Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Return of the Storm: 44th Marine Corps Marathon

For the 2018 Boston Marathon, the weather was cold with heavy rain and a strong head wind. I embraced it, earning the nickname, "The Storm." As the forecast for Marine Corps 2019 came into similar focus, I would have to summon the spirit of "The Storm" I relied upon to set my course PR of 3:08 in Boston in 2018.

My first two Marine Corps Marathons were my first two marathons. That was back in 2004 and 2005. I barely knew what I was doing, but at least I had pretty decent conditions. The 44th Marine Corps Marathon was my fourth and 47th overall (27 different states), and the conditions were was far from the perfect conditions I hope for each race (40s, overcast, no wind or rain). The rain came down in sheets, strong gusts blew me into a near running standstill, and there was standing water, especially around the tip of Hains Point.

The DC Road Runners Club Male Masters Team

I don't control the weather, but I would think I have slightly better luck in 2019: Boston in April was heavy rain prior to the race which I ran injured; and two canceled marathons. When they called for thunderstorms, I worried I would have a third marathon canceled on me (Green Bay in May, Omaha in September). But these are the Marines who call rain "Warrior Sunshine." What looked like perfect weather conditions a week ago devolved into heavy rain, wind, and warm temperatures for the race. How do you have a rain storm in late October that is in the 60s/70s? Doesn't rain makes the weather cooler? Climate change, I suppose, as a late season tropical storm passed through. At least there wasn't thunder or lightning as they predicted.

Running so fast I'm a blur?

This was my fourth Marine Corps Marathon and 47th marathon in my 15 years as a runner. By the numbers, I did pretty well. 3:10:37, 166th overall, 149th male, and 26th male 40-44. Yet, I felt sad because it wasn't good enough for a Boston Qualifier. An arbitrary time, I had a goal to at least get a BQ after my "fantasy" goal of 2:55 was quashed by the weather which produced heavy rain, wind, and temperatures in the 60s with humidity. Breaking 3 was not a reality. In retrospect, I should have just tried for 3:05, but I would rather set an audacious goal and miss than a reasonable goal and feel I could have done better. Yet, as I process my effort, I am starting to feel better. I went and looked at the last ten years of results, comparing how fast the 166th finisher ran and what place 3:10:37 was:

2019 166th place 3:10:37 = my finish
2018 166th place 3:01:27 / 3:10:36 was 293rd
2017 166th place 3:03:03 / 3:10:36 was 254th
2016 166th place 3:06:40 (hottest MCM on record 60s start/70s finish) / 3:10:38 was 217th
NOTE: My 3:08:31 was 186th place.
2015 166th place 3:02:30 / 3:10:40 was 298
2014 166th place 3:03:55 / 3:10:41 was 262
2013 166th place 2:56:27 / 3:10:37 was 467
2012 166th place 3:00:16 / 3:10:37 was 333
2011 166th place 2:58:24 / 3:10:42 was 375
2010 166th place 2:59:18 / 3:10:37 was 389

Also, to compare with others with whom I ran that I found through race photos:

Matt # 224 finished in 3:14:26
James # 870 finished in 3:08:02
Pedro # 805 finished in 3:10:31
William # 4494 finished in 3:35

Two marathoners and a 50K runner

It is funny that ten years ago if you told me I would race MCM or any race in 3:10, I would have been ecstatic. 3:10:37 would have been a BQ in 2009 as the Boston Athletic Association used to give you up to 59 seconds, but they stopped that in 2012. Now, with the tougher standards, even though I'm 40-44 male, it is 40 seconds too slow to qualify and I probably need a 3:08 to assure a spot into Boston 2021. Out of my 47 marathons, it is my 16th fastest, yet is faster than every single marathon I raced prior to September 2011.

Racing in a pack

I lamented my bad luck. I was stuck in my head with woe as me. I was primed for a big PR, but without perfect conditions, I was shooting just for a decent time. These conditions weren't even close to ideal.

Just passed the finish line: defeated and exhausted.

