Friday, November 6, 2009
“The People’s Marathon”
October 25, 2009
Wow. The Marine Corps Marathon and weekend were absolutely spectacular! I could not have asked for a better experience. The logistics all worked out just fine. The setting was perfect. I met fellow runners throughout the weekend. The race itself was challenging, but so gratifying. Let me hear a big “Ooh-rah”!
It’s hard to believe that it’s over. I’ve trained and looked forward to this race for quite a while now. To anticipate something for so long and have it come to an end seemingly so quick is a striking contrast.
When I decided to target this race, the “People’s Marathon”, I was determined. My doctor had warned me about my weight and my knee. He had diagnosed that my left knee had a torn meniscus. The doctor urged me to try another sport.
I decided instead to slowly build up the miles and also cross train until the knee healed and I was better able to focus more on running. As it turned out, this strategy worked quite well. My knee has not bothered me at all in the last couple months. In retrospect, I think I had a strained LCL and not a torn meniscus. I also credit a shorter stride and slower pace. In fact, I did no speed training for this marathon.
There was another aspect for my reflection. For the last six years, I have spent much of my free time volunteering for my kids’ sports teams and their school. I have coached many sports and later ended up running the board of directors for the school’s athletic program. This responsibility, along with owning my own business, has taxed most of my free time. Now that my youngest has graduated from grade school, I “retired” from my board duties and decided that I would get back into running and better health. Boy, did I ever miss it!
Having set my goal for the Marine Corps Marathon, I created a training plan based on the Hanson beginner plan. This is the same Hanson as in the Hanson-Brooks Distance Project. They’re based in Royal Oak, Michigan, right in a neighboring town.
I followed my training plan well and sure enough, my knee got stronger and the weight came off slowly, but steadily. With these measured and deliberate paces, the marathon was in my sights.
With the race now behind me, it’s fun to look back and be happy with my progress. But it’s even more exciting to look ahead to see what could be next.
This post is rather lengthy. Please forgive me. I’m essentially closing one chapter with my training and life while also opening another. I appreciate you joining me in this journey.
Welcome to Washington, DC
I flew to Washington, DC with my wife and two kids on Friday, October 23rd. When we got off the plane, I was surprised to see my congressman, Thaddeus McCotter. He was not there to welcome us to DC, although that would have been pretty cool, but rather he was waiting to board the plane for a return trip to Detroit.
We had a nice conversation. He had gone to high school with my college roommate. My son currently attends a rival high school. We had fun joking about both schools.
Thad is on the Dennis Miller radio show every few weeks. It’s always a fun show when “T-Mac” is on with Dennis. Thad’s a good guy trying to do what’s right for America. Try to give him a listen live or download the podcast.
We caught the Metro to our hotel. We immediately noticed the heat and high humidity. Detroit has been about 15ºF cooler than normal these last few weeks, so the contrasting weather was attention-getting.
We checked-in to the JW Marriott on Pennsylvania (I was fortunate to get it for free with my points!) and quickly went out for a nice dinner. We ate at the M&S Grill on 13th Street. We had no trouble wolfing down a nice meal and toasting each other for a great weekend. We were excited!
After a lazy wake-up, we grabbed a Starbucks and headed outside. It was muggy and a little rainy, but we didn’t care. We were ready to get the lay of the land.
I have been to DC many times on business and I took the kids there years ago. This trip would be better remembered with the kids now 14 and 15 years old.
On the way there though, a girl asked if I was a runner and after I said yes, she smiled and asked for directions to the nearest Starbucks. So there you go, runners know runners! It’s like a club, but open to all with an interest.
We then headed up to K Street and caught the Georgetown bus. We got off at Wisconsin and walked over to the university. The campus was gorgeous and we stocked up on a few items in the bookstore. My son is eyeing the school for college, but is still hoping for Notre Dame.
We grabbed some lunch at a cool little sports bar back on Wisconsin near M Street and then caught the bus to the expo.
I was getting pretty excited by this point. As we neared the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, I began to see other runners heading to and from the expo. It was a little surreal for me since my last visit to this convention center was for a U.S. Army convention for my business back in 2003. Little did I know back then that my return trip would be for the MCM!
After getting my bib, D tag, and goodies, we made our way to meet up with a bunch of runner friends that have been in touch online but here-to-date had never met in person. Gathered together were:
For dinner, we just hung out in our hotel room so I could rest my feet. We watched the last quarter of the Notre Dame vs Boston College game and my son and I were very happy with the Irish.
My family had a good night sleep. It took me two or three hours to fall asleep. I was anxious. When the alarm sounded, I snapped up like I had heard reveille from the base bugler. I was ready!
This was my fourth marathon overall, but it has been four years since my last one. For me, it was great to get back into the saddle. A marathon today represents for me a renewed commitment to running and a healthier lifestyle.
