No.16 – Marine Corps Marathon, Washington DC

Sixteen down, four to go

Well things did go a little nuts over in the states …. but thanks Barack !

I never originally intended to run Marine Corps. This ended up being a late addition long after I’d planned much of the year. I cancelled another race to squeeze this in, partly due to the fact that it fell just one week before New York which I was fortunate enough to get a ballot place for, and partly due to the glowing reports of some fellow BCRCer’s who ran and supported last year.

The MCM is one of the largest marathons in the US and the world and stands as the largest marathon in the world that doesn’t offer prize money, earning its nickname, “The People’s Marathon.” It was inspired by an idea back in the 70’s by US Marine Corps Col. Jim Fowler. He outlined a unique plan for the Marine Corps Reserve Marathon (MCRM) to promote community goodwill, showcase the Marine Corps, serve as a recruiting tool and also give Marines an opportunity to qualify for the marathon in Boston. Col. Fowler said at the time “After the Vietnam War, popularity of the military services declined in the eyes of many. At the same time, distance running was gaining considerable positive attention,” Shortly afterwards, and following the increased popularity of the event MCRM became MCM and also became one of my all time favourites, for many different reasons.

I was a little apprehensive as always travelling to another marathon on my own, not helped by the fact that my knee had been troubling me again in the lead up to the race. I was however looking forward to meeting up with good friends in New York where I was to travel to directly after MCM. I’d also made contact with some fellow MCM runners via social media prior to travelling, and whilst initially unsure if we’d be able to meet out there, it would soon transpire that running Marine Corps and subsequently arranging to meet fellow runners would be one of the better decisions I’ve made this year.

I travelled out a couple of days before, the crew of my flight having been tipped off about my exploits this year by a lovely friend from the infamous BCRC !

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I arrived at Dulles International a little weary hoping for a smooth transfer to my hotel in central Washington, and hoping to get to the Expo that day to free up Saturday …. some hope ! My phone died pretty much straight away, I hadn’t made any prior arrangements to get to my hotel and I had little option but to jump in a cab and get stuck in traffic for an hour or so.

One very expensive cab ride later, but thankfully having squeezed in the Expo to collect my bib just before they closed …. I made it back to my hotel and crashed.

I was hoping to free up Saturday as a friend had told me that parkrun had just started up in DC, and I’d arranged to meet some fellow runners later that day. I made it to Theodore Roosevelt Island parkrun on Saturday morning, arriving along with a few other parkrun ‘tourists’ hoping for a shake out run before the big event the following day.

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The spirit of parkrun and excitement about MCM was truly in abundance. I arrived pretty early on a chilly morning and so offered my services in setting up ….. I put together a flag and they registered me as a volunteer as well as a runner !

I took a slow plod around the island with a fellow MCM participant, and it felt good to chat about the race and blow away the experience of the previous day. A big thank you to the very kind DC parkrunner’s who kindly made donations to my fundraising page.

After a busy 36 hours I ended up trying to get myself together, grabbed some lunch and a little sleep before heading out to meet a fellow runner who had a spare ticket for a pasta dinner hosted by the amazing charity Semper Fi (the equivalent of our Help for Heroes).

I arrived not really knowing what to expect other than a load of pasta ! …… the whole evening was amazing with not only carb loading aplenty, but a full programme of very emotive speakers, from veterans who had benefitted from the charities services talking of their often harrowing experiences, to the amazing fundraisers, to General John M. Paxton, Jr. giving a rousing closing speech to inspire us for the race.

I was so pleased to have accepted the invitation from someone I now consider to be a great friend …. I learnt so much from the evening and had a lovely meal with equally lovely and inspirational people.

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So after an early end to the evening I made my way back to my hotel to try and catch some sleep before an early start the next day to avoid the awful queues reported by friends who ran last year.

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I made it to the start pretty early …..

but got through security and the bag drop with ease !

Having been told how special this race was I decided to run with a camera strapped to my hat both for posterity and to be able to provide a feel of what it’s like to do what I love to do.

A couple of hours later and having soaked up the atmosphere of the gathering crowds I made my way up to the start line along with about 30,000 other runners. The anthem was next …. and the goose bumps soon appeared

The race starts between Arlington Cemetery and The Pentagon and weaves its way through the streets and hills of DC, taking in such sights as The Lincoln, FDR, Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr, and WW2 Memorials, and many of Washington’s museums and monuments.

MCM though true to its military roots has something else, something I was told about before entering ….. MCM has the blue mile. The blue mile comes at you between miles 10 and 11 and hits you with a wall of silence. Set up to create a living memorial to the service and sacrifice of the American military, it allows runners to pay tribute to service members who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Emotions running high as always and amplified by the mile, I continued on soaking up the atmosphere and making pretty good progress with the knee holding out well ….. in fact it felt easier to run on than walk on !

The course did become sparsely supported at times, but the quiet areas were more than made up for by the amazing support around the rest of the course. The Marines acting as marshals were brilliant and certainly got you going if you started to lag !

The further I got in to this race the more I loved it, and I’m thankful that I was fit enough and advised to run it. I would recommend it to everyone, and would certainly love to run it again.

I finished in pretty much the same time as number 15, Kent Coyote in three hours and forty minutes, and more than happy to go well under the four again.

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After a quick massage and a beer ……

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I recovered enough to make my way back to my hotel, and after donating my still warm trainers to the homeless, post race celebrations were carried out in style and with a cake that just kept on giving it was so huge !

Learning points :

  • Washington DC is a beautiful city and one which I plan on returning to … if Donald lets me !
  • Never hail a cab from the airport though …. especially post-brexit !
  • I need a new phone
  • I’m a sucker for Expo merchandise
  • parkrun tourism is great fun
  • Surrounding yourself with awe-inspiring people provides inspiration
  • A sore knee at a Semper Fi pasta meal kind of loses importance when people around you have lost limbs – perspective
  • I am so lucky to have made such good friends on my marathon journey
  • Being called Noddy in the states can cause confusion and much amusement !

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I’ve made no secret about the fact that some races I’ve run this year have been quite soul-destroying. MCM was soul enhancing ….. I learnt a lot in Washington. I’m well aware that life can change in an instant, the people I met at MCM reaffirmed that belief.

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Semper  Fidelis  – Always Faithful

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