Written by Young Cho
Pacer: (To the first time marathoners) What is the halfway point during a marathon?
A guy in front of me: 13.1!
Pacer: Wrong! It is mile 20!
How true that is. A guy next to me and I nod in agreement. I am with the 3:25 pace group who I hope will rein me in for the beginning miles of the Marine Corps Marathon.
I have a homemade pace bracelet on my left wrist. The final time says 3:22:41, which is an adjusted target from my initial 3:20 given the high of 80° forecasted for the day. The auto-lap function is off on my watch, as per Chris Forti’s suggestion, and I plan on manually clicking every 5k. I keep the pacer in front of me for the initial two mile climb. Given the expected temperatures, I did not want to ditch them early… (I ditched them earlier than I expected).
5k split – 24:37
With the downhill at mile 3 to 4, and another up and down at Mile 5, I no longer see the pacer behind me. The pace feels right though, and I figure the pacer would catch up. I hear Atlee Murphy yelling my name. She came to support her brother running, but noticed on Facebook that I was running it as well. She and her other brother were an unexpected but welcome mobile on-course support (Thanks again, Atlee!).
Photo credit: Atlee Murphy
10k split – 22:56
I read the split as 22:36 and I start to worry. It was net downhill, but am I going too fast? I realize I had my pace bracelet, and I look at the elapsed time. I am a whole minute ahead of plan. Executive decision time: plan be damned, I let my body and training take over the pacing. As if the pace bracelet realizes it’s of no use to me, it tears and falls off my wrist. I down a Gu.
15k split – 23:30
The split looked good, but I cannot figure out what my per mile pace is. I run through the “Wear Blue Mile” where they highlight men and women who have lost their lives servicing the country. This affects me more than I expect and I bawl my eyes out while trying to keep proper breathing going.
20k split – 23:34
What, what? I still can’t do the mental math for the per mile pace, but now I’m more confident in the pace. I’m thankful that cloud cover kept the temperature feeling okay so far. I look at the race clock at the half and realize I’m on pace for a 3:20. I take a breath and decide not to get ahead of myself. I still need to get to Mile 20.
25k split – 23:24
The pacing is keeping me surprised. In the back of my mind, I know I want to negative split, but I’m not sure when I should start pushing. I know my pacing so far has been ahead of what I expected, so I want to keep steady longer. However, having the thought of a negative split had an unintended consequence of me unconsciously starting the push when I hit Mile 16. Patience – I still had 10 miles to go. Before I forget, let me get another Gu.
30k split – 23:23
The easy part is done. If things will fall apart, it’ll start here. My feel for my pace is now deceptive. I feel the aches coming on and my calves are feeling tense. I am pushing harder, but I know I slowed down. At the same time, I feel good that I am picking off a lot of people who have slowed down even more.
Mile 20 – this is where the race starts. I think back to how I was feeling at Grete’s Great Gallop with 10k to go. Didn’t I feel worse there? I remind myself that it’s just one loop of the park left.
35k split – 24:44
The split isn’t surprising, but I was hoping for better. I keep doing self-assessments of where I am. My calves feel like they’re about to go at any moment, and my entire body feels tense. I focus on my form and try to relax, but nothing is working. I see the 3:05 pacer coming back on the out and back section of the course. How much longer do I have until I make the turnaround? I see the 3:15 pacer coming back. I make the turnaround, and soon enough, I see the 3:25 pacer coming. Can I keep him behind me? I take another Gu, and I realize I packed one more Gu. What mile was I supposed to take the last one? I must have spaced it out wrong, and I hope this oversight in fueling doesn’t get me at the end.
I think about the other external factors. Atlee may pop out with her brother at any moment and I can’t be caught walking. There are marines lining the course telling me I have got this – I’ve been told this before from every other cheerer, but it somehow sounds different coming from marines. I know I published on Facebook I am running, so there are teammates, friends and family tracking me. I cannot have them wait longer for the next 5k split.
The sun peeks out and I feel hot. I try to keep my head in the game by focusing on my form. I overcompensate somehow, and my shin shows signs of cramping up. I laugh to myself as this is a completely new feeling, and I ease my pace to ward off any cramps. There is a hill I didn’t notice in my hours of scrutinizing the elevation map. Even the downhill hurts at this point. Just focus and run.
40k split – 25:36
I now know my old PR of 3:40 is history. I hear Atlee’s brother yelling out my name from across the road. I look up and see how excited they were for me, and I was excited to see them too, especially since I am still running. Mile 26, I turn the corner and I see the final hill; it’s steep but short. Let me just finish so I can stop.
42.2k final time – 3:23:07
That’s not me photobombing; I’m wincing at my calves cramping.
I stop my watch and don’t bother looking to see the time. I know I PR’ed and it really didn’t matter by how much. I high-five every single marine lining the finish line, and I receive my medal. My calves finally cramp up, and I thank them for waiting until I was done.
There is a sense of elation that I really haven’t felt before in all of my other marathons. Despite the missteps, my plan was decently executed. I think it’s rather appropriate that a marathon associated with the marine corps gives me confidence for future marathons.
The medal opens up – so cool!