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Marine Corps Marathon – 3:20:12

November 4th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments
Disappointing MCM Finish

Disappointing MCM Finish

Boy, I don’t know what to say other than that I completely blew this race.  And, before you get bored with my stupid details and excuses, let me offer a quote from “Boston Billy” Rogers, winner of 4 (3 consecutive) Boston marathons, who said: “The marathon can humble you.”  He ain’t kidding.  Marine Corps Marathon: 2, Me: 0.  My 3 years of adult running are bookended by 2 ass-whoopings by the MCM.  I don’t find the MCM a tough course, but somehow I end up hating life while finishing up that tiny climb to the Iwo Jima Memorial finish line.  My first of 4 marathons was the 2007 MCM, where I walked the last 10 miles to finish in 4:39:39, well below Oprah’s standard. :-/ But, that was the first one.  The one we don’t “really” train for or respect.  My 2009 MCM was much different.  I had put in much more training and had come to respect the distance far more than any other.

My goal was to qualify for the Boston Marathon in this race.  I needed a time of 3:15:59 or better to get in the 2010 race.  That’s an average pace of roughly 7:28/mile.  I failed to reach this goal.  My finish time of 3:20:12 was a little over 4 minutes off the mark.  My overall pace of 7:38 just didn’t cut it.  But, my overall time and pace don’t tell the story…


I got up at 3:50 AM even though the race wasn’t until 8:00 AM.  I don’t like rushing to a race, and besides, I had a long Metro (subway) commute ahead of me.  Surprisingly, I had gotten a quality sleep despite its short length.  I felt refreshed and ready to go, especially after getting some major restroom activity out of the way (for the most part).  I had everything I needed for pre-race, race, and post-race.  I decided to wear an old long sleeve t-shirt and cheap (3 pair/$2) gloves to the start line, where I would ditch both items before the race.  And, I had trained with the race outfit I had on many times.  I wore my RaceReady compression shorts (pockets for GUs in the back), Brooks Equilibrium SS shirt, old pair of Feetures running socks, Brooks Racer ST4s, Road ID bracelet, Garmin Forerunner 305, a Clif Bar 3:10 paper pace bracelet (from the expo), and of course, my blue doo rag.

When I got to Runner’s Village, after the long walk from the Pentagon Metro station, I dropped off my post-race bag at the UPS trucks and looked around for the Brooks V.I.P. Porta-Potty, but couldn’t see it.  I had to go, so I simply used one of the million normal porta-potties that had no line at that hour (~6:15 AM?).  The MCM doesn’t screw around when it comes to porta-potty : runner ratio.  That’s a relief.  I found the Brooks V.I.P. Porta-Potty shortly thereafter, and decided to use it even though I really didn’t have to go.  I was eligible to use it, since I was wearing Brooks shoes, so dammit, I was going to use it!  They had velvet ropes set up and really played it up when a Brooks runner entered their area.  They’d open the rope and point you to their heated restroom setup.  After leaving the temporary building, another Brooks volunteer would offer a mint (wintergreen LifeSaver) from a basket s/he was holding.  Classic.  So, I got an early start to breakfast.

For breakfast, I had an Orange GU 30 minutes before the start, washed down with a few ounces of water.  I also placed 5 more GUs in my shorts, planning on consuming 4 of them at miles: 4, 9, 13.1, and 17.5, leaving an extra one if I needed it (due to mishandling of one or otherwise).  I lined up in the 3:00-3:19 corral, as I desired a sub-3:10.  I chatted with another guy, wearing a bandana (it’s an alternative headwear thing, you wouldn’t understand), and we shortly had to move up to close in the gap that formed between the elites and our corral.  It was neat being so close to those famous MCM balloon start arches up there with the fast runners.  In 2007, it took me about 2.5 minutes to reach the start line after the cannon blast.  This time it took only about 10 seconds…


My race pace strategy was a mixed bag of paces, really.  I enjoyed my 7:1* splits in many of my long runs, and also did NOT enjoy my long runs which started slow and finished fast (~7:4* down to 7:2*).  Add also an enjoyable uptempo 10-miler (all splits below 7:00 for a 6:45 pace), and as race day approached, I had a vague idea what I wanted.  I decided that worst case I wanted 7:1* splits through 20 miles, then race the last 10K (like everyone wants to).  My best case would be mile splits between 6:4* and 7:1* through 20, and again racing the last 10K.  I knew the initial miles would be a nice ramp-up speed due to traffic, and figured I could get in my target zone fairly easily.

