U for Unicorn

2008 Marine Corps. Marathon

Before the Race

It was a dark and stormy morning.  John, Mark, and I squeezed into my little car with all of our running gear, an insane amount of food, and a handful of electronic gadgets (we’re geeks after all).  The day started to go bad when I kept saying “I think we should have turned already.”  Eventually we realized that we really should have turned already but by that point it was way too late to turn around.  We let the GPS system re-route us and we continued on.  That snafu along with fog that reduced visibility to a less than a tenth of a mile added an hour to our drive on our quest to the 2008 Marine Corps. Marathon.

Eventually we made it to Alexandria.  We were very close to the hotel but had made a wrong turn and were looking to turn around.  I pulled into the left lane and the car in front of me stopped abruptly.  I too stopped abruptly.  Two seconds later: WHAM.  I saw Mark’s head shoot forward and then back.  The impact made me tap the car in front of me.  We were in a different state, off schedule, in a car accident, and still hadn’t found our hotel yet.  The accident did more damage to my mood than it did to my car.

I’d like to say that was the last bad thing that happened but it wasn’t.  The driver of the shuttle van that took us to the metro station was suicidal.  He had no sense of humor.  When asked “how many accidents have you been in in this thing?” he replied in a serious tone “are you serious?!”  After prying a few one word answers from him we learned that he was from California and didn’t seem to like Virginia very much.  We stopped talking to him for fear that he’d drive us off a bridge.

I was disappointed over and over at the expo.  The Miami Marathon booth had closed early and I wanted to register.  The Mizuno booth was out of Wave Elixir 3s in my size.  Even the DC Metro authority wasn’t at the expo to sell metro passes like they were supposed to!  I consoled myself by buying  a pair of Asics Kayano socks.  Things got better from that point.

Race Day

On race morning we hopped on the metro.  The only people on the metro at that time of day were runners and their friends and family.  We decided to meet at the family meeting area after the race.  I said let’s meet at “U for Unicorn.”  A woman in front of us burst out laughing and proceeded to address John as Tinkerbell.

The pre-race was pretty uneventful.  MCM is very well organized.  Even though we had a long walk from the metro to the start line it wasn’t bad.  It helped calm my nerves.  There were hundreds of porta-potties.  I used them a few times and barely had to wait in line.  I’m still impressed with that.  Accommodating the excrement of more than 20 thousand runners is no small task.

Just keep running...

The Race

We lined up together at the 3:20-3:39 section which was frightening close to the actual start.  They had a V22 Osprey craft that flew overhead and converted from a helicopter to a normal craft in mid-flight!  Shortly after the flyover the howitzer fired with a thunderous boom and a cloud of smoke and the race began.

The weather was perfect.  It was in the low 50s, foggy, no wind, and sunny.  The fog and sun provided for spectacular views even if it did cause my sunglasses to be unusable.  Two views stand out in my mind.  When we ran over the first bridge you could see nothing but fog but through the top of the fog you could see the pointy towers of some building that I later found out was a church.  The other view truly made me wish I had a camera.  We rounded a corner up a steep hill.  The sun was shining brightly at the top of the hill illuminating the fog in a brilliant white glow and causing all of the runners in front of me to appear as silhouettes.  It was truly incredible.

Right away I knew my gel was a problem.  I pinned three gels to my shorts under my bib like I always do for races.  I even tested my pin job by jogging before the race started to make sure they weren’t swinging around too much.  I guess I’m bad at testing because they were swinging like crazy!  I considered carrying them in my hands but dismissed that idea.  I noticed that I had somehow lost one of the gels — it just fell off somewhere.  I tucked the gels into my shorts expecting to face painful chaffing later in the race.

At the first mile my pace was 8:41 — significantly slower than my true goal pace of 8:00.  I assumed, incorrectly, that the first mile marker was wrong.  This first mile may have been my downfall as I ended up running much faster for the next 3 miles.  That was not part of my plan.  The plan was to run easy through the first 8-9 miles which provided the only real hills to mention on the course.  Another part of my plan was to run as fast as was comfortable.  I didn’t want to finish the race and wish I had pushed harder.

At about mile 4 I saw Mark.  I didn’t want to see Mark and tried to pretend that it wasn’t him.  I tried not to look near him.  I didn’t want to run with Mark because I needed to run my own race and if I knew where he was I’d try to keep up with him.  I couldn’t escape Mark.  Mark and I are currently about as evenly matched in running ability as you can get.  We ran the exact same race for the first 13-14 miles.  At mile 9 he came up behind me and grabbed my butt (this is a peculiar tradition that John/Tinkerbell started).  We exchanged worries that we had gone out too fast.

