Sunday, October 27, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon Race Review 2013

The Marine Corps Marathon has been on my bucket basically since I started running marathons.  The course is really scenic because you run by the National Mall with all the monuments, plus there are good looking marines all along the course.  Also I had seen their medal at an expo for another race and I knew I would have to have it.  I heard that in 2012 the race sold out in under 3 hours.  I realized that I had to do this race soon because eventually they will have to make it a lottery and it will be harder to get into.   There is also have a 10k run along with the marathon and an informal 5k the day before the race.

Registering for the race:
I think registering for this race was harder than actually running it. They had announced that the race sold out quick the year before.  I think this created a even bigger problem.  In light of that fact, everyone, like me, jumped on the website exactly at 12 pm.  They use multiple computers and had several browsers open on each computer.  Thus increasing the traffic on the site 10 fold.  Registration was via  Active had problems with the Chicago marathon register earlier in the year.  They had to stop half way through and convert to a lottery system.  Active claimed to have fixed the problems for this race.

Knowing that the race sold out quickly I was ready to get on the internet and try to register as soon as the clock struck noon the day registration opened.  I actually had to rearrange my work schedule to do so.  I usually get off at 2 on Wednesdays, but I had another doctor come in at noon so I could focus on registering.  Within a minute or 2, I was able to get in.  I could not believe my luck.  I made it all the way to the part where I had to put my credit card info in when the site crashed.  After that it was 2 hours of getting shut out, the site crashing, and getting only to  get a message that they were not sure if there were spots left.  I was about to give up.  I figured that it must just be sold out.  But I looked on the MCM facebook page and saw that someone was just been able to register so I decided to try a few more times.  Finally, I got in and it did not crash.  I was registered!  Apparently, a lot of people were not sure if their registration went through because the site crashed before they got a confirmation.  So people were double and triple registered.  Active was able to sort out the duplicates and that opened up more spots for me to get in. 

In light of negative out cry, later announced that they would donate the $4 per person fee they normally charge to the Wounded Warrior foundation.  The MCM will be switching to a lottery for 2014.  So the 2 hours was worth it to be guaranteed a spot.  But I could have run at least a half marathon in the time it took to get registered.  The MCM does allow transfers so if I did not get in I could have tried to buy a bib off someone, but I have happier knowing I was definitely in. 

Pre-race info:
They do a really good job getting info out to participates.  Their website has all the information you need.  They sent out weekly emails with updates and information.  They have a link to a website to book hotel rooms in the area with discounted rates.  They are pretty good with answering questions on their Facebook page.  

A few weeks before the race, they did announce that they would not be allowing backpacks on the course.  A lot of people got all hot and bothered because they were not going to be able use their hydration bladders.  Unfortunately, that was a side effect of the times we live in.  The NYC marathon had to made the same change due to increased security concerns.  

I had roped my parents into making the trip down to DC with me.  Friday morning before the race we set out and drove to DC. 

The Expo:
We got to the expo around 3pm on Friday.  The expo is held at the DC Armory.  They had a large tent outside the armory for packet pickup.  I was able to waltz right in and pick up my bib with a few minutes.  The marine who gave me my bib was very friendly.  I did see on their Facebook page that the lines did get pretty long later that night and on Saturday the power at the Armory went out causing people to have to wait for hours.  I'm glad we made it there before people got off work. 

After getting my bib, we walked across to the Armory to pick up my t-shirt.  

I really liked the t-shirt.  It was a heavy-duty tech material with a mock turtleneck.  MCM had a whole "Rock the Mock" campaign leading up to the expo.  This shirt is so warm and cozy.   I love it.  It will be perfect for winter running. 

After getting my shirt, I wanted to buy a jacket.  The Brooks store was ridiculous.  I has wait over an hour in line to pay for the jacket.  I think the problem is that they have out grown this venue.  There was just not enough space for the amount of people that were there.  It is crammed in.  They needed more registers but there was no space to put them.  

We drove to the hotel in Arlington, Va.  I had picked a hotel close to the start and finish area of the race.  We were staying in Crystal City.  I have to say it is not exactly a happening area.  It seems like most places close down on the weekends.   Even the Starsbucks closed at 2pm.  We decided to eat dinner at the restaurant in the hotel.  

Out and About in DC:
After dinner we decided to drive into DC and do a night tour of the monuments.  I was happy to get a chance to work on my night photography.  All of the monuments are light-up beautifully at night.  It definitely gives them a different look.  Also they are not too many people out at night, so it was nice to get a chance to view them and get pictures without huge crowds around.

