On Sunday, October 27, 2019, I participated in one of the hardest races I’ve ever run. The 2019 Marine Corps Marathon won’t be forgotten.
It’s hard to know where to begin with such an eventful race. And I feel like I’ll do it a huge disservice if I don’t properly recap the weekend. It was such a roller coaster of emotions. Everything from a brief moment of no rain in the forecast on Thursday (YAY!!!!) to pounding it out in almost two inches of water (wahhhh!!!) and finally finishing in the blazing hot sunshine (you’ve gotta be kidding me!). This post might not be short but hopefully it will be sweet. Pull up a chair and hang on for this wild ride.
Every marathon I’ve run has been in the 80s and sunny. I’ve never been lucky with race day weather for anything longer than 13.1. I was incredibly hopeful that this would be my race and my time to shine. I hadn’t done much speed work but I felt much stronger overall going into this race and I really felt like I had a chance to PR. Even if I didn’t PR, I was confident at least coming close was in the bag. But most of all, I just wanted to have fun. Marine Corps Marathon is one of my all-time favorite races and I was so excited to run it again in 2019.
2019 Marine Corps Marathon Race Recap
Marine Corps Marathon Race Weekend
Leading up to Race Weekend
I try not to weather-stalk. I know it doesn’t do much good. Because of this, I tend to wait until just a couple days before a race to check the weather, particularly if I’m traveling. The weather in Cleveland had been amazing and it appeared the weather in D.C. was on a similar trajectory, just a few degrees warmer due to being a little farther south. With the potential for rain, however, it left room for a little more anxiety than typical race anxiety. On the Thursday before the race, there was about an hour where the rain went from 90% to 0% on all the weather apps. Unfortunately that must have been a fluke because at some point all the apps repopulated to show rain at 100% for Sunday. Whomp whomp.
Likewise on Thursday, the race sent out this ominous text:
“Rain and warm temperatures are predicted for Sunday. Runners should continue to hydrate despite rain. Slow your pace as needed.”
Here I was, a little concerned I’d be chilled to the bone after a rainy race, and they have the audacity to send out this text? Pfft.
So, as any sane runner would, I packed multiple outfits for a variety of conditions. At the time, my travel-mates and I were unsure of if we would be doing a shakeout run the day before, so I packed multiple shoes and tons of options to wear between the two days. Plus my throwaway, arm sleeves, hand warmers, a poncho, and trash bags. To say I overpacked would be an understatement.
Travel Day and Arrival in D.C.!
My friend John picked up Julie and I on Friday morning. You might recognize John from 2017 — he’s the friend I ran with for a few miles during the 2017 race wearing the Uncle Sam getup. Our drive down was uneventful and after a slight battle with D.C. traffic, John dropped us off at our Airbnb. Shortly after, Kim, from Running on the Fly, arrived.
After a little downtime, Julie, Kim, and I walked over to meet up with other fellow bloggers at this super cute, delicious restaurant called Unconventional Diner. My cousin recommended it and it was really good. We had a lovely dinner with Deborah (Confessions of a Mother Runner), Courtenay (Running with Perseverance), Alexis (Flecks of Lex), and Tikima (Tikima Renee Fitness). We shared laughs, good eats, and some fun bonding time.
While we were at dinner I got a text from our other two Airbnb-mates, Linda and Jen. They arrived and were heading out to another place for dinner. A few of us wandered over a few blocks to where they were having dinner and joined them for dessert/drinks. Upon arrival at the second restaurant, I was parched. I told the waiter I was so thirsty and asked for water before placing my order. He promptly came back with a pitcher of water with a straw in it. We all got a little chuckle out of that!
Sadly, on Friday evening, I got literally no sleep. No rhyme or reason, I just straight up couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned until around 2:00 am when I finally fell asleep. We had an early wake-up call to head for the expo so I think I ended up with about four and a half hours of sleep for the night. Oof.
The MCM Expo
We opted not to run a shakeout run on Saturday morning. Two of the five of us were coming back from injury, and I think the rest of us just weren’t into it this year. Instead, we opted to go to the expo a little earlier. Our friend Suzanne picked us up and we headed to the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center for the expo. Upon arrival, I first noticed how it wasn’t as “exciting” as it had been in years past. Normally there are marines there to greet you as you make your way through the hallway to the doors into the expo. There are also usually large signs and oversized course maps. There wasn’t any of that this year.
Of note, however, are the amazing race shirts this year. Clearly the Marine Corps folks heard the message loud and clear about the shirts last year and worked hard to rectify shirtgate. The shirts this year are thin enough to wear for fall or spring training, you can layer them easily, and they came with a zipper already in the neckline.
After picking up our shirts and bibs, we made our way through the expo. We tried on clothes, bought hats, played with all the gadgets, and got all the samples. We were there for much longer than I’ve ever spent at a race expo but it was fun.
After the expo we all went our separate ways. Linda, Jen, and Suzanne went to get manicures and have brunch. John went back to his hotel to rest. Kim, Julie, and I headed back to D.C. for lunch and eventual sightseeing.
