Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Race Report: Marine Corps Marathon

About to land at Reagan, and I'm treated with this view!
The crazy weather in Atlantic City did not do my body any justice.  For four days after that race, my immune system decided to shut down on me, and I suffered through a bout of tonsillitis for about four days.  But all was well come Saturday morning when I woke up and got myself out of the apartment and out to JFK airport for my noon flight to Washington DC.

And I got there in record time.  I was out the door of my apartment at 10:25am, walked six blocks to the subway, jumped on an E train headed to Jamaica that was already sitting on the platform, transferred onto the AirTrain, and arrived at Terminal 2 by 11:23.  Boarding began two minutes later and BAM, I was upgraded to first class thanks to my elite status.  But it's a really short flight, barely 40 minutes in the air, so really, the only positives out of first class was getting a free pre-flight drink.

This was actually my first time flying to Reagan airport, which is situated right on the Potomac River, with fantastic flyover views of Washington DC.  However, flights coming into Reagan from the northeast have extremely narrow flight paths because of security with the national monuments and White House to the east and the Pentagon on the west.  Because of this, those flying into DCA are afforded amazing views of the National mall almost every time.

Long lines at the expo for merch!
I got off of the plane immediately and got onto the Metro and headed directly to the subway stop where I could pick up a bus to the expo, located a bit of a distance away at Gaylord National Harbor.  As we arrived, there was already a backlog of traffic struggling to inch its way up onto the onramp headed into the parking area.  Thankfully, since we were in a shuttle, we were let off at a certain drop off point and bypassed all of the traffic.  After a bit of a walk to find the expo area itself (National Harbor is HUGE), we found the hall, which was your standard super crowded expo, with the same vendors here and there. I walked through and met with a few race vendors, chatting them up and collecting information with regards to potentially connecting for a national anthem sing in the future. As I walked through, I began to notice a weird tinge in my left knee, but I just chalked it up to the many races I've been running the last few months.

Several friends including members of Black Sheep Run were at this race, including my friend Monique, and I met up with her before heading back into Virginia via shuttle (and whoa, even crazier traffic was now building up on the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge headed into the expo for its closing hours) and then back onto the Metro.  I got onto the metro to Crystal City and dropped off my bags at the Americana Hotel, where I was sharing a room with my friend Mitch for the night, and then headed into DC proper to do an early dinner with several other Black Sheep, including locals Rebecca and Ndegwa at Carmine's, a family-style Italian restaurant that originated in NYC.  We devoured a delicious pasta dinner, eaten family style... take note: the chicken saltimbocca was amazing! After dinner, Mitch and I took the Metro back to Crystal City and we turned in for night.

All ready to go at the start!
Bright and early, we woke up at 5:30am (Mitch woke up earlier, lol) and then we were out the door into the warm and slightly humid DC air by 6.  My knee pain from yesterday continued this morning, so I popped a couple Aleve and and Advil to numb the pain away.  We met up with Elaine who was staying nearby, to walk up to the staging area at the Pentagon North parking lot, and stopped to meet up with another friend Michelle on the way up.  It was pretty dark, but we just followed the mobs of people walking up toward the Pentagon.

The startline
We walked for quite awhile, and despite getting to the start village quite early due to concerns of how security was going to be, it ended up not being that much of a problem this year, unlike the well-publicized issues from last year. Not wanting to repeat history, the MCM race organizers made changes to this year's course and the start time because of issues dealing with public transportation to the start.   The starting line was opened for a longer period of time to allow for late runners to get through the start mats because of some restrictions dealing with construction on the Metro system that couldn't be avoided. Because of that, they also had to change some of the course, notably where runners "Beat the Bridge," in order to accommodate vehicular traffic in a timely manner later in the day.  The checkpoint usually comes at the 20 mile mark, but in the 2016 course, two miles of Rock Creek Parkway were taken out of the race and made up later on in the race, and the bridge would come up earlier at mile 18.

