crystal City.

     I passed Buzz Lightyear around mile 4. At about 5’10”, he was taller than I imagined. Woody was nowhere in sight. As every distance event inevitably stretches out by race pace, you tend to consistently notice the same runners maintaining the same pace you are. I kept passing a guy that I think was dressed as William Wallace; He was about 5”8”, ripped and very wide. I say this because he was wearing only a plaid green and black kilt, dark running shoes and what I think was a dark red and brown shoulder-length wig. He had a dark complexion and was a little shorter than me but looked twice as wide. We kept trading positions but I don’t remember seeing him once I turned toward the National Mall. I think I saw Elvis viewing the race at three different locations on the course, but one of those was in Chrystal City, so they may have been the original one from Memphis at that point.

     There was another dude, about 5’6”, with a bright yellow shirt, a ball cap, blue shorts, and yellow running shoes cruising on a giant set of legs. Lisa says I have big legs but this dude’s were bigger than mine and imminently noticeable because they were incredibly ripped, shaved clean and quite a shade of bright white. I also kept roughly the same pace at least through 18 miles with a younger African-American woman who maintained an elegant, graceful stride that looked singularly effortless. She just kept eating up pavement while she seemed to run with a fluidity I was envious of. It seemed like every time I came through after a water station after mile 14 or 15, she was up ahead of me.

     My Forerunner 305 gained about ¼ of mile ahead of the mile markers at one point early in the first third of the course and another ¼ somewhere around the halfway point, but maintained that through the finish line. Garmin told me I ran 26.79 miles when I reached the Iwo Jima Memorial. However, I really wasn’t checking my distance on the course to any immediate extent, and was avoiding that to the best of my ability. If I found myself thinking about a finish time or checking my GPS, I immediately shifted out of that mode by consciously picking up my pace and tightening and cleaning up my stride at the same time. It think it was due to those efforts that I experienced that rare but very satisfactory racing experience where I was reaching mile markers sooner than I thought I was. For example, I was thinking that I was closing in on 13.1 miles when I hit 14. The mile markers just kept coming up a little ahead of schedule all the way to mile 20, and didn’t even seem too far apart when I struggled through Crystal City later on.

 The Washington Monument from somewhere adjacent to the starting line

     I honestly don’t think you can consider yourself an American patriot and not experience a little shiver or some goose-bumps the first time you lay eyes on either the Washington Monument or Lincoln Memorial. The MM 26.2 route runs past most of the major sites in Washington DC as it wends its way around the National Mall. The supporting crowd was enormous all over the course; I gave every kid that stuck his or her hand out a low five at every opportunity like some famous runner. I must have received about 100 across the entire course. The kids really seemed to get a charge out of it, or maybe they were bored. I got a kick out of it.

     The crowds and accompanying street musicians were so loud in Georgetown, at mile 19 on the Mall and again in Chrystal City, that they literally drowned out my walkman. In all three instances it seemed like I entered an overwhelming wall of sound that just took up all the space around us and then after running for 100 yards, the sound would start to fade and I’d hear my walkman again. That was no mean feat either, as I had my YurBuds in. Yurbuds ( are tight little rubber extensions you attach to your headphones. They were ridiculously overpriced for two little pieces of rubber, or seemed to be at the Expo on Friday, but these things almost completely lock your earphones into place and the music seems almost wired to your brain. Mine didn’t shift once for the entire 20 miles of the race after I fired up my Walkman around mile 5. Yurbuds are now my favorite piece of non-critical but essential gear.

     It’s always quite an experience running the National Mall. You’ve got the Washington Monument in the strategic center, with the White House to the north, Congress to the east, the Lincoln Memorial to the west, and the Jefferson Memorial to the south. After the course hugs the Potomac running all the way to the southern point of Potomac Park, we ran back through miles 14, 15, and 16, and looped around the Lincoln Memorial for a clockwise lap around the Mall. I completely enjoyed that lap last Sunday. I also marveled that I had no recollection of almost any of this from the 1999 race, except for the point where my brother Greg faded into the distance ahead of me. I wondered if that was a normal while enjoying the sites. I hit Mile 19 after clearing Congress and entering the south side of the Mall; that was at the 2:50 minute point and I recall that I passed a guy running completely barefoot as I crossed over mile 19. Barefoot, all asphalt. Pretty tough.

