Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Marine Corps Marathon 10k

Last year, Mike and I went down to the Mall to cheer on runners in the Marine Corps Marathon.  And then I learned that they had a 10k that morning as well.  So this year, I decided to run the 10k as a way to participate in the excitement of the weekend in a smaller way.

So the weekend started Saturday morning with the Expo.  The expo is at the Conference Center which is easy to get to via metro.  But in addition, the MCM site offered Parking Panda as an option.  Since metro isn't always so reliable on weekends, I checked out Parking Panda and was able to find a spot half a mile away for $6.  It was super easy to use and that's much cheaper than it would have been for 2 of us to take metro.

We got to the expo around 15 minutes after it opened.  There were separate pick up areas for the 10k and the marathon and the lines were minimal.  The 10k lines were split up by bib number and there was only one person in my line, so score!  We picked up our bibs and then walked down to another section where we were able to pick up our clear plastic bag and shirts.  The shirt lines were split by size and you could decide what size you wanted after looking at the shirts, which was nice.  They seemed to run a bit big.

Though the lines weren't bad in that section, it was really crowded in the official merchandise area.  So we hurried through there and out into the general vendor area.  It was crowded but manageable.  So we wandered through, bought some items (race dots, a bondi band, and a jacket/shrug thing).  We also waited in the KT Tape line since my friend wanted to get her ankle taped.

Race morning I woke up at 4:45 and we left the house around 5:15.  Definitely an earlier morning than I'm used to!  But we didn't want to risk getting stuck in long lines later so we erred on the early side.  We drove down to the city and were able to easily find parking since we got there at 6:10am (race start was at 7:55).  It wasn't raining when we left the car so I decided not to take my hat.  I would regret that decision!

We walked through security and bag search easily as there wasn't much of a line that early.  We checked our bags but thankfully kept our ponchos.  Because about 5 minutes after we checked our bags, it began to rain! There were already port-a-potty lines by 6:30 but they moved really quickly. Around 7, we moved into the start area and lined up in the 1:15-1:20 section as that is where we would be based on our last PR.

So we hung out and chatted for about an hour, listened to the music and the announcer.  It seemed surprisingly low key, maybe because of the rain?  And then all of a sudden, it was time to go! The race starts out with a bit of a loop on the mall past the museums and government buildings.  This is a beautiful, scenic area and I think comprises about the first mile of the course. But it seemed crowded in this whole section.

Then we turned left and headed on to the 14th street bridge.  There are some inclines and declines here but it wasn't too bad since it was the beginning of the race for us.  I'm sure it was a much different proposition for the marathoners. Though the bridge definitely seemed much longer on foot than when driving! The bridge was nice since it seemed to allow people to spread out a bit more.  There was also a really upbeat band on this section that was great.

Next, we took an off ramp into Crystal City a little after the mile 3 marker. This was a fun area and there were a couple spectators cheering already which was nice.  There seemed to be a lot of energy here but it got crowded again.  I also was feeling good this whole time, and passed the mile 3 marker about 20 seconds more than my 5k PR, so that seemed like a good place to be in.

A sea of people in Crystal City

After Crystal City, we were on the highway and headed toward the Pentagon.   I think this was somewhere around mile 4.  We passed the Pentagon and kept on running along the Highway.  This stretch was nice because it opened up again and it wasn't too hilly at all.  And there was a band near the start of the highway. But this was the point where it started to get tough.  I kept telling myself it wasn't meant to be easy and to just keep pushing through.

Once we hit mile 5, there was more music with DJ's and also lots of Marines lining the sides of the road giving high 5's.  That was awesome!  I went for all the high 5's I could get :) I also knew at this point that I was definitely going to get a PR so that was good for the morale as well.  I got a bit of a pick me up but I also wanted to make sure to reserve some for the end since I knew there was a big uphill at the end.

And finally, I saw the mile 6 marker.  And right after that, I saw that the course turned left and there was a giant uphill.  This hill was no joke and it was a little disheartening at first to see that.  But I just put my head down, concentrated on form, and managed to run up the hill.  I passed a lot of people here as a lot of people were walking.  It had gotten really congested again in this section as well. But all the hill training I've been working on this Summer paid off and I crossed the finish line feeling strong. I loved all the excitement in the last .2 mile.

But the crowds made the finish area really congested again.  There were points where we were just at a stand still in the finish area trying to figure out what was going on.  But as we got closer, we realized the hold up was because of the handing out of the medals.  It was slow because a Marine personally shook your hand, put the medal around your neck, and then posed for a photo if you wanted.  So while this slowed things down, it was also one of the cool parts of the race .

Waiting in the crowd to get our medals

After that, people were directed up toward the Iwo Jima Memorial if they wanted an official photo.  We just took a selfie and headed on down the finisher chute.

I love the way they did the post-race food.  It was so organized!  They handed you a clear plastic bag first, which made it so much easier to carry things.  Then full bottles of gatorade and water.  There was a box of food so that was also nice and compact.  There was a banana as well.  I ate the banana since that was easy to do while walking and threw everything else in the bag.  They also gave us actual hooded jackets to wear instead of the mylar blankets, and that was much appreciated.  The rain had stopped at this point but we were still wet and cold.

After that we went to bag check.  Everything was really well marked so we just followed the signs.  There was no line at all for bag check so that process was super quick. We stretched, ate some of our boxed food, and then continued on to walk about a mile to brunch.

So the only real downside of this race was the number of people as the 10k was sold out.  I think that was around 10,000 people.  That made the logistics complicated (having to go early) and the course congested.  There were pace signs to help you line up in the right place but it quickly became clear that many people didn't pay attention to them.  We were passing a ton of people and a ton of people were passing us at the beginning.  I'm not sure why so many faster people lined up in the back.  Maybe it was crowded enough that they couldn't get to the right area if they arrived late?  But it made the race feel congested for the first 2 miles or so and then again while we were in Crystal City and again at the finish. But it's an awesome race, and a great way to participate in the energy of MCM weekend if you don't want to do the full marathon, so I can see why there were so many people.

So how did I do?  Well, this was a 10k PR for me and I was super excited about that!  My official time was 1:14:40.  My previous PR was from the 2014 Lawyer's Have Heart 10k and that was a time of 1:18:50. So an improvement of 4 minutes and 10 seconds.

My friend and I both felt that we would definitely do this one again!

Cons - logistics and congestion, rain (though that's not in anyone's control)
Pros - Course, excitement, energy, marines, motivation