D.C. Eats and Being a Tourist
Lunch was delicious. We wanted something light and not too greasy/fibrous before race day. We ended up at this place called Commissary. It had an amazing menu and the food was great. And oddly enough, I saw a camp friend there! She is originally from Cleveland but I didn’t know her until camp. She was in D.C. visiting some friends. What are the odds! But it was so fantastic seeing her.
After lunch, Kim headed back to our place to get ready for a short shakeout run to the Mall while Julie and I ubered to the National Museum of American History. At first we were both kinda like, “why did we chose this museum?” but after we wandered around for a little bit, we ended up seeing the Star-Spangled Banner.
WOW. If you haven’t seen it before, I highly recommend a visit. It’s much bigger than I ever thought and learning all about it was fascinating. Of course most of us know the history of the song by Francis Scott Key, but learning about the actual flag was pretty amazing. After seeing the flag, we headed to the third floor to see Dorothy’s Ruby Red Slippers and then finally the First Ladies exhibit. Overall, the American History museum did not disappoint!
After the museum, we headed back to our place and started getting our things ready for race day. After a delicious pasta dinner, I got in bed for the evening. I was in bed by about 7:45 but didn’t fall asleep until closer to 9:15 or so. It was much needed rest considering the lack of sleep the night before. Plus, we had an early wakeup the next morning!
When my alarm went off at 4:00 am, I was up and ready to roll. It started raining overnight and I heard a gentle pitter-patter on the skylight. I was prepared to run in the rain but when I went to bed on Saturday night I was hopeful the rain would pass. Wishful thinking.
Now, this may be TMI, but this was the first time I was unable to use the facilities before a race. I was incredibly paranoid that my race would end in disaster with GI issues along the way. I drank coffee, ate my pop tart and — nothin’. This was not the best way to start race day.
After realizing the bathroom situation was not going to happen for me, I got dressed. I chose a singlet, shorts, throwaway arm sleeves, and a poncho. I packed hand warmers and a garbage bag in case I got cold at the end of the race. Right before we were ready to leave, we all bundled our feet in plastic bags to keep them from getting soaked before we even started running. Our Uber arrived and we headed to the hotel to meet Suzanne and her friend to make our way to the race.
Security and Bag Drop
Security didn’t seem as tight this year as in years past. The marines quickly peeked into our packs but not really. We were ushered a different route than we have gone before, most likely due to the addition of the 50K, and once we got to the marathon area, there weren’t any fences or marines policing the start area. I also noticed in addition to the lack of fencing, there were spectators in the start area. It was all very odd to me.
A few of the girls had bags to take to bag drop. I had never been to bag drop before and apparently for good reason! It was farrrrrr from the Rosslyn entrance. Not only was it far but the rain was unrelenting. Some of our booties were breached with holes so our feet were wet. It was legit miserable.
Eventually we made our way back to the approximate area that we wanted to start in and waited around for about 20 minutes. Sadly there was no flyover and we were very wet. The rain lightened up just a bit but no one dared take off their poncho before the race for fear of another downpour.
Marine Corps Marathon: The Race
Start to Mile 5
Eventually we heard the Howitzer and we were off! Kim and I started together and kept our ponchos on for the first mile or so. It got warm fast, though, so we stripped them off. I ditched my arm sleeves, too.
I didn’t remember the first few miles being so hilly. Though I didn’t weave through crowds, I ran up the hills. In hindsight, I should have walked or at least slowed my pace. This would come back to haunt me in later miles.
Kim and I got separated somewhere in those first few miles, reconnected in Georgetown, and then lost each other again on Rock Creek Parkway.
Miles 6 – 11
Rock Creek Parkway is usually a beautiful out-and-back that’s difficult because it seems to go on forever, but it’s very scenic. This time the rain totally detracted from the scenery. In addition, I felt very claustrophobic this year which is not something I’ve experienced at MCM before.
I started having some GI cramping and I was really worried the lack of bathroom action was coming to rear its ugly head. I decided to open up an SOS packet which thankfully helped stop the cramping. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Cindy, the lady who always beats me at local races!, and we ran together briefly until we got separated.
Then the rain came. When I was on my way back, the sky opened up. It was almost comical until it wasn’t. I heard later that a lady got hit in the head with either part of a retaining wall or a very large branch around mile 7. I hope she’s okay.
The orange station just before mile 10 was littered with orange peels. The wet roads were already a slip-hazard and the added peels made it that much more difficult to navigate. The decomposing cups were bad enough — add in some orange peels and yikes!
Miles 12 – 15
The next few miles were rainy, wet, and miserable.
Just as I was starting the blue mile, I caught up with Linda. She was having a rough race as well and she was running about my pace. I was really happy to have found a friend. Unfortunately no sooner had we started running together did we get separated again. Just as we ran through a water stop, a handcart came to a complete stop in the middle of the course. I was right behind them and almost crashed right into them. I have no idea why they stopped but when I finally got around them, Linda was nowhere to be found.
Sadly, the rain started again. Hard this time. So hard that it was difficult to see at times.
