For the first year, the Marine Corps Marathon has done registration by lottery, but if you sign up for (and cross the finish line!) the 17.75K race, you are guaranteed entry into the MCM in October. Mike and I still aren’t sure if we will run the MCM but we thought we should try to get in to at least have the option of running it. We had no idea how popular the 17.75K would be because of the MCM lottery this year. This race isn’t really that well-publicized. Mike went to sign us up for 17.75 a few months ago when registration opened right at noon. But he was only able to register me before the race filled up.
Mike’s brother signed up (luckily got in!) and traveled down with his wife and daughter to run the race and then spend a few days in DC. Mike and I decided just a few days before the race that I, rather than he, would run it. Neither of us was really that excited about waking up so early because of the 7 am race start, driving 45 minutes to Quantico, Virginia and running 17.75K through a park. In addition, we had just run a 5K the previous weekend. We contemplated flipping a coin the morning of to decide who would run it. I did actually really want the shirt (long-sleeve baby blue tech tee) and felt like I should run it to “earn” it rather than Mike running it for me.
I really didn’t train much for this race. I kept up my usual routine of running a few days per week mixed in with some strength training and yoga. My last long run (longer than 6 miles) was the Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon 4 weeks before.
Since we didn’t decide that I would be the one running until close to race day, I didn’t closely watch my diet the week before. I usually am very careful with what I eat because I have IBS that’s especially aggravated by running. But I also wasn’t running this race with any expectations of a fast time, so perhaps not worrying/stressing before the race would be good for my sensitive stomach!
Travis (Mike’s brother) picked up my packet and shirt the night before (Friday) the race when he arrived in Quantico. It would have been tough for us to drive in rush hour out to Quantico from DC after work on Friday and make in time to pick up our packet (no race day pickup).
I woke up at 4:45 am and we were on the road to Quantico at 5:30 am. I had a LaraBar in the car along with coffee and water. We picked up Travis and his family on the way and Mike dropped us off close to the start. Parking was not close to the start of the race at all – Mike had about a mile to walk! However, there were shuttles from the parking lots and the sponsored hotel nearby to the start line.
The start line area, designated by the giant MCM race arch, was also the finish area. We immediately got in line for the portapotties. Luckily, the weather cooperated and it turned into a beautiful spring morning.
Lululemon Pace Short (my favorites – wish they still made them!)
Lululemon Run Swiftly t-shirt
Zensah compression sleeves
Nathan Quick Shot Plus water bottle
Because of the race’s small size of less than 2,000 people, race organizers did not have any corrals set up for runners to group themselves by speed. I think that 2,000 people is big enough to warrant corrals, especially because of the narrowness of this course. First all the runners were told to gather and turn out of the start area, onto the highway and head down the street in the closed lane to the official start of the race. Travis and I were pretty far back and weren’t sure how far up the start line actually was. The giant start line marker was in the gathering area rather than at the actual start line.
All of a sudden we were off – I missed any gun or announcement. Despite being on a road, we only had a single lane and it was shoulder-to-shoulder with runners. I knew we’d turn into the park soon for the loop and hoped the crowd would thin out. But when we turned into Prince William Forest Park, the paved road turned into an extremely narrow and hilly dirt trail. I was running very slowly because it was nearly impossible to get through the mass of runners. I saw one runner break to the right and start running in the brush and leaves on the edge of the trail. I had no idea how long the trail would stay this narrow but I wouldn’t get around anyone unless I followed his lead. Being careful of foot placement and dodging branches, I started off-trail running to pass people and get into a comfortable pace.
It took over 3 miles for the crowds to thin out and the trail to widen. Focusing on getting through the crowds and into a comfortable rhythm did make the time go by pretty quickly! Also, I was very surprised at how many people were walking very early on in the race. I think many people use this race as really just a way to get into MCM.
The race was pretty much entirely in the park and the terrain varied from wide, paved trail to more narrow rocky dirt trail. It was extremely hilly! I had not even looked at the elevation chart online. Maybe that was a good thing, actually. You had to really watch your footing when going downhill, especially, because there were lots of loose and fairly large rocks. It kept things interesting.
I found it tough not to have any crowd support. This felt more like a training run through a park than a race! There were also no race photographers along the course. It was a little boring. Good thing I had my iPod shuffle! It was a pretty course, though and the shade from the trees was welcome since the sun was pretty strong and warm, even that early in the morning. Good thing we didn’t have any rain or it would have been a very muddy race.
The last few miles had some major downhills as well as some intense uphills. I literally felt like I was crawling up some of the uphills because they were so steep. I knew I was close to the finish line when I started to see more spectators (close to the entrance of the park). It was a great feeling to turn back onto the paved highway and out of the park. My legs felt dead! But I picked up the pace for a final sprint to the finish line.
The finish line area was very well-organized with lots of volunteer and Marine support. The finish chute had water, protein milk (passed – warm protein drink sounds gross), a box full of snacks (much more convenient than having to awkwardly carry a variety of food), a throw-away jacket to stay warm and pizza (passed – I don’t know how people do it).
They made a huge deal about the MCM “ACCESS” selling point of this race from the banners and signage to the premium shirt. At the finish, runners were given a wooden token to redeem at a nearby tent for our MCM registration.
I realized Mike and I had again forgotten to decide on a meeting spot post-race so I hung around, hoping he saw me finish and would come find me. He did! And brought my Immodium, which I took 2 of immediately, hoping to prevent any stomach issues. We picked up the MCM registration at the nearby tent and then I was done standing. I needed to sit immediately.
I was excited to dig into my box of treats, which I soon realized was leftover from the 2013 MCM. My first box had mold on it (GROSS!) so I exchanged it for a new one but only ate the pretzels. I did need to lay down on my stomach but I didn’t have the intense cramps that I normally do. Immodium!
On the way home, we stopped at a Wawa for Utz Party Mix, pretzels and chocolate milk – perfect post-race snacks!
Overall, a fairly small, no-frills race with a great selling point – finish and you can run MCM! It was well-organized and offered a nice long-sleeve finisher tee – a much nicer one than the MCM mock turtleneck tees. At the race, they were giving out old MCM race shirts for free. Not so attractive… I don’t think I’d go out of my way to do this race again, unless I wanted to run the MCM. The first few miles were frustrating (I’d try to get toward the front, if I ran it again) and I missed the energy of crowd support, especially on those hills!