Marine Corps 17.75k 2013

QUANTICO, Virginia, March 23 2013

Ambitious goal – 1:30:00
Fallback goal – Didn’t really have one

Not much to say about this race. It was the “golden ticket” race for this year’s Marine Corps Marathon – all finishers get guaranteed early entry. Given that the MCM sold out in under three hours last year, this was a pretty big perk. Of course, the 2,500 slots available in this race sold out in like 90 minutes, so it’s hard to say if this path to MCM registration was really any easier.

I was interested in the 17.75k for its own sake; I am not planning to run the MCM this year. I had a great time the previous time it was held, in the Fall of 2011. There were only some 600-odd entrants, and they had this diminutive female DI on the course just lighting us up: “You suck, you’re slow, move your butt!” We saw her near the beginning of the race and again at the end. I had almost given up on catching the string of three or four runners I’d been trying to reel in for the last mile or so, but then she was up in my face: “You suck, you can catch that guy, he’s slow, move, move, move!” I was like “…OK…”, and wound up dusting the entire string. The 2011 edition also featured an inspirational finish at the Museum of the Marine Corps.

This year was a let-down. No feisty female DIs; more paved roads and less trail; finish line just at some random place in Prince William Forest Park.

We arrived a little late and I got stuck in the back of the starting corral. The very first section of the course was in a shopping center parking lot and so was fairly wide. As soon as I crossed the starting mat I zigged left and started sprinting, trying to get around as many dawdlers as possible before the course narrowed after turning onto Dumfries road. I must have passed a few hundred people during that short sprint, and I didn’t have to do too much picking through slower runners. I was pretty much out in the open after half a mile or so.

I did have trouble recovering from that initial sprint, though. I was only 6 days removed from a PR effort at the Tobacco Road Marathon, and my legs were still a little tight. I had hoped to maybe stay a little under 8:00/mile, but most of the 11 mile splits were at least a little over that. The course was unremarkable – a few hills, mostly paved road, about a mile of gravel road, and the last half mile or so on double-track trail.

I wound up 200th out of 2,175 finishers, 1:29:42.

Miles this race – 11.03
Miles raced in 2013 – 53.43

Tobacco Road Marathon 2013

There is only salt. Bitter, sweet, sour – these are only fairy tales told to children. Umami – to the extent that I ever knew what it was – is a distant and fading memory. I exist in a world of salt; there can be nothing else.


I am already composing the excuse section of my race report: “I was on track to break four hours until calf cramps started hobbling me at around mile 20. I really could have done it this time, dangit.” I am approaching the water stop at mile 24. I have 2.2 miles to go, 3:37 or so on the clock. This can be done; this is achievable. Except for these cramps. You can run through a blister, you can run through knee pain and shredded quads, but a knotted-up calf will sideline you for sure. Then I remember – I have one salt tablet left. Will it hold off the cramps long enough for me to gut out these last couple miles? No time to think about it, no time to wait for it to dissolve. A quick check of the distance to the aid station and I chew viciously through the outer capsule and feel the contents instantly coat my tongue…


The volunteers don’t seem to mind that I grab a second cup of water. The first one is practically brine by the time it washes the residue from the S Cap down. The second one is sweet relief. A few twinges echo up from my calves, but then they quiet down. From here I only need ten minute miles to get in comfortably under four. My left knee is a screaming knot of fire; my quads are shot; my feet have been blistering for the past twelve miles. It’s twenty minutes of hell to the finish line, but as the signs say, the achievement is forever.


I’m on the way back from the second turnaround at about mile 18.5. I know a long, gradual uphill is coming because I enjoyed it as a downhill on the way out. I’m still taking a short break to walk at each mile marker, no more than 0.05 miles. I see the 4:00:00 pace leader coming the other way maybe five minutes after turning around, and I wonder when he’ll catch me.

I pass mile 20 at about 2:54, leaving me 1:06 to run a 10k. Easy, nothing to it. I walk a twentieth of a mile as I take my last gel and swallow a salt tab. But soon after I break back into a run my calves start threatening to cramp. You know the feeling – the muscle goes right up to the edge of turning over, you do a little hop-jump-step, and it backs off a little. You run a little slower but continue on, you and the cramp eyeing each other warily. I know that ten minute miles will get me home, but I don’t think I can pull it off. At least I’ll beat my 4:16 PR.

I hit the expected uphill, and find myself running with unexpected strength. I know the turn back onto the road is coming at around mile 23.7. I skip the walk break at mile 22, chat briefly with a young runner regarding our chances of finishing under four, drop him, resolve to make it to the road without stopping, skip the walk break at mile 23, make it to the road, walk a short distance, check my watch, start to feel cautiously hopeful about my chances of beating my long-time goal, pull up limping as my traitorous calves start to fold in on themselves…


There is no more stopping. A mile and a half to go, and some seventeen minutes to do it in. The body has the strength, if the mind has the will. I reach the last water stop, at the mile 25 marker. The volunteer is shouting “Just one more mile to go!”, and I can’t keep myself from correcting her: “You mean one point two!” She gives me some water anyway, and I am grateful. Fourteen minutes to go.


The girl I’ve been leapfrogging all day passes me for the last time when I take a brief break to walk at mile 16. An Indian guy has also stopped to walk a bit, and I complain to him about the girl’s stubborn insistence on not staying dropped. I mention that I’m always strong in the first half and fade in the second, and he allows that he has the same problem. I don’t think I’ll make four. I have some chance at a PR, but I’m OK with just finishing. The Indian guy keeps walking as I start up running again, trying to catch that girl before the 17 mile marker.


