Monday, October 30, 2006

Marine Corps Marathon Race Report

I certainly felt proud to be an American while running a marathon through our nation’s capital on Sunday. The Marine Corps Marathon is aptly dubbed “The People’s Marathon” and “The Marathon of the Monuments.” The event certainly lived up to those descriptors as well as my own expectations.

The Marine Corps Marathon is definitely a marathon of the people, for the people and by the people. A race record 34,000 runners turned out for the 31st annual running of the event. An estimated 120,000 spectators lined the course to offer support and encouragement along the way. About 4,000 marines and civilian volunteers provided service by offering water, aid and words of encouragement throughout the course.

To begin basking in some of the atmosphere of patriotism and pageantry that would be on display during the race, I visited some of the monuments on Saturday afternoon after picking up my race packet at the expo. In addition to the Washington Monument, the Vietnam Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, I paid my first visit to the World War II Memorial. For dinner that evening, I attended a special pasta dinner at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, which featured performances by the Marine Corps’ Silent Drill Platoon, who carried out precisely orchestrated rifle drills with no verbal instructions, and the Marine Corps’ Leatherneck Pipe and Drums bagpipe band.

Sunday morning, I arrived at Arlington Cemetery for the race start around 5:30 a.m., and I waited out the start by watching some marines perform some last-minute race set-up, posing for a picture with a group of marines, and talking to some fellow runners. The opening ceremonies included music by the Marine Corps’ Leatherneck Pipes and Drums band, a stirring rendition of the national anthem marked by marines standing at attention, and a flyover by a military Osprey aircraft. A blast from a howitzer served as the starting gun to commence the race.

The course wound its way through Rosslyn and onto the George Washington Memorial Parkway before crossing over the Potomac River on the Francis Scott Key Bridge at mile four. After a trek through Georgetown and a jaunt down the Rock Creek Parkway and back, we entered my favorite segment of the course.

Miles 10 through 16 brought us into the National Mall and routed us past numerous monuments, memorials and landmarks. After entering the Mall from the rear of the Lincoln Memorial, and ran past the White House, the Washington Monument, the Capitol and the Jefferson Memorial. We then entered East Potomac Park and eventually crossed the 14th Street Bridge back into Virginia. After venturing through Crystal City, we returned past the Pentagon and then to the finish at the Iwo Jima Marine Corps War Memorial.

Although my pace had started to slow in Crystal City, I hit the proverbial wall just prior to passing the Pentagon at mile 24. In my two previous marathons I have started out the race much too fast and hit the wall around mile 20. My goal for today was to run at a slow and steady pace and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Although my finishing time of 4 hours, 55 minutes, 28 seconds was considerably slower than my previous marathons, I was pleased that my stamina lasted longer than in my past 26.2 milers.

The final two-tenths of a mile were especially tough marked by a steady incline, but running uphill toward the finish in the shadow of Iwo Jima Memorial was particularly inspiring. Inspiring too were the thousands of marines who staffed the event from distributing race packets at the expo to presenting medals and aid at the finish. I truly felt humbled by these men and women because inside I felt like I should be the one serving them for the sacrifices they make to protect our liberty and freedom, which allow me to participate and enjoy an event like the Marine Corps Marathon. Their presence and service at the event was undoubtedly symbolic of the service they provide to the United States and its citizens each and every day.

So to all the marines who proved true to their motto "Semper Fidelis" (always faithful), and to all of the other individuals serving in our armed forces, I salute you. Oorah!

Friday, October 27, 2006

United by Running

The training is over, the tapering is done and the waiting is almost over. The Marine Corps Marathon is Sunday. I'm getting ready to hit the rack so I can get up early in the morning to make the trip to D.C.

I love D.C. and am looking forward to running amidst the iconic buildings and monuments that represent the United States of America. With the pageantry and the spectacle that will be on display, I'm sure I'll run with a sense of patriotic pride on Sunday. And that was before I learned that one unique aspect to this year's Marine Corps Marathon is that in addition to the 30,000 runners in D.C., about 208 military personnel in Iraq are running the Marine Corps Marathon Forward -- a full 26.2 marathon half a world away. Here's an excerpt about the event from today's Washington Post.

On Sunday, several hours before 30,000 runners stand in the shadow of the Marine Corps War
Memorial in Arlington ready to begin the Marine Corps Marathon, Marine Sgt. Chuck Trainer will set out on his first marathon in, of all places, the Iraqi desert.

Trainer is one of 208 members of the armed services stationed in the Middle East who are registered for Sunday's inaugural Marine Corps Marathon Forward at al-Asad air base, which is about 100 miles west of Baghdad. For Trainer and others, the satellite race is serving as a medium through which they can connect with loved ones in the United States, especially those who are running the Marine Corps Marathon here. Click here for full story.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Cannonball Run Half Marathon Race Report

Entering a road race to practice running slow is contradictory I know, but that was my strategy for this morning's Cannonball Run Half Marathon in Greensboro, N.C. I decided to use this race as a training run for the Marine Corps Marathon which is now just a mere two weeks away.

In analyzing my prevous two marathon performances, I've realize that I've gone out too fast at the start and paid for it in the final miles. The temptation to go out fast is tough to've put in all the training, you've tapered and your legs and body feels fresh, you're adrenaline is pumping and you feed off the atmosphere, the other runners and the crowd. But the strong feeling you have at the beginning is replaced by fatigue and hitting the wall early at the end. So I figured what better way to work on going out slower and maintaining a steady pace than to practice it in a race setting.

I feel like I accomplished what I wanted to this morning by finishing in 2 hours, 23 minutes, 20 seconds for a 10:56 minute-per-mile pace. My mile splits were within seconds of each other throughout the event and I felt like I could have continued for several more miles of steady plodding. Going slow was tough, and the old pride took a hit as well by finishing dead last in my age group and 42nd from the bottom overall, but that's OK. I resisted the temptation to go fast. If I can average at an 11 minute mile pace at the Marine Corps Marathon, I'll be pleased.

The weather was cooler for this year's race, but it sure beat the steady rain from last year. The course was different as well. Much of it was run on the Lake Brandt greenway trail, which I didn't know existed. I'd also like to give a shout out to the boys and girls cross country teams at my alma mater Rockingham County Senior High School who manned the water stations and aided in direction people along the route. Thanks for giving up your Saturday morning to come out and volunteer.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Slower is Better

The weekend rain broke long enough this morning for me to "sqeeze in" my 20-mile run, which was the last long run in my training plan for the Marine Corps Marathon. Now comes three weeks of tapering before the marathon on Oct. 29th.

I don't know if you ever get used to running upwards of 20 miles on a single run, but I must say I feel much better after this morning's 20-miler than in my previous ones. Probably because for the first time I stuck to running slow and steady throughout the run rather than trying to run at the same pace that I do my short and intermediate runs at during the week.

Most experts suggest doing your long runs anywhere from 45 to 90 seconds slower than your marathon pace. Lately I've been training around a 10:30 minute per mile pace. This morning my average pace was 12:44 per mile. Easily the slowest pace of any of my long runs.