MCM Splits (per Garmin)

MCM Splits (per Garmin)

My 7:22s the first 2 miles were a welcome sight, as they weren’t too slow or too fast (in my mind).  There was a small climb around Miles 2 and 3 and I wasn’t having too much trouble with it, like some of the wheelchair participants were.  Just an enjoyable pace before the downhill.

I think everybody recorded their fastest mile during Mile 4, as it was all downhill to the beginning of the Key Bridge into Georgetown.  It was at Mile 4 that I had planned my first GU and hydration stop.  And, this fueling point didn’t go well for me.  With all the cowbell-ing and hollering going on, I couldn’t make out what the Marines were saying, regarding what fluids they were handing out first in the long stretch of volunteers.  I had wanted water for my first fueling point, but grabbed the first cup available and saw that it was Powerade.  To avoid being bloated later, I didn’t want to fill up on Powerade this early in the race.  And, at this point I was a little too friendly with what I grabbed and decided to hold the unwanted beverage while I eventually grabbed a water later in the line.  Now carrying 2 cups being splashed around while I ran, I finally chucked the Powerade to the side of the road when I thought no one was near me.  Why I cared about volunteers or other runners getting wet from a somewhat full cup of Powerade, I don’t know.  And, by this point my water cup was no more than a 1/3 full from all the bouncing.  Oh, I had already had my open GU tucked under my thumb slightly before the station.  But, with little water to wash it down, I didn’t get but 1/2 of the packet, before chucking it and the cup to the ground.  I shrugged it off, knowing that having GU this early probably wasn’t the standard anyhow.  As long as I got full ones later, I’d be ok.

Miles 5 through 7 were easy with only another small climb near the end of Mile 7.  I thought my pace was nice and easy, but I guess it would haunt me later.  Again, another downhill section during Mile 8 had everyone flying.  It was hard to hold back on this hill.  Near the bottom of the hill we could see runners at Mile 5 of the flat loop around the Georgetown reservoir.  It was nice to be far ahead of that massive crowd.

Next up, my next fueling point around Mile 9.  This time I had managed to consume all of my Orange GU and the < 2/3 full cup of Powerade I grabbed early in the line.  But, I had forgotten what I mentioned on DailyMile, regarding the possibility of grabbing extra fluid due to unknown race day serving amounts.  In my training, I always had 8 oz. of water or Powerade during my stops from my flasks, but wasn’t getting anywhere near this, and I didn’t make up for it at unplanned stations (as I mentioned) or sub-stations either.  Race day mental lapse, I guess.

Oh, I kept thinking about my race watchers, family and friends, who were getting my 5k split times/pace via SMS/email, thanks to the MCM 5k timing mats and alerts system.  I knew my pace was fast, but it felt good.  I kept comparing my time to my 3:10 pace bracelet.  I was 2+ minutes ahead of that expected finish time for a long time.

Somewhere between Miles 10 and 11, we passed under the expected overhead photographers, running across 2 separate red/blue painted sections of the road.  I had known about this from the 2007 MCM and had it all planned out.  I would sign the letters “B” and “Q” as I came into camera view.  Sign language letters are done with the right hand, so I did the mirror image of a “Q” with my left hand.  I’ve seen the race pics.  Totally gay and embarrassing, now that I’ve failed to get that BQ.  Eh, it was a neat idea, I guess.

I was happy that the MCM changed their course after my 2007 run.  This time and last year they swapped the mall loop with the Hains Point loop so that runners would go around the mostly empty Hains Point during Miles 11 – 15, instead of Miles 16 – 20, or such.  In 2007, that later empty loop was killer and where I had started to walk for good.  This time, Hains Point was enjoyable for the most part.