Korean War Memorial

Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument

World War II Memorial

FDR Memorial, Martin Luther King Memorial, and Jefferson Memorial

MCM runner's bRUNch:
On Saturday morning before the race, they offer an informal 5k run from the National Mall to the marathon finish line.  I signed my mom and me up for the race.  We took the metro from Crystal City to the Smithsonian. 

Bib pickup was at a tent on the mall.  The race started at 9am.  We got there around 8:30.  It was a bit chilly so we wore a few layers.  With a few minutes to kill I figured we could get a few pictures with the Washington Monument in the background.  My mom took this picture of me.  I laughed because she totally cut off the top of the monument.  Clearly, she will not have a career as a professional photographer. 

We did manage to a few good ones. 

The "race" is very informal.  There is no timing.  The race director said that your bib is more a ticket to brunch than anything else.  He said the course was designed to be scenic and to be easy.  The course is a loop around the Mall then down along side the reflecting pool past the Lincoln Memorial across memorial bridge over to Arlington cemetery and it finishes at the Iwo Jima Memorial.

They had a few pacers to help people along the course.  All the pacers were marines and they put them in these neon pink shirts.  The race director was not too excited about wearing pink and joked that "things have definitely changed in the military".  My mom and I did a run/walk.  We were near the back of the pack.  But the last pacer was really nice, he probably ran the course 3 times because he keep running back and forth to all the walkers making sure no one missed a turn.   

After the run, they had a brunch with coffee, fruit, muffins, Danish and juices.  Bart Yasso, the chief running officer of Runner's World magazine, spoke at the brunch.  He had a few amusing stories about races he has run during his career including Badwater, the Bare Buns run (a 5k at a nudist colony), and Comarades ultra in South Africa. 

My Dad meet up with us after the run.  We decided to walk over to Arlington National Cemetery. 

I was very impressed how clean all the headstones were, considering the fact that many of them date back to the Civil War.  I did some research and found out that they clean every headstone at least once a year and they reset and align all of the headstones in order to maintain the prefect rows.  

My dad wanted to find where Abraham Lincoln's son Robert was buried.  Apparently, Abraham Lincoln's grandson, whose name was also Abraham Lincoln II, was buried in Arlington for over a century but did not have a headstone.  Just this small grave marker on the ground that said AL II.  My dad's friend Joe found out about this.  He thought it was crazy that our greatest president's grandson was basically buried in an unmarked grave.  So he petitioned to have Abraham's name added on the mausoleum next to his parent's names.  I downloaded an app on my iPhone and we were able to find the mausoleum.  

They were restoring the eternal flame at JFK's grave so that was covered up.  But we saw Robert and Ted Kennedy's graves. 

Then we went over to the Tomb of the Unknown Solider to see the changing of the guard. 

After the changing of the guard, a girl scout troop did a wreath laying ceremony.  

Air Force Memorial

Then we drove to the Pentagon Memorial 911 memorial.  

My parents wanted to go to church on Saturday night so they could come and watch the race Sunday morning.  We went to Mass at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America.  They supposedly have a garden with replicas of the tomb of Jesus and catacombs.  I was hoping to get some pictures but I guess we got there too late in the day and the garden was closed.

After mass we went back to Crystal City and had dinner at Legal Seafood.  I got my pre-race fuel for the morning at a 7-11 then we went back to the hotel for an early night.  

I laid out everything for the race the night before.  So I could get up and out the door quickly in the morning.

Morning of the race:
I was up by 6:30 the morning of the race.  I got dressed and put my temporary tattoo on.  I had my usual pre-race meal of powdered donuts and orange juice.  I was happy to see the temperature had improved from the day before.  It was only about 35 degrees on Saturday morning but morning of the race it warmed to about 45 degrees.  I bundled up in "throw away" clothes over my running outfit.  

I had mapped out my route to start line the night before.  There was a metro stop 2 blocks away from the hotel.  I took the metro to the Pentagon station.  The runners village was in the North parking lot of the Pentagon.  

The Start:
Shortly after getting off the metro there were marines waiting to direct everyone where to go.  
It was a little bit longer walk then I expected.  The runners village is on the opposite side of the Pentagon from the metro station.  It ended up being about a 15 minute walk to runner's village.  It was getting late and I was getting a little worried I would have to rush to the start line.  But I did get there in time to see the aerial show.  At 7:30am there were several skydivers displaying American flags.   