As I warmed up on the start line, my right knee was creaking. Every ache manifested within the final few moments of the gun. And as I got my head in the right place, the howitzer went off and so did the race. The first two miles are directly uphill. I tried to just hold pace and not work too hard - I even tried to ignore the pace. In the second mile, I heard Coach Ed Grant call out to me. In the third mile, it was mostly downhill and I thought I found my pace. But, it was clear going through Georgetown and up Rock Creek that my effort wasn't smooth. In races where I run fast, the effort early feels relaxed and mostly easy. That didn't happen at all this race. It was a grind. I wondered how fit I really was and if I had the mental resolution to complete the race.

Post race

I don't have many memories from the race. I remember arriving in Georgetown and receiving a boost from the DC Road Runner Club water stop. I remember the out and back on Rock Creek where I saw Michael Wardian on his way to winning the 50K. I remember teasing a fan cheering us on as he wore a Flyers jersey - "Did you lose a bet?" He was a good sport. I caught up with a group of runners led by a 20-something male named Reagan (Do you have a brother named Ronald?). He was shooting for a 2:55, so I thought I could hang with this group. I stuck with them past the Kennedy Center and into Hains Point, but they pulled away around the "Wear Blue Mile," featuring "Faces of the Fallen posters and ribbons honoring service members who lost their lives during their years of active duty service." It was a quiet and somber mile along the most isolated stretch of the course. It was also by the halfway point, where I crossed in just under 1:32. I thought I had a good shot of 3:05.

But, I never found my groove. Between heavy rain, head wind that was strong at times, and overall soreness, I was slowing down. Running around the Mall, I thought I could hold a 7 flat, but it started to slip as I ran over 14th Street Bridge. I caught back up to Regan while still over the Potomac. He crossed the half in 1:28, but fell apart and claimed a 3:19 finish. I recall passing the 26.2 mark for the 50K on the bridge and joking with the volunteers as if I was crossing my finish line. In that moment, I wished I had signed up for the 50K. At least I wouldn't be disappointed as I would have been tackling a new challenge. But my race had a little less than 5 miles to go. The part through Crystal City was tough, with a headwind to the turnaround and a body that was getting tight and tired. Somehow, I stood upright. On the final two miles, I gave it everything but I had left it all on the course. When I got to the finish hill, I was barely able to move and didn't have a finish kick. Maybe if the finish were a straightaway, I could have gotten in under 3:10:00.

Family ice cream treat

While I was disappointed I missed a BQ by less than 40 seconds, I have no regrets. I know I left it all out on the course. I tried to hold the best pace possible the final stretch, even reminding myself "I think I can!" There have been races in the past where I left thinking I could have pushed harder at the end. This time, I have no doubt I pushed as hard as I could - I had nothing left. It is a freeing feeling. It was a rough weather day, so I just move on to the next one. Marathon 47 is in the books. When will that next one be? I don't know, but I cannot wait!

My mile splits:
7:00/7:16/6:56/6:29/7:00/6:52/6:53/6:45/6:57/6:55/7:00/7:12/7:05/6:56/7:06/7:10/7:12/7:14/ 7:22/7:36/7:30/7:42/7:31/7:45/7:46/ 8:30 pace for 0.44.

Course timing markers:
Distance Time (Difference)
5K 22:01
10K 42:01 (20:00)
Half 1:31:53 (49:53)
30K 2:11:50 (39:57)
40K 2:59:29 (47:39)
Finish 3:10:37 (11:06)

P.S. I am honored to know Ray Celeste. He spent 26 years as a Marine and has run 28 consecutive Marine Corps Marathons. He works for a North Carolina Representative as his military legislative assistant. He picked up my bib for me and has been helpful including me in the Capitol Hill Running Club. Friday before the marathon, they inducted him into their Hall of Fame. He is an inspiration and a general good guy.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

DC Road Runners Track Championships - Kids Run and Masters Mile

Racing the one mile track race against other 40+ men

After last year's disappointment at the track meet (heavy rain and wind resulting in barely breaking 6), Shawn and I trained again for the mile. For about 5 weeks, we hit the track and attempted to get our speed down to have a shot at a low 5 minute mile. We didn't think we could break 5, but a good showing would be acceptable. Since the meet was the day after my birthday, I was able to successfully ask that Laura attend with Miles, that Miles run the kids race, and that they stay for my race. It was a hot day (90 degrees!) so I really appreciate the two of them dealing with the heat.

