|If you look close enough, yours truly is on the left side of Mr. Yellow shirt.|
There's always something, isn't it? With every marathon, you hope for the best and pray that everything goes as planned. You wish for stars to align and hopefully blast through that finish line strongly with a sub-4, a PR, or maybe even a Boston qualifying time. Through my past experiences, I have come to accept that some things are just beyond my control. I try to do my best to adapt to the situation and not let the 'unexpected' takeover. This was the central theme for my 31st marathon at Marine Corps. Don't get me wrong, this race report is not all about what went wrong-- far from it. This race is all about how a minute issue could have crept up to mess with my head had I let it. It was up to me to tuck that negativity away and dwell on the positives instead. In the big scheme of things, this non-issue played little to no part in my eventual success. Grab a cup of coffee...this might be long. Here goes my race report for the 38th running of the Marine Corps Marathon 2013 (MCM).
It has been two years since I ran in a huge marathon. In 2010 and 2011, I've had great experiences and got two huge PR's in New York City. I came to love big races and not fear them after that. It used to worry me; variables associated with huge venues, such as: should I rely on fluid and nutrition on the aid stations or bring my own? What if they ran out? Do I check my drop bag at the end? What if they lose it? How will I find my family? Do I need to run with a phone, etc. Armed with experience, MCM being one of the top five big races in America, has been on my bucket list. When registration opened in March 2013, I did everything in my power to get in. Active.com hit a snafu, with their website unable to support the incoming flood of anxious runners trying to register. Long story short, registry closed a little over two hours. I got in, but only after I was kicked out in mid-registration twice. I feverishly tried to get back in and later I found out I was charged three times. Many others experienced the same issue, which caused the MCM organization to drop Active.com for next year. They've announced recently that registration will be solely decided by lottery.
Washington, D.C. is rich with history. Museums and National Monuments are literally at every street corner. This is part of the reason why I convinced my family for a little 'race-cation'. I have an 8th grader taking American History right now, so it was timely for us to visit our nation's capital. We planned to leave on Friday, go to the expo on Saturday, race on Sunday and tour the city on both Monday and Tuesday. It worked out well. The only hiccup was the expo. More on that later...
|Make a goofy face.|
|Show me a shocked face.|
|a happy face...|
|Show me a Jack Nicholson face...there it is!|
Friday was purely a travel day. We left SLO at 6 am, had a connecting flight to SFO, then to O'Hare and finally arrived at Reagan National at 8:30 pm. Most hotels catering to the Marine Corps Marathon had convenient shuttle pickups to and from the Airport. We stayed at Holiday Inn at Crystal City because it was a hop and a skip away from the airport as well as the start at the Pentagon. The temperature was on the nippy side while we waited for our shuttle. We settled in our hotel, walked over to Mexicana Cantina (terrific authentic Mexican food, by the way) and retired fairly quickly after dinner.
|Reagan National: Waiting for our Holiday Inn shuttle|
Saturday morning we attended a once in a lifetime invitation to see Billy Mills. If you do not know who he is and you're a runner, shame on you. Just kidding. Google or you tube his name along with search words, "Tokyo Olympic Games 1964". He is a living legend and thanks to my running buddy, Julie and her dad, we saw Billy Mills give a moving speech about his experience growing up underprivileged in the reservations, while also being orphaned as a young child and his love of running and eventual running success in college leading to the Olympics. I had the great opportunity to take a picture with him and shake his hands. This my friends, was the highlight of my trip.
Needless to say, that I tried to dress for this once in a lifetime occasion, i.e., I put on nice shoes. Uncomfortable, work shoes, that is. Can you see where I'm going with this?
Let me back track for a little bit. In order to get around in D. C., we used the Metro everywhere we went, (as in Bart in the Bay Area or the Subway in NY.) It was convenient. The trains came every few minutes and in the whole time we were there, only one delay occurred. Not bad for five days. However to get to the Metro, you also had to do a lot of walking. Hint: I had my work shoes all day Saturday. So after seeing Billy Mills, we headed to the DC Armory, where the Expo was held. It was a few train stops from the Smithsonian Station. When we got off the Armory/Stadium center, I felt relieved that we were headed in the right direction since I noticed runners with their clear plastic bags and bibs getting on the train. I thought that will be me in a few minutes. So I thought. Little did I know how long they had to wait in line for their bibs, bag and shirt. Wait! It gets better...
