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Marine Corps Marathon (Brian’s take)

Susan’s post on the race covers her experience. Here are my thoughts. I ended up finishing the Marine Corps Marathon in a time of 3:55:51 which was good for 505th out of 2146 in my age group. Going in to the race I had several goals listed from what would make me most happy on down.

  • Help Susan qualify for the Boston Marathon by running a 3:45:59 or better
  • Run a < 3:40:00
  • Run a < 3:45:00
  • Run a < 4:00:00
  • Beat my time of 4:09:16 from the Portland Marathon (my first and only other marathon) 10 years prior.


  • While I didn’t beat 3:45:00 or 3:40:00 myself, Susan ran a 3:43:31 to qualify for Boston and finished 67/1342 in her division (top 5%). All of the hard work and miles this summer were worth it when Susan found me at the finish and told me what she had run. I also achieved my goals of running a sub 4 hour marathon and proving that a 36 year old me with more knowledge and a better work ethic is 13+ minutes faster than a 26 year old me. It would have been nice to have been able to hang with my wife for the whole race, but I really can’t imagine being any happier with how things turned out.

    The race itself went largely as planned. We broke the race down into 3 separate segments of 10, 10, and 6 miles and came up with 3 different pacing strategies depending on how we felt that day. One was the “We’re rocking it, let’s run 3:40:00 plan”, two was the “We’re at mile 20 and feeling bad let’s ease up and run 3:45:00″, and three was the “We feel TERRIBLE at mile 10, time to slow down and grind out a 3:45:00″ We stuck to the plan fairly well and by mile 10 (end of segment 1) were dead on our planned pace; we didn’t have to use plan 3 so plans 1 and 2 were still possible. Due to the huge size of the race field the first 6 miles were very crowded and we spent a lot of mental and physical effort weaving our way through people to find open spots to run. I think this surging came back to haunt me in the end.

    Between miles 11 and 12 we were in a crowd of people as the course narrowed while we passed near the Lincoln Memorial. Susan ended up surging by some people and I suspected our pace was too fast. As we passed mile 12 and saw that we had run a sub 8 mile it became clear that Susan’s excitement to get through the crowd had pushed us beyond our plan for the first time. It’s hard to say how much time this cost us in the end, but I feel like this faster mile ended up costing us more time than we saved pushing through. Thankfully it didn’t end up costing Su a qualifying time.

    Around mile 15 it became clear to me I would be unable to hold the necessary pace to run a 3:40:00 but Su was still feeling good. We had planned for this and I paced her for two more miles before sending her on her way. After 17 miles running together it was time for us to run separate races. The last 9 miles of the race were in her hands (and feet) to execute.

    I managed to keep running until mile 20 on the bridge over the Potomac. The winds had picked up to 10-20 mph and they were directly in my face over a very open bridge. I took a bad step and the muscles that had been threatening to cramp finally did and I ended up taking a 50 yard walking break or so. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think of quitting at this point but I tried to focus on how good it would feel to achieve the goals I still had left and thought of the happy faces of my friends and family if I finished strong. Somehow I managed to get running again and pushed through to mile 23.5 before taking a significant walking break again.

    Once I hit the Pentagon, it was clear I would finish even if I had to walk the last 2 miles but I managed to keep my legs turning over and running 10 minute miles. At this point the crowds were definitely helping carry me along and there were many marines cheering for people on the course which inspired me to keep going.

    The race finishes up the hill in Arlington National Cemetery leading to the Iwo Jima memorial. Like Susan, I had similar thoughts that if men could fight and die for months to take 1 hill, I could certainly handle my cramps well enough to run 0.2 miles. I really wasn’t prepared for how emotionally overwhelmed I would felt as I entered the cemetery and also realized with certainty that I was going to break 4 hours. I crossed the finish line nearly in tears while simultaneously cramping and gasping for breath.

    The marathon was my 2nd ‘A’ priority race of the year — my first being the Patriot Half Ironman Triathlon in June — so since June 27 my training has been focused exclusively on this race. Yes, I have not been swimming or on my tri bike since June 19. I thought I’d primarily train for the marathon and swim/bike for fun, but most days I was so focused on the running that I didn’t make time to go do the other workouts I enjoy. Other than some trail running and hiking this was a summer of running.

    In total I ran 650 miles preparing for the race. A typical schedule had me running 13 of every 14 days with long runs between 16 and 24 miles every other weekend. Tuesdays were typically 5 to 7 miles of speedwork or hill work and Thursdays were a medium run of 8 to 10 miles. Most of the miles were done at an easy pace of ~9:20/mi with speedwork done at ~ 7:20/mi. If it wasn’t a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday I was probably running 3 to 6 miles. My peek week had me at 67 miles and in September I ended up running nearly 200.

    I’m not sure what is next for me. I think next year I am going to concentrate on Olympic distance triathlons. I really enjoyed the marathon training but I miss swimming and biking. Also, the marathon race itself is very hard on my body. No matter what, the next step is going to be a winter triathlon maintenance program while I make up my mind about what to do next. I’ve also run 955 miles so far this year so I think I’ll try to run the final 45 to hit 1000 for the year as well.

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