It was all in all about a mile walk from where we were staying up to the start village, and I ended up separating from Elaine and Mitch, as Michelle and I looked out for Donna, who we ended up running into in a port-a-potty line.  We then met up with Andrew and then continued another half mile to the starting area on Route 110 between Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon, where we could self-corral.  It was quite crowded there too. Ben, running his first marathon, met up with us too.  And while in line, we even spotted Seth (running his second race of the weekend, the end of a self-dubbed "triple-double" - three consecutive race weekends of two marathons each), who began the race with us.

A gradual climb through Rosslyn
We couldn't even tell if the national anthem was performed or what, but a couple twin-engine Osprey helicopters roared overhead, an announcer yelled out that we were starting in five seconds... and we then just pushed ourselves forward, moving up toward the startline realizing, oh... we are starting.  We ran northward along State Route 110, aka the Jefferson Davis Highway, which skirts the eastern edge of Arlington National Cemetery.  It was a bit of a rolling uphill as we made our way onto Wilson Boulevard and into the center of Rosslyn, Virginia.  We then turned onto Lynn Street northward before we took our first significant climb of the course along Lee Highway (from roughly 100 feet up to the highest point of 235 feet), as we made our way onto Kirkwood Road. New the 2016 course was a short out-and-back that took us on a short out-and-back along Kirkwood Road, before we were then rewarded with a nice long descent along Spout Run and the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Along the way, I ran into Brian and Jim (running his first marathon), as we made our way down Spout Run.

The uphill slog on the Lee Highway
Chasing after silkies... "Pace ass."
Yay downhills! All along George Washington Memorial Parkway...

Key Bridge heading into Georgetown
We finally made our way out of Virginia, crossing into Washington D.C., after crossing the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Immediately, we turned right along the renowned M Street in Georgetown, where throngs of spectators cheered us on through the most popular area of this historic DC neighborhood.   We then turned right onto Wisconsin Avenue and then left onto K Street underneath the shadow of the Whitehurst Freeway. We then ramped ourselves up, turning right onto 27th Street looping around in front of one of the Watergate buildings, and onto the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, heading north. This part would feel similar to me, as I had run it before when I ran the Rock 'n' Roll DC Half Marathon in 2015.  While in that race, we would take it all the way up to the hill going to Calvert Street, we were taking this as our first significant out-and-back section, as we saw faster runners running on the opposite side of the street in the opposite direction.

M Street in Georgetown

Under the Whitehurst Freeway.

A right past the Watergate West building and the Kennedy Center...

A marching band behind
the Lincoln Memorial
Along this parkway, we enjoyed running the beautiful autumn tree-lined roadways and under historic stone-covered bridges.  We made the U turn and headed southward, as we passed the Kennedy Center and under the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge. We passed the Arlington Memorial Bridge, which faced the spectator filled rear steps of the Lincoln Memorial that abut the Potomac, as a marching band entertained onlookers as we ran by. We then continued on along Ohio Drive SW, where we would run right alongside the Potomac River and through West Potomac Park. As I ran down Ohio Drive, I found my friend Baylee, and I stuck around for a couple minutes as we waited for Donna who was not too far behind me to take a photo. We would then cross the Taft Bridge to enter East Potomac Park at mile 10.

The Wear Blue Mile.
The last mile would be a contemplative one, and one that would prepare us for the emotional Wear Blue Mile section of the course where fallen service members are commemorated along the roadway decorated with American flags.  While I've run several races with Wear Blue miles, this one seemed to be mean much more to me, and to runners around me.  As we entered this section of the park , I spotted a woman seemingly running for St. Jude Children's Hospital, but was also wearing a memorial bib for her husband.  It turns out her husband had just passed away exactly a year ago that weekend.  This was an emotional race for her, and it was taking a lot to hold herself together as she ran by this, one of the most tear-enducing parts of the race. I ran up beside her and told her I'd run the next mile for both her and him - as she gripped my hand and mouthed thank you through tears.

I had my hand proudly over my heart as we ran down the length of American flags during the Wear Blue Mile.

Her honesty is quite amazing.
At the southern tip of East Potomac Park is an area known as Hains Point; we rounded the curve and made our way back up north, but along the eastern part of the island, facing the Washington Channel. Along this way there were tons of personalized signs, some of them actually quite funny and reminiscent of signs I saw in Madison, Wisconsin at last year's Madison Mini-Marathon. There was even a lady who was holding probably the most bluntly-worded and likely foretelling sign I'd ever seen on a race course.

Baylee cheering us on!
We passed the halfway point and ran underneath I-395, and then followed the curve of Maine Avenue SW that turned into Independence Avenue SW, as we skirted the Tidal Basin with scenic views of the Jefferson Memorial.  Along the way, I ran into my local friend Lilian, and we ran together for a couple miles as we took the out-and-back that then took us right toward the National Mall.  Brian and Jim made an appearance again, and it would be the last time I'd see them until another out-and-back in Crystal City; and Baylee was cheering us on yet again just south of the Washington Monument.  We had also reached the area in the race known as the "Gauntlet," the mile 15 mark.  Runners would need to reach the Gauntlet by 12:38, otherwise, they are diverted and will not complete all 26.2 miles, and not be recognized as official finishers.  It was just after 11am at that point in time.

Lilian and I along the course.  My one free MarathonFoto, yay!
We rounded Independence Avenue up to Madison Avenue SW, and then took the road eastward as we passed the many important Smithsonian museums that look over the Mall, including the brand new National Museum of African American History and Culture that had just opened a little over a month earlier.  We would also run past the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History and the National Art Gallery.  I tried to put my borrowed headphones in at this instant, but I have never been a fan of in-ears (maybe my earholes are too small?) and I only used them for about ten minutes before returning the headphones into my fanny pack. The road eastward took us directly toward the Capitol, and also to the section of the course that draws snickers from people when looking at the route on a map. In short, it looks like a dick. The temps had risen to (thank the Lord) shirtless levels, so I had some motivation to keep me going on the course... LOL!  We rounded the Peace Memorial, the Capitol Reflecting Pool, and the Garfield Memorial, before heading back westward along Jefferson Drive SW; it was directly in front of the Capitol building where I spotted my first DC corgi!

A DC corgi, "Moose," who I met right in front of the Capitol!

The heat definitely made things a little more painful...

The "Castle" on the mall...
As I headed down Jefferson Drive SW westward, I ran into my friend Travis, running his second MCM; and later Donna again, as we were able to pick out our friend Deana (who had run the 10K) in the massive crowd.  Along the way, we'd run past the Air and Space Museum, the historic carousel, the Smithsonian Castle and the Freer Gallery of Art. After taking a left turn onto 14th Street and passing the Holocaust Museum, we'd be coming upon the infamous 14th Street Bridge and the important checkpoint in the race where racers are required to "Beat the Bridge" by 1:15, or else suffer the same fate as those that don't reach The Gauntlet in time.  Like earlier at The Gauntlet, I was fine - I was well ahead of needing to worry about the checkpoint, despite my race being slower than usual.  Since I had some time, I even stopped for a quick twerk by a drumline that got us pumped up as we started on the cement bridge that brought us back to Virginia.

The 14th St Bridge... the one to "beat."
The bridge was LONG and arduous, and tough on our legs, as it wasn't asphalt, it was all cement, and didn't provide much spring on our shoes.  Along the way, I ran into Bart Yasso and his entourage. He was having a tough time with the race on account of his Lyme disease acting up and affecting his joints - but he was still out there slogging through.  It was roughly a mile and half until we came off of the bridge, and made our way to the most unimpressive part of the race, a random loop in the South Pentagon parking lot.  Yes, a parking lot.  Probably the one part of the course I wish they rerouted elsewhere.  But, like with all the necessary changes in this year's race due to factors out of the race directors' control, it had to be done.  There even was a fake-out section, where we thought we'd be finally leaving the parking lot along Fern Street, but nope... it was another out-and-back as we headed right back into the parking lot before finally leaving along Eads Street.

Crystal City in the heat.
We turned left onto Army Navy Drive and followed the throngs of runners turning left onto 12th Street, which becomes Crystal Drive, and into the skyscraper-built up neighborhood of Crystal City, where we'd end up running along the nauseatingly long out-and-back section of the race. The vibrant colors and energy of the Crystal City Family Festival were on display - as well as lots of spectators on this part of the route. The many runners who'd been through this section was evident - discarded paper cups littered the streets and sidewalks.  Tons of people were out here to cheer us on.  It was definitely quite warm at this point, as we slogged through what would be the mile 22 through mile 24 part of the race.  I spotted several folks along the out and back, including Elaine, Jim and Brian (again), and Loan, finally!  On our way out, the aid station before mile 24 had dangerously run out of paper cups and were pouring water directly from the jugs into the mouths of runners, who at that point, had no care about getting wet - we already were incredibly sweaty from the heat and humidity!

Running past the Pentagon...
After passing mile 24, we turned right onto Long Bridge Drive, parallel to the scenic park area and bore left onto Boundary Channel Drive back toward the Pentagon. We hiked up a little hill onto the Connector Road before taking the ramp down Jefferson Davis Highway and headed into the direction of the finish, and actually past where we had started the race earlier that day. This last section was long and arduous all the way to  the finish, under the roasting sun.  What kept me going was knowing that a few legendary shirtless "silkies" (famous among runner groups on social media) were waiting for runners at mile 26.  And they were pretty drunk by the time I got there... but I got my photos. :)

My motivation to finish!  SILKIES!

The last push had us turn left onto Marshall Drive, with a final uphill challenge right to the finish directly in front of the Marine Corps War Memorial. I crossed the mat in 5:43:48, my worst time that wasn't the second loop of the San Francisco Marathon.  But hello, the heat and humidity.  And a bum left knee!  Anyway, finishing not long after me was Lillian, and she got to take my iconic headstand photo with the beautiful memorial behind me.  After meeting up with the rest of my Black Sheep Crew at the beer tent, and of course Mitchell, who was celebrating his 100th marathon, we took the shuttles back to Crystal City and retrieved our bags waiting at the front desk of the hotel, before heading back to Arlington for much needed showers at Ainsley and Monique's room at the Hyatt Place.

After a quick bit of rest, we headed out for dinner at an Indian place just across the street from the hotel, and Loan, who I had only seen during that last out-and-back in Crystal City, decided to meet up with us!  I stuck around before I left to make my way to the airport (thankfully, Reagan is accessible by Metro, unlike Dulles) without realizing the delays that would keep me waiting for a little while longer before heading back home.  I got there with more than enough time to spare as it rained down heavily on the DC Metro Area.  I lucked out with first class yet again, and got my free drink before heading back home.

The next morning, I woke up, and I could BARELY move my left knee.  Literally, I was unable to bend it.  I rested it (as much as I could, I live in New York City... I still had to walk and take the subway to work), iced it, compressed it, and elevated it.  Stubborn me would take nearly two weeks before going to a physical therapist, who would diagnose quadriceps tendinitis. In the meantime, I would struggle to just get through normal daily activities... Getting in and out of the tub.  Sitting without having my leg fully extended.  Going up and down stairs (it'd have to be two at a time, or a weird jumpy move that could end up messing my other knee up,)  It would be a full two weeks (including DNS'ing the Myles Standish Marathon over Veterans' Day weekend in Plymouth, MA, one week after spectacting at the NYC Marathon - I was scheduled to sing the national anthem there too, so I was REALLY bummed I had to cancel on them) before I'd even go back to doing any sort of walking without any conceivable pain...

But when would I be able to get back to my races?  I still had a full plate that had flights and accommodations bought and paid for before the end of the year...including an overseas trip to Italy over Thanksgiving weekend...


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