Finish time: 5:05:24
Splits: 2:12:49 (half); 2:47:11 (end)
Total elevation gain: 983 feet
Placing: 12237 out of 20713 (overall)
7278 out of 11158 (male)
1211 out of 1760 (male division)
Goal 1: PR [under 4:30:00] (No)
Goal 2: Under 4:00:00 (No)
Goal 3: Under 3:50:00 (No)
Retroactive goal to make myself feel better: Have fun, be thankful, and finish (kind of, yes, and yes)
Expo: 3 out of 3
Course difficulty: 1 out of 3 (hometown race)
Crowd participation: 3 out of 3 (incredible crowd nearly the entire race)
Organization: 2 out of 3 (long walks to the start, long walks after the race is over, otherwise great)
Overall experience (result agnostic): 3 out of 3
Overall experience: (result considered): 1 out of 3 (can I say 0?)
When I limped across the finish line of the 2018 Marine Corps Marathon, over five hours after starting, wrapping up my worst marathon finish time ever, I came to a realization. One of the beauties of running this distance is its brutal honesty. You can train or not train. You can have a race day plan or not. You can push yourself or hold back. You can have your own motivations for running, bring your family and friends to cheer you along. You can run alone. You can pray for good weather. You can, you can, you can. But at the end of the day, the task at hand is simple: 26.2 miles between the start and finish, get there as fast as possible. To have a good run, you have to execute on race day, and nothing else matters.
This one will stay with me.
I’ll be honest, I’m considering not running another marathon. This experience was a kick in the pants. And that’s not for the usual “never again right after the race, but sign up for your next one two days later” kind of psychology. It’s the fact that I was the most prepared for this race than any other I’ve done at any other distance, and I ended up with a personal worst time. I think back to all the preparation I have done over 18 weeks–the multiple 4am runs on the Mall. 5:30 Saturday AM runs when I could be sleeping. The humid AF running in Key West. The 14 miles I did on a Sunday evening AFTER hosting friends for a summer BBQ. Running in DC with a hometown advantage. Running in South Carolina, and Rochester, and Reston. Running on vacation and during lunch at work. Running in the rain. Running at 10pm on the “dreadmill” at Vida. Sweaty DC summer runs. Two 20 milers. All to prepare for this.
There’s a line of thought in Vedanta Yoga, Buddhism, and Hinduism that the way that you start your day will largely dictate how your day will turn out. I’ve done five marathons now, and for the week before this race, it just felt different. It felt off. On Monday, I was riding an electric Lime scooter and I wiped out really hard on 4th street. When I got up, I was sure that my hand and arm were broken, but they were not. I ended up with deep cuts on my arm and leg, and though I couldn’t bend my left hand, I was still ok to run. On Saturday afternoon, I had a bout of heartburn or indigestion or some other GI issue that even after the race still has not gone away. So, I took it easy that afternoon and evening, but the pain continued to Sunday morning. The journey to the start line was harried even though I had planned it out well this year. The early miles felt heavy and never went away, the stomach issues persisted and got stronger. I kind of felt like I was bad dreaming my way through the run, not entirely experiencing a lot of it.
But perspective is important. One takeaway, failure is an opportunity to learn, and you have to take your lumps when you get them. There are no guarantees. You have to expect, or at least consider, that in spite of all your preparation, you can still miss your goals spectacularly. So it reframes the idea of preparation in your mind and bifurcate the failure/success of the preparation from the failure/success of the result.
Another takeaway, failure is relative. So I ran a terrible race. On the subjective front, I’m really bummed about it. On the objective view, big f’ing deal. Before the run, I wrote on my bandaged left hand: “For those who can’t. For yourself. For Mini.” I think about the people who cannot do this even if they wanted to. The young woman killed while running in DC, those sick with a terminal illness, friends and family who have passed. If there’s ever a run to keep perspective in mind, it’s this one. Especially when you run through the Blue Mile at the halfway mark and see pictures of the young men and women killed in action, many of whom at such a young age. When you see service men running the 26.2 with full packs, or a firefighter dressed in a full uniform running the marathon, or a parent pushing their disabled child the distance.
At mile 18, as I ran down Constitution Avenue, I started tearing up with joy in the middle of my crappy race. The crowd there was incredible. It was a moment of realization I have in every marathon. Complete strangers are running together and complete strangers are cheering them on. It’s just such a basic concept–people lifting each other up for no real reason other than just to be there. It gives you so much hope in a world that seems to be growing increasingly hopeless amplified by my own growing pessimism as I get older. It’s for that moment of hope, that’s why I run. I run for more than just finish times.
But here is the cruel reality of where I stand. After I PRed my first marathon, my finish times have gotten progressively worse. And looking from the macro lens, it’s been an incredible commitment for the glory of missing my goals.
Marathons are incredibly honest, and this one gave me an honest life lesson. Sometimes things just won’t work out.
So, onwards and upwards I suppose. I am going to regroup and see what my plan is. But boy, this one sure was disappointing.
How far back to go? On Saturday afternoon, at around 2pm, I started feeling “off.” Had some heartburn that escalated quickly during the day. I ate a light dinner because I couldn’t keep anything down. I started my tradition of watching “Cast Away” but didn’t finish it all. It seems like the foreshadowing was all there.
Before the start
I woke up early, and still felt funny, but slightly better. I ate a banana and drank some milk, hoping the pit in my stomach would go away, but it kind of persisted. I figured that it was just residual pain from Saturday + some slight anxiety, and headed off to get to the start line.
