I'm still a little giddy right now and slightly confused by what has transpired over the last 24 hours. I'm not sure I could have ever imagined it, honestly. And, it all makes for a good story that includes everything from me chasing down an Ethiopian runner at mile 23 to being handed an impressive Commander's Coin from a 4-star Marine General as Robert Duvall (yes, THE Robert Duvall) looked on.
It all started last night at the Marine Corps Marathon Dining In. This is actually quite a good option the night before the race with tons of cooked pasta and tons of mild red sauce to fill your belly. Add a couple of rolls and cookies, and you have a perfect pre-race meal.
Katherine Switzer and her husband, acclaimed running writer Roger Robinson, were the guest speakers. I have to say that Roger may be an awesome writer, but his account of Ancient Greek History and the inaugural running of the marathon found a few head bobs from the crowd. Katherine is a great speaker, but she went on a lot longer than most could tolerate. She has a great story about being the first woman to run the Boston Marathon but was nearly pulled off of the course by the race director because he didn't want a woman running his race. She has done an impressive amount of work getting women's sports, particularly running distance events, recognized in the Olympics as well as in foreign countries.
The Marines lure you into sticking around after dinner by offering a raffle at the end of the night with some impressive prizes. You only have about a 1 in 500 chance of winning anything, but those are actually pretty good odds. Guess who won something? Me, me, me! I won this fantastic tote bag made out of a former finish line corral at a past Marine Corps Marathon (check them out at www.priorLIFE.com), a book about the Marine Corps Marathon and a camouflage beer koozie. Winning these items, especially the beer koozie, made me feel very lucky and gave me a very good feeling about the next day's race.
I had a bit of pre-race excitement coursing through my veins at bed time last night, so I decided to read my new book. Turns out, it is an account of all past MCM races including all of the finish times sorted by year and age group and military and local finishers... In other words, it was an account of everything MCM and clearly a labor of love for a guy that just loves this race. In it, I found some very important information that ended up giving me a special goal for my race today. The all-time MCM female Masters' record was set in 1983 and was 2:50:51. I thought to myself, now that's something worth trying to beat. Winning a race is cool, but going down in the record books is effin' cool.
So, let's recap my goals for this race. I needed to finish among the top 4 military women to go to Athens next fall; I needed to run, not walk up the very last, steep hill to the finish; and I needed to try to pass as many military women as possible to help the Air Force Team regain the winner's trophy lost last year to the Navy.
And now for the race deets...
The morning's pre-race routine went like clockwork. We were driven to the start in rented vans, had a special parking spot close to our special military team tent, and were shown wonderful hospitality by our Marine hosts. In our military oasis, we found our own personal porta-potties, a sweet spread of food, and lots of nervous energy buzzing about as my military competitors readied themselves for battle on the roads.
I slipped a garbage bag over my shivering body 15 minutes before the start and headed down the big hill to the starting line. As we walked down the hill, the cannons fired a super loud shot announcing the start of the wheelchair competition. In 10 minutes, the same cannons would announce the start of the 34th running of the Marine Corps Marathon (can you find me in the photo?).
I can definitively say that this was a race against real people instead of the clock for me, and it became all too clear to me by the end of this race that I lack experience racing real people. I had seen some of the other female runners at the start (also in the picture) and they looked fast and fierce. And, they were. Seeing the speedsters with their toes actually touching the starting line psyched me out. I was also a little afraid of the top Army female runner who has a recent 2:45 marathon PR, ran the '08 Olympic trials and just ran under one hour in the Army 10 miler here in DC a few weeks back. I was told she was shooting for 2:45-2:50 today. I decided I would run by feel as much as possible even though I did make pace bands that read 2:50:25 to make sure I at least beat the course record.
