Can I get a OORAH?!

A few weeks ago, I ran my 10th marathon at the 2016 Marine Corps Marathon. It was my second MCM, and I’d planned out my race calendar this year so that it would be #10, because MCM holds a very special place in my heart and I knew that it would be the perfect event to mark my milestone double-digit marathon. The whole weekend totally lived up to my (admittedly high) expectations!

My parents arrived in DC on Thursday evening before the race. Mom was there two years ago when I ran MCM the first time, and has come down for a few other DC races this year too, but this was Dad’s first time witnessing Marine Corps. On Friday afternoon, we went over to National Harbor, MD, for the expo. I was a little nervous about the expo being out there, since it’s usually held in DC at a Metro-accessible location, and not only is there no way to take public transit to National Harbor, there’s basically only one road going to it, so traffic can get pretty ugly during big events. But the Marines know their stuff, and it was surprisingly easy to get out there. I had the benefit of having my parents’ car at our disposal, but there were also frequent shuttle buses going there from three different Metro stations around DC. Traffic was surprisingly efficient thanks to the many, many police officers out there directing cars.

We walked into the Gaylord hotel and made our way downstairs to the HUGE expo space. I could already feel the energy that is (in my experience) unique to MCM.

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My first “Oorah” spotting of the weekend!

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There were young Marines all over the place working at the expo, and we said hi to a couple of them greeting people at the entrance and thanked them for their service. And I got a selfie with them!

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I’d been challenged to get as many pictures with the handsome young Marines as I could, so I was just trying to do as requested.

Mom had been to the 2014 MCM expo with me, but Dad was completely blown away by the size of the space and the number of vendors and races and foundations and military nonprofits in attendance. Of course there were the usual photo opportunities:

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There is an entire section of the expo that is the official Brooks race merchandise store, and is probably about the size of all five Pacers running stores (my LRS) combined. I come by my unabashed love of souvenirs naturally, so both of my parents were just as excited about getting their “MCM Support Crew” tshirts as I was about getting my official event jacket. The line to check out of the Brooks store is like something out of your worst Disneyland nightmares, but either the Marines or Brooks made even the line fun by having a hydration station about 1/3 of the way through, serving Gatorade and everything!

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There were even encouraging signs cheering us on:

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And a finish line with chocolate medals!

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So fun!

After walking down every aisle of the expo to make sure we didn’t miss anything, we headed back to my apartment to relax and made signs for my parents to hold up on race day.

Mom’s and my handiwork:

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We had a delicious dinner at an Italian place in Georgetown, then I went home, got Flat Caitlin ready, and went to bed.12-flat-caitlin

Not too many hours later, the alarm went off and I jumped out of bed with my usual race-day energy! If only I could be that perky on the average Tuesday…

This was a special race day though, and that made it even more fun. It was my tenth marathon, which kind of blows my mind when I think back (not that long ago) to when I was struggling to get through Couch to 5K, and running for 10 minutes straight was SO HARD. And because I’d just run the Hartford Marathon a few weeks earlier, and that had been a hard effort rewarded with a big PR, I had ZERO time goals for Marine Corps. Literally none. For the first time EVER in a marathon. Or nearly any race for that matter. Even in races when I’m not necessarily trying to PR, I’ve almost always had a time I wanted to be under, or a pace I wanted to maintain, either because of my own self-consciousness or because that race was a building block in the training plan for another race. But not this time! It was going to be warm and beautiful on race day (too warm for people going for PRs – sorry guys), but that meant that the spectators would be out in force, and it would be a wonderfully comfortable day to run at an easy pace, take walks breaks whenever I felt like it, and soak up every single minute of this incredible event. To that end, for the first time in a race I would be running with my phone so that I could stop and take pictures along the way. I figured that I’d enjoy having those moments captured, but it would also force me to stop and take breaks even if I was feeling good. With the Philly half and then the Rehoboth full in the weeks following MCM, I didn’t want to accidentally go too hard and wear myself out more than necessary. So if you thought I had a lot of pictures from the expo, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Mom and Dad dropped me off at one of the shuttle buses to the runners’ village around 5:30 on race morning. Given the 30,000ish runners needing to get through the security checkpoint at the Pentagon to get into the village, I like to err on the side of getting there way too early. I was rewarded by no line at security, and the freedom to just relax for the next couple of hours in the unseasonably warm pre-dawn air.13-runners-village

I wandered around the village a bit, and attended one of the pre-race prayer services put on by the Marine chaplain. Turns out he’d only moved to DC the week before, and got about 3 days’ notice that he’d be in charge of doing the tradition pre-marathon prayer service. It was really nice though, and like in 2014, it was a really calming way to go into the race.

There were no fewer than 45 UPS trucks for bag check:14-bag-check-trucks

I also found the Howitzer that serves as the starting gun. Because Marines.

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As we started to migrate from the runners’ village in the Pentagon parking lot to the start corrals over on the highway, the sun finally started to come up.

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Then, as is tradition, we were treated to a flyover by Osprey helicopters!

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There was actually a small plane that flew over us first, but upon further observation, it appeared that it was just a normal shuttle plane on its way to land at National Airport. But I swear it flashed its headlight at us as it flew over the start area! A couple runners near me back me up with that.

A few more trips to the portajohns later, it was finally time to line up!

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Given the crowds, it wasn’t a quick start. But that’s ok, because it gave me a chance to grab a picture of going under the start line arch!

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Shortly past the arch, there were Marines on the side of the road holding the flags of all the countries represented by runners this year. So cool!

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I did eventually put my phone away and focused on running for bit. The weather was absolutely perfect for a fun, easy long run and the spectators were fantastic! So much cheering! So many signs! The energy was absolutely contagious.