I reached my next fueling point near the 1/2 mark, and had a similar event.  Not enough fluid, but mostly finishing my Orange GU.  And, I remember hopping with both feet onto the the 1/2 timing mark, because I’m an idiot, thinking that my previous left-footed (no D-tag) timing mark steps were bad.  Weird what goes on in your mind during these long runs.  My 1/2 marathon time was 1:33:34.  I ambitiously wanted nothing worse than 1:35, even though I convinced myself I could deal with 1:37.

I got to admit that after the 1/2 I started to feel it a little bit.  In my training long runs, I would also feel it around 13, but then I’d get a surge (post-GU maybe) that would kick-in and I’d feel great again.  I wasn’t feeling bad, but I didn’t have that easy free flowing stride (though over-stride) that I had going.  I was still holding pace, or at least I thought.

Around about Mile 16 the 3:10 pace group came up by me and I said to myself “No way!”.  I looked at my pace band and it showed that I was still about 2 minutes ahead of 3:10.  I tried to stay with them a little bit, but they were a big group and it was a little too crowded, and I figured I’d just stay slightly behind them.  And besides, they were ahead of schedule, I thought.

I had originally planned a GU and Powerade fueling point at ~Mile 17.5, but decided to just have Powerade, as I convinced myself that I couldn’t swallow another GU at that point.  I had done the same thing at the Frederick Marathon, pretty much.  And, in that one I slowed near the end.  :-/ … I told myself I’d GU up at Mile 22, if I felt up to it.

MCM 5K + 1/2 + finish splits

MCM 5K + 1/2 + finish splits

As you can see though, my 30K split wasn’t great, but then again, it wasn’t horrendous, yet.  I believe I took more Powerade at the water point just before Mile 20 or so.  I was anxious to get to that magical Mile 20, even though I didn’t have that extra gear that I wished to use when I got there.

A cool thing happened on the bridge, after Mile 20.  I came up on a runner that I knew, but had never physically met.  I would recognize this runner as Paul S., one of my DailyMile buddies.  He had posted race pics of himself on DailyMile, so it was easy to spot him.  But, finding 1 out of 20,000+ runners is pretty rare, especially while running.  I just happened to be picking my pace up slightly during a small section of the bridge and saw Paul and nonchalantly said “Hey, Paul” as I matched his pace next to him.  He hesitated a little bit, but quickly figured out that the blue doo-ragged dude was me.  We did a quick handshake and we both agreed that we were struggling/hurting a bit.

Paul and I crossed the 35K timing mat at the exact same time, as we were running side-by-side.  I guess we never heard of drafting.  :-/  Anyhow, maybe running with Paul helped me get some time back as my 35K split suggests.  At this point in the race though, I just thought if I could just hang on and run the remainder with Paul, that all would be good.  My BQ time of < 3:16 was looking pretty good, though not in the bag.  Of course, when you start having these thoughts, you know you’re in for a long, iffy finish.  I don’t remember talking too much to Paul.  In fact, we were pretty quiet for most of the time.

Feeling the struggle, I decided to down my 4th and overdue Orange GU at Mile 22, but I can’t remember how much of it I got.  I was slowly losing it, physically and mentally.  However, Paul and I both remember that fragrant beer smell on the way up to the Mile 23 turnaround.  And, I remember smelling it also on the way back of the out-and-back.

Somewhere between Miles 23 and 24, Paul kicked into another gear and I couldn’t match him.  I was rapidly approaching a point of no return.  I was bonking big time.  I can barely remember the 2 times I bumped into the reaching arms of the Marines at the water point just before Mile 24.  Finally, I got a cup of whatever with the 3rd guy reaching out.

I don’t remember a whole lot in the last 5K of the race, except that I figured out that I could keep from walking by leaning my head back, closing my eyes and just keep my feet pedaling somewhat.  Yeah, that’s not good.  When I let my head drift forward, I would near a walking speed it seemed, as I hunched over.

The last mile and .2 seemed to be the longest part of the day.  I was completely out of it.  All I can remember there was hoping that the end was near, and was pleasantly surprised to see that the MCM had eliminated a small out-and-back from 2007 that went slightly beyond (and back to) the Iwo Jima Memorial driveway.  Knowing that I was only a tiny climb away from being done was such a huge relief.