The start heads uphill for about 2 miles, and I really worked to hold myself back to allow my body to warm up a little. Looking at my 2 mile split, I did a great job of this running an average 6:45 pace for those miles. As I crept up the second set of hills just before mile 4, I saw my Army competitor tucked into a pack of guys about 100m in front of me. I sat back for a few minutes and weighed the plusses and minuses of expending the energy to move quickly up that hill in order to catch the pack. I was in no-man's land at that point, running by myself and knew that I would need the draft and excitement of the group to keep me going in this race. So, I kicked it into gear, risking dead legs at the end of the race and caught the group at the top of the hill. I tucked in behind my military competitor and her posse and hung out with them for about 10 miles.
This proved to be a great decision. The group maintained a nice even pace, though it was a bit faster than I had planned to run. We ran through the half in 1:23:43 or so, but I was feeling reasonable at that pace, so stuck with the group. There was some idle chatting going on in our group making the miles pass quickly. I thanked the tall boys for allowing me to draft off of them. My Army competitor asked for more cowbell at one point, which endeared her to me. I did get a sense that some of the boys in our group would fade soon, and I was right.
After the half way point we started getting a lot of 411 about the competition. My friend, Mo Weiser, was on the course at every important juncture it seemed to report to me personally on the status of my competition. His reporting was very accurate and really helped to give me encouragement. He also took most of the great pictures I have posted. I saw him at mile 10 and he told me that we (Army and I) were in 4th and 5th place. By the 16 mile mark, we had passed one more woman, and he said we were not only in 3rd and 4th place now, but that we were only 3 minutes behind the leaders. Well, 3 minutes is a lot of time to make up, so I disregarded that information.
I saw a runningskirts.com banner proudly flying on the side of the street soon thereafter and my friend Cindy cheering wildly from the side of the street. At this point, Army and I were running together along with a super strong Army General. I was sitting on Army's tail like a tactical runner, but I didn't realize that she was starting to fade. I finally figured that out and went around her to offer some draft. She didn't come along and I started to widen the gap between us. I turned back once and yelled at her, "Come on! Stick with me here. We need each other to get this done." I slowed to see if she would follow, but it didn't last.
So, I set out on my own, into the wind on the loneliest stretch of the race--the 14th Street bridge. This is essentially a 1-2 mile long freeway, luckily devoid of traffic, but also mostly devoid of people other than runners. I passed a lot of runners on this bridge including the Navy guy I'm chasing down in the picture to the left. He told me, as I passed him and offered random encouragement, that I was in the wrong branch of the service.
As I was approaching the 20 mile marker, Mo Weiser relayed the news that the lead women were only a minute and a half or so ahead of me. Then, as I ran up the freeway, the Navy and Marine coaches told me that these leaders were fading fast while Army was about 50m behind me. I was feeling really strong at this point. My legs felt as fresh as ever and I had all the energy in the world.
Over the next few miles, I would hear that I was getting closer and closer to the lead women so I picked up my pace from 6:30 to 6:22 just to test my legs a little more. Then, as we were about to exit the freeway into Crystal City and mile 22, I saw the two leaders and, I have to say, they did not look strong. I had one more gu to take at the 22 mile aid station, so I didn't run up on them right then, but let me tell you, it felt amazing to feel strong enough this late in the race to even consider trying to pick them off. I slammed my gu and a sip of water and took off after them.
At this point in the race, there is a nice out-and-back section where you get to see people that are about a mile ahead of you. I got to see several of my Air Force male teammates in this section and watched The Genius glide along on his way to a PR of 2:45! He also got to see me chase down my Ethiopian competitor. There were two women to track down around mile 22.5. The Ethiopian, I found out later, had been sitting on the lead woman for almost the entire race. The leader was truly worn down and clearly struggling. Just before I made my move, the Ethiopian decided to make hers and started to pick up the pace as the leader started to really slow. I passed the now second place female and said something stupid to her like, "stay strong". That always sucks to hear from someone that seems really fresh when you're suffering, but I couldn't just pass her without saying something.