Fortunately because I did not have any baggage with me I was able to get through security quickly.  Anyone with baggage had to get searched by the marines.  But I was able to cut the line and go to the left.  Also the line for the port-a-potties were shorter on the no-baggage side.  I made a quick pitstop then walked over to the start line.  The sun had come out by then and I decided to peel off my layers so I would be ready for the race.  To get to the start line you had to show your bib to the marines guarding the start area.  They had signs designating corrals based on predicted finish times.  This was actually pretty organized and it seems that people actually stuck to a reasonable corral.  At least there were no walker in the early corrals that can happen at some races.  

At the start line, they had music and an announcer pumping up the crowd.  Plus a few dozen marines cheering everyone on.  At 7:55 am they blasted the Howitzer and we were off and running!

The Course:
The race starts on highway 110.  The course go up through Rosslyn.  The majority of the hills are in the first 4 miles.  There is a pretty big hill around mile 2.  But at least you get it over with in the beginning of the race.  At mile 4, you "charge the district" by running over the Key bridge into Georgetown.  There is an out and back loop up a highway for the next few miles.  Between mile 9 and 10, the course starts to run along the Potomac River.  It runs past the Lincoln Memorial down Ohio Drive.

At mile 11 they have the Wear Blue: Run to Remember mile.  There are signs honoring all the marines that were killed in action in Iraq or Afghanistan.  It is really sad to see.  Each sign has a picture of the soldier, their name, when they died, and how old they were.  Most of them were under 25 years old, so young.  Some of them had their baby or young children in the picture with them.  It definitely brought a few tears to my eyes.  The posters went on for almost a mile.  At the end there were volunteers holding flags.  The halfway point is right around the end of Hains Point.  The course continues back up the peninsula.  

At mile 15, the course runs past the Jefferson Memorial and continues along the Tidal Basin down past the FDR and Martin Luther Kind Memorial to the Lincoln Memorial.  This is where the crowd support really picks up.  Which is nice because when you are hitting the wall around mile 16-18, you are at the best part of the course with the best support.   I saw my parents around mile 18.  

The course runs down Independence Ave past the World War II memorial and Washington Monument.  The course turns at 15th.  At mile 17.5, they have what they call the Gauntlet.  If you don't make it to this point by a certain time, you are forced to cut off part of the course so you can make it to the bridge in time.  If you make it to the Gauntlet in time, you run down in front of the Capitol.  The course continues down the National Mall past the Air and Space museum, Smithsonian Castle, and the Holocaust museum.  

At mile 20 you have to "beat the bridge."  The course crosses the 14th st bridge.  The bridge is pretty long.  I thought the bridge they were talking about was the Memorial bridge, which is much shorter.  The 14th st bridge is over a mile long.  It has a few dips and rises.  It was getting hot out with no shade on the bridge.  I was starting to slow down a bit.   I was hoping to do under 4:45.  But when I was on the bridge I saw the 4:45 pace group.  I tried to keep up for about a half mile.  But I decided to let them go because I did not want to push too much with the NYC marathon coming up the next week.  

At mile 22, you are back in Crystal City.  We ran right by the hotel.  I was tempted to run inside and take a nap;)  It is a short mile and half loop around Crystal City then up an overpass onto the Jefferson Davis Highway.  At mile 24, you are back at the Pentagon.  Shortly after mile 25, you are back at the starting line.  After running through the starting line again, it is 1 more mile along side Arlington National Cemetery to the Iwo Jima Memorial.  Just when you think you are home free after mile 26, there is a short but steep hill.  Once you make it up the hill, you make the final turn to the finish line.  

I finish time was 4:50:59.  

Course Support:

The course support is great.  They have marines manning all of the aid stations.  There were 12 stations with water and gatorade.  They worked out to be about every other mile.  With a bunch of marines in uniform the aid stations were easy to spot.  

There were 4 food stations.  the first had orange slices.  The next one had Clif shot gels.  There were Jelly Belly sports beans at the next one.   The last aid station had Dunkin Donut munchkins.  I stopped for the orange slices.  I skipped the gels and jelly beans.  At mile 23, they handed you 2 munchkins in a cup.  I thought this was going to be a great mid-race snack.  But my mouth was so dry at that point that I almost choked. 

