Monday, October 26, 2015

Race Recap State #7: Virginia

Race: Marine Corps Marathon
Date: October 25, 2015
Result: 5:36:19

Wow, what an incredible, inspiring race.

I was offered a bib transfer back in April from a friend of Greg, an old supervisor who initially inspired me to start running and after checking if it could count for a state, I jumped at the chance.  The race starts and ends in Virginia although much of it runs through Washington, D.C.  They recently had to move to a lottery system because of heavy demand and it is now one of the tougher races to get into.

With a dwindling number of vacation days set aside, I decided to make this a solo weekend trip with Mae's hectic work schedule impossible to tell if she'd be able to come and support/race with me.  So it would be my first race without my beloved support crew.  But at Ragnar Chicago last June I found out fellow Napa Ragnar teammate April was also registered to run, and happened to book the same flights since it was so cheap.  So at least I would be going with good company.

These folks are all in line to buy stuff
We arrived at BWI Saturday morning and took a public bus and train straight to the expo, which took longer than our flight.  There were marines everywhere.  Handing out bibs, providing directions, everything.  Brooks sponsored all the official merchandise and I got a visor and waited in line for 40 minutes to buy it.  The line to check out was crazy.  April was a little ahead of me and as she made the final turn at the end of the line I cheered her on that she was almost there and to finish strong.

We left the convention and met up with the very long legged Elizabeth, a friend and former co-worker of April who moved to the DC area a few months ago. She made plans to grab lunch at Union Market, a short walk for her, but a much longer walk for us!  The combination of us starving and complaining about not knowing how much further we had to walk kind of annoyed Elizabeth.  "I thought you guys were marathoners and were used to this!"  It was worth the hike though, because it was a very cool building with lots of options.  April shared a cheese-stuffed empanada with me and I got a tray of delicious bulgogi tacos and a pint of Atlas District Common beer from TaKorean.  I got the chance to do some video chat with Mae and the kids while April and Elizabeth did some more catching up.

Getting my carb on
Riding the Metro
After checking out Elizabeth's beautiful high rise digs in NoMa, a quick ride on the Metro brought us to our hotel, The Capitol Skyline Hotel, a no frills older place near the ballpark.  I loved their subway.  Although I had never ridden DC's subway system, I had an overwhelming feeling of deja vu, when I realized it was because I spent extensive hours down here while playing Fallout 3 on the Xbox.  We had an hour to decompress at the hotel before heading back out to carbo load at Sette Osteria, where we met up with another of April's running friends Phoenix and her husband, who were also from Chicago in town to run. Phoenix, a petite Vietnamese woman in her 50's just started running marathons a few years ago and can post near Boston qualifying times.  She's so inspiring.  We talked running most of the dinner while I filled up on Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina and a Moretti which really hit the spot.  It was almost 10 pm by the time we made it back to try to get some sleep before the big day.

Waiting to get through security
I kept waking up every hour and started the race in a pair of broken tsinelas and couldn't run.  Woke up relieved that it was just a bad dream and I had actual running shoes for the race at around 4:30.  We checked out, grabbed some McDonalds and I ordered a muffin and coffee, which I guess is a midwest regional thing since my order was returned with a puzzled look and was given an egg mcmuffin without the egg, cheese or bacon.  Oh well, better than nothing.  Our Uber dropped us off right on the highway since the police had blocked off the exit ramp and we hoofed it down to the security line at The Pentagon around 6:15, still under darkness and a light rain.  And waited.  And waited. Turned out 30,000 runners had to get through four lines of security, and we didn't get through until after 7:45.  We high-tailed it over to gear check where we had pre-assigned UPS trucks. Amazingly we had the same truck assignment. My gear check bag was so full it had ripped. We were still over a mile from the start line, and as we were running to the get there, the ground began to shake and a thunderous pair of Bell Boeing V-22 Ospreys had taken off behind us and flew right over our heads.  It gave me the feels.

The gun started before we caught up with the 11 minute pace runners and we finally crossed the start line about 25 minutes later.

Because the course laps over itself, we hit the mile 26 marker about a half mile in.  I said out loud that this was so much easier than I thought it would be, which brought a few chuckles from the runners around me.  But I did take it easier than I've ever done before, since I knew the first eight or so miles of the race are the hilliest.  At my current weight of 195, I run comfortably at around 10:30 pace, a minute slower than my fittest version of me, which was when I ran my second marathon in 2013.  So I ran an 11:30 pace and held back immensely, hoping to delay my eventual bonk.  The course initially ran through Rosslyn, and my decision to run without ear buds helped me take in the race more.  There was a split in the road on the first mile where the left side had to climb an overpass and back down while the right half of the runners stayed level.  I got lucky and stayed right.  We quickly left the urban landscape of Rosslyn and took on some scenic, hilly terrain through miles 2-4 before crossing over the Potomac into Georgetown. From there we hit a loooong out and back stretch from miles 5-10 where we were enveloped in beautiful fall colors but it was hard to enjoy it because I was spending the whole time wondering where the turnaround point was.  One way to tell how far is by gauging how much faster the runners are going the other way.  If they're going way faster than you, you've got a long way to go still.  If they're running as fast as you, you're almost there.