So there I was blindly following runners, in their running shoes and jackets and shirts from past MCM marathons. I was getting giddy with excitement as I neared the entrance. I was taking it all in, taking photo op at every chance to document this piece of history. Then my eyes gazed upon this snaking line. It was zig-zagging. Every one in that line were holding only one thing, their yellow bib# and wearing a not-s- excited looks. How should I say this? Their faces did not express happiness for someone about to run a marathon. It started to occur to me that the looks I've been reading were looks of frustration, possibly associated with standing and waiting in line for what seems to be an eternity! I was right. I knew right away that I had to find another line before I could get into this line. I panned my eyes to the possible end of the line. Where is it? I got worried and finally asked one of the runners. I was pointed to a field with where the tent was. Then she offered more information: "The wait is about an hour long for the bibs, then you line up here to get your shirt and bag check." I said thank you and gave hubby a "are-you-freaking-kidding-me-look." I was glad that we did not delay getting there anymore than we had planned.
I thought something was amiss. MCM has been doing this for 38 years, they can't possibly hit a snag today. Compared to NYC with 45K runners, I was in and out in no time. Here, we had less than 2/3 of the amount of runners and I had to wait in line for 2 hours? The day before a race to be standing and walking for miles that long is a' no-no.' I already ran my 3-mile shake out run that morning, walked 3 more miles to see Billy Mills, and then this? I was worried even more because we still had to get to dinner, which was another 2-3 miles of walking. All in all it was an easy 10 miles of walking on uncomfortable shoes.
We walked closer to the huge white tent. The odd thing was, the end of the line was nowhere in sight. We asked a runner where the end was. He pointed to a Marine holding a sign that read "end of line" We followed him. Halfway through the switchbacking line, I turned on my Garmin just for kicks. Mind you this was already halfway through the line.
|That's the end of the line my friends|
|The friendly Marines who handed me my bib.|
|Finally made it in the Expo: Me, Julie and son, Carson|
|Just showing you how big this place is.|
|Stick a fork in me...I'm done.|
|After all the waiting outside, I ran out of energy to buy.|
Long story short, I was in line for more than 1 hour and 45 minutes. My feet were killing me. The shoes hurt my heel and toes. It was very easy to think about how my race the next day would be severely affected. The negative thoughts invaded my head. I was resolved to think of it just as a long run and not race hard since I felt I was handicapped anyway. Bad Aileen. Thankfully, I shook this off with a good dinner. Carbs seemed to do the job.
We went to the part of town called Capitol Hill neighborhood where we found an Italian restaurant called, Trattoria Alberto. The aura of the restaurant was dim and very classy. Our pasta was cooked to perfection and we enjoyed the attentive service we received. After a few bites of my linguini a la vongole, my worries about my feet subsided. I thought I would soak them in a tubful of cold water when we got back to our room, and everything would be fine. After dinner, Hubby and Elena got Dunkin' Donuts for their late night dessert. I hopped into a grocery shop and got my bruised banana. That was all they had.
|Lasagna for the Hubs and tortellini for the young lady.|
|Linguini a la Vongole. Yum!|
|Breakfast of champions.|
After soaking my feet in cold water, I set up my gear for the next day. I pinned my bib on my new shirt (breaking the rules: nothing new on race day) and stashed five gels in the secret pockets of my beloved Lululemon shorts. Little did I know that this would be very the last time I would wear my favorite pair of shorts, my shirt and my haute pink CEP compression sleeves. It was an honest mistake--more on this later.
|Goodbye my Lululemon shorts, CEP compression sleeves, my dry max socks.|
I planned to wake up at 3:30 and eat breakfast a 4:00 am--ample time to get "stuff" moving. I know TMI, but to a marathoner, this a huge priority. This can make or break a race if you know what I mean.
