The alarm went off at five in the morning on October 25, 2015, five hours after we had set it. It was my intent to be in bed by 9:00 pm, but circumstances that were out of my control prevented me from having eight hours of sleep. We didn’t get to bed until midnight because we had to pick up my sister’s luggage from another hotel room where she stayed with a friend the night before. She was supposed to stay with us for the weekend, but a six-hour delay from Alaska Airlines on Friday caused us to arrive in D.C. at 10:00 pm versus 3:45 pm. When we arrived on Friday night, we only had the energy to grab a bite and call it a night due to exhaustion from three hours of sleep from the night before.
Even though the race was not starting until 7:55 am, our alarms went off at 5:00 am because we were told by the race organizers to be there two hours prior to the starting time. We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Crystal City, which was about two stops away from the starting line with public transportation (Metro). The Metro stop was about .7 miles away from the hotel. Initially, we were going to take the Metro, but opted against in when we learned that the Hotel Shuttle was dropping off runners at the shuttle stop the Marine Corps Marathon had set up. With only a guava pastry in our stomachs, my husband and I shared the Hotel Shuttle with half a dozen more runners and headed towards the shuttle area.
We arrived to the Marine Corps Marathon Shuttle stop around 6:00 am and the lines, though long, were moving very quickly. Three big buses at a time bused us from the entrance of the Crystal City Metro Stop to the Pentagon, where every single runner and spectator had to pass through a metal detector – yikes. Apparently, this was the first time the race has done this, and because there was rain, it cause the metal detectors to malfunction and therefore created a backup, leading for the race organizers to extend the finish cutoff an extra 20 minutes. Standing under wind and rain made for a very cold experience, and I could only think of how sweaty I was soon going to be once the race began to not let it bother me. Though the line was moving slowly, we made it to the starting line with about a half hour to spare. There were plenty of portable bathrooms, so no waiting in massive lines. My husband, who graciously offered me his hoodie while we were waiting in the security line because the rain and wind picked up significantly,pried the hoodie off my cold and wet hands dropped off his hoodie and wallet in the bag drop-off area. The Oiselle Volee team was supposed to meet for a pre-race picture next to the last UPS truck, but I figured I was late did not get a chance to partake in the pictures. I found out after the race that many of the Oiselle runners were stuck in the security line.
It was still raining at this point and continued to do so until maybe sometime after the race began. Honestly, I cannot remember. The rain was a slow drizzle, although it was enough of a drizzle to make one damp. A major pet peeve of mine is runners not lining up in the correct starting corral. It was very obvious there were hundreds, if not thousands, of runners who were trying to get to as close to the starting line as possible and had no regard for the MASSIVE YELLOW SIGNS that had respective finish times written times on them. While I am well aware I should NEVER judge a runner by their physical appearance, when a group of runners in front of you tell you they hope to finish around the 5:00 hour time frame and they are standing right next to the 4:15 – 4:20 corral, then you cannot help but let out a long deep breath to prevent from ruining the moment. My uptight state of mind soon changed when I looked up to the sky and saw parachutist with garrison flags! It was absolutely amazing and the adrenaline in my body soon kicked in. Cannons went off, I consumed a second packet of Sports Beans, and I crossed the starting line a little after eight minutes.
Weaving, passing, bumping, and pausing, definitely happened the first 8-10 miles of the race. Even when I tried to pick up the pace, it was physically impossible given how many people there were on the course. There were people walking around mile 5, before the half way point. The water stations, which were the stations I was most concerned given the amount of runners, allowed me to pass runners because it opened up the course like the way Moses parted the seas. I will admit though, the water stations were well stocked, and they were not as congested as I envisioned them to be. Should I ever return to run this race, I might not wear the hydration vest, which I wore to the race because I was worried about water.
My husband, who is less uptight and was doing the Marathon to accompany me, tried to engage in small chat with me, pointing out different monuments and sights, but because I am not someone who likes to talk while running, I really did not pay attention to what was going on around me. In fact, after the race, my husband made a point to say, “Remember we ran past this” and my answer was always, “I don’t remember seeing this.”
There were four memorable moments that will forever stand out and that it was impossible for me to forget:
1) The Blue Mile, during mile 12, which was made up of 1) the Faces of the Fallen posters and (2) American flags (each draped with a black ribbon, bearing the name of a fallen military member) held by volunteers. It was very solemn, and there were faces of young men, faces of older, men, and faces of women. On the last picture, there was a lady who was kneeling and was sobbing. It was very emotional, and only reminded me to be grateful.
2) The Bridge, just before mile 20. There were drums playing, and my heart was thankful. My body felt great, and aside from my feet who were in pain (my feet are the WEAKEST part of my body), I was feeling physically strong and there was no cramping anywhere. I decided to pick up the pace and saw that I was averaging under 9:30 minute miles, enough to be well under 4 hours and 20 minutes. However, my Garmin and the Mile Markers were not in sync, with my Garmin reading I was .5 miles further than the mile markers. Apparently, this is the bridge where runners who do not meet the cut off time, which is the pace of 14 minutes per mile, are picked up and taken to the finish line. My husband and I beat the bridge!
3) Mile 24 – This is when it all hit me. I was exhausted, and the idea of stopping to walk and stretch crept its way into my head. There were runners all around me who were bent over backwards trying to reach their toes. Runners who were squatting and stretching their hips. Their were runners standing one leg and holding the other leg bent back touching their butt. There were runners sitting, runners crying, runners walking, runners who were limping, and runners who had lost good running form. I was the latter, and had to start talking to myself to prevent myself from stopping. “You are supposed to be tired Luisa. You are supposed to be uncomfortable Luisa. You’ve run 24 miles Luisa, are you seriously going to start walking with only 2 miles left? You will look back and regret it if you walk. You are stronger than you give yourself credit for Luisa. Finish strong Luisa. Believe in yourself Luisa. Walking will only prolong the race.” And so I kept moving and shook off the temptation to stop.
4) The Finish Line – I did not care to study the course prior to the race. With all of the worrying that occurs prior to the race, I figured being ignorant about the course was one less thing for me to worry about. However, I did know there was a hill at the end of the race, but that was all I knew. Yes, that was a hill. It was not fun at all. It hurt really bad. It slowed me down significantly. and it made the finish line seemed so far. My watch said I was well past 26.2 and I was mentally and physically ready to be done. The hill zapped me, and if it wasn’t for the fact I heard my name and FINALLY SAW the FINISH line, I would have stopped and collapsed right there. I WAS DONE!!
Four hours and 13 minutes according to the Clock, and 4:08 minutes with 26.69 miles according to my Garmin. My husband crossed the finish line 5 minutes later, and he had logged 27 miles according to his GPS.
The medal was absolutely beautiful. We were asked to keep moving so that the finish line would not be congested. Even though we finished at the IWO JIMA Memorial, I never saw after the race. Water seemed a while to get to because they were not handing it out right after the finish line, but there was plenty. Instead of a space blanket, we received a red paper-like jacket, which I did not use because I was actually pretty hot. We got a box of food, which I did use because I was starving (I wish I could tell you what it was), and after more walking, I got to the portable potty and got to empty out my stomach (starting bothering me around mile 24).
The MARINE CORPS MARATHON was by far the best marathon experience I ever had. It wasn’t just because I PR’d by more than 30 minutes since my last marathon (Portland Marathon in 2011), but because I once ran in the Marine Corps uniform, and I took for granted. At the time, I never knew how much running would change my life. Running felt like a punishment and I wanted nothing to do with it once I got out in 2002. I am glad I never gave it up though. The best part is, my running journey continues. OORAH!