It was September 2016 when I realized that I wanted to run in a marathon. It was something that I had thought about over the past year or so. On or about this day I decided that I would commit to doing it. The race I decide to run was the annual Marine Corp Marathon.
So I started looking into what I needed to do in order to make it happen. One of the first things that I learned was that September is too late in the year to enter the Marathon for the most part. In fact, I learned that it’s something that you need to sign up for in March. And even then, there were no guarantees because it is a lottery system.
The below quote was taken from the official website FAQ.
“How does the Lottery work?
Beginning on March xx, 20xx, runners may register for the Lottery on the MCM website. This opportunity concludes on March xx. Registration for the lottery does not guarantee an entry in the MCM. On March xx, those runners selected to fill the field will be notified by email.
There were other options such as joining a charity which at the time, I decided against because most of them had fundraising requirements that I was not sure that I could meet. So I decided to wait until the following year – March 2017 – to register. In the meantime, I begin to train. I was not sure what would be required to train for a marathon but I did know that it would require a lot of regular running.
Unfortunately, the lottery didn’t work in my favor so I turned to a charity for a bib – a runners number needed to participate in the marathon. There were many charities to choose from. I decided to go with the Organization for Autism Research. I ultimately was able to secure a bib, thereby obtaining a place as a runner for the Marine Corp Marathon for 2017.
So I started doing some research online and found many useful resources and training recommendations. I decided that I would trial a couple and let my body tell me which one was the right one. Before I started, I knew it would be important to track my activities. I decided to use my mobile phone along with the native Samsung Health app.
I ultimately settled on a program that required running 5 or more miles on Saturday and Sunday, no running on Mondays and Fridays, and 3, 4, and 5 miles on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I would then gradually increase these runs by a half-mile or more each week for about 6 months ending about 10 days before the marathon.
I want to be clear that I had been running about 5 days a week for around 5 years prior to deciding to run a marathon. Point being, that I did not start out with such a program and would not recommend it for a beginner.
In fact, I would say that you should be comfortable walking long distances before you consider running. I would go one step further and state that you should be able to run 3 miles without stopping before considering this type of training.
Marathon / Race Day
So race had day arrived. It was about 5 am or so on October 22, 2017. The weather was decent for running. The forecast was sunny and around 70 degrees or so. The recommendation to runners was to arrive as early as possible. I turned on the television and local news stations were reporting that many runners had already arrived.
My family and I had to park at a parking garage where we took a shuttle bus to the actual starting line. Upon arrival, we had to walk about one mile to a security checkpoint. Once we reached and cleared that checkpoint, runners and observers were sent into different areas. with the exception of my running shorts, shirt, and shoes, I removed all of the additional clothing and handed it to my wife. It was now game time.
As I move closer to the starting line, I began to hear a voice over a speaker giving instructions and counting down to start time. The number of people that I could see began to grow. The official count of runners was approximately 28,000. Once I arrived at the starting line the start cannon was fired. However, there were so many people that I was about 100 yards from the from of the line.
Running the Marathon
With the exception of the distance, and what I’d seen and read about, I was not sure what to expect from the run. But, I felt that I was prepared for whatever was going to come my way. After the initial cannon was fired, the runners – in the front of the line – took off running.
Now I want to point out that this was not like what you may have seen on television, where it appears that everyone starts running at the same time. It was more like a slow walk to the starting line and then you had enough space to actually start running.
Being about 100 yards back, I could see the body of runners in front of me slowly beginning to move as they walked toward the starting line. Believe it or not – it took about 35 minutes after the cannon was fired – before I reached the actual starting line.
Once I started running, I felt pretty good. By far, one of the things that I will probably remember the most about this experience will be the large number of people cheering and encouraging all of the runners. This was something that was consistent not only at the start but throughout the race until I reached the finish line.
I basically ran at a pace that I trained for and didn’t take a drink of water until I completed my first 10 miles. During this time and throughout the race, I observed people vomiting, running into the woods to use to relieve themselves, limping, falling down, and suffering various injuries.
Around the time that I reached mile 13, I had started drinking from the container that I was carrying, in addition to taking the Gatorade and water that was being handed to the runners by people manning tables along the route. I started thinking about the term “Beat the Bridge” which I learned about while training. “Beat the Bridge” basically means that in order to finish the race, you must reach a specific place on the route by 115 pm. That place is the 14th st bridge.
By the time I reached mile 16, I began asking myself questions. The primary one – Why did you want to do this? – I stayed focused and pushed through. Right around this time, I started hearing music. As I continued to run, I noticed a live band playing on the side of the route. Yes, a live band with instruments and singers. There were actually multiple points along the route where this was a thing. This was a welcoming change from the constant number of cowboys that spectators with ringing. It was all welcome support though.
Around mile 19, I saw a group of people holding large signs with images of their family members that had been lost in combat while serving in the Marine Corp and other Armed Forces. This was probably one of the most memorable moments of the race.
At mile 20, I had reached the 14th st bridge and was running at a pace around 30 minutes faster than needed at that point. In other words, I had Beat the Bridge! That was about the time that I felt I could not only finish but finish strong even though there were still 6.2 miles left.
As I began to cross the infamous 14th st bridge into Arlington, VA, I was doing more walking than running. I was tired but not exhausted. And where previously I had not accepted anything that was being handed to me along the route, now I was accepting, orange slices, Gatorade, Coca-Cola, and more.
You see, what you do not see on TV is that a lot of people walk and run. You probably also don’t know that as long as you can maintain an overall pace of a 13-mile minute for 26 miles then you can probably finish the race. I am not saying that it is easy for everyone but it’s a different perspective from the runners that make the news.
You know the ones that finish in less than 3 hours. Those guys and women are professional runners and likely spend most of their time training. Some have sponsors that pay them to train as a job. So do not feel bad if you don’t win the marathon.
I finished the Marathon
I accomplished my goal which was to finish the race. My time was 5 hours and 35 minutes. not bad for first-time runners in my age group.