The Marine Corps Marathon, October 26, 2008

The People's Marathon

Beat the bridge? What the heck is the bridge? Three weeks before running the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM), I decided to check-out the course elevation. Hills for the first 8 miles, then a big downhill before maintaining a level elevation. Okay, so the beginning would be tough. But wait - - what's this about a bridge at mile 19?

"Runners must maintain a 14 minute per mile pace to 'beat the bridge' at mile 19. The bridge will be reopened to traffic at 12:45 pm. Runners who have not crossed the bridge by that time will be picked-up by the stragglers' bus."

I started panicking. After training at a 13 minute per mile pace, what if I slowed up by mile 16, 17, 18, 19? No way was I going to run 19 miles only to be picked-up by a bus! I adopted a new plan for the MCM. Rather than "starting slow and finishing fast," my new plan was: "start as fast as possible and keep pushing until the bridge, then walk, if need be." The plan worked, though I probably would have finished with less pain if I started at a 13 minute pace and maintained that throughout the run. Live and learn.

Despite the panic-invoking bridge and the first nine miles of hills, the MCM was awesome: superb organization by the Marines; coolish temperatures perfect for running; spectacular views of our Nation's Capital; and enthusiastic supporters all along the route, including cheering Marines pulling runners up the final hill at the foot of the Iwo Jima Memorial to the finish line. The MCM is a must run.

Special thanks to The World's Greatest Cheering Section who attended the marathon in spirit (Thanks for the yummy chocolate chip finishing cookies Dee!), and in person - so sorry I did not see you along the route Lorrie, Gene, and Mary Jo! I may not have spotted you, but I felt your support. A big thanks to Ed, The Gazelle, who treated us all to a delicious pre-race pasta dinner, then tore up the MCM course. Congratulations on an excellent race, Ed! Here are some of the sights you breezed by.

Taking off from Albuquerque International Airport we flew over the Sandia Mountains on our way to DC.

We arrived in DC late, and found our room in the Doubletree Hotel in Crystal City, overlooking The Pentagon, near the race start/finish.

The Doubletree provided a shuttle to the nearest Metro station, a real convenience on Marathon morning.

Friday morning, and a short Metro ride from the hotel, we arrived at the Armory, sight of the MCM Expo.

Signs led runners from the Metro to the Expo.

The man on the right was kind enough to tell us the Redskins don't play in the stadium next to the Armory anymore.

Packet pick-up was located in a tent outside the Armory.

The Marines tout the MCM as a means of exhibiting their organizational talents - and it's true. Like the Bataan run, the MCM was a lesson in efficiency.

The MCM mascot, Miles.

The official race vehicle, a beautiful Saturn Sky. Rick, they borrowed your car!

Following packet pick-up, runners were ushered to the Expo in the Armory.

The MCM Expo was filled with everything a runner could want.

This woman sported patches from numerous prior MCMs and other runs. There is a small group of men called the "Ground Pounders" who have run in every MCM since it's inception - 33 in all.

One of the vendors was offering pictures of runners in front of a pseudo-finish. In light of the whole bridge thing, I decided not to jinx it.

Wonder if she finished?

Here's a new one - beer samples at the expo.

We left the expo and met up with Lorrie, Gene, Mary Jo and Ed for a delicious pasta dinner in Rosslyn. Lorrie brought Dee's sweet (in more ways than one) care package. Thanks so much for all the encouragement, Dee! I thought of you every time I heard the bells from the sidelines - and there were lots of bells!

Saturday, the day before the marathon, was rainy and chilly. The Pentagon City Fashion Mall and restaurants were packed.

The Pentagon, Saturday Night.

The Pentagon, Sunday Morning. Clear skies!

About 4:15 am on race morning, we spotted a caravan of Walmart trucks and UHauls leaving a staging area near our hotel and delivering Powerade, water, and cups to the water stations.

Still frightened about that bridge thing, I decided to wear a pacing tattoo based on a 14 minute mile. As long as I stayed ahead of those times, I would avoid the bus.

The MCM abandoned the Champion Chip timing system this year and instead used RFID tags. Unlike the Honolulu Marathon, the tags worked great.