I have done six half marathons, with the most recent ones being this year’s U.S. Air Force and Worldwide Festival of Races half marathons. These two recent races were just two weeks and five weeks prior to MCM, respectively.
The USAF half was an especially fitting warm-up to MCM. I love the patriotic theme and I also work in the defense industry so these races bookended a nice set of outstanding race experiences.
The other purpose for running MCM was a means to salute our Marines and all who serve in our military as well as their families. I especially am humbled by those who have given their lives for the defense of our country. It is not lost upon me that brave men and women risk their lives every day to protect our great nation. I run in part to honor them, their wounded, fallen, as well as those preparing to serve.
As I made my way to the back of the pack, I peered down over the starting line. There it was in all its glory. What a sight. Marines stood at attention marking the demarcation between the opening ceremonies area and the line-up of runners. The cyclers were lining up getting ready to race. The Quantico Marine Corps Band was playing patriotic music. They would also play the national anthem.
It took about 16 minutes to cross the start line due to the congestion of so many runners. I began at an easy pace and went under the viaduct of Arlington Memorial Bridge and when I emerged on the other side, I looked to the west and saw the rows and rows of headstones in Arlington National Cemetery. The sight deepened my resolve. I was so grateful to be running on that glorious day.
The emotions ran high at the start. I continued my tradition of dedicating each mile for someone special in my life. I thought and prayed for them, bringing them with me for that mile. I ran a mile for all my running friends that I’ve met online through blogs, podcasts, and other new media. You have all been such an enormous source of inspiration. I also ran for my family as well as special organizations that have really impacted me and my family. Of course, I dedicated a very significant mile to our Marines. You’ve got to love the Corps!
These heartfelt thoughts were dramatically interrupted when a sudden urge for an immediate bio-break got my attention quick. I couldn’t believe it! I had gone twice right before the start and here I had to go again. Luckily, there were a large number of available porta-johns in Rosslyn. I did my duty and hoped that would be the last such stop. Sure enough, it was.
Rosslyn had several buildings bearing the names of some of my best defense customers. That was fitting. I then noticed a familiar race shirt of the USAF Marathon, where I had run the half and had also seen quite a few customers. I said hello to the runner. He had run in Dayton as well, where he had run the full marathon. Doing back-to-back marathons is tough. Talking to this runner was a nice way to get the blood pumping.
After the first two miles, the course got a little hilly. I just kept a steady pace. Many people decided to walk. I was still not that warmed up yet so the hills felt pretty good.
Soon after, we were heading downhill along the Spout Run Parkway (a spur of the George Washington Memorial Parkway) headed toward the Potomac. It was cool along this section and my pace began to pick up.
What a thrill it was to see Georgetown across the river. The bridge ahead was a short rise ahead. The sun was well out by now. It was a magnificent morning.
We crossed the Potomac at the Francis Scott Key Bridge. I could hear the crowd on he other side. They roared loudly as we reached the east bank and headed north and also saw the elite runners already heading south on their return trip. My pace quickened naturally. All systems were “go” here at the five-mile mark.
The next portion of the race followed the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park. We were running along the canal in what was a relatively quiet, but scenic stretch of the race. My pace was comfortable. Many runners though were stretching at the road side or relieving themselves on the hill. How terrible to be feeling off so early in the race. I was glad to be feeling so well.
We soon turned around and ran uphill for the return trip south during mile 7. We came upon the Georgetown Reservoir and the great vistas looking downriver. This stretch ran along MacArthur Boulevard and had some fun local crowd support. It was a bit of an awakening from the last relatively quiet mile.
The pep band of Georgetown University was out to liven up the runners and the crowd. The Hoyas wore their striped blue and gray rugby-style shirts and blasted out the tunes. They looked like fun kids.
At mile 9, the course cut through Georgetown along M Street and then turned south on Wisconsin. The crowd support was huge here and I really felt pumped.
I should note that I ate three Clif Shot Bloks every four miles. I used what I had trained with, the margarita flavored 3x sodium shots. I also drank water at every aid station. As the sun and heat rose, I did sweat quite a bit and tried to replace the fluids that I lost. I did sneak a few gulps of Power Ade at the very last aid stations. It was also very cool that each aid station was run by active-duty Marines. They were all so supportive.
As we headed further south, we ran along the Rock Creek & Potomac Parkway. I could see Roosevelt Island. The Potomac glinted in the sunlight.
All was well until I started to feel my left hip getting a little aggravated. I had felt soreness there since the WWFOR Half Marathon. The rest during my taper was not enough. I had a hip flexor problem.
I was concerned prior to the race that my hip might really rebel during my run. Sure enough, with each step from this 10-mile marker till the end, the pain just got worse and worse.