I left the hotel room at 5 am to take the hotel shuttle to the Metro. I was prepared because I bought my ticket the night before so in the morning I wouldn't have to fumble over coins and bills getting to the train. Pressure-free, I zoomed in and out as I watched other runners try to figure out how much the fare to put in. I stayed relaxed. It was not cold, about 50 degrees. To keep me warm, I had on my hubby's old white sweatshirt and sweat pants I bought for $4 bucks at the hospice thrift shop on Higuera Street.
The Metro ride was only two short stops away. Not enough time to people watch. I was calm and ready to rock and roll. I had a bagel in the bag and Gatorade to top my reserves while I waited for the start. Runners piled in the train. The train was filled with the usual chatter and small talks about running and training. I kept to myself, enjoying the moment as it passes by. I couldn't believe it. In a few hours I would be running MCM. The announcement came on "Pentagon City" I noticed people started to get up even before the train stopped. This was it, I followed.
It was still dark when we got off the train, and the walk to the start was invigorating and I didn't realize it was two miles long--from the train to that actual check in. The Marines checked my bag and bid me "Have a great race Ma'am." I couldn't get over how polite they were. I thanked them for what they do. They lifted my spirit up just by that one moment of encounter. I believed I was going to have a terrific day. At the same time, while walking though, I was keenly aware of the bottom of my feet. They were sore from the day before walking through the expo inexorably long. I was praying to the hands of god to please let me run with ease.
I got to the runner's village at the parking lot of the Pentagon around 5:30. After the walk, I got chilled a little so I marched my way inside the tent to keep warm. Runners were already huddle in together with warm blankets, earmuffs, mittens, bathrobes, layers and layers of sweats, again the usual chatter was going on. I observed many connected to their devices, texting, Face-Booking, taking instagram photos and whatever media sharing there was to do, they were on it. Soon, some faith service announcement came on. The loudspeaker was blasting pop music at the same time as the sermon was going on so I moved away and proceeded to take care of "biz". One nice thing about this marathon is there was no shortage of facilities. I give MCM A+ for that effort.
I was still hovering around the lines for the porta-potties when National Anthem played, sung by an a-Capella group. Then high above, the American flag was parachuted and unfurled as the anthem was about to finish. It was so beautifully done. Then I rushed out to the start at Highway 110. I ran and ducked under a divider to get to the other side of the freeway. Clothes littered the median. I tried to find my way through looking for the pace group. It was self-corralled. I got stuck because the crowd was thick and there was no daylight to squeeze through. I asked a fellow runner what pace we were in and he said 4:10. I was happy with that. I thought that was my happy pace that day.
|Wanna know why everyone is looking up?|
Because the US flag is unfurling while the National Anthem is being sung.
|Total Stranger and Me|
Photographer: You two know each other?
Photographer: Want a picture together?
The howitzer was fired on time and we were off. It took me six minutes to cross the starting line. I was so excited, I'm actually doing this. Inner monologue: "You got Oprah's time! Do it!"
I studied the elevation and I knew the first 2 miles are the steepest. I rolled with it, however, I was stuck behind a wall of slower runners--who might have mis "paced" themselves. I refused to go around them because that's how I would end up with longer mileage. I knew this course had an inordinate amount of turns as it was, and to add bobbing and weaving was going to add even more. So I patiently ran behind them. Lesson for next time, just know that self corralled means slower pace. Again, there was no way to anticipate this until I was actually running. I didn't let this bother me. I pushed on.
The miles were ticking away so quickly, I was enjoying the moment. We ran through Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway and before I knew it, it was time for the first U-turn just before mile 8. The scenery was green and beautiful. Trees lined up the course and it was an uplifting sight. You could see a sea of runners ahead and it seems mind boggling that eventually I would be where they were--it was just a matter of time. Literally.
