What a great race. Seriously. Is it because I was back on my home turf? I don’t think it was just that.
It was a great run because of the runners, the military, the terrain, the Marine Corps Marathon entry, all of it. And yeah, I was running with my best bud, my old military co-conspirator/co-pilot. That was probably a huge part. I also had my extended family there to tell me how crappy I did, which actually still added to the event for me. It was a great race from start to finish.
It was pretty easy to get to the Prince William Forest race area, even with 395 south going to just one lane due to construction. They directed everyone to the parking area and asked for our parking passes. Oops. Didn’t get one. Didn’t even know about it (I’m not much of a pre-race researcher). So my folks dropped me and my race buddy off and went to go find parking. I felt bad but turns out just a block away was a shopping center that you could park and easily walk back to the race area.
My race buddy and I just hung around mostly. Neither of us tried the porta potty line because they were really long right up til the start, even though I was convinced I was making a mistake. I can still never figure out if I have to go or if it’s just race day nerves. And I subsequently talked my race buddy’s ear off about all things porta potty related for the next 30 minutes. She’s such a good sport about this stuff (“stuff” being my running neuroses).
We tried to distract ourselves by wandering around to the podium. Lots of runners were posing on the podium for their friends to take pictures. Convinced my friend to get up there for some great power poses too. I didn’t go because, unlike my friend, this was going to be a gruesome race for me and I didn’t want a podium to remind me of how bad I was going to perform.
Other interesting tidbits: There is same-day packet pickup. That’s pretty great for people like me who are coming in from another state and may not come in early enough. They had the Marines presenting colors and a retired Marine general and Medal of Honor recipient present the opening race talk to the crowd. General Fox I believe it was. He told us runners that if the hills got tough we should grab onto some roots to help pull us along. Everyone laughed – except for me. I was thinking – for real? Turns out General Fox knew way more about the course than I did.
Hills. Hills. More hills. Crazy hills. 80 degree hills. 30 degree hills. 65 degree hills. Hills at the start. Hills at the finish…. I have never ever run so many hills in all my life… in a race at least. My race buddy trains on hills every day. Needless to say she killed this 17k. But people who did not train on hills, and in fact did not train at all, did not kill this race. It was rough for me. I loved it and loved the beautiful course and the forest and all of it, but my body was broken. Right after mile 9 my achilles and tendons around my ankles were so painful that I couldn’t even run anymore. It was different than any pain I had ever felt. Surprisingly nothing else was hurting. My fitness was intact but my ankles and tendons were not ready for those hills. I had to walk a lot the last 2 miles because of the pain. It was beyond frustrating because everything in me was saying HURRY UP! YOU’RE ON A ROLL!!
It didn’t seem like a packed race even though some of the paths got small. The course itself was mostly paved but there was the section in the beginning that you had to run at the start and finish, maybe a mile in length (so 2 miles total) that was loose dirt and rocks. I saw several people in vibram shoes, those toe shoes that have no cushion, barefoot running. I couldn’t believe it. I guess they didn’t the memo on the loose stones and giant rocks all over. They looked in pain and they were running almost on tiptoes the whole time. Safety tip: don’t wear vibrams or barefoot run shoes on this one. It will hurt. The water stops were good and I don’t recall much about them. They just did what they were supposed to. Every once in a while a young Marine would be parked somewhere on the course with music blasting from his truck or some other speaker. That kind of broke up the monotony a bit. And when the hills came up, I wasn’t the only person having to walk up sections of them. Granted, maybe some of the front runners were flying up the hills, but the people in my group were walking up some of the worst ones.
I still managed to finish this 11 miler with hills at a faster pace than I ran the Sarasota Half. If I hadn’t had the ankle issue, I think I could have shaved 4 minutes off my finish time but, even so, I was pretty proud of myself…. that is until I crossed the finish line where my race buddy and my family had been waiting for 25 minutes (I totally called that one btw). There really isn’t anything like the love and support from your family of hardened Marines telling you “What happened?! You took forever!” Lesson o’ the day – you want a warm and fuzzy reception, don’t bring Marines to your Marine race.