About five minutes ago I found out that we’ll be running the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) this year, which basically means the iced-coffee buzz is multiplied x 100 because OMG YAS! Have I told you how much I love MCM? Have we talked about how it’s one of the best days to be in, or running around, DC? Have we discussed the pure high that is running through some of the best parts of this city along with 35,000 other people and at least 35,000++ more spectators and marines? Because it’s the best. I skipped it last year because, you know, California livin’, and I wasn’t thrilled about it. Aside from that I’ve run almost every year since I moved to DC (2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014), and this will be my fourth dance with the full 26.2 mile route.
It wasn’t my first marathon, or even my second, but third time’s the charm, right? MCM has easily taught me the most valuable lessons about being a marathoner. For me, these five are key:
My first two marathons were wildly different, so with number three all I knew was that I could probably finish again in under four hours. What I was unsure of, but willing to test, was whether I could shoot for a 3:40 and hit the target. By the 10K I was running next to the 3:35 pace groups with a stupid-big grin on my face and thinking it felt too easy and wondering where the hell these magical legs came from and who they truly belonged to. By mile 17 I was dying a slow death and wondering what kind of trickery that magic played on me because HOW was I going to finish this race and still be able to walk, ever?!
I finished in 3:37:something and was absolutely thrilled, but also absolutely appalled by the capacity my legs had for HURT. I had never known pain like that, and preferred to never know it again…at least not for 10 straight miles. Lesson learned: start conservatively, pace yourself.
FUEL EARLY AND OFTEN
This is something I’m only truly beginning to “nail,” but the first two MCM runs (2011, 2012) were one long 26-mile lesson in not being an idiot about fueling. My first run was, in hindsight, a total disaster in this respect. I had a great day out there, aside from that whole pacing thing, but man did it hurt. When I came back the next year with a Camelbak full of something that actually rehydrated me and a few pockets full of foods that provided good fuel, it was miraculous. Lesson learned: start fueling early, before you feel hungry or thirsty, and then you might actually be able to maintain that meant-to-be-conservative-but-then-it-isn’t pace.
RECRUIT YOUR TRIBE
Marine Corps is the only marathon where I’ve had pacers hop in — one in particular (hey girl!) — and there are no words that do justice to the wonders they work. Only once have I run the whole MCM course solo, and I hit my goal that year but I definitely missed my people. Otherwise, Kate has hopped in at mile 17 (2011) and mile 20 (2014) to run 99% of the last six to nine miles with me. Katie also recruited secret mystery pacers to join us in 2014, and I can say without a doubt I would’ve crossed the finish line at least five minutes later than I did that year had it not been for them. Lesson learned: there is no shame in needing your people.
I don’t care if your goal is ambitious or conservative, personal/world record-breaking, to take the most pictures, high-five every kiddo, or do a cartwheel over the finish line, but have a goal. This is the race that taught me how motivating and game-changing that is. As I ran my first MCM I had a number written on my hand — it felt like such a ridiculous stretch goal at the start, but it wouldn’t get out of my head and I couldn’t avoid just going for it. It turned out to be totally within my reach, with a few minutes to spare. I had never known a high like that Finish line feeling, and am basically chasing it every time I run, even if I don’t always get it. The hunger is what keeps us excited, going, inspired, and willing to work. When I ran in 2014 and missed my goal by far, I wasn’t thrilled to cross the line when I did but I was happier knowing that at least I tried. A goal could be time, it could be a feeling, it could be “have fun,” it could be whatever the hell you want, but have it. Lesson learned: if you don’t have a goal, you don’t appreciate what you’re accomplishing.
RUN THE PLACES YOU LOVE
I’m head over heels for DC. I love a small handful of cities, but this one is always at the top. I’ve had great times running in other cities, but the best races I’ve had are here because even if the day isn’t perfect, it’s still my city. The roads, trails, monuments, bridges, neighborhoods that feel like mine. The spectators that feel like friends for the half-second we’re next to each other; the friends who are actually out there spectating that make you feel like a rockstar. The finish line area (Iwo Jima memorial) that I run through at least once a week, thinking about the banner overhead and the feels on my favorite race day, counting down ‘til I get to do it all over again. I run other races to explore, but I keep coming back to run this race because all of it feels like home.
Lesson learned: Life’s too short to run anywhere but where your heart is exploding with joy.
Case in point: Here’s lookin’ at you, MCM 2016. I can’t wait to run with you!