You’ve got to do this race. We were blessed with wonderful weather; sunny in the 60’s. The course is tougher than it might seem. My final time – 4:05:38 (chip).
I went into this race with less than perfect training. I’ve babied my right foot since spring which meant not doing any speed work in a long time. And although I keep running my left hip hasn’t been 100% since last August. After 18-20 miles it doesn’t so much hurt as just feels really week. Taking all that into account my main goal this race was just to keep things under that 4:00 barrier I worked hard for in 2006. At the very least I was going to enjoy the spirit of our nation’s capitol and cross Washington, DC off the list.
Julie and I planned on running together. More than once Julie told me she was relying on me to pull her through to the end. I wasn’t very confident I would be able to do that but I’d stick it out as long as I could.
We lined up that morning at front of the 3:50 to 4:00 pace group. The official elevation charts shows an incline from the start to mile 3 followed by a 2 mile decline to mile 5, then another long climb up to mile 8 and then down to 10 with a relatively flat course the rest of the way until the final 2 miles. The actual course, at least the first few miles were more rolling than the elevation chart suggested. By accident we found ourselves within striking distance of the 3:50 pace group so we decided to hang with them.
The first few miles were pretty crowded and the streets were often a little narrow for the number of people running through. Mile 1 – 11:09, huh? Mile 2 – 7:20, double huh? Up the hill to the top of mile 3 – 8:56. Crazy splits but the 3:50 pacer was always in sight so we put our trust in them to get us there.
Mile 4 was a really pretty tree lined street going downhill. The tree cover magnified the sound of hundreds of feet hitting the pavement. It was a wonderful sound. By the end of mile 5 we were even with the pace group but then fell back just a little as we worked our way the hills to mile 8.
Mile 4 – 8:06 (downhill)
Mile 6 – 17:26 (8:43 each uphill)
Mile 7 – 8:07
Mile 8 – 8:11
Between mile 4 and 5 is when we cross the Potomac the first time from Virginia to Washington DC. Mile 5 is also the first side by side out and back when we got a chance to see the front runners heading back at nearly mile 9.
The course was still pretty clogged up at this point. We were at nearly mile 10 or so before we hand any real elbow room. Because of the number of runners and the crowded conditions going through the water stations I skipped the first three water stops, relying on my fuel belt. I worried if this was a wise decision but to keep up with the pacers and Julie is seemed necessary. I finally stopped for water between mile 8 and 9. I lost Julie for about half a mile before I found her again. Mile 11 is where we hit the part of the route I was most looking forward too, the National Mall. Crowd support for the next several miles was tremendous. Mile 13 was the half way point right in front of the Capitol Building.
Mile 9 – 8:25
Mile 10 – 8:21
Mile 11 – 8:54
Mile 12 – 8:26
Mile 13 – 8:41
Although we were sticking with the pace group I really felt that we were going too fast. I knew in my head that I only needed 9:00 miles to get under 4:00 and we’d done many that were sub 8:30.
Just before mile 14 as we were about to leave the Mall the pace leaders changed and we were even with the pace group. The new leader slowed things down a bit. The group was about 20 strong and was holding together well. At this point I voiced out loud to Julie my doubts that I could keep going at this pace. Julie admitted that she had been thinking the same thing. During mile 15 I fell back a few paces from Julie and the pace group marched along. At mile 16 I had to visit the port-o-pot. By the time I exited neither Julie nor the pace group were anywhere in sight.
Mile 14 – 8:54
Mile 15 – 9:12
Mile 16 – 11:50
Miles 16 to 19 are the stretch around Haines Point that many people dread due to its lack of fan support. On a bad day the winds of the Potomac can be difficult. I found this section to be actually really enjoyable. It is so different from where I usually run I found it to me quite peaceful. I knew that the “Awakening” was out here somewhere but I never saw it. Ironically in one of the official race photos it is clearly over my right shoulder. I had been focused over by left. 19 to 20 takes you back over the bridge into Virginia again. More than several runner remarked that they had “beat the bridge” which I thought was a little odd since we were way ahead of the cut off pace of 14:00/mile.
Mile 17 – 8:44
Mile 18 – 9:19
Mile 20 – 9:54
Mile 21 to 23 took us into Crystal City, another area with great crowd support and an out and back section. I saw Julie on her way back; she was about half a mile ahead of me at that point. During the westbound route out of Crystal City we were hit with a cold head wind. As my legs were getting increasingly more tired and my pace increasingly slower the wind was not exactly what I needed at that point. Just after mile 23 the Pentagon came into view and I realize that this race was nearing the end.
Mile 21 – 9:55
Mile 22 – 10:03
Mile 23 – 10:36
Things were getting pretty desperate by now but I kept trudging along. I had seen so many inspiring sights along the way: the national monuments, the Marine support at the water stations, countless Armed Forces runners and family member running in memory of fathers that had served years ago or of friends and relatives that had given their lives in service; I had to keep going. Miles 24 to 26 were really odd since we were retracing our steps from the beginning of the race. The feeling was quite opposite from the hope and excitement of the start of the race. I ran/trudged along with others that looked to be in the same shape as me.
Mile 24 – 10:28
Mile 25 – 11:12
At mile 25 the finish line was just to my left. I could hear the announcer counting down the seconds to sub 4:00 finishers. I had less than 5 minutes left to get there with 1.2 miles still to cover. One step at a time. As I made the last right turn into Arlington the final hill was the only thing left to be conquered. I had no final surge to get there but the hill didn’t seem insurmountable. After I crossed through the finish arches and caught a glimpse of the Marine Corps Memorial the emotional toll of the event came to a head.
Mile 26.2 – 13:49 (11:30 pace)
The marathon seemed trivial compared to the significance of the surroundings. Being immersed in the history of the place and the reputation of the Marines was just incredible to me. The fact that my race time wasn’t what I might have liked didn’t really matter. Just being a part of such a well oiled machine was honor enough. I met up with Julie in the reunion area. She had managed to get her sub 4:00 at 3:55. I hung out the rest of the day until the last of our group of 10 had crossed the finish line at 6:50:08.
I would recommend this race without hesitation. And I’d also recommend taking the time afterward to explore all that Washington DC has to offer in terms of history and national pride. There’s no place or race like it.
Photos from Marathonfoto.com