24 September, 2014

Race Recap: Marine Corps Half Marathon

I don’t think I can say enough positive things about this race.  The expo was held in conjunction with a local festival (at which I spent a whopping $2 on a pumpkin pie Rita’s), and packet pick-up also included a free pasta dinner.  I got my race bag from a nice man named Dennis, who snuck two extra safety pins in my bag when I commented about stealing the extra two that Jackie wasn’t going to be using.  We ran into him two other times the following day, and he was incredibly friendly both times.  He told us that this race was the original Marine Corps Half, and that they are happy that they get to show off the base to people who might otherwise not get to see it.  He also told us that we had the best weather they’ve had in 20 years.  We were definitely happy we got to enjoy that!

After we picked up our packets, I sheepishly asked a group of three Marines if I could be tacky and ask them to pose for a photo.  They obliged, and a woman standing nearby forced two other ones to get in the picture as well.  It just might be my favorite pre-race photo yet (or maybe a close second to the one with the astronaut mural from before last year’s Space Coast Half)!  Someone with the event also asked if he could take the same photo – lord knows where that’ll end up!

With only about 1,100 runners registered (less than 1,000 finished), the race really wasn’t crowded at all after the first mile.  Jackie and I settled into a good pace and set off on our own race, not paying attention to the hundreds of people who took off so quickly we couldn’t see them again!  We talked and laughed (the theme of the weekend), enjoyed the eye candy, and watched the miles roll by.  Jackie was having a problem with an anti-blister pad on her heel giving her a blister, so we stopped just after the mile 4 water station so she could yank it out.  The break gave me a chance to stretch my ham strings, which is always a bonus!

The course ran through Camp Lejeune.  We saw all sorts of fitness stations – climbing ropes, pull-up bars, giant tires… -- and joked about stopping to take silly pictures, but I thought that I might be at a PR pace and it stopped me from wanting to spend too much time horsing around.  In addition to the fitness stations, we seemed to run past housing for Marines of increasing rank.  We started going past barracks and “bachelor housing” (which reminded me of the fact that the AK gorillas are divided into the family group and the bachelor group), cute little single-family homes, and then two-story homes across the street from the water.  I was about to ask what you have to rank to get a two-story house, and then noticed that the little name plates at the foot of each driveway had rank and last name.  Mystery solved!  I saw a few Majors and Commanders, and then stopped paying attention.

The water stops were all manned by Marines in their cute little matching track suits.  They were Disney-friendly – making eye contact, smiling, and some yelling encouragement.  Even the ones doing traffic control (obviously on duty, judging by the side arms and uniforms) were friendly as we passed.  I’m not sure why I expected them to be scowling and judgmental about us slowpokes running through their base, but I’m so happy that they weren’t!

…and while we’re on the subject of the Marines, I think now is a good time to have a quick side note about running on the base.  It was humbling for me.  I realized pretty quickly that I needed to stop calling the Marines “kids,” even though many were practically half my age.  (reality gut-check: some of them were born the year I graduated from high school)  It’s disrespectful to refer to someone dedicated to God and Country, willing to die for said Country, and more committed to that job than I’ve probably ever been to anything as a “kid.”  I also noticed a handful of the people competing in the wheelchair division were wearing shirts that identified them as disabled veterans.  Wow.  I’m not sure I can even begin to put into words what it was like to come face-to-face with just a tiny bit of what I only half pay attention to on the evening news.  I definitely complained less about my sore feet and shin splints than I normally do, and that had A LOT to do with my surroundings.  Also, after the race our buddy Dennis told us that there was an 88-year-old retired Sgt. Major participating.  I checked the results, and it looks like he was the last one to cross the finish line at just about 5 hours.  When I’m 88, I hope I’m still that tough!

Around mile 9 or 10, Jackie and I pretty much stopped talking.  I think we were both trying to keep ourselves motivated to not slow the other one down.  In the last race we ran together, I noticed that my run pace was faster than hers toward the end, but that she walks faster than I do.  We were doing that again, and sort of leap-frogging each other.  Mile 9 was also the point I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the water stations were now every mile, instead of only on the even miles.  Thanks to the excuse to walk while drinking a tiny cup of water, we were actually able to maintain our intervals with no extra walk breaks.  This is the first time I was able to accomplish that with the 25/40 intervals (and the reason I bumped the intervals up to 30/40 on this morning’s run).  By mile 9 or 10 of Sarasota, those same intervals had kicked my butt!

As we approached the finish, we were able to “run it in” to the finish line from a further distance than I usually can.  A nice (female) Marine put my medal around my neck.  Jackie and I congratulated a woman we leap-frogged during the race – 50 years old with 5 kids and a grandkid, running in her first half-marathon alongside her Marine husband.  They were pushing a stroller through the whole thing as well, and finished probably a minute ahead of us.  And we traded phones with that couple so that they could have a finisher photo together, and so that Jackie and I could do the same.

As far as post-race parties go, this one was pretty standard.  We got baggies with assorted fresh fruit, and they had water, Powerade, and even burgers available.  Beer was there for purchase, and there was a pretty decent band playing.  Since I’m not a fan of the giant post-race festivals, this small gathering was just my speed.  There was plenty of space to sit, wander, eat, and talk without my crowd-phobia kicking in at all.

I’m actually sad that this race is 10+ hours from home, because I genuinely enjoyed it and would love to do it every year.  Now that I’ve hit ten (TEN?? Yes, ten!!) half-marathons, I’m planning on ranking the races (and, separately, the medals) in a future post.  This race is going to be very close to the top.

So…how’d I do?  Thanks for asking!

Chip Time: 3:03:04 **PR** (by 4:15)
Pace: 13:59 min/mile
Overall Place: 905/964
Women’s Rank: 459/504

My Splits (according to RunKeeper):
Mile 1: 12:52
Mile 2: 13:04
Mile 3: 13:23
Mile 4: 13:30
Mile 5: 14:30 (includes our shoe-fix stop)
Mile 6: 13:35
Mile 7: 13:44
Mile 8: 13:30
Mile 9: 13:48
Mile 10: 13:28
Mile 11: 14:13
Mile 12: 13:37
Mile 13: 14:09

I had a massive runner’s high after this race like nothing I’d ever experienced before.  I was incredibly proud of my PR (although I didn’t realize until just now that it was 4+ minutes), and that I finally hit my goal of a sub-14 pace.  Jackie and I were both basically euphoric at the after-party, and neither of us managed a post-race nap.  I did have multiple laughing-with-tears episodes, one of which turned into a full-on ugly cry.  It’s always embarrassing when that happens, but I guess just had more emotions than I could process at one time!

It was a great race, and an amazingly fun weekend.  I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard, so often, for so many days straight.  Getting in and out of the car on the drive home Sunday was even funny, because we were both moaning, groaning, and limping every time.

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