So training started on June 10th, with an easy 12 mile run.
During the training, I noticed on the MCM website that they had a team competition, which I thought would be fun to have amongst the runners in the RW Challenge. I floated the idea out there on the RW Challenge forum and on Facebook. The response was amazing, as we ended up having over 50 runners on 11 teams, including 3 of the RW editors. The Wolfpack ended up winning the team competition. This team competition was so much fun to organize and I got to know most of the people involved.
Also during training I got in contact with Jeff Dengate, the RW Shoes & Gear Editor, and we had planned on him help pace me to a 3:10; but a hip injury prevented this from happening. He was a tremendous source of knowledge though. He showed me a plan he has used to run marathons, which divides the race into 3 segments – 10 miles/10 miles/10K. The first 10 miles you run at a pace slightly slower then goal pace. During the 2nd segment, you drop down to goal pace comfortably. The final segment is when you bring it home. I practiced this during training on a couple of runs and had really good results. Jeff even provided me with the pace band I ended up wearing during the race.
Needing a new singlet for the race, I started to look on the web for something to wear. I ended up creating my own on MyRaceRagz.com. On the front the singlet has ‘Columbia SC Christian Runners’ (the run group I run with on Monday nights), MCM 2012, and initials for my grandfather (RUS) and a high school friend (DMCM). On the back is the verse from Hebrews 12:1-2, an inspirational verse to me. My grandfather, Granddaddy to me, was the man who got me into running as a child. He would tell me his running stories (from when running was not popular) and he would take me to races almost every weekend and ride his bike alongside. I completed my first marathon on the anniversary of his passing in Atlanta on March 2009. Danny McMurray (DMCM) was a friend that I grew up with into high school. He was born with heart and lung issues and could not participate in sports to the degree that he loved them. He was a huge Phillies baseball fan. In high school our freshman year, I ran cross country with his brother(Steve) and Danny was the team manager. He died later our freshman year. After his passing I wrote Danny’s initials on all my running shoes and during our senior year the team carried him on our uniforms with a patch. I ran the race in memory of them and carried them along to help me through the tough points.
In the middle of training, I always like to have a half marathon fitness test run. On September 15th, I ran the ‘Run for the Green’ half marathon in Davison, NC. I divided the race into 3 segments to get used to the plan using 5 miles/5 miles/5k. The race went great! Plan was executed well. I ended up finishing 3rd overall in the race in a time of 1:27:09. Just the confidence boost I needed to know I was on track.
The week leading up to the race is always stressful and nervous and MCM had an added element – Sandy. I followed the weather forecast closely and wondered if my plans would be ruined by the only thing I could not control, the weather. I got through all the training and hit all the split times; but I was now at concerned that Sandy could destroy it all. Basically got everyone I knew praying the storm to hold off and made the decision that I was going after the time I had trained for no matter the conditions.
Got to Arlington without a problem on Friday and took in the expo and some DC sites, including the newer WW2 memorial. On Saturday, I went to the schedule RW Challenge activities, a morning shakeout run and an evening strategy session. On the shakeout run we did a loop of The Mall in DC, getting a good view of a lot of the monuments. After the run, I talked with Amby Burfoot, winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon, about strategy and getting to Boston. During the strategy session the RW editors (Bart Yasso, Dave Willey, Jen Van Allen, and Jeff Dengate) were joined by the MCM race director, Rick Nealis. They went over the race logistics, race strategy, and shared experiences. Rick Nealis shared stories of the past races from 9/11 to Oprah to what it takes to put the race on. In between those RW activities I drove as much of the course as I could to get familiar with it.
After the strategy session, I went back to the hotel and had a pasta buffet dinner with Michelle and Kaitlyn. I did not sleep well Saturday night and ended up waking up slightly before my schedule alarm time of 4:30AM. I got dressed, grabbed my pre-packed bag, and prepared my bagel and peanut butter. I ate the bagel as I walked to the Metro for a ride to the Pentagon. Checked my phone for the weather update and it looked like it was going to be a good day for running with a little wind, tremendously better forecast then just 12 hours prior. God had come through yet again for me! Got on the Metro at 5:20AM and arrived at the Pentagon to walk to the Runner’s Village. The walk ended up being about a mile around the Pentagon to the Village and the RW Challenge tent; where we had our bathrooms, food, chairs and tables, and cover from what wind there was. In the tent I was able to relax and talk with other challengers. If I didn’t need any more inspiration, Kenny Culbertson (a fellow Lexington Running Club member and an active duty soldier in the Middle East) posted on my Facebook that he would be running the MCM forward race on 11/3 at 7500 feet with hills. Kinda puts everything in perspective doesn’t it. I sat with Scott Alder, from Portland, OR, who became a good friend through training. Our conversation helped keep me distracted and relaxed. Before going out to the start line Scott and I prayed for safety, the weather, speed, and that we would enjoy the day. Very calming!
As I walked out to the starting line, 1,586.6 training miles logged, the national anthem was started. Everyone stopped and the Marines saluted. That is when I knew this was truly a different race.