I felt pretty good and continued at a pretty even pace.  Around mile 12 I started to get hungry so I decided to have a gel at the half-way point.  I ended up taking a gel from a Marine at a food stop instead of using the gels that were annoyingly pressing into my side.  I had the gel near mile 13 and it took away my hunger.  I passed the half-way point at about 1:40.  That was a full 5 minutes faster than my goal for the half but I felt good!

At mile 14 I really started to worry because I could feel the beginnings of fatigue in my legs.  I knew then that I was going to be in a world of hurt for the end of the race.  I tried not to think about it and continued running.

When mile 18 rolled around I was really starting to feel fatigued.  When mile 20 hit I had nothing left.  I started taking walk breaks at mile 20.  The first walk break was horrible.  It hurt me mentally as I really didn’t want to walk.  Whenever I feel like walking I hear the words of an elite runner I spoke to before my first marathon “whatever you do, do not walk.”  When I slowed and took my first walking steps I understood why he said that.  My legs were in rough shape.  My muscles were throbbing and just plain exhausted.

I heard lots of spectators say “the 10k starts now.”  They were referring to the common saying that a marathon is just a 10k with a 20 mile warm up.  That is absolutely true but it was also the last thing I wanted to hear.  I wasn’t in any sort of shape to run another 10k.  I was far ahead of my goal time of 3:30 but I could feel it slipping away.  I started to seriously question if I could reach my goal.

Around mile 22 or so I noticed that there was a switchback.  I decided to let myself walk as soon as I turned around onto the other side of the switchback.  That would have worked if the switchback wasn’t about a mile long!  I took another crushing mental blow by walking before my self imposed goal of making it to the turn-around point.  It was at that walking break that I started to dry heave.  I badly didn’t want to throw up because I knew it would ruin my chances for the rest of the race.  I choked back the feeling and broke back into the “marathon shuffle.”  At that point it wasn’t really running anymore.

At mile 25 I was done for.  I was starting to feel the heat of the sun on my back.  I took a very long walking break feeling sorry for myself.  Feeling broken I took the two gels that I had in my shorts, ripped them out, and tossed them to the side of the road.  They weren’t going to do any good for me anymore.

Crossing the finish at MCM 2008 in absolute agony.

The Finish

The last mile was a blur but not because I was fast.  It was a blur because my brain wasn’t working anymore.  I somehow made it to the hill at the end.  The hill is a 40 foot climb over .2 miles terminating at the Iwo Jimo Monument.  There was an incredible number of spectators but I didn’t really notice.  I looked at my watch and saw that I was close.  I was very close.  There was a chance that I could make it under 3:30 but it wasn’t looking good.  Somehow, somewhere, I had something left.  I said out loud “I want this” and pushed as hard as I possibly could.  My lungs were on fire.  They’ve never felt like that before.  They closed up and I struggled to get air into my body.  My heart rate soared as I climbed up that hill thinking of nothing but reaching the finish line.  I’ve never been in as much physical agony as I was in that moment.  I crossed the finish line, stopped my watch, and struggled to stay upright.  I had done it.  I finished a marathon in under 3 hours and 30 minutes, 3:29:44 to be exact.  About 10 yards from the finish line I sat down and leaned against the barricade.  I stayed there for at least 10 minutes.  My family couldn’t be with me and I was thinking of them.  I cried a little bit.  I was proud, physically and mentally exhausted, and I missed my family.

This marathon humbled me.  In the 6 months leading up to the race I had run nearly 1000 miles and earned many PRs in races of different distances.  I had grown too confident and thought the race would be easy.  It was not and I don’t think marathons will ever be easy for me.  If they get easy I’ll probably lose interest.  What’s the point if you don’t have to work for it?

This was the first marathon that John, Mark, and I ran together.  It was awesome being able to share the experience with them.  Traveling to Virginia, getting in a car accident, and running a marathon together is something that we’ll never forget.  I had a lot of fun and learned things I never knew.  Apparently the “peanut butter” in Reese’s Pieces is made from unicorn smiles!


The Washington Post made a video of the finish of the race available.  At around 3:28/3:29 you’ll see me zooming through the right side of the screen.


My Stats

Clock Time        03:30:57
Chip Time          03:29:44
Average Pace    7:59
Overall Place     1189 / 18302 (6.5%)
Gender Place    1037 / 11142 (9.3%)
Division Place    195 / 1477 (13%)

My splits for each mile

1               8:41
2               8:12
3               7:11
4               7:04
5               7:35
6               7:28
7               8:00
8               7:18
9 and 10 14:53
11             7:36
12             7:38
13             7:40
14             7:46
15             7:52
16             7:49
17             7:57
18             8:00
19             8:07
20             8:21
21             8:18
22             8:42
23             8:47
24             9:02
25             8:51
26.2        10:51

My 5k Splits

5K     0:24:28
10K   0:47:54
15K   1:11:18
20K   1:34:57
Half   1:40:13
25K   1:59:03
30K   2:23:54
35K   2:49:55
40K   3:17:25



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