They did have mile markers every mile.  But they only had clocks at every 5k.  Since I was planning on running 2 marathons a week apart from each other I decided not to worry about my time for this race.  But the clocks at kilometer markers are worthless in my opinion.  Halfway through the race I was too tired and delirious to try to convert my pace from km to miles.  That would be my one criticism of this race.  I think they need to spring for more clocks.  I know I'm spoiled because all NYRR races have clocks every mile.  

All long the course they were marines running aid stations, doing crowd control, and at every mile marker.  Besides the fact that it was nice to have some eye candy along the course, marines are really good at motivating people.  I got a few "Oorahs" along the way.  I remember one marine around mile 25.  He was yelling out "What do you need to get to the finish?  I got it. You want high fives?  I got them for you.  You want fist bumps?  I got them for you."  He definitely put a smile on my face and I gladly accepted a high five.  

The Finish line:

After crossing the finish line, a marine places your medal around your neck and gives you a salute.  There have about 6 or 7 fenced off shoots for the medals so it kept things organized.  The medal is really nice.  The globe in the middle spins.  

After getting your medal, you can get a picture in front of the memorial.  I was surprised that the lines were not long.  I only had to wait for 2 people ahead of me.  I was excited because I was planning to buy that picture.  But in typical Marathonfoto style, they had horrible framing.  They cut off the flag.  Really?  I thought theses guys were supposed to be professional photographers.  You would think they would know something about framing (maybe my mother does have a chance at becoming a Marathonfoto photographer).  

After getting my picture taken.  I went to get my post-race food.  They gave out bottles of water and Gatorade, bananas, and a box of snacks with fruit and granola bars.  They had bags to put all your loot in.  I hate having to try to juggle a bunch of stuff after finishing a race.  They also give you a disposable jacket.  

I did see on their Facebook page that they ran out of medals.  A couple hundred people did not get marathon medals at the finish and they gave them 10k medal (which are not nearly as nice) instead.  They did say they would mail everyone who did not get one a medal.  They claim that they ran out because some of them were delivered broken.  But I think a lot of people stole an extra one.  This is the 3rd race I have done this year that had this problem.  It would definitely be disappointing to finish a full marathon without getting a medal.  Especially because everyone wants to get their picture in the front of the Marine Memorial with their medal.  

I read in the Salute.  That they have an award for the last official finisher.  If you come in last you get a penguin.  The award to in honor of a marine that was killed in the line of duty overseas.  She was from Oregon and had a thing for penguins.  She had started the Marine Marathon Forward a few years ago, where marines stationed overseas run a marathon on their base on the day of the marathon.  

Post-race finisher festival:
After getting your jacket, you have to exit the memorial grounds onto the streets of Rosslyn.  It is about a half mile walk to the finish festival area.   There was a stage with music.  They supposedly had a Brooks store with finisher gear.  There was a beer garden.   Also there were the UPS baggage claim trucks, family reunion area, charity village, and shuttle buses to take people back to Crystal City.    

I was tired and just wanted to get back to the hotel.  So I skipped the beer garden and decided to look for the Metro.  I thought the Metro would be the quickest way back to the hotel.  Also the shuttle bus dropped you off about 8 blocks away from my hotel as compare to 2 blocks with the Metro.  When I got to the Metro station, the line was around the block.  I debated checking out the lines for the shuttle buses but I did not want to walk anymore.  The line took about an hour to get into the metro station.  The problem was that there were only 4 turnstiles to get into the station and that caused the bottleneck.  Once I was in the station I was able to get on a subway right away and luckily I got a seat.  

Waiting to get into the Metro was the one big negative of this race.  My legs were tired and the last thing I wanted to do was stand for an hour.  If I did this race again I think I would walk south to the Arlington metro instead to up to the Rosslyn station.  It is a little bit longer walk but they said there were no lines at the Arlington station.  

I got out of the metro station and walk back to the hotel.  My parent had gone to get lunch.  I jumped in the shower and my mom brought me back a sandwich.  After I took a short nap.  We packed up and headed back to NYC.  

The wrap-up:
Pre-race info- A
Expo- B- (but anyone who went on saturday would probably give it an F)
Overall organization- A
Course- A
Course support- B+
Swag/post-race food- B+
Medal- A+
Theme- A
Surrounding area- A

They are definitely going through some growing pains right now.  Any problems (registration, the expo, running out of medals) are due to the fact that this race has because very popular.    But I'm sure they are already working on the kinks.  

All in all it was a fun weekend and great race.  Definitely one to put on your bucket list.