Finishing the kids race with Miles

Receiving instruction on the start line

The day of the race, we swam in the pool in the morning. After Miles’ nap, we went to Giant on O to pick up a couple of items and then onto the DCRRC Track Championship which started just after 5PM. Miles entered the kids mile and was the youngest entrant but he looked so cute on the start line with the other kids. He ran one lap before I told him “he won.” Then, he wanted to race me on the infield. I definitely made the right call only letting him run one lap because he was excited to keep running. Pushing him in that heat might have lead to him getting whiny. However, officially, he is listed as DNF. Maybe next year he can finish or at least get two laps.

The start of the kids race

After his race and our mini races, I handed him to Laura and warmed up with three laps around the school. The first two were slow, and Shawn and I ran striders the last lap. After some dynamic stretching, we checked in and got ready for our race. It was a pretty stacked race. Last year's winner was there, and Michael Wardian showed up too. We were slated to start at 6:15 PM. There were 3 heats of elite 800s before us (I thought there were supposed to be 4), and the race walkers, kids run, slow mile over 7:00 men, and slow mile of 7:00 women.

Miles on the starting line
Miles is ready for the kids race
The kids race begins

Miles chases the pack at the start of the kids race
On the start line, I looked back to wave one more time to Miles and Laura. I heard him whine and play tug of war with Laura as he pulled on his backpack. I shook my head and focused on the start of the race, moments away.

At the start of the race, I took off fast to get into the first lane. I was in the first lane at 100 meters and in third place, by mistake. I slowed to a reasonable pace and heard Wardian notify me he was trying to pass on the inside. I stepped to my right, barely into the second lane, to let him go. I settled into fifth place; the fast four took off, and I led the second pack for another 200 meters. Shawn and Bill passed me after the first lap, and I tried to keep them close. I was surprised they didn't take off on me. I remember hitting about 600 meters into the race and the clock showing 2:00. I felt strong and in control, but still a little worried about the heat and what I had in me. When I hit 800 meters to go, the clock was about to hit 2:40. I was about to catch Shawn and Bill. It felt too early to make a move, but my legs surged and I listened to my body. I caught him around 700 meters to go and passed him, perhaps a little too tightly because he kick the underneath of my left foot. I stumbled but didn't fall. I had my excuse if I didn't do well. Every race I collect an excuse just in case. But I wouldn't need it this race.

Shawn on the outside as I held lane 1

With 500 to go, I was asserting my place in the race and trying to put some distance. A good surge could discourage any chasers, I thought, and if someone was to make a move, I would be in position to try to hold them off. The roar of the crowd calling my name gave me the boost I needed to get around once more the lap. With 200 to go, I started my finishing kick. I loudly heard Big Guy cheer me the rest of the way. With 100 to go, I saw Laura and Miles standing at the entrance to the track that was just beyond the finish line.

Leading the second pack

I sprinted for the finish and beat Shawn, good enough to come in 5th overall and the first runner who didn't break 5. I didn't use my running watch, so when I looked at the clock I thought I won in a solid time of 5:17. It wasn't my PR, but I was pleased with my effort. A few days last, I was so surprised and excited to see that I officially ran a 5:07:44 in the mile - a PR by 6 seconds. It was good for 5th place in a stacked lineup where the first four ran sub 5. We can say that we participated in the same track meet where the 4 minute mile was broken for the first time in D.C.

A few days later, I ran the Tidal Basil race. I ran 5:20 in 1500 meters out-kicked my Lokesh Meena. I had led the whole race until the end. It was also hot, and I came out slow and got faster, setting the pace. But he sat on me and picked it up at the end. When he passed me with 20 meters to go, I slowed up, conceding the race and leaving something for the 3K. But, the race was delayed and I had to get back to work.

One last Boston note: I also learned that 705 people had a negative split in Boston, and I was one of them.

Pictures and results:

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Another recap Boston

Boston Marathon - photo recap

The joy of my brother's first Boston

I learned I was one of 705 finishers to run a negative split!