Around mile 8ish, there was a Marine band playing on the steps behind the Lincoln Memorial.21-marine-band

Along with taking pictures of the race, I also wanted to get some good race pictures of myself. So of course I was cheesing for every photographer I saw.22-number-ten-2

Number 10!!

As the course enters the Hains Point peninsula south of the Lincoln Memorial, runners come to what I think is the most difficult, humbling, and meaningful couple miles of the race: the Blue Mile. This is a 1.5-2-mile stretch that is organized by the Wear Blue: Run to Remember organization. It was lined with 300 pictures of servicemen and -women who have given the last full measure of devotion. The pictures were in chronological order, starting with men who were killed in the mid-1960s and ending with men and women who gave their lives earlier this year.23-blue-mile-1

It’s incredibly moving to run by these courageous individuals, especially seeing how very many of them were younger than I am now.

What really humbles me though is the next mile, where the Wear Blue families line the street holding American flags and cheering us on:24-blue-mile-2

These families have all lost a loved one, and yet they are here cheering *us* on and thanking us for being there?! Tears were streaming down my face by the end of that mile, and I’m tearing up again just recalling the feeling of saying “thank you” and trying to high-five every Wear Blue family member on my side of the road.

I managed to compose myself over the next mile or so, as there were still about 14 miles to go. A while later, I stopped at a couple of young Marines and asked to take a picture with them. I think they were a little surprised, but they were good sports.

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I thanked them for the picture and for their service and kept running. By this point it was maybe mile 15ish, but I was feeling good and having such an amazing time.

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Around mile 18ish, we came to the National Mall and I saw my parents cheering! It was good to stop and say hi to them, and get some extra water from the bottle they had since the day was heating up and I was between aid stations.

I also ended up with a really cool triple Marathon Maniac picture in front of the Capitol! I think the two in front were together, and didn’t know I was behind them with my coordinating hat, but I’m so glad the photographer captured this:27-triple-maniacs

Say what you will about the people who work inside it, but the Capitol sure is a pretty building. I run past it at least once a week, but it’s still so cool to go by it in this race.28-capitol-dome

Mile 19ish is when runners have to “beat the bridge”: in order to open the DC roads back up in compliance with the permits, everyone has to be across the 14th Street Bridge by a certain time. In perfect recognition of this milestone on the course, the Batala DC drum group was stationed right at the entrance to the bridge.29-batala-drum-group

They are one of my absolute favorite DC musical groups. They’re an all-female Afro-Brazilian percussion group, and they play the most energetic, up-beat, can’t-stop-yourself-from dancing music. I was so excited to see/hear them during the race!

Once we got across the bridge, we entered the Crystal City part of Arlington, VA. I remembered the spectators there being awesome in 2014, and that’s where I saw VBlevins and Colonel Cupcake that year! This year, the crowds were even bigger! There were lots of people handing out orange wedges, and one hugely-appreciated woman with a huge cooler full of ice cubes! It was straight-up hot by this point, and I shoved as many ice cubes as I could down my bra. It gave me fun flashbacks to doing the same thing with a couple of freinds in the Los Angeles Marathon in February.

I knew from 2014 that there is traditionally an unofficial aid station around mile 23 handing out beer and munchkins, and I was really hoping they’d be there again. I wasn’t disappointed! Mile 23 beer stop:30-mile-23-beer-stop

After that, there were only a few miles left but they were through the least scenic part of the course, so I was ready to just get it done. I was tired by this point (duh), but still felt good and was happy at how relatively steady my pace had been. I knew that if I maintained that pace, I’d finish a little bit under my time from 2014 (when that MCM was only my second marathon!). Knowing that I could run easy, take walk breaks, goof around with pictures, and still finish faster than the year when I’d run the whole race at a pretty hard-for-me-then pace felt pretty darn good.

I pushed down the final stretch up highway and made the left turn to “take the Iwo” and climb that final nasty hill:31-final-hill

I high-fived the Marine standing in the middle of the road just before the finish line arch, and crossed the line with the biggest goober smile on my face (to borrow a phrase from a favorite running shero)!

I high-fived the gauntlet of Marines lining the finish chute and thanked them all for their service, and then got my medal from a badass female Marine.

There were photographers ready and waiting to get our pictures in front of the spectacular Iwo Jima Memorial:32-medal-and-iwo-jima-memorial

I made my way through the food line and out towards where I’d be able to meet my parents. Another runner and I traded off taking each other’s pictures in front of the “Mission Accomplished” wall:33-mission-accomplished

I took another selfie with more friendly young Marines:

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I finally found my parents after what seemed like ever. The situation wasn’t helped much by the fact that cell phone calls wouldn’t go through, and text messages were on a pretty long delay. While I was waiting for them to get to where I was, I took my obligatory medal selfie:36-medal-selfie

After we reunited, my dad took a picture of me with more Marines, one of whom was working the Toys for Tots collection bin and looked very snazzy:35-post-race-dressed-marines

I took close-up pictures of the medal after getting home, because it is super cool-looking:

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Final race results:39-results-screenshotI’m pretty happy with how symmetrical my pacing was. I think the section where I sped up in the middle was the second half of Hains Point where it’s boring and there was nothing for me to take pictures of.

I finished in 4:23:30 officially, about 2 minutes faster than my 2014 time. I felt awesome pretty much the whole race, which was a lovely change from Hartford where I thought I’d die after mile 18. And I enjoyed every minute of the day. It was exactly what I was hoping for for my return to MCM and marathon #10. I just can’t say enough good things about this entire event. The US Marine Corps sure knows how to put on a race. After this experience, I definitely want to run MCM again in future years, but I don’t think I ever want to have a time goal for this race. There’s just too much to enjoy along the way!