November 2011 Archives


"Myths and legends die hard in America. We love them for the extra dimension they provide, the illusion of near-infinite possibility to erase the narrow confines of most men's reality." -- Hunter S. Thompson, 1979

Marine Corps Marathon 2011

My second year running the Marine Corps Marathon brought improvements but also some hard lessons and a bit of heartache. I had been putting up exceptional times on my training runs over the past few months, including a 22.5 mile training run in 3:06:35 at an 8:16min/mile pace. I was pumped thinking I could significantly beat my previous time. My primary goal was  improvement over my 2010 MCM finish time. I never questioned my ability to meet this goal pre-race. Going off of training runs and encouragement from friends, I felt pretty confident I could see a sub 3:45 finish time. Let's get into the story...

Snow and temperature drop
October 29, 2011 the weather in the North East took a huge hit with a late October snow storm. DC saw lots of rain followed by big fat snow flakes. The temperature dropped significantly...the forecast for race morning was 37 degrees at gun time and warming up only to 41 by my expected finish time. The wind chill put the temperature around 27 at start time and mid-30s by expected finish. It was going to be cold. Colder than I had experienced in a long time and certainly colder than anything I trained for...

This had me stressing out about my race kit. Do I wear running tights? Stick with shorts? Multiple upper body layers? Gloves? Hat? Ear warmer? I trained for the March 2011 Shamrock Marathon in cold weather last winter but my mind and body had forgotten what it meant to run in 37 degree weather.

Race Morning: 0515AM ~ 7:15AM
I woke up race morning and had a cup of coffee and a bowl of oatmeal still worrying about my kit. I tried on shorts and went for a jog outside to see what it felt like (really cold) and then with tights (much better) and decided to go with the running tights. Problem solved. I hydrated and waited for other runners and friends to arrive. They arrived in shorts and I immediately seconded guessed my decision on tights and ended up changing. I put on a pair of mesh trainer pants on top for the walk to the start line...

Walk to the Start Line: 7:15~8:00AM
I felt good about my decision on shorts as we walked to the start line -- the sun was shining clear and strong providing lots warmth. As I got to the start line I found the 3:30-3:45 corral, stripped off my mesh pants, took some pictures, and jumped in with the other kick ass marathoners.

Race Start to 10-mile: 8:02~9:30AM
The pre-race adrenaline and crowd energy was fantastic. I could not wait to get going. Drew Carey fired the starter pistol and we were off. I never heard the Howitzer cannon go off but I remember seeing the smoke -- I was in the zone. The worrying about my kit was out of my head, nothing mattered but the run and I started cruising at a comfortable pace. The first six miles flew by. I remember seeing a bunch of Penn State people lining the streets in Rosslyn and let out a "We are!" to hear the response of "Penn State!" We got down to the turn for Sprout Run and I experienced the first part of the run with no was cold down there. Coming out of the Sprout Run to key Bridge was awesome -- the supporters lining the bridge were fantastic. As we ran down Clara Barton Parkway, I started to notice that I was passing a lot of runners, more than normal. I remember checking my watch and seeing my pace at 7:38. I thought to myself, "well this feels comfortable, just keep it comfortable." We rounded the turn onto the first major climb up to Georgetown Reservoir. I hate hills and I tend to do something rather stupid when faced with them. I sprint. I got to the top of the hill passing many others and looked forward to the nice downhill ahead of me into Georgetown. G-town proper was amazing with crowd support. I blazed through to mile 10 without incident or problem.

Race 10 to 15-mile: 9:30~10:15AM
My girlfriend and good friend were cheering somewhere after the ten mile mark along Ohio drive. They cheered me on and I kept pushing. I checked my watch and was shocked at my times. But I was still in an incredibly comfortable zone: breathing, heart rate, legs, and mind all felt fantastic. I was pushing but it didn't feel like it. My splits were incredible, I was going to hit my secondary goal! The push into Hains Point was easy, which is a big difference for me. I was riding the runners high and ignored all the normal Hains Point mental blocks -- running toward a vanishing point, crowned roads, etc. As we ran toward the point the sun was shining down perfectly through the trees, providing a great deal of warmth with there was almost no wind. The support heading down toward the point was fantastic. As we turned the point, however, lots of things changed. The sun was hidden behind the trees, the wind picked up, and the support all but disappeared. Around mile 15 I remember a strong gust of wind wiping around me. It was cold. Incredibly cold and it stole all of the body heat from my legs.

Race 15 to 26-mile: 10:15~11:56AM
As I ran toward mile 17, I saw my girlfriend again and stopped to grab some water and an ibuprofen. I was started to feel some minor pain in my legs and stretched them out while hydrating. I quickly got back into it and pushed forward. Sadly, each mile brought more and more pain and more and more severe cramps. The first big one was around mile 18.5 in front of the Capitol, it stopped my dead in my tracks for about 10 seconds. I changed up my hydration plan and started drinking both Gatorade and water at each station. I made my way toward mile 20 at the 14th street bridge and saw my girlfriend again, she ran a mile with me which I was very thankful for. I was in a bad place mentally due to the pain and her presence was uplifting. About half way over the bridge, I had to stop and stretch again. This was the longest stop so far, taking almost 45 seconds to stretch and rub my legs trying to get my muscles to release and act right. My watched beeped at mile 21 and I saw a crushing mile split, 11:20. That killed me mentally. It was a death knell to my secondary goal. I pushed into Crystal City stopping more and more often. Beer was a welcomed site in Crystal City and I took two dixie cups -- thanks to those handing it out! As I made my way toward mile 23 I experienced one of the worst cramps yet...about 15 meters from the 23 mile sign my right leg snapped bolt straight. I jumped/hobbled/gimped over to the sideline to stretch/rub out the cramp while starring at the 23 mile sign. So close but so far. Sadly, this event would repeat itself toward the finish. I continued running toward the finish cramping about every quarter mile through the remainder of crystal city, the Pentagon parking lot, and Route 50/110. As we crossed mile 24, underneath 395 heading into the Pentagon parking lot, I remember a Marine calling out the gun time from a stop watch, 3:46 and some change. I cursed loudly --startling some fellow runners -- knowing that I still had at least 16 minutes ahead of me and my secondary goal was dead.

