Now let's talk about the Marine Corps Marathon in general.
Monday, October 27, 2008
The 2008 Marine Corps Marathon was scenic, fun, and tremendously emotional. Bryon Powell and I paced my friend Kristen the entire way. It was the first time since the 2006 Walt Disney World Marathon that Kristen and I ran an entire marathon together (although we train together just about every weekend). For Kristen (who set her 4:11:44 marathon PR at the 2005 Walt Disney World Marathon), MCM was her first stab at the marathon distance since a 4:38:30 performance at the New Jersey Marathon in early May, and her second marathon since last November (New York City Marathon in 4:58:32). I will get to my thoughts on MCM as a race later in this post.
The drive from New York to DC was fairly uneventful. We went to the expo to pick up our packets, had a super-early dinner with Bryon, then got prepared for the race while waiting for Meredith to arrive. I spent the night on a mini fold out couch (see slideshow), which was awful. It was one of those fold-outs where you can feel the bars and springs through the mattress. Plus, there was a funky yellow stain on the bottom sheet, which I assumed was merely birthday cake frosting. Meredith actually did a fantastic job in securing our hotel room. It was less than a mile from the starting line, and even closer to the finish line.
We made our way over to the starting area by around 7:15 or so and met Bryon, who shows up wearing a 20 pound pack. Bryon is preparing for next year's Marathon des Sables and was packing the heavy load for training purposes. He had run 4+ miles from his house to meet us to run the marathon. After enjoying the national anthem, we headed to the corrals for the start. Here's a short clip from the corrals :
It was extremely crowded with 30,000+ runners participating, making it difficult to move well during the first few miles (actually, it was difficult to move through the crowds of runners several times during the course of 26.2 miles). We finally were able to settle into some sort of pace, and moved very well through the first half in around 1:58. Bryon would later remark that Kristen ran one of the most consistent races that he has seen. The day turned out to be gorgeous, with clear skys and beautiful views. One of the more exciting portions of the race was when we ran past the Capitol (which is where I humorously said, "what building is that"). Here the video clip....
After hitting the 24 mile mark, Kristen began to feel a bit nauseaus. Yet, she still kept plugging along. Although her pace was slowing a bit, she had a PR well in sight. There was one last short steep hill to climb within the last two tenths of a mile, then it was clear sailing to Kristen's PR. She finished in 4:05:11, a six minute plus PR, and over 30 and 50 minutes better than her last two marathon performances. Here is the clip of her PR finish:
Now let's talk about the Marine Corps Marathon in general.
I suppose you can always judge an event by the "would you do it again" factor. Would I do MCM again ? Well, maybe. I didn't walk away from this marathon in awe. In fact, I was quite displeased with it for much fo the first 6-10 miles. There were simply way too many runners (30,000+) for such a narrow course. Let's break MCM down :
Pre-Race Expo : The Expo and packet-pick was o.k. It was held at the DC Armory in Washington, DC. The 3-day expo had very reasonable hours of operation, allowing out-of-towners ample time to pick up their packets. Runners could also have a friend pick up their packets with little-to-no trouble at all (I happened to pick up Meredith's packet quite easily). Lots and lots of vendors to choose from. However, parking was a bit of a pain (not so much because it wasn't available, but more so because of the lack of signs pointing to expo parking (this, from the view of someone who has no familiarity with the area at all). Also, it was awful hot inside the expo.
Accessibility : There are plenty of hotels near the start and finish areas (which is the option I took). Free parking with access to a shuttle, as well as the Metro to the Pentagon Station gave runners good access to the start area.
Pre-Race Start Area : Nice. It was super exciting to see and interact with all of the military personnel that were out at the race. This is absolutely, positively what makes this race worth coming to. Despite the 30,000+ runners, corrall access was a breeze, and they were large enough such that you weren't feeling crammed in.
The Start : Non-event. I didn't even realize that the race had begun. But, even with the number of runners, it only took about 3 minutes to get to the starting line.
The Course : Lots to harp on here. As I mentioned before, much of the course was narrow, and with 30,000+ runners, it was difficult to maneuver (even the spectators seemed at times to spill over onto the course making it seem even tighter). The wheelchair and handcycle participants start was only 10 minutes prior to the runner's start. On a narrow course, this seemed to cause a lot of issues when wheelchair and hand cycle racers would move quickly through the downhill and flat portions. On the uphills, runners would just move to the right or left of them. But on the flats and downhills, all you would here is "chair" or "wheels down the middle" or something similar. Someone was even yelling at the runners to "get off the course" when one hand cyclist was moving through runners. Now, this is purely a race logistics issue. The fact is that the runners and wheelchair/hand cycle racers all paid a fee to participate and all have a right to be on the course, and to enjoy it. So, it would make much more sense, and be much more enjoyable to all, to start the wheelchair and hand cyclists more than 10 minutes before the runners. The course also had a few very sharp turn-arounds, which is bad news as it slows most runners to a crawl when in a pack. But, with that said, there is a lot to like about this course if you are a fan of history and our nation's capitol. You get to cruise through the streets of Georgetown, and get close-up views of the Capitol, the National Mall, the Jefferson Memorial, and many other monuments, memorials and landmarks. It is certainly a "picture" perfect marathon. Also, the course is not terribly difficult. There are a few hills in the beginning that are challenging, and, if you are looking for a PR, watch out - you need to figure out how not to lose time in the early stages to crowing and bunching of runners (and you have to do the same at various other narrow sections of the course). Military...military...military. That is really what this marathon is all about, and it is great to see all of our service members on the course and in the spectator crowds.
The Finish : Lots of cheering, lots of noise, but overall just o.k. Simply a blow-up tube like structure served as the finish "gate". The timing clock was located to the left of the finish line - would have preferred to see it as you crossed overhead (makes for a better finishing picture).
Post-Race : For such a large marathon, pretty impressive. It didn't take too long to get through at all. Great picture opportunities at the Marine Corps War Memorial. Actual gated lines were up to move runners through for medal receipt and picture purposes.
Overall / Conclusion : MCM is a decent marathon. It isn't my favorite, but it isn't my least favorite. I think that it would be an absolute winner if they limited the field to about 17,000 runners. But, with the total participants exceeding 30,000, and the course being as narrow as it is, I can't quite convince myself to give MCM high marks. It isn't one of those "save up your travel money because this is a must-do" event. But it is, a very scenic and emotional race, and if you have the opportunity to run it once, I'd say do it.