I finally caught the Ethiopian, now the leader, and said something like, "you're doing great" as a greeting of sorts. She looked over at me with a look of both surprise and disbelief like nothing I've seen before in my life. She did a double take, looking me up and down, mostly focusing on my Air Force uniform and number as if to ask where the hell I had come from. Then, she tucked in behind me and became my unshakeable shadow for the next 3.5 miles.
So, here I am at mile 23, leading this effin' race with an Ethiopian on my tail. This is when I became confused. I wasn't sure what to do with myself. Was I supposed to conserve my energy and just let her tag along? Was I supposed to surge or something? I had no idea what kind of runner she was (though I would later learn that she is 25 years old with a marathon PR of 2:39). Did she have a kick? I was at a loss, and then the headwind started to just batter me. Not her, of course, because she was using my popular Swiss frame as a windshield. Damn my Swiss heritage!
I decided I wanted to draft off of her, so I began to slow down. I mean really slow down--to like 6:50 pace. I wanted her to go around me. Of course, she had no incentive to do so. She knew she had a kick, and she was quite happy to conserve even more energy riding my butt for a couple more miles at a slower pace. I didn't try my usual tactics of spitting or throwing water on her because I was in military uniform and that would be unsportsman-like conduct. In retrospect, I should have sped up, which I did somewhat around mile 25, but not a big enough surge to shake her. I was too worried about having to walk up that bloody finish-line hill.
The thing that I will remember most about this race was the wonderful feeling I had leading the race with everyone looking at my Air Force singlet and screaming, "Go Air Force! Go Air Force!" with such pride that an American military gal was leading the race. This was amazingly inspiring. Winning or losing did not seem to matter as much to me though maybe it did to them. I tried to take that moment in as much as I could.
Of course, I knew that I would not have a lot of get-up-and-go on the killer hill to the finish. I could only hope that she didn't either. Well, she did have a kick. She made a decisive move at around mile 26 and took off like a lightning bolt. I stuck with her for about 10 strides but knew I was out of the competition. I did finish the last 1.25 miles at 6:23 pace, all uphill, so that shows just how strong she was at the end.
I huffed and puffed and pumped my arms up that GD hill and am proud to say that I did not even think about walking. I crossed the finish line strong and proudly bowed my head to receive my finishers' medal from a Marine Lieutenant. That Lieutenant became my escort for the next 2 hours with his sole responsibility being to get me to the awards ceremony. I was ushered into the media tent right away where I signed some document and was immediately surrounded by a mob of reporters. I was interviewed by about 8-10 reporters who seemed to be interested in the strangest details like what those sock things are on my calves and what my first 5k time was from 5 years ago. This might explain why the first story out today shows me as Captain Jaymee Marty rather than the Major (pain in the butt) I am. My Mother was very upset by this misidentification.
All in all, this was a spectacular day for me:
- I placed second overall female;
- I ran my second fastest ever marathon time (2:50:13) 3 weeks after Twin Cities on a very challenging course;
- I won the gold in the military competition;
- I earned my spot on the US Military Marathon team competing in Athens, Greece next fall;
- I led the Air Force Women's Team to a victory over Army;
- And, I go down in the record books with a new Masters' course record, beating the old record set in 1983 by over 30 seconds.
The military ceremony was great and I received an immense amount of hardware including the cool shadow box pictured at the front of this blog. I was handed a Commander's Coin by 4-Star General James Amos, 31st Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps for my achievement. And, in the audience, watching me receive these awards sat Robert Duvall, the actor. I have no idea why he was there, but I was excited to see him, so I winked at him. Well, I had my sunglasses on so he probably didn't see it, but I want to think he got the message.
And, guess what? My legs feel great. My shins did not bug me at all (thanks to my compression sleeves!), and I have a feeling, I'll have a speedy recovery from this second marathon like I did post Twin Cities. While I'd like to say that I won't be racing long again for a while, there's a little matter of a local age-graded series wrapping up in the next few weeks. In order to finish in the top three, I have to race at Clarksburg in either the half marathon or 30k.
And then there's CIM... Oh my God am I ever kidding!