Crossing the MCM finishing wasn’t a joyous occasion once again.  I was doing a duck-like jog/walk coming to the line.  When I crossed the final timing mat in 3:20:12, my first thought was to go to the ground to rest.  Of course, I was then hauled over to the side to be looked at.  I was OK, but I was very dehydrated, as I quickly downed a Powerade given to me in that area.  I was completed dejected and cussing to myself, just like in 2007.  What the hell happened?…


I met Paul S. again in the family meet-up area.  Also, his NC neighbor, and another DailyMile friend, Jeff N., showed up too.  We’re kind of like family in that we share our workouts on DailyMile almost daily.  Oh, their real families (wives and kids) showed up too.

Me, Paul S, and Jeff N ... DailyMile!!!

Me, Paul S, and Jeff N ... (from DailyMile)

Us runners hit the beer tent for our 2 free beers, and then we all walked about 10 blocks to an Irish pub/restaurant to get some food and drink.  It was nice to meet up with these cool DailyMilers after such a deflating performance in this race.  I went from feeling very down to quite happy actually.  Nothing like some friends and a slowly nursed Guinness to turn your spirits around.


I think the main ingredient in my failure was my fueling.  I’ve ran 3 marathons this year and I’m definitely not getting enough fluids for the long haul.  I don’t get thirsty when running long, but I guess my body likes to be hydrated.  Go figure.  I need to take sips at all water stops, I guess, while making sure I don’t get bloated on Powerade (or such) in the early stops.  And, with more fluid intake, I also could probably get away with less packets of GU and shift some to later in the race.  I didn’t have a bonk like this in my previous 2 marathons, but I hadn’t expended so much early energy in them either.

My early pace was surely questionable.  We all would like to go out slow, and finish fast.  A negative split would feel great.  But, as I mentioned, I had some training runs where I went out slow and finished with heavy legs, though still getting a negative split.  I had desired to get in a good rhythm early to avoid those heavy legs.  My first 5K splits through 25K suggest a consistent pace of 7:0* was doable.  But, maybe I should’ve done more 7:2* miles in the beginning.  Maybe that would’ve saved something for the end.  I don’t know.  I’m sure others would suggest that 7:4* or above should’ve been my initial pace, but again, some of my training runs turned me off of that.

I think my training was adequate for the time I wanted, but certainly not optimal.  The great thing about DailyMile and Twitter is the advice you can get from other runners.  One suggested that I add more higher mileage easy runs during the week, as I ran a lot of 4, 5 or 6-milers a lot, and then did a long one on the weekend.  My weekly running charts always had a sudden climb at the end of the week.  I definitely need to add more 8, 9, 10-milers to the mix to make my week a little better balanced and get more (quality) weekly mileage built up.  Also, my taper could’ve seen easier runs too.  I could’ve ran my last long run much slower and maybe skip that last uptempo 10-miler too.

There are always things to work on and fix before the next race.  And, my next nearest race is unknown, really.  I do have the HAT Run 50k in March 2010 though.  That’ll keep me busy over the winter.  But, I’d like to pick up another race or two.  I’ll probably find some smaller ones between now and March.

I should be happy with yet another 26.2 PR.  This time by more than 5 minutes (last one was a 3:25:20).  But, I wanted that 2010 BQ bad.  And, thought I’d crush it by 5 minutes or more. Oh well, things don’t always go as planned.  As a consolation prize, I believe I BQ-ed for 2011, since I’ll be 40 for the 2011 race and the qualifying window is typically around 18 mos. or so.  I believe my 2009 MCM results will fall into the B.A.A.’s timeline range of eligible qualifying results.  Eh, that’s fine.  I should be ecstatic with this fact/near-fact.  But, I’m not.  I’m certainly not going to hold back now that I may have qualified.  I still want to run the time I had wanted to run in this race.  I’ll eventually figure the marathon out.  I hope.

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  1. November 4th, 2009 at 16:49 | #1

    What a terrific race report. So much great information and evocative detail, I almost felt like I was right there with you. No BQ this time perhaps, but you know you ran a terrific race at a pace a lot of folks would kill for, and I know you’ll be back out there once your foot heels up.