The legs are tired, but I know they will see me through. The “one mile to go” lady also said it was all downhill from there, but that was a lie too. Almost immediately I’m heading uphill again, but at this point it doesn’t matter. I almost bailed on this race because my knee has been hosed for the past two months. I decided to unbail and sacrifice the knee, and now I can make it all worthwhile by gutting out this last mile. Twelve minutes to go.


Just before the end of the first out-and-back there is a road crossing with a sign: “drop area”. If you are unable to continue you can drop here and get a ride to the finish. When I was trying to decide whether to unbail on this race I knew that I could at least quit at the end of the first out-and-back section and walk the last 2.5 miles back along the road. I had even planned how I’d be careful to give up my bib before crossing the finish line, so as not to accidentally record a finish time instead of my rightful DNF (surely there are protocols in place to avoid that, but still, I planned it). I just smirk at this drop area, however, and continue on. I am hurting, but not yet licked.


I don’t look at my watch. Just don’t stop and you’ll get it. I don’t try to guess how many tenths are left. I reach the end of the uphill section and open my stride a little bit as the road slopes down…


At around mile eight, just short of the first turnaround, I look down the front of my shirt to check that my anti-chafing band-aids are in place. One of them looks to be riding a little low so I try to adjust it, and of course it falls half off. A girl I briefly spoke with earlier suddenly bolts down a side trail into the woods. Is she taking a pee break? I can see the port-a-potties up ahead at the turn-around. Whatever. She’ll catch me at the turnaround and then we’ll spend the next several miles leapfrogging each other. At the end of the out-and-back there is a simple cardboard box with an arrow painted around it. A volunteer is admonishing all runners to “go all the way around the box.” I do so, then stop short of the water table. I shake some grit out of my shoe, replace the band-aid over my left [redacted], finally grab the water a volunteer has been trying to hand me, and start back running. I had thought with the extended stop this mile would be the first one where I failed to stay under a 9:09 pace (the average pace needed to break four hours), but remarkably when my watch beeps at me it reads 09:05. I continue on, encouraged.


Half a mile to go. Don’t trip over your goofy clown shoes. Amazingly, I pass a few straggling half-marathoners. There is no pain any more. I hear the first faint cheers coming from the finish area.


According to plan, I stop to walk as I take my first gel at mile 5. A guy runs past me, also taking a gel. He holds up his packet and companionably calls to me, “Mile Five!” I tuck the empty packet into my waist pack and catch up to the guy. He has a classic North Carolina accent, and it makes me nostalgic. He throws his empty gel packet on the trail while berating himself for doing so, apparently sincerely. I struggle briefly with the urge to gang up with him – equally sincerely – on himself, then master it. We chat for a while. He asks me my time goal and I tell him that I’d like to do four, except for my knee, and I’m just trying to finish. “You’re under four pace now,” he says, and I agree. He goes on, but I catch him just before the turnaround, where he informs me that he is intent on catching the 3:45:00 pace leader, who is in sight just up ahead.


A short gentle uphill leading to the turn back into the park. The cheers are louder now. I catch up with an Asian man at the turn, and I encourage him to push and make it in under four. He looks at me with either incomprehension or disdain. I don’t care, goodbye, I’m going on. The road turns down. I pass mile 26, five minutes left on the clock. The course is twisty here; I can’t see the arch.


We start. The marathoners and the half-marathoners start together, and it’s crowded. As always, there are walkers and slower runners inconsiderately starting up near the front of the race, and I have to pick through them for the first mile or two. The two races will split after about two and a half miles, and then I will have more breathing room. I had told myself that I would take it slow, don’t do anything stupid like try to break four hours, just take it slow, preserve the knee, and finish. My legs had other plans, though, and I find myself running in the low-to-mid eights. We turn right onto the trail and it is beautiful.


I still can’t see the arch. It can’t be more than a tenth of a mile to go. I round a turn, and then another. I see the clock. Is that 3:59:xx or 3:58:xx? It doesn’t matter, I’m safe on the chip time. I start to sprint it in (for low enough values of sprint). It turns out to have been 3:58; the clock reads 3:59:06 as I cross. I remember to stop my watch, as I almost never do, and I see that I had plenty of cushion – 3:57:04. Pretty sure I was sub-nine for the last mile. I accept my finisher’s medal from a young volunteer. It’s massive. It has the image of a train on it.

I take a water bottle and go off in search of pizza. I liberate a slice of cheese and find a quiet place to sit and eat it. I am overcome.


“Hey Boss?”
“You know that North Carolina marathon coming up? The one I said I was bailing on?”
“I’m thinking I might unbail on it…”

Reston 10 Miler 2013

Reston, Virginia, March 3 2013

Ambitious goal – 1:15:00
Fallback goal – Beat The Cat and/or set a PR

I’ve been hobbled by a knee injury the past couple months and haven’t really been training. Could be tendonitis, could be something else. It’s been improving very gradually, and I was planning to use this race as a benchmark to gauge whether the knee might hold up for the Tobacco Road Marathon in a couple weeks. It mostly felt pretty good during the race, only really bothering me around miles 3 to 4. But immediately after stopping it started screaming at me, and didn’t let up for more than 48 hours. It’s just now getting manageable. I’ve got an appointment with the orthopedist on Thursday.

On the plus side, I felt strong throughout the whole race. I think I kept my mile splits pretty consistent after adjusting for wind and elevation. I normally drag the last couple miles of a race of this distance, but they seemed to fly by this time.

Finish time: 1:18:43, a new PR.

Miles this race – 10
Miles raced in 2013 – 16.2