I was suddenly cheered by the sight of my wife and two kids at mile 10. What a thrill to see them. I told them all was fine and that the race was going great. They looked like they were having fun too. With a new boost in me, I ran down West Potomac Park.
I then headed into East Potomac Park. My pace here slowed all the way down to the very end of the peninsula to an area called Hains Point. This was the halfway mark. My chip time was 2:36:07. By this time my right ankle was also throbbing with some pain, perhaps from any minor change in my gait due to the hip problem. The soles of my feet began to get very sore as well.
Nonetheless, I just barreled on, trying to keep forward motion going. I did not let the pain get in the way of enjoying this race. I walked for a minute to ease the soreness. The pain did not ease, so I stuck with running from there on until the last stages of the race.
The Washington Channel provided more great views for the return trip north up the peninsula. We made our way up to the Jefferson Memorial and the Tidal Basin. I was glad to get off that peninsula. It had been a tough stretch.
The eye-candy sights from here on out really made a big difference in compensating for the hip, ankle, and feet pains. The crowds and various musical bands were also a huge help. They were raucous, spirited, and loads of fun.
During mile 16, my family surprised me again. I just loved seeing them. They said they were going to see me in a few more miles, but it turned out they missed seeing me again until the finish. Metro traffic was choking their progress to leap-frog me. They did not want to miss the end of the race, so they headed to the finish. I wish I had seen them a few more times. It would have helped for sure, but I understood it was hard to navigate quickly amongst all the crowds.
As we turned around during mile 19 and ran west on Jefferson Drive, I knew that I would make it to the finish. There was pain to be sure, but I felt no bonking sensation.
The route then turned south on 14th Street. I had easily made the “14th Street Beat the Bridge” time. Runners who didn’t make it on time had to be bussed across the bridge to make way for reopened traffic.
The scene on the bridge was not so pretty. Legions of runners turned into walkers. Many were stopped along the side, stretching out their complaining legs and backs. An ambulance sped a man away for treatment.
The next couple of miles were run through Crystal City. The crowd support was loud here. I refused the free beer, tempting though it was.
The walkers were stumbling forward, looking like zombies. The heat picked up a bit. I was sweating too much and even noticed a huge salt stain on my shirt. Just then, I noticed a runner wearing full leg tights, jacket, hat, and gloves. He a salt streak running down his cheeks. I couldn’t believe he was so overdressed. He must have been boiling.
As I left Crystal City, my energy brightened despite my slowing pace. My hip, ankle, and feet were pretty mad at me. I made my way around the Pentagon and thought about September 11th. My best man in my wedding is a firefighter for Arlington County and was one of the first to arrive at the Pentagon that fateful day.
As I and the other runners gutted it out, we knew the finish was just ahead. We came upon the start line and it seemed odd that it was only a short while ago where this day began, yet it seemed very distant at that moment.
When I ran past the headstones again, the race came full circle. I felt alive. I felt blessed. What a great experience this run had been. I had run physically and spiritually with so many wonderful people. I was so thankful.
I thought about the early and cold days back in winter with my injured knee wondering how I could run a few miles. I thought about all my training runs from that time to this wonderful moment. What a fantastic journey!
There, up the last hill, was the USMC War Memorial, depicting the flag being raised atop Iwo Jima. I saw my wife and kids cheering in the stands. I had really missed them and was so glad they were safe, happy, and yelling like crazy!
I crossed the finish at 5:27:17. A Marine put a mylar blanket on me. A second lieutenant congratulated me as he draped the race medal on my neck. They took my picture in front of the memorial and then I was ushered through the food line and out into Rosslyn. It took about 25 minutes to reunite with my family. We had a tremendous group hug. I didn’t want to let go.
After a few pictures, I hobbled with my family to the Metro for the trip back to the hotel. I showered at the health club there and then we hustled to the airport. As much as I would have liked to stay, we had to get back home for the kids and school the next day.
After a relaxing meal at the airport and a cold tasty glass of beer, we flew home. In a flash, the day that I had so anticipated had now come to an end. What a great day it was!
As I have had a chance to collect my thoughts, I can honestly say that it’s hard planning the next adventure. I am still enjoying this last one. It has taken a full week and then some for me to even begin to come down off that marathon high.
There will be a spring and a fall marathon for me in 2010. I am enjoying looking at all the possibilities.
With this planning process, I’m setting some new goals. I’m not ready to share what they are just yet, as they are still just in the works. I can say though, that I am setting some ambitious sights and I’m doing so on a longer-term horizon.
It is my hope that the Marine Corps Marathon will serve as a firm foundation to build upon for the years to come. After a four-year gap, I am back on the marathon race course. I’m so happy.
Thanks for allowing me to share my journey with you. Please stay tuned and let’s look forward to new opportunities. I hope to soon run with you again!