Where's the turnaround?

I saw on Facebook that an old high school classmate, Erwin, was also in town for the marathon. Found out during the race that he was near mile 11, so I started looking for him. That always makes the race go by faster when you're busy scanning the crowd for someone and it helps you forget the horrible thing you are inflicting on yourself.  I found him behind his camera, and I pulled over to take a quick selfie, exchanged hellos and kept going.

The blue mile, around mile 12, was one of those moments I won't ever forget.  Lining both sides of the course were pictures, each one of a veteran, their name, age, and date of KIA.  Reading name after name and how young they were, along with the sheer number of people who sacrificed their lives for us really began to overwhelm me.  Then I started thinking of my dad, who passed away in May, and my legs got weak and the tears just started flowing.  There were no spectators at this stretch and all the runners were silent; the only sound I could hear was our footsteps. At the end of the blue mile was another long line of volunteers in blue, each holding an American flag.  One runner thanked every flag bearer he ran past in between his breaths, while I heard one of the flag bearers yell out, "It is an HONOR to hold this flag!"  I've never felt so moved and patriotic for this country before in my life.

I made it to 13.1 in a little over 2:30, which is where I figured I would be.  I reached my goal of making it without needing to walk.  I wasn't gunning for a particular time, and the faster I finished, the more pain I'd be in and the longer I'd have to wait for April.  So I decided to just take it all in and stop looking at my GPS for my pace.  I spent the second half taking lots of pictures and thanking the countless marines providing support along the entire course.  I also did a lot of reading.  Everyone had so many inspiring messages on their backs.  But there were too many runners that had pictures of their loved ones who had fallen in combat. There were also more runners carrying more flags than I had ever seen in a single race. Also saw a few barefoot runners.

One of the best parts of the course is where you get to run around the National Mall to the Capitol Building and back, for miles 17-20, and if you look at the course map, well, let's just say it's the hardest part of the course.  I loved running/walking past all these historic buildings.  They were handing out Jelly Belly Sport Beans, which were a welcome change to the Clif Bloks I've been using for the past five or so marathons.  I loved them and think I'm going to pack those moving forward. At this point I also ran into my favorite signs of the race.
America -

Despite the fact that I held back the first half of the race I felt like I had hit the wall at the bridge that takes us back to Virginia.  The mile 20 mark had a throng of females waiting to get their picture taken with a marine which I really got a kick out of.  They sure love a man in uniform...  By now the sun had broken through and temps were touching 70 and my left quad had just given up on me.  It was giving me fits when I tried running and I had to walk more frequently and at this point I was at a 50/50 ratio of walking and running the rest of the way for the final 10k.  There was one more out and back stretch through Crystal City which was lined with spectators and colorful flags and the end of the turnaround had a much welcome fan spraying water on the runners.  Dunkin Donuts was handing out donut holes and that was a welcome surprise at mile 24.

As I approached the finish line, I heard the announcer bellow out, "Here comes Mario Pasamba, of Des Moines - er, Plaines, Illinois!" I waved in recognition of my name and started running too fast as I crossed the finish line and every muscle in my legs locked up on me.  Thankfully I didn't have to really keep moving since there was a crowd of finishers right there, and I lined up to get my medal.  It is a beauty.  They had professional photographers everywhere and got my pic in front of the Iwo Jima statue.

April finished about 20 minutes after I did which gave me a chance to stretch out a bit while I waited for her.  We received typical post race goodies like bananas, water and a snack box but the best was a container of cold, cubed watermelons.  So refreshing.

The road to the finisher's festival was a tortuous half mile away and we shuffled our way towards gear check pickup and traded stories of our runs. Earlier I toyed with the idea of leaving our stuff in the hotel but there would have been no way I would have made it back in time, so I'm really glad we hauled all our stuff with us and that allowed us to take our time to make it through the village.

A guy wearing Ragnar socks was also picking up his gear in the same UPS truck as us so I struck up a conversation with him.  This guy has run 16 Ragnars, and of course he was also a Ragnar ambassador.  He started telling me his Facebook page, and I was like dude, you're RagBear?  I've seen pics of you before!  I know you!  He wears an orange bear suit with a big Ragnar logo on his belly so it's hard not to notice him in the pictures.  We spent the next hour and a half in a crowded Chipotle where I rewarded myself with a steak burrito and headed straight to the airport where I continued to reward myself with my tradition - an Arby's Max.

Even though the entire trip was a short 36 hours, it was one I'll always remember and it's going to be very difficult to top in the inspirational category.  And man was it fun to say oorah.

Registration: $129.69 + $51.88 to transfer
Flight: $146.18 on Spirit
Hotel: Capitol Skyline Hotel $204.96 (split with April)

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