Marine Corps Marathon Race Report

ILANA KATZ MS, RD, CSSD – and Finisher

This is somewhat overdue… but hey, one gets lost in time after a marathon, and it took me this long to revel in the glory of one of my favourite endurance endeavors now to date.

I arrive at this marathon after 4 hard months of training with the subtleness of competitive training buddies driving me, and a last minute sign up for Augusta Ironman 70.3, held a couple of weeks before Marine Corps. The additional swimming and biking was merely my cross training… this marathon was my chosen A event, Augusta was just because I would have done the work anyway, so why not embrace a mere B-race  inbetweener.

Countless hours added up, at least 3 twenty or more mile runs, 2 in rainstorms, 1 close encounter with a sports utility vehicle, 3 boxes (yes boxes) of gel packets of all flavours, from gross to mmm actually quite nice, 16 different variations of oatmeal and peanut butter, 65 cliff shot blocks and 3 ice packs rotating between the freezer and my body.  I was prepared for my 26.2 miles of pure painless joy to share with 3500 close, yes very close, friends.  I had done 5 of these marathon things previously, and continuously admit that each marathon is probably the most physical enduring experience of my life, even above the jumping out an airplane and the 3 ironman 70.3 distance races all put together. So what then was the inspiration for number 6. Heaven alone knows.

Well, I take that back – for one thing, I am inspired by all my fellow athletes who do this, especially the ones that continue to beat me. For another, my clients, they are the people that appreciate me more, just because I do this and therefore I understand. And yet another, the countless groups of athletes I present to.  I have come across so many inspiring stories along the way, and I just want to be that to someone else. After all, endurance sports is in my self made job description. I have always insisted on walking the walk, not just talking the talk, so to continue being a confident, professional sports dietitian, this is a no brainer, even for someone who is no natural born athlete.

The hour wait in the porto potty line prior to the start of the race was literally for nothing… it always is. Stage fright is an understatement, and it never fails, so why I insist in waiting in those long smelly lines for nothing while I make all my training buddies wait on me is one of life’s unanswered questions. But thanks guys for waiting, I was half expecting no one to be left at our chosen lamp post meeting spot, leaving me to walk the pre race mile or two by myself to the actual starting line.

Finally we are there. I choose my 4” by 4” square on the pavement to stand in within the 4 hour (or so) expected finish time coral. A little apprehensive with the pressure, but heck, that’s not even a PR for me, so what the hell, right? I was getting pumped up just reading all the t-shirts around me… “Embrace the Challenge” (yeah, how apt), how about “Pain is temporary, glory is forever” ? OK, so the pain is definite, it’s just being overly emphasized at quite an inopportune time. I kind of relished in “Slow is the new Fast”, and my favorite one was “if found on street, please drag across the finish line”… yeah, that got me boosted, and as I was enjoying a private giggle, the gun went off.

At first I felt like I was being carried by the crowd. It was packed in for sure. But the crowd is as strong as its weakest entity, so it did not take long for the cliché “survival of the fittest” to show it’s true colours.  The first few miles were hilly and seeing my training tends to lack those devilish hill repeats, I was puffing and panting and wandering where this flat race was that everyone who had done it seemed to report was the main trait of Marine Corps. Those hill repeats have since become angelic to me.

My goal is to master them along with tempo runs, and  of course master my own Mt Everest demon (aka Ashford Dunwoody rd.)  If I line all these ducks in a row, then perhaps my next marathon I can choose even a more hilly one (next??? –  who said next?? did I say that ??).  Ahhh… so Marine Corps was not that hilly after all… actually after a minor bump in the altitude map, at mile 8, it really was flat the rest of the way, except for the famous one mile climb at the very end, but the reward is not far, so that one mile climb at least comes with an adrenaline booster and a big thanks to all the supporters out there reminding us that the finish line is in reach.

Running through such a scenic district, with so much history to take in a long the way, made this memorable. The mall area, not only packed with people supporting the marathoners, but the way the scenes from movies, postcards, books and photos comes alive in each of the monuments. The Capitol has such awe about it, I almost forgot that this is the time I am usually mad at myself for signing up for something so ridiculous. Before you realize you are in this for real, you are crossing the Potomac, heading back towards Arlington cemetery and the finish line.

It is actually the first marathon I have done that I ran the entire race. I did not resort to walking at all, except giving myself a few steps at each water station, and yes, I stopped at every one of them to drink and relish my sports beans or gels like a good sports nutritionist would. I was soon muttering my mantra “water station to water station” and reaching the next one was just another brick paved in my yellow brick road.  As I approached the mile climb, it was an ironic coincidence that my iPod was blasting out “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”.  Downloading that song the day before, I would never have imagined how apt it would be and where it would shuffle, facing that monolithic Iwa Jima Memorial in the cemetry made me smile. Us marathoners may feel like knocking on Heavens door at mile 25, but at mile 26 .2 my song choice is none other than anything by Survivor, and yes, Eye of the Tiger is on my iPod, 4 versions of it, for that very reason.

The medal was a personal victory. I could think of nothing else but that was the last water station I have to reach, and as I looked up there was my ultimate training partner, Jay. He waited for me, had faith in me that I would not be that far behind him that he should move on to refuel himself first.

So in summary, it was awesome. I don’t think I have used that adjective before to describe a race. With the finish line now just a distance memory, my mind wanders to my training partners who each have not only their own, but  a hand in my personal victory. To all my clients who reward me daily too. Those that take what I teach them and put it into action, so they too can feel this way.  Besides this being the most rewarding part of what I do, they are the ones fueling my fire to continue with endurance sports so that I really can understand not only the physical side of what I teach, but the mental capacity.

Thank you, see you at the next one.