Got to the start area and stood with Jeff Dengate, Robert Reese (Executive Producer, Runner’s World Online), and Chuck Baker (fellow challenger); towards the front of the 23,000+ other participants. We were near a British Marine who was wearing an EOD suit weighing 75 pounds, in memory of the casualties from the IEDs in the Middle East.
We slowly moved closer to the start line and then we were off with a Howitzer blast. You not only here the start, but you feel it.
First Segment started – First 10 miles
During mile 1, the course ran alongside Arlington Cemetery with a slight uphill. I would run this part of the course again in the last mile of the race. During the early miles the goal was to keep everything under control and not ruin my chance of a good day. The uphill and the running crowd helped me with that. Mile 2 took me through Rosslyn and by our hotel. Michelle and Kaitlyn were there to cheer me on up a decent sized hill. Gave Michelle a high five and told her I would see her in 25 miles. Through mile 4 the crowds were large and supportive. Got Gatorade and stayed on pace well, as I was just about 5 seconds ahead. Got next to Jeff and Robert in mile 4 and we discussed how the 3:15 pace group that was ahead of us had gone out too quickly, as they were running about 7:20 pace. Also during this time, I noticed that the Clif blocks I had in my pockets for fueling had fallen out. I was down to 6 blocks, when I needed 15 for the race. Normally this would have completely thrown me off, but surprisingly I stayed calm and figured out that I would conserve the blocks I had and have to use the gels provided during the race. Mile 5 had a decent uphill to the Key Bridge and a water stop. I took 2 blocks and water while crossing the bridge into Georgetown. I was about 15 seconds ahead of pace, so wanted to keep it under control. Mile 6 was slightly downhill along the Potomac River. I worked to stay controlled as I passed the 3:15 pace group and I would not see them again. Mile 7 continues along the river and then makes a 175 degree right hand turn up a hill. Not a terrible hill, just a good steady climb. I worked hard to stay in a rhythm and not push the effort. At top of the hill hit mile 8 and got Gatorade. I was about 20 seconds ahead of pace. The course flattened out along a reservoir where we reached mile 9 and I fueled with 2 blocks and water. During this mile the course overlaps and we could see runners going out to loop the reservoir. I saw Denise Medd (a fellow challenger) and the British Marine in the EOD suit. He was walking at this point, as I am sure they were monitoring his heart rate. The course passes by the Key Bridge and goes into downtown Georgetown. Crowds started to pick up and were very supportive. Here I also realized the last of my Clif blocks were gone and I would be completely dependent on the race fuel. Somehow I was OK with this and it did not throw me off my game. We took a right and hard downhill out of Georgetown to a Rock Creek Parkway along the Potomac. I started my adjusted fueling strategy by taking an orange slice just before passing the backside of the Lincoln Memorial. First segment of ten miles completed about 50 seconds under pace.
Start segment 2 – Middle 10 miles
The crowds were large as we passed behind the back of the Lincoln Memorial during mile 11. Being roughly 1 minute ahead of pace, I wanted to get into a smooth comfortable pace and maintain a level effort on the flat part of the course ahead, around Hains Point and The Mall. During mile 12 the course entered the park on Hains Point. In this mile along the left side of the road the ‘Wear Blue: Run to Remember’ group was setup. They are “a running group that serves as a living memorial to the Service and Sacrifice of the American Military.” The group started as individuals who used running to cope for the loss of their military spouses. The group had setup photos of the lost spouses and followed this by a group of them standing alongside the road holding American flags. My words here cannot do justice to the sight, as it had to be experienced. Needless to say not a word was said in this area as I passed, all that could be heard was the patter of running feet. Very emotional and humbling. As we continued through to mile 13 there was very little crowd. I grabbed a Razz Clif Shot gel and downed it with water. As the course turned a 180 left at the southern tip of Hains Point, I passed the 13.1 timing mat in 1:35:35, 55 seconds ahead of scheduled pace (136:30). The pace was feeling comfortable and I was feeling as though I had started to get into a rhythm. As the course returned towards downtown DC, I started to experience a good crosswind, but not too bad. Later after the race other runners would tell me that the crosswind got very strong and was pushing them around. Crowds started to grow during mile 16 as the course brought me back towards the Lincoln Memorial. I took on Gatorade just after mile 16 and made the 180 right turn at the Lincoln Memorial, getting high (really low) fives from three children on the turn (love their smiling faces and encouragement!). I passed a runner who had ‘FAITH’ on the back of it, which helped refocus my mind. I was continuing to feel good in my pace and noticed that I was passing a lot of runners and that none had passed me for a few miles. In mile 18, I took a TriBerry Gu from a spectator and downed it with water. Thank God he was there with fuel as I was starting to wonder how I would get through the last 8 miles without fuel. The crowds lining The Mall were incredible as I ran towards the Capitol building. The course turned in front of the Capitol and returned down the opposite side of The Mall, in front of the Air and Space Museum. Took in Gatorade at mile 19 and continued along The Mall until the coursed turned towards the 14th street bridge into Crystal City. Second segment of middle ten miles complete just before the Jefferson Memorial about 90 seconds ahead of pace. I was beginning to feel good about going sub 3:15 and getting my BQ time, but wanted to stay focused and keep pushing for the 3:10, as I did not want to get lax and lose the BQ.
