2009 Marine Corps Marathon
The morning of the race had finally come. I was a little nervous, but ready to get started. I had set out all of my running gear the night before and was dressed in a matter of a few minutes. I was well rested, although I did have a few moments before I fell asleep when I was freaking out about whether or not the hotel would have breakfast ready in the morning and what time the race actually started…
I ate a small breakfast and then met up with some friends to take the Metro. We made it to the Runners Village and used the port-a-lets and tried to stay warm. It felt like it was in the high 40’s. I was wearing a throw away jacket and some throw away gloves.
It was getting close to 8:00am so we made our way to the starting line. I found the four hour pace group and studied the pacesetter holding the balloons. I wanted to be able to pick him out of the crowd in case he dropped the balloons. I listened to him talk about how this was his second of three marathons he was doing in a row (how crazy is that?!). His name was Jody and he was saying that he would be finishing under four hours (perfect). I was shaking from the cold and really wanted to get started.
The start of the race was amazing. Just having the Pentagon in site is enough to get you pumped up for the race. The national anthem was piped all over and was really done well. Then two V-22 Osprey Helicopters flew by us (first with their rotors down so they were just hovering and then with their rotors up as they went by at high speed). After that, a Howitzer was shot for the race to begin (it does not get any better than that).
As we made our way from the start and under an overpass I noticed SWAT team members standing high up in the middle of the road. They were dressed in blackout uniforms (with full face masks) and holding machine guns. As we passed them I said out loud “you don’t see that everyday.” That got a laugh out of everyone and made me loosen up a little.
For the first mile we were on the Jefferson Davis Highway (9:00). We followed that road until we went into the city of Arlington and came out on Spout Run Highway (9:26, 8:21). The last part of the third mile was really fast. We were coming down a hill and at one point I noticed that we were running at sub 8:00 pace. We stayed pretty fast as we came up to and crossed Key Bridge (8:27, 8:52). The crowds were so great all they way to this point. I could not believe how many people were watching the race. I felt great!
My legs felt strong and I was breathing really well. The water stops went by fast and I was able to drink water and Power Aid at each stop. Mile six was really nice. We were running down the Potomac River and I was having a blast (8:32). I ate some chomps to keep my energy level up and noticed a pretty big incline coming up. I could see the other runners going up the hill and I heard our pacesetter say not to go too fast. He wanted to keep a steady pace as we climbed the hill (9:08). The route leveled out and we started running in one of the coolest places of the race, Georgetown. The crowds were unreal. There were thousands of people packed along both sides of the streets and the Georgetown University band was even playing (8:53).
Miles ten and eleven took us by the JFK Center for Performing Arts and the Lincoln Memorial (8:59, 9:09). At this point it seemed like the pacesetter was finally leveling out and was actually slowing down. I started to notice that there were a lot of people wearing shirts dedicating their run to fallen Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, and Seamen. There were also families on the side of the streets holding signs with pictures and names of these heroes who had given so much for our country. I could feel their grief, but I could also feel their pride in what these men and women had done for all of us. I gained a lot of strength from them as I passed. I started to think about the injured Marines I had met and how my friends and family had helped me raise over $2,000 for the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund. I could not help the feeling of pride that was coming over me as I ran those next few miles.
We ran down a narrow road (Ohio Drive) that was really grassy with high bushes (9:00, 9:08, 9:15). It was funny to see hundreds of runners on the side of the road peeing. The water stations were a little tight in this area, but I made a point of getting water and Power Aid at every station. I was also making sure that I was eating my chomps every hour.
I tried to concentrate on the race as miles sixteen and seventeen came up. This was another beautiful part of the route. We went around the Tidal Basin and even closer to the Lincoln Memorial (9:21, 9:26). Then we headed down the Mall. We went right in front of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History (9:22). I was cruising! The pace felt super easy and I was already picturing the finish line (crossing it in under four hours). I looked ahead and was amazed as we ran in front of the Capitol Building (9:00).
At mile twenty I was still feeling great. We were heading for the Fourteenth Street Bridge. This was the home stretch! Right before I made it to the bridge I felt pain in my right calf. I knew exactly what it was. I battled cramps on my first marathon and could not believe it was happening again. I tried slowing down to ease the pain and see if I could stop the cramps (10:34). I saw the pace group that I had been part of for so many miles trail off into the distance. The group was like a machine and was not going to stop or slow down for one runner.
As I kept running, my left calf seized up in cramps and I could not make my toes relax (they had curled up into a ball). I had to stop on the bridge and just calm myself down. I tried to relax and finally got my toes to flex back out. The cramping continued, but I was not going to quit. I had made it through this type of pain before and I was not going to give up. It was not fast, but I made it across the bridge (11:30, 12:33). Mile twenty-three and twenty-four were strange; the route took us into Crystal City for a small out and back loop. The crowds were really great and helped me push harder for those miles (10:47, 11:07). Mile twenty-five had to be the worst mile of the entire race (12:15). We were running on the highway and there were no crowds. I was cramping so bad I thought I was going to throw up. The best part of that mile was the guy dressed as the Grim Reaper standing up high ringing a bell and holding a sign that said “The End is Near.” I started laughing…
My mind was really crashing at this point and I knew there was a hill at the end of the race. This is where you have to dig deep. For me, it’s my family that keeps me going. It was knowing that they were waiting for me at the top of that hill and it was knowing that I push myself because I am so proud of them. I knew that my wife had finished the Marine Corps 10k earlier (even though she had only stopped smoking in the last year and had back surgery only two years ago). I knew my son had pushed himself through running the Marine Corps Kids Mile Run the day before and I could still see the pride in his eyes as he finished. They give me strength when I am at my lowest point.
I hobbled for most of that last mile and saw the incline to the finish (12:06). There were thousands of people around me and I ran up the hill as fast as I could. My legs cramped up at the finish line and I had to hold on to the side of the fencing just to stand up. A Marine came over to me and wrapped me in a blanket and made sure I was okay. After a few minutes I walked a little ways up and stopped.
When you run that far and push your body that hard your emotions can really get the best of you. I covered my head in that blanket and just broke down.
The strangest thing happened at that moment, I started to feel okay. Not just okay, I felt happy. I had made it to the finish line. Sure it would have been great to do it under four hours, but I had made it!
I felt euphoric. I continued my walk up the hill towards the Iwo Jima Memorial and my amazing family. A Marine put a finishers medal around my neck and I said thank you. He looked at me really hard and said “No, thank you sir!”