     The demon of despair lurked ahead in Crystal City. My legs were feeling pretty heavy by mile 20 as we exited the Mall; I’d only hit one water station to that point and could tell that I was going to be regretting that course of action shortly as I could feel an odd, tightening twinge in my left hamstring. I started hitting water stations. I’d run further with little to no water before but not at an 8:00-8:30 pace. I was happy to see the Jefferson Memorial on the right, but had a sense of dread approaching that damned RTE 1 bridge. I’d run over that several times this fall and actually remembered it from 1999. There was little difference this time; I trudged up over the bridge at about a 9:45-10:00 pace and had to walk for a several yards above the off-ramp into Chrystal City as my left hamstring cramped and involuntarily vibrated.

     Chrystal City encompasses very little of the Marathon course in retrospect; miles 21.5 to 24 but seemed a little more significant than that on Halloween. Runners hit a water station entering and exiting this little maze. I almost always hit “the wall” at any event around Mile 22 and today was no exception. Both left and right quads and hamstrings were cramped and flexing as they saw fit while I followed a serious of left turns to the 23 mile point where the course looped clockwise around the square and headed for the Pentagon and home. I kept working and pushing through that hamstring that seemed cased in lead Chrystal; it really felt like it was improving as I came around the square but that was short lived. I don’t actually think you could see my swollen left hamstring on satellite imagery as I spilled off the square towards the left curb, but I really think the helicopters overhead could see it. I had to stop and stretch for about 30 seconds while it seemed that about 10,000 runners blew by me. I walked a ways and then trotted into the water station down the road at mile 24. I think I accepted a cup of water from all 26 Marines passing out white cups as I drank my way through the water point.

     I kept trotting at a 10:00 pace out around the Pentagon parking lot and tried to loosen up a bit as we ran slightly downward on the western side of that big star. I finally started to feel recovered as we looped around down into the Pentagon parking lot, hit mile 25, routed under the overpass, and headed for the finish line. I actually cruised to an 8:00 minute pace for most of the last mile and was pleased with that little fact. 
     The crowds started to telescope the long stream of runners into a single or double file. Looking at runners seeming to disappear ahead of me into the crowds of milling spectators lining both sides of the road and out onto the course, I had an embarrassingly fleeting, foolish hope that maybe the finish line was no longer at the on the hilltop with the Iwo Jima Memorial but now down on the road…..and then we hung the left through crowds of people and headed up the short steep hill, turned right, ran past the giant statue, and crossed the finish line 125 yards further up past the right side of the Memorial. I picked up the pace and threaded my way through some runners and felt like I was really flying, but watching finish-line film on the website later didn’t really show me flying so much as still trotting. Perception… My Garmin and my watch said 3:49:25ish

     Several race photographers were available to shoot your picture with your medal in front of the 32-foot Iwo Jima Memorial. A Marine handed me a food packet with a bagel, fruit, lots of stuff; I carried that and my space blanket through the throngs down the hill towards Rosselyn center. Slowly.

     Everything was still highly organized; there were lots of vendor tents. I was able to hit a results booth where a nice young lady looked up my results online, ten minutes after the fact. She informed me that my actual time on the course was 3:47 exactly. I had forgotten about the chip, the start line the 2+ minutes to get to the start; I was generally worn out and I felt great at the same time. Purged. I had a new PR but couldn’t officially tie my name to it. Progress comes in ironically strange spurts sometimes.

     I found all the UPS trucks were lined up in order. I was in luck; my bag was in truck 5 and that was the closer end of the line of trucks. As I limped toward the Michelob corral where I hoped to link up with two members of my section that also ran the event and were, as yet, unseen, I was able to hit a video booth and record a :30 tape for my family. I thought that was just another neat feature of the hundreds of neat features tied to this race. I never did link up with LTC Kelley (he had crossed the finish line 5 minutes ahead of me after apparently passing me in Chrystal City), or Major Kent who finished just about exactly when I did.

  The view from the Michelob Corral; the Finish line is 1/2 a mile up that hill
     I donned my Marine Marathon shirt from my pre-positioned bag, and enjoyed the sites from the beer corral for about an hour. That included what turned out to be the best costume of the day, an incredibly real-looking version of the St. Pauli Girl serving Michelob Ultra, all the while chatting with a dentist from Syracuse, New York. I cooled off and tightened up at the same time and reflected on how lucky I was to be able to enjoy a race like the Marine Corps Marathon again. Just a great event. I dog-trotted the 3 miles home from there.

 The Marine Marathon is exceptional to include their Finisher Medals and Shirts
10 NOV 2010