    One GU strategy that’s worked for me is to take them in at certain times, not at certain mileage points. I tend to slow down a little the longer I run, so, if I waited to GU up at a mileage point, those fuel stops may stretch out farther and farther over time.

  2. November 6th, 2009 at 16:23 | #2

    One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I would love to run a 3:20 marathon. Great effort Andy!

  3. November 7th, 2009 at 07:59 | #3

    Andy – Great report, and very detailed. Having run two marathons in the past 4 weeks, I can tell you that a big difference between the two for me was hydration. Although my time in Manchester was slower than Hartford by 3 minutes, it was a much tougher course, and I enjoyed the race a lot more. I had a major mental breakdown in Hartford, which never really happened in Manchester, and I think hydration played a big role in that. I took fluids at every water stop in Manchester, and at mile 20 took in about 16oz of water which was handed to me by a student of mine as I passed through my campus. Although my legs gave out at mile 23.5 or so, I attribute that more to fatigue than fueling/hydration.

    You should still be very proud of how you did – I’d kill for a 3:20. Marathons are always a learning experience, and sounds like you have plenty of new knowledge to apply to the next one!

  4. November 7th, 2009 at 13:45 | #4

    Todd – Thanks. Glad you liked the detail. About the GU, I can only get them down with fluid, unfortunately. And, I don’t carry fluids when I run the marathon. So, I have to plan them around certain water stations (mileage-based). Yeah, time-based GU intake would be nice, if only I could not gag on them without water.

    But, I need more than in-race GUs for my next race. I need some more calories before the gun goes off.

  5. November 7th, 2009 at 13:50 | #5

    Thomas – I just would like to finish a marathon strong. I was in a bad, ugly state at the end of this one. If you haven’t already seen it, take a look at my duck-walk bonk in the MCM finish videos at the 3:20:31 mark: http://bit.ly/1ZYyeA

    Very embarrassing!

  6. November 7th, 2009 at 13:52 | #6

    @Peter Larson
    Peter – Thanks. I’m definitely not going to skip any water stations at a marathon anymore, even if it’s just for small sips of water/electrolyte drink. My next fueling strategy will make this one look laughable.

  7. January 23rd, 2010 at 12:08 | #7

    Great race report. Sorry about the missed BQ, but coming from a guy who will only BQ if I live to be 90, I was very impressed with the race and the time. The Brook’s VIP porta potty report was hilarious. Keep on posting.

  8. Craig
    October 16th, 2010 at 06:24 | #8

    Well I’m running the MCM for the first time 2010.
    I’m slow and always have been even as a kid, so I’m with Rob. I plan to BQ when I’m 90…only 40 years to go, can’t wait!! ?
    Its been four.5 years of serious running for me. I ran an Ultra by accident with 2 drinking buddies as a guide …we got lost and ran for about 7 hours, maybe 30 miles. I ran that off an 8 mile long run base! Was only planning to do 12 miles…I thought I was dead when at mile 12 they said it was 12 miles back to my truck…but the bottom line is I think less is really more if you are slow and older…I did 20 this weekend and 15 the prior week, but I’m shooting to beat a 5:30 PR…a 11 min mile is about my pace…how you guys do that 7 stuff, I’ll never know that

    but I love running long…so much so I skip all those short runs during the week! : )…and actually do better, probably need more time to recouperate during the week being 50.1 years young.

    Just wanted to chime in and let the runners out there who are just starting out not to worry about being slow, I’ll be right there with you!

    And I hope you get your BQ in Andy and then smoke the B!!.

    – oh yah I pre-fuel, refuel more often and carry my own water bottle with extra electrolites…

    I know what you mean about feeling bloated and have gone the other way too, but you have to nail the hydration and fuel for the HAT 50…OR BONK, so do some extreeme experimenting on your long runs and also my ultra running friend John Straub, who has ran 100S told me that you only need to run half the distance you race…the recoup time can make you stronger more so then running longer and run yourself into the ground and break down..or get injured or sick, so sleep in when you need it/when your body feels it, your “mind” may not.

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