The Metro was relatively quiet around 5:45 am, despite a warning it would be packed by 5:30. It seemed many of the runners ignored these warnings and showed-up at the race start closer to 7:30 am.

It's not a marathon without people sporting trash bags!

Greg and Wayne looked at me like I was crazy for taking pictures in the Metro at 6:00 am, so I took their picture. Hope you guys had great runs!

UPDATE: Greg and Wayne both set PRs. Great job! See what having your picture taken in the Metro on race morning can do for your motivation? Congratulations!

Walking from the Pentagon Metro stop to the race start, we passed through long tables lined by Marines who randomly checked runners' gear bags.

UPS provided trucks to transport runners' gear bags from the marathon start area to the finish festival.

The Pentagon's parking lots were filled with people milling about.

Brooks promoted their official MCM gear with a campaign that allowed runners wearing MCM 2008 Brooks gear to "earn access to the luxurious Brooks VIP Porta Potty." They didn't tell runners there would be only 1 VIP Porta Potty, or that there would be 100,000 other porta potties with no lines and no waiting. Oh well, it's a nice running shirt.

The corrals were pretty empty as I approached at 6:30 am.

Laura wore this tutu because her mother was afraid she wouldn't be able to spot her from the sidelines. The purple bows represented the people she was running for. Hope you enjoyed the race, Laura.

This was part two of my plan to "beat the bridge." Someone posted advice on, suggesting that runners worried about beating the bridge should forget about lining up according to their estimated finish time, and line-up toward the front of the pack to give themselves a few extra minutes before the bridge closing. I walked toward the front.

7:00 am, an hour before the start

By 7:30 am, most runners were lined-up.

A military flyover prior to the start.

Starting from the 4:10-4:30 corral was a laugh. I just hoped I wouldn't be trampled by faster runners.

Many runners wore messages on their backs, eliciting well-wishes and cheers from those who passed them. One woman wore a "baby on board" sign, and there were plenty of nicknames and birthday notices.

The start.

Approaching the start banners.

I approached the start after about 7 minutes, and began running past Arlington Cemetery.

The hills begin immediately, and are somehow easier to manage with so many others feeling the pain. Shortly after mile 1, six lanes of runners are mushed under a narrow bridge.

Miles 3-4 were beautiful, running along the Potomac River.

Running on the George Washington Memorial Pky, headed for the Key Bridge.

The Canal Road turn-around at mile 6.5.

There was something magical in the air at mile 8.5. Gorgeous.

The Rockville High School Pipe Band provided perfect music for the Georgetown segment of the run. Is that bagpiper on his cell?

Georgetown. No time for shopping!

Lorrie provided a few pictures of Ed's run, and when I saved them, they were placed in chronological order with my own photos. It's interesting to note where Ed The Gazelle was on the course, in comparison to where I was. Here's Ed at mile 10.5. I just passed mile 8.

I finally make it to mile 10.5. The top of the Lincoln Memorial is peeking out over the stairs.

At times, it felt as if we were running around and around the Washington Monument.

Across the Tidal Basin, approaching mile 11.

The run aside the East Potomac Golf Course reminded me of running on Palm Beach. Plenty of green grass and water.

Love the shiny hair!

Running along Independence Avenue. I had to apologize to this poor guy who was standing in front of the Mile 16 marker, minding his business, when I snapped this picture. Sorry!

Love the photo signs! John's family gave me a little preview of how they would be smiling when they saw their dad/brother/brother-in-law run by.

Back around the Washington Monument again. Mile 17, and according to my tat, I was in good shape to beat the bridge.

By this point in the race, I had seen the "Water Buffalo" sign about four times. Thinking it may have been a new hydration system, I had to ask what the sign meant. As I understand (please correct me if I'm wrong), this adoring man's wife adopted the name "Water Buffalo" while training for her marathon. He carried this sign to various points along the route to cheer her on. What a wonderful story of support!

Mile 18.5, the Capitol.

The James Hubert Blake High School Marching Band filled the air with encouragement.

The National Museum of the American Indian - one of the newest museums of the Smithsonian Institution.

Mile 19 - and no bridge in sight.

Time to appeal to a higher authority.

Here's Ed finishing the race, mile 26.2. At this point, I'm still looking for the darn bridge!

The Batala Band, officially dubbed the "beat the bridge band," beat out samba-reggae style drumming. The all-woman percussion group was formed in Washington DC in 2007 to empower women through drumming, as part of a larger Batala group formed in 1997. They had us all dancing and cheering.

I ran up to the woman in red and asked: "Is this the bridge?" She smiled and said yes, and we cheered.

Thank you, Jessica, for sharing a "beat the bridge" moment with me. Hallelujah! No stragglers' bus!

Ed celebrates his finish with Mary Jo and Lorrie . . .

while I'm still running up that darn bridge.

Ray stopped to welcome his fellow runners back to Virginia.

Mile 21, and nearly all the way across the bridge. Let the walk/run begin.

Parviz flew from Germany to run the MCM, that's how much he likes this race. As we ran through this water stop, Parviz repeated in his German accent, over and over to each marine he saw: "Thank you, Marine. Thank you, Marine. Thank you, Marine." He was so thankful he barely had a moment to gulp from his cup. It was a powerful moment of the race for me.

Crystal City marked a real lightening of the mood for most runners. Having beat the bridge, it seemed a weight was lifted off everyone's shoulders.

Music helps the feet move approaching mile 23.

The juggling runner - or the running juggler?

Here's how I imagine these guys started race morning: "Okay. I'll flip the coin. Tails, you wear the big head and I'll wear the jersey . . . .

Approaching mile 24, the course passed the Doubletree Hotel.

Everytime I got close enough to this fellow to ask him where the nickname "Ketchup" came from, he would take off running. I guess his shirt meant just what it said - C'mon, Ketchup. I never did.

I met Ben shortly before mile 24, and looking back, he was largely responsible for not only getting me across the finish line, but shaving 10 minutes off my last marathon finish time. Ben is an avid (with a capital "A") marathon runner, about 10 a year, as I recall. We traded marathon stories and rumball recipes as we finished those last, difficult miles. By the way, mile markers 1-4 and 20-26 featured the designs of local graffiti artist Kevin Irwin. They helped to reinforce that the MCM is truly "The People's Marathon."

The Greensville High School Band was a fantastic end-of-race band. They gave us a jolt as we turned the corner past the Pentagon. The MCM may not be a "Rock-and-Roll" marathon, but there was some awesome music on the course.

Passing the race start at Arlington National Cemetery.

The end is in sight. Well, not exactly in sight, but it must be up there somewhere.

Runners turn a corner and confront the short, steep hill to the finish. You cannot stop running because Marines and spectators are cheering encouragement and you can see the top of the hill and the finish to the right. It's a tough finish, but very powerful.

Looking back at the finish line.

Thank you, Ben. It was great finishing the race behind you - what a sprint up that hill!

The kind Marine who gave me my finisher's medal.

Marathon Foto photographers filled the finish area taking candid photos, as well as posed photos in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial.

There was a bit of a walk to the finish area to pick up gear bags, probably another mile or 2.

The UPS trucks at the finish area were manned/womanned by Marines. Thank you!

Waiting in line to catch the Metro, I ran into Karla. Karla and I met each other three times over the race weekend, which seemed strange when you consider there were 18,000+ runners in a city the size of DC, and we were not staying in the same hotel. Congratulations on a great race, Karla.

A thirty minute wait for the Metro, and finally we were headed back to the hotel.

More of Kevin Irwin's art.

Race night ended with a twilight tour of DC. The city's buildings and monuments take on a stately appearance at night.

The World War II Memorial

The Korean War Memorial.

Fittingly, our final stop was the Marine Corps War Memorial.
Thank you, Marine.





A1A Marathon

Alien Chase

Bataan Memorial Death March

Chicago Marathon

Day of The Tread

Fiesta de Albuquerque

Honolulu Marathon

Miami Marathon

Little Rock Marathon

Marathon of the Palm Beaches

Marine Corps Marathon

Philadelphia Marathon

Prague Marathon

Smokey Bear Fun Run