I was really angry about the near-miss. The sudden stopping was a constant problem this year. I almost ran directly into three other people after the handcart fiasco. In addition, the handcart folks weren’t letting people know they were approaching until they were on their heels. And when people (like me) would yell, “Make a hole,” no one moved an inch. It was like race etiquette was completely out the window for some reason.
Miles 16 – 20
The Gauntlet and National Mall are by far the most fun to run and this year was no different. Thankfully the rain lightened again. As I rounded the corner, I was truly humbled to see so many spectators out there after the torrential rain. There were just so many people cheering! And so loud, too!
By the time I got onto the mall, I had opened my second packet of SOS and was finally feeling good. I was in a positive headspace and I was enjoying the race. The wide roads certainly helped with that. After being squashed with 20,000 of my best friends for so many miles, it was nice to have my own space.
I spent a good portion of miles 17 and 18 trying to do runners math to figure out if I could still snag a PR. I could, but it would be hard. At one point I called my husband to figure out the math and he confirmed it was doable but I’d have to run hard for the last portion. I wanted it, but how much?
Sun, sun is that you?
The sun began to peek out when I was just about at the 19-mile mark. Do you know what happens when the sun comes out after it rains and it’s warm rain? That’s right — it gets hot and humid — fast. I don’t love running in the rain, but after hours of running in it, the very last thing any of us wanted was the beating hot, humid sunshine. Especially at this time of the race. I would have preferred it to continue to rain to be honest.
Miles 21 – 24
By the time I got to Crystal City I was deep in the pain cave. The energy I got from the crowd at the Gauntlet and the Mall pushed me across the Bridge, but my energy was zapped by the time I got to Crystal City. The streets were tight and crowded again, the smell of Fireball made my stomach turn, and I just wanted to be done. I forced myself to run through most of Crystal City even though I would have preferred to walk.
Right after Crystal City is when the war zone began. Between miles 23 and 24 there were sirens, medics, people wandering like zombies. It was reminiscent of the Cleveland Marathon.
Miles 25 – 26.2
The last two miles were kind of a mindf%ck. My watch had been off by about a half mile since the third mile or so. I decided somewhere between 24 and 25 that I wasn’t going to push my pace. I just didn’t have the drive. My feet were hurting and I found myself searching for grass to run on to keep from pounding on the pavement. I was tired, defeated, hot, cranky, and I was counting the minutes until it was over and I was out of my misery.
When I got to the Hill, I charged it with everything I had. I was in such a negative headspace and I just wanted to be done. I crossed the finish line in what I thought would have been sub-5 at least, but I was 9-seconds over.
Unofficial finish time: 5:00:09
The Finish Area
I was a little disappointed with the finisher chute. Again, maybe the lack of organization was due to the crazy weather. But it was a departure from the previous MCMs I’ve run.
After I received my medal, I met up with Julie by the Marine Corps War Memorial and we took a few pictures. The grass in the area was totally trampled and a mud pit. My shoes made it through 26.2 miles of slop but got totally destroyed after the race. The irony!
After Julie and I slowly made our way to Rosslyn, we met up with Kim, and eventually Linda, Jen, and John. We were all beat up and mangled but we enjoyed our post-race beer in the shade of the office buildings, and had a good time hanging out with other runners who suffered along with us.
Eventually Linda, Jen, Julie, Kim, and I made it back to our Airbnb. We hobbled up the stairs, took turns taking showers, then ordered dinner and hobbled around some more. We were all in bed extremely early. After a crazy day at the races, how could we not be?!
Linda and Jen had a super early morning flight so we said our goodbyes on Sunday evening. Kim would be heading out when Julie and I did on Monday morning.
A few concluding thoughts. First, the weather forecast was spot on. It got warm and sunny a little earlier than predicted, but the rain and the timing of the torrential rain was almost expected. It sucked, but at least we knew what we were getting into.
Second, without my friends and all the fun before and after the race, I would have had a miserable time. The race itself was abysmal. It wasn’t one of my worst race times but the weather really sucked the fun out of the experience. I feel sad that Linda, Jen, and Kim had never run MCM before because it truly is a top-notch race. I hope they decide to go back one day to experience just how amazing it really is.
Goals? What Goals?
While I didn’t have crazy time goals for this race, I did have four goals. My A goal was the elusive 4:30 that I apparently will never get even though it’s well within my ability during training runs. My B goal was a PR which is 4:44:xx. The C goal was somewhere in the 4:44 vicinity. And my D goal was sub-5.
But a finish is a win, especially in punishing conditions like we had on Sunday. Sometimes it’s okay for goals to go out the window.
As it turns out, one of the local D.C. news stations reported that 1 1/2″ of rain fell during the race while the temperature at the end was hovering right around 80˚F. Oof!
If you ever have the chance to run the Marine Corps Marathon, I highly recommend it. It’s a fabulous race — one of my favorites — and every runner should experience the amazingness of it. And guess what? Out of 44 MCMs, only five of them had rain. That means the odds are ever in your favor for better weather next year!
What are the craziest race conditions you’ve run in?
What’s a race mantra you use to get yourself out of a funk?
Coach Debbie Runs and Train with Marc for Running Coaches Corner.