I drove to the Court House metro and parked my car there. But then I realized that I needed a not-to-be mentioned item from CVS, so I was looking for one at 6am. By the time I purchased said item, I headed to the metro at around 6:45. Here’s where another bizarre morning event happened. I knew that I had to take the Blue line to the start, so I figured I’d ride the Orange to Rosslyn and then switch. When I was on the Orange Line train, there were some 10K runners and some full runners. The 10K started downtown, so the Orange would take you there, but not to the full start. And for some reason, due to the strange power of group think, I almost didn’t get off the train to catch the blue line. And when I did, I told some other runners on the train that we had to get off and they didn’t listen. Group think, such a powerful thing.
Anyway, I ended up catching the Blue Line, but by then it was already 7:20 or so, and I knew I’d miss the start. If I hadn’t had my CVS issue, I would have made it with plenty of time. But I didn’t get through security when the starting gun went off. The race started at 7:55, I crossed the start at around 8:15. Again, the idea of how you start the day may dictate how your day will turn out.
Start of the race, miles 1-4: “too crowded”
10:41 min/mile; 9:33; 10:05; 9:16
After doing four marathons, I knew the mantra: “don’t start out too fast.” I was anticipating running at right around an 8:30 to 9 min/mile pace, so “too fast” meant starting out anywhere below that. My plan was to do the first two miles at 10 mins, the next two at 9:30, and then ramp up from there. But because of the late start, I was stuck in the back. I know it was crowded for everyone, but I imagine that if I lined up in the correct corral group, the crowd would have cleared up sooner than it did for me.
Usually when I run, the first two miles feel a bit slow and then at mile 3 it starts to feel better. This one never felt right from the start, and never got better as I increased my pace. Even when I got to around 9 a mile, my stomach still wasn’t relenting. Deep down, I knew that wasn’t coming together for me that day, I could tell early on.
This part was a bit hilly but nothing too bad. I’ve been doing hill repeats on pretty much all of my training runs, so none of the hills on this course were daunting.
Miles 5-8: “good until it wasn’t”
9:20; 9:00; 9:24; 9:16
I decided to try and push my stomach issue out of my mind and continue with my plan. I hovered around 9ish mins a mile, mostly because I couldn’t find a groove with the crowd. I was getting frustrated because right out the bat my race plan had been shredded.
I’ve run these miles many time, it crosses the Key Bridge and winds up to Georgetown and back up Rock Creek Parkway. This was a hometown course for me.
Miles 9-12: “uh-oh, and try to catch up”
16:13; 8:49; 9:14; 8:57
Mile nine is when my stomach issue took a turn. I stopped and “took care of business.” Without divulging too much disgusting details, I basically barfed here. Strangely, I wasn’t dehydrated–my stomach just couldn’t keep down anything sugary or citrus-y, so I was having an incredibly hard time replenishing carbs–a problem which would rear it’s head on the last 10k (my plan of takinga GU at 5 mile increments was getting decimated).
Look at those splits. 16:13! At mile nine! This was not a good sign.
Jess and Mini met me at mile 11, which was a much needed boost. I stopped for a few seconds to give some kisses, and then I told Jess that I had to take off because I had just puked and I needed to make up some time. She was planning to see me again at 17 and then again at 19.
Miles 13-16: “I guess I’ll keep going”
9:40; 9:18; 9:48; 9:52
I think I tried another GU somewhere at this point, but almost threw that up when I took it. I tried some Gatorade too with the same end result.
As I was living through my problems, my perspective was knocked back into place as we ran through the Blue Mile. This part of the race was incredibly powerful–seeing the soldiers and service men and women killed in action. It made me feel ridiculous for being so upset with myself–there are bigger tragedies in the world than me not running a race according to plan.
Miles 17-20: “I feel like garbage”
12:20; 12:23; 10:04; 13:07
I started to feel like crap right here. Well, really after the first half ended. This was the most beautiful part of the race, though, and despite how terrible I was feeling physically, I was able to enjoy the crowd support on the National Mall. I met up with Jess and Mini again at Mile 17. Mini would cry every time I would leave her after stopping to give her a kiss. It was so heartbreakingly adorable. Here are a few pictures that captures that. I love this girl so much:
Then I headed into Mile 18 I had a wonderful experience that I mentioned above. Seeing strangers running and supporting and just being all in it together. It gives you an incredible sense of hope.
I met up with Jess again at Mile 19, and it was at that point where I knew I was done. Part of me was considering just stopping, but I pressed on knowing that I’m probably going to walk most of the way. I took another GU and promptly barfed that up too–throw-up number 2 on the race.
Miles 20-26: “All a blur to the end”
13:07; 16:23; 15:18; 14:28; 13:23; 10:44; 17:07; 11:53 (end)
I kind of don’t want to write any more about this race, so I’m not going to. The above mile splits speak for themselves. After I ralphed the second time, I decided that I’m not going to minimize what I put my body through when I’ve obviously had a terrible race day from the start.
At least I can figure out my average walking pace now.
By the time I crossed the finish line, I had already finished my pity party. I was content to get my medal just call it a day. I approached the day with as little judgment as possible. I finished another marathon, and I’m lucky and blessed in so many ways that it isn’t worth my time to beat myself up over a race. Still, the overall experience of this race was of incredible disappointment. I trained so hard for this, and I was incredibly prepared. Things just didn’t work out.
But overall, it’s race number 5 in the books. I wasn’t able to check a state off the list, but that’s ok. At the end of the day, I’m smiling and I’m thankful and optimistic for the lessons that I hope this race will teach me, in running and in life. I will still prepare for challenges ahead of me, I will still work for my best effort, I will celebrate my victories and I will learn from my disappointments.
Finish line pictures and others throughout the day: