On Sunday I ran the Marine Corps Marathon and if you know me, read this blog or are my friend on facebook or twitter, than you already knew this fact. Needless to say, I really used and abused social media tools to get the word out about my marathon ambitions for 2009 since I was running for such a great cause.
We attended the expo and race check-in on Saturday morning where I picked up my race number, timing chip and the freebies and than I relaxed until mid-afternoon when we drove over to Georgetown. In Georgetown, I went shopping at The Running Company and spent the gift card bestowed to me from the MMRF for placing 3rd in a fund raising contest. I picked up a new pair of Nike running tights and a case of Energy GU - both items that will help me with runs over the coming winter months. Mid-afternoon we got to meet with the MMRF MCM charity team at an Italian restaurant, also in Georgetown called Paulo's Ristorante. It was very nice to meet the other people running with the team who had helped raise the nearly $30,000 for the MMRF.
Unlike race day in 2006, this time; I got up early and headed to the start alone on Sunday. We know what a zoo it is at the start so we figured it would be easier for Michelle to head out on course to watch for me instead. I like my alone time before a long run - not talking to anyone or having to worry about anyone except myself takes away all the stress before the gun fires. The start at the MCM is very cool because its got such a great military theme. You arrive off the metro and walk around the Pentagon and into runner's village. There are Marines handling security and check-in while civilian law enforcement patrols and keeps a keen eye on everyone. The cool thing here is that this is about the only time or place where you can take a leak in plain site of law enforcement and not get arrested for indecent exposure, haha. This is very helpful as guys (and some brave girls) can take one last break right before the start. I did so as the duo of Marine Corps Osprey tilt rotor helos flew over head.
I hopped over the fence and into the 4:00 predicted time corral and walked towards the start. This time, I actually heard the cannon fire at the start and crossed the start line myself at about 8:06 AM. Having run this race once before made all the difference in my comfort level. I knew what to expect and not to push the pace to early because of the crowds. I maintained a 9:30 pace for the first couple miles, hoping I would be able to make it up and hold a sub 9:00 minute pace for the overall 26.2 miles. As a last minute tool, I had got a wrist band at the expo to wear that clearly defined the time I needed to be at every mile to finish within 4 hours. By using the wrist band and my runners watch, I hoped to comfortably know where I was and where I needed to be throughout the race.
After the initial couple miles through Rosslyn, I crossed Key Bridge into Georgetown and would now be running the same course I ran 4 weeks ago for the next 18 miles. My recent training run in DC proved invaluable as I knew when the hills were coming. By mile 6 or 7, I had made up my lost time from the early slowness of the race and by mile 10, I had created a 3-4 minute buffer. About mile 10, I ran past the backside of the Lincoln Memorial and within about a 2 minute span, I saw and ran past 3 runners from the MMRF team. Justin was stopped with his family and appeared to be changing shirts - he didn't look like he was in trouble which was cool. I than passed Liana and gave her a smile and thumbs up. She looked good and happy so I knew she might be the one to beat on the team. Finally, I passed Ed going into Haines Point. Ed didn't look so happy but I figured it was going to be tough for him as he had told me the day before that he didn't get to train much on long runs. I gave him a pat on the back and kept running.
After circling Haines Point and heading back around Lincoln onto the National Mall, I was starting to wonder if I would see Michelle. Than on Constitution Ave., I saw her with her orange MMRF shirt and cow bell. This was very cool and I couldn't help but smile. I gave her the old thumbs up and kept cruising. Looping back around the mall and back down the other side, I ran past the Smithsonian Castle which is now about mile 19. In 2006, it was mile 13 which is where Michelle, my uncle David and aunt Suzanne were waiting for me and cheered as I ran by. For a brief moment, as I looked up at the castle, I got very sad and almost shed a tear but than I told myself to focus and do what a Marine would do; keep fighting - so I did.
With a big smile, I cruised past the Washington and Jefferson Memorials and headed towards the bridge over the Potomac. I must comment on just how amazing the crowds are along the sections near the memorials. At times, the course was less than 10 feet wide with hundreds of cheering spectators on both sides - totally awesome! I had worn my name on my jersey like I did at the OBX half marathon last year and it was so cool to have people shouting to me and yelling "Go Jon!' as I ran past the crowds.
Crossing the Potomac and heading into Crystal City for miles 22-23 is where I had hoped to see Michelle, my friends and the MMRF organized team. I quickly saw the MMRF flags and one person - Betsy, the volunteer and runner from last year who came out to support the team for the race. I gave her a high five as I ran by. I knew that fighting the crowds and the metro is tough on race day so it was no worry that no one else was there. I told myself that I was running so fast, I just beat everyone there :)
After leaving Crystal City, I headed back towards the beltway which is closed down for the race and the long run past the Pentagon to the finish in Arlington. This stretch is without a doubt, the toughest part of the course. After running 23 miles, mostly with cheering spectators, mostly on flats or downhills, the course finishes with long, rolling uphills and few spectators from miles 23-25.5. Luckily, I knew this so I put my head down and pushed. Using my downhills, I ran very hard to pick up the seconds that I lost running up the uphills. I rolled into Arlington and saw the turn towards the Marine Corps Memorial. Spectators were consistently yelling "Go Jon" and I heard 'Elevation' from U2 pumping through the speakers. I was now pumped and "elevated" myself to the finish.
As I rounded the turn and started up the last steep but short climb, the announcer shouted to everyone to push to beat the 4:00 hour clock time which was added motivation. I knew I would beat the 4:00 chip time but I pushed harder and crossed the line at 4:00:41 with a chip time of 3:54:45 and an average pace of 8:57 per mile. I tried to pose for a photo as I crossed reminiscent of my pose at Virginia Beach in 2007 (my half marathon PR) but there are so many runners crossing at the same time, I don't think they really got me. You can however see the video of me crossing below. Just fast forward to where the clock shows me entering the video at 4:00:39.
After crossing the finish, I looked up and saw two Coast Guard helos hovering overhead. As a CG veteran, this was pretty sweet. I got my medal from a young Marine officer and headed to the feed zone and on to the exit into Rossyln where I met up with Michelle and my friends. It was a good day and my UPS delivered baggage included a nice gift to myself, two cold cans of Guiness.
In the end, my openness really paid off and helped me accomplish both my goals for the event. That is, to raise at least $2000 for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation in memory of my uncle David Shayt and to run the Marine Corps Marathon and beat my time from 2006; perhaps to even finish within 4 hours which has been a goal for me for many years since I started running distance races.
By being open and vocal about my preparation and training, I was able to spread the word about my fund raising and hold myself accountable publicly to get out and run and run often. There is no better motivation than public perception and I also learned how motivating that friends can be with simple words of support and generosity towards my charity. Thanks to all my family, friends and colleagues who supported me this season as I prepared and ran this event. You generosity truly helped me complete both my goals.
*You can still donate to the MMRF for my marathon run and support research and drug development that is extending the lifes of multiple myeloma patients and will one day lead to a cure at - http://www.active.com/donate/2009MarineCorps/poweredbyracephan
*Some of the photos above are borrowed from another runner's blog that I stumbled across online. Check it out here - http://community.active.com/blogs/KatRunsAntarctica/2009/10/27/marine-corps-marathon-2009