Race 26 to 26.2 miles: 11:56~12:00PM
Ugh. It took every ounce of strength and perseverance in me to get to mile 26. So close to the finish, I could see Iwo (Iwo Jima Memorial) and the finish line. The crowd pressed in, squeezing the route to a car's width. The cheering gave me strength and I tried to piece together a strong finish. I was convinced I could break four hours still and wanted that badly. As I passed mile 26 and ran through the crowd, grimacing and wincing at each step, I thought I had the finish line in sight. My legs, however, were working against me. About ~26.15, right before the hill to the finish, my left leg cramped. I hobbled over to the sideline again and asked a supporter if I could use his shoulder for balance. People were saying encouraging things to me, pushing me forward. However my leg was locked. I very clearly remember one person saying "holy hell, look at his calf." The muscle had flattened out against my tibia/fibula. The normal curvature of calf muscle was plastered flat. The cramp locked up my leg muscles, which also locked my foot in a downward point, toes toward the ground. I could not move it. I massaged my calf trying to unlock it while very slowly putting weight back onto my toes. The cramp unlocked slowly but it ate up about 30 or 45 seconds, if my memory is correct. I was infuriated, defeated, and sad. The finish was right there, so incredibly close, and my body failed me. As soon as I was able to get my heel on the ground, I started toward the finish. I made my body move, one foot in front of the other, left, right, left, right. I had to keep my strides tight as my both my legs were threatening to cramp up on me. Right. Left. Right. Left. I made my way to the finish live, crossing at 4:02:14 gun time.

Cramping Postmortem:
Later in the day, while recovering (liquid pain management), I started thinking through the issues with a good friend and fellow runner. We worked through diet, sleep, stretching, and all the potential causes for the muscle failure I experienced. We came to the conclusion -- based on our incredibly rudimentary knowledge of the body -- that the cold snap I felt around mile 15 may have caused my leg muscles to contract to preserve body heat. My leg muscles were already under strain and stress from the first 15 miles and this contraction may have stressed my muscles in a new way, causing them to riot for the remainder of the run. While the big cramps described above had to do mostly with my calves, I also experienced some nasty cramps in my quads (looking at the Wikipedia entry for quadriceps muscle group, the pain is mostly in the Vastus medialis and Intermedius). Two days after the race and my quads and calves are still in an incredible amount of pain. The only appropriate word I can use to describe how my muscles feel is shredded. I'm also infuriated at myself for making the last minute switch from the running tights to the shorts. I really think that had I kept the tights on, I may not have experienced the crazy amount of cramping and time suck for having to stop, stretch, rub, and curse.

Year-over-Year Review:

Splits MCM 2011
MCM 2010
Differential MCM 2011
MCM 2010
5K 25:52 28:40 -2:48 8:19 9:13 -0:54
10K 50:45 56:42 -5:57 8:10 9:07 -0:57
15K 1:16:05 1:24:00 -7:55 8:09 9:00 -0:51
20K 1:41:33 1:51:56 -10:23 8:10 9:00 -0:50
Half 1:47:33 1:58:25 -10:52 8:10 9:01 -0:51
25K 2:07:30 2:20:17 -12:47 8:12 9:01 -0:49
30K 2:36:54 2:49:24 -13:30 8:25 9:05 -0:40
35K 3:10:34 3:19:21 -8:47 8:44 9:09 -0:25
40K 3:44:30 3:49:04 -4:34 9:01 9:12 -0:11
4:00:24 4:02:01 -1:47 9:11 9:15 -0:04

The differentials between the two years say it all. An awesome amount of improvement overall, especially the top 80% of the race. I was crushing the 2011 race and cruising toward both of my my goals right up until 30k. Between 30 and 35k I started to fall apart and kept falling further and further away from the 3:45:00 or better finish time. It was pointed out to me that there were positive notes to the race that I was overlooking because of the pain in legs, head, and heart. The improvements over a year are pretty awesome, shaving an average of ~40 seconds/mile off of my time. I was also reminded that I hit my primary goal of beating last years time. Oorah to that!

My head and heart are recovering quicker than my body. My legs are ruined. I've been torturing myself on the foam roll, stretching, and eating ibuprofen like candy. I hope the pain will be gone by the end of the week but I suspect this will be a multi-week recovery for my legs. Next year, a sub-four hour MCM will be mine. I will look back on this race report and remember one critical thing: trust your gut and your training. If those fail you, trust your sheer will and determination to get you over the finish line.