Start third segment – 10K
The crowds were still strong at the beginning of mile 21 as I passed the Jefferson Memorial, but they dissipated as I got onto the 14 street bridge. Miles 21 and 22 felt long as I continued on the bridge, mostly alone, with the wind at my back. Took Gatorade at mile 22 after descending of the bridge into Crystal City. The crowds in Crystal City were AWESOME, as the course took me on a slight downhill to the turn at 23rd street. I was continued to feel pretty good, as a little hamstring fatigue started to settle in; not unexpected after 22+ miles. Passed mile 23 and made the run around the block. Turning back towards the Pentagon, I hit an unexpected hill, but was able to grind it out. I grabbed some Gatorade as I climbed onto Washington Blvd. at mile 24 about 60 seconds ahead of pace. I was starting to give a little time back, so I tried to stay focused and push through. I was continuing to pass a lot of other runners without getting passed. Washington Blvd. is an elevated road that passes along the west side of the Pentagon. The course is on the boulevard for about three quarters of a mile and today it was straight into the growing wind. The boulevard also passes next to the part of the Pentagon that got destroyed on 9/11 and the memorial that is now there. This is the last year the course will pass on this side of the Pentagon, due to security reasons the race director had informed us the previous night. I just tried to keep effort as I worked through the wind. Knowing I was in the last 2 miles helped as I focused on the time remaining if I kept pace. I knew I was giving time back for the 3:10 goal, but pushed hard as I needed to keep the gap for the 3:15 BQ goal. I thought of my grandfather, Danny, and Kenny as I hit this harder section and used their inspiration to help get me through. I continued to pass others and tried to use them to block the wind when possible. I descended of the boulevard at mile 25 and the course returned to the starting section, a slight long uphill. Not really an accommodating finish, but would a Marine Corps Marathon be a Marine Corps Marathon without a challenging finish! I pushed on with everything I had, now counting the laps on a high track left in the race….just 5 laps….4 more laps….3 more laps….just 2 laps!!! As I got to mile 26, where you turn left onto Marshall Avenue leading to the finish at the Iwo Jima Memorial, I could hear Michelle and Kaitlyn cheering for me. Then I turned left….They should call it Marshall MOUNTAIN Avenue!!! Fortunately Kaitlyn jumped out of the crowd and started to run me up the hill. As she pumped her arms and yelled encouragement at me, I felt lighter and easier on the hill. I know I would have eventually made it up the hill without her, but she definitely made it easier and it is a lasting memory that I will never ever forget as her encouragement carried me up the hill!! We crowned to top of the hill and Kaitlyn tailed off as she returned to Michelle, with a nod and ‘Good job’ from a Navy Corpsman. The course made a slight right turn and the finish line came into sight. I crossed under the finish banner and stopped my watch. I looked down and the display read 3:10:09. Right on my 3:10 goal and a BQ!!!!!
After finishing the race, a Marine 2nd Lieutenant placed the finishers medal around my neck and stepped back and saluted my, saying ‘Congratulations Sir’. Just an amazing and humbling experience. I went and got my picture taken with the Iwo Jima Memorial in the background. During the long walk back; Marines handed me food, water, Gatorade, a wind jacket, etc. It was about a mile or two walk back to the Runner’s World post race party at Artisphere in Rosslyn. Again the Runner’s World Challenge proving its worth as I got my bag without waiting in line, got a massage, changed clothes, and had access to food; all in the time other runners still were waiting for their bags. And, where else could I BQ and then shake the hand of Boston Marathon champion Amby Burfoot?!?!? It was awesome to hang out as other RW Challengers came in and to talk with them about their race. I cannot say anymore about how awesome the RW Challenge experience truly is.
I do not think that any race can match the experience of the Marine Corps Marathon. The atmosphere is tremendous, with all the Marine volunteers and the setting of Washington DC. The crowds were awesome and supportive.
My split times for the race were (5k splits):
5K – 23:06
10K – 45:55 (22:49)
15K – 1:08:26 (22:31)
20K – 1:30:43 (22:17)
Half – 1:35:35
25K – 1:52:42 (21:59)
30K – 2:14:49 (22:07)
35K – 2:37:11 (22:22)
40K – 2:59:59 (22:48)
Finish – 3:10:09
I ran a 1:01 negative split (1:35:35/1:34:34).
My time of 3:10:09 qualifies me for the April 21st 2014 running of the Boston Marathon.
I ended up finishing 327th out of 23,529 overall.
I was 297th out of 13,525 males, and finished 43rd out 2,145 on the 35-39 male age group.
Time to start planning for Boston!!!
(More pictures to be added)