We ran along the Potomac River then off to Hains Point which was the midway point of the race. My time was getting faster and faster by the mile. Butt at Hains Point, my breath was taken away by the view. Lining up the left hand side of the course was rows of pictures of our fallen brothers and sisters with their names across the bottom. It seemed endless. As you pass through and read their names, your heart breaks. Some of them looked so young and yet, they are gone. They were someone else's sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters. They were some one else's best friends. They all died to protect you and me so, we can be free. Free to do whatever we want. Free to run. As I kept reading their names, my eyesight got blurry. The day before I was belly aching about my feet. I was complaining about nothing. In the grand scheme of things, my hurt feet didn't matter. Absolutely not. I ran my fingers gently across the placards as I ran through each one. Under my breath I thank them for what they sacrificed. I don't know what happened from here on out, but I felt like I was running with wings. I felt like I was running with purpose. I got a sudden surge of energy I've never felt before.
The most densely populated section of spectators were between these miles. They reminded me of NYC. There must have been 10 deep of onlookers cheering us on. It was such a boost all the hooting and hollering. I felt like I flew by this part of the course. We ran passed the Lincoln Memorial (Mile 16), Washington Monument (Mile 17), Miles 18 & 19 running along the National Mall. Mile 20 sent us back on to the highway. It got mostly quiet here. We were alone for the most part, just runners and Marines who were manning the aid stations.
We passed through Jefferson memorial at mile 21, but honestly I was too tired to notice that we did.The rollers started again and maintaining pace required more intent focus than ever before. Mile 22 didn't look familiar either as it should have because I passed by our hotel. I didn't realized that I entered Crystal City and that should have given me more boost had I realized that. For once you're in Crystal City you are homeward bound. I knew that Mile 24 we would be on the bridge and it might get windy from past reviews that I've read. Today was not so bad. It must be due to fatigue because I didn't notice that my pace had slowed down until after this mile was over.
|I honestly didn't even notice the Capitol was behind me.|
I managed to kick it up to 8:57 and 9:03 for these last two miles. Just after mile 25 we passed by the starting line again. I knew I was home free. When I hit the 26th mile, I had a lumped in my throat with the view from the bottom.
The last 0.20
Coming around the corner and looking up from the bottom, was a nasty stretch of hill. I had a small voice inside that said, "Forgettaboutit. Walk this $hit." Before I could even continue complaining how irreverent that hill placement was, it was over and done. I did it! I couldn't wait for that medal to be hung around my neck. We passed through the chute and the Marines, congratulated each runner with a salute then the medal came next. We were then handed a box full of recovery food and a warming white jacket. We were guided to walk over to the UPS trucks to pick up our post gear clothes. It was a mighty long walk. My feet didn't bother me at all during the race, but then the moment that I stopped running, I could feel my heels were numb. In my excitement to be reunited with my family, I had forgotten to take a picture at the Iwo Jima Memorial. I had seen some pictures of other runners posing there before and I reminded myself that if I ever I should rum MCM, I would be sure to do that. When you're in delirium after a race, you want nothing more than to see you family again. That's what I did. Iwo Jima would have to wait until next time I come back.
|What's in the box? I forgot, my daughter got into it before I did...|
|Finally found after 2o minutes of milling around...|
|Me and the Hubs|
I can't quite express the incredible feeling of finishing this marathon. It was a very emotional race that started at Hains Point. Seeing the pictures of our fallen heroes made me realize that we are so lucky to be alive and be free. Running through rows and rows of American Flags brushing against my cheeks, I couldn't be anymore proud to be an American and free to do whatever I want. Running is something I will never take for granted. Running is a gift and I shall cherish every moment of it.
|Marathon #31, 1st MCM, 4:01:03|
After the marathon, I gathered all my soiled running clothes in a clear plastic bag to separate the cleans from the dirties. In the bag was empty water bottles from the Smithsonian. I kept the water bottles as a souvenir from the Billy Mills event. The hotel maid mistakenly threw out the whole bag thinking that it was re-cycling. It didn't help the situation that it was resting next to the recycling bin. So it was easy to make that mistake. That's the story of how my favorite running gear went down the tubes. Even with that loss, I still had fond memories of DC. MCM was a blast! Not only did I pull a 6 minute 5 second negative split for the first time in my whole life, I shook Billy freaking Mill's hands folks! Well okay, I also beat Oprah's time.
|Just in case you missed the first picture of Billy and me...|