Race report: The Marine Corps Marathon was beautiful carnage

That was carnage.

On Sunday, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in the most brutal conditions of the five marathons I’ve run. It was 60 degrees at 7 a.m., and 80 when I finished. And there was 88 percent humidity. Good god.

I had a good feeling heading into Marine Corps, a feeling I was going to have a great day. But I’m not good in the heat. I never have been. By Mile 6, doubts were creeping into my head.

And yet I am here the day after with my head held high after what I accomplished in the next 20 miles.

My race weekend started Friday evening when I got into D.C. On Saturday, I met with the Oiselle Volée for a shakeout around the National Mall. It was great to meet fellow birds and run past the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and near the White House. My legs felt good, and I was ready to go.

The Lincoln Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial

Race morning, I took a cab and then a bus to the start near the Pentagon. The athlete’s village was in the Pentagon parking lot, which was a pretty surreal feeling. That building is enormous–I had no idea how massive it was until I saw it in person.

After I waited around for more than two hours, ate my Honey Stinger waffles and used the porta-john three times, it was time to get down to the start.

I met another Oiselle Volée teammate, and we chatted as we waited for the Howitzer to send us off. Military helicopters flew overhead, the cannon fired, and the adventure began.

The first five miles were a breeze. I felt decent, there was a cool breeze and I ran slowly as we ran some hills through Arlington and then across the Potomac into Georgetown. Those areas were beautiful. Seeing Georgetown University from across the river—stunning.

But by 10K, my legs started to ache like they have in some of my long runs. I don’t know what the problem is, but I need to figure it out. It’s a painful ache that makes me feel like I’ve run twice as far as I’ve gone. By mile 9, I was dizzy, which I attribute to the heat and humidity.

Doubts crept into my head. Heat and I have never been friends, even when I’m not running. Simply being out in the sun gives me a headache, and 15 miles is a long way to go when you know the conditions are only going to get worse and your body is taking more of a beating.

Mile 10, the Blue Mile, was solemn and exactly what I needed to take my mind off my legs. Photos of soldiers killed in action lined the path, and there was silence except for breathing and footfalls. Seeing the ages of the men and women who died–20 years old, 21 years old, 28 years old, 40 years old–made my heart ache. And then, there were Blue Mile supporters who held American flags along the trail. They cheered and gave me fist bumps and high fives, which was incredible.

As we got into the National Mall, things got hazy and intensely painful for me. At mile 15, I saw Volée member Pamela from Maryland. She was pacing her friend Karen, and invited me to run with them. I stayed with them for much of the next eight miles, and I’m so grateful for them. We talked and laughed about the SNL presidential debate skits and commiserated—Karen was dealing with the same pain I was.

And it was intense. My quads had a sharp pain that was so bad I could hardly kept upright. Everything from the middle of my ribs on down was in pain. I am pleased to say I ran across the 14th Street Bridge without walking in the company of a Marine, which was great. He said to look straight ahead, not to either side because the race was taking its toll. It was, and still we moved forward.

Oiselle team members were waiting for us just past Mile 20. I was so excited about seeing them–Semper Fly! They clanked cowbells and cheered, giving us a massive boost.

Me at Mile 20. Don't let the smile fool you–I was in the pain cave.
Me at Mile 20. Don’t let the smile fool you–I was in the pain cave.

But by Mile 23, my body was broken. I walked most of the final three miles, and moving forward was all I could muster. My body hurt so much I was in tears. I’ve never experienced that kind of pain before. It wasn’t an injury and didn’t feel like a cramp. Or maybe it was a whole-body cramp. I was in good company; many other runners were walking, too. Few people, however, stopped. We had a mission to accomplish.

Being honest, I was incredibly excited for the course. As it happens, I didn’t enjoy the course as much as I would have liked because I was hurting so much (I’m not exaggerating). I saw the Capitol and the Smithsonian and I was like “Aaaahhhhhhhhhh my legs!” rather than “Oh, that’s super awesome! Look at these historic places!” But I knew I would finish. There was never any doubt in my mind. Last November, I DNF’d at 30K in a marathon. That was not going to happen again. I would have crawled if I had to. Thankfully, I stayed mostly upright.

I started running again about halfway through Mile 25 and through the finish. The finish line is up a hill (thanks, Marine Corps!) and I gathered up my courage and charged that hill like my life depended on it. The announcer said my name as I crossed the finish line, which was awesome. Mission accomplished!

Past the finish line, dozens of Marines in fatigues congratulated us. I got tons of handshakes and high fives, and that made it all worth it. Another Marine placed a medal around my neck, and I’m getting teared up thinking about it.

This medal. Damn, it's awesome.
This medal. It’s awesome. It also opens!

Running the Marine Corps Marathon is the perfect antidote to the election season.

Pamela said after the race I was a badass for finishing like that, and I really appreciate it. I’ve come a long way. For this race, I relied on the immense strength I’ve built in my 17 years of running. No, I didn’t run as fast as I would have liked. But those conditions were fucking brutal. And I did it. I finished.

My head is high today because I know I gave it everything I had. The strength I gained from the Marine Corps Marathon will stay with me for the rest of my life.

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