While I love trail running and ultras, I also enjoy me a good ole fashion big time road race and the Marine Corps Marathon is my favorite. Why is it my favorite?
- It’s in what’s become my hometown – Washington, DC (and environs)
- It’s in my favorite season – autumn
- I get to see friends from many different parst of my life
- I often get to pace someone
- I’ve never raced it
That’s right, I’ve never raced my favorite road race… and think that’s one reason I like it so much.
This year, MCM snuck up on me. I had known for a few weeks that Greg Loomis and his wife, Anne, were coming into town to stay with me, but it wasn’t until I was running home Wednesday night that it sunk in. I had crossed the Memorial Bridge and was heading up the GW Parkway when I saw plastic orange fencing lining the road. Taking a left I headed up “the hill” towards the Iwo Jima Memorial. The road was lined with portajohn after portajohn in manner that can only be found at music festivals, state fairs, or the start or finish of a big race. It was time.
It was time for the crowds, the cheering, the friends, the race. DC rarely comes together for sporting events, but it sure does for Marine Corps. While there are lots of folks in town cheering for their friends, the locals come out in droves. People who have no relation to the race or any of its racers come out to see what the race is all about. Of course, the running community is out in full.
For many years, I run part or all of MCM with a friend or two. This year I ran the last half of the race with Greg. I love going along the course seeing running friends every couple miles. Friends from my trail running/ultrarunning club, friends from my road club, running friends from goodness knows where. And those are just the friends along the course. Marine Corps has many out and backs during which you see other runners not to mention those folks who I pass or pass me. It’s like a giant runners reunion out there. Before my pacing stint, I saw friends Brad Mitchell from Team Montrail-Nathan, Dane of Fiddy2 fame, and VHTRC speedster Aaron Schwartzbard. While running I saw trail runners and road runners alike. For instance, Greg and I spent many miles near Brian, who I had met at a few track workouts. En route, I also saw fellow ultrarunners, Keith Knipling and Prasad Gerard, who I’ve known for years. Basically, it was awesome… and as a pacer rather than a racer I could give a shout to or have a quick exchange with the friends I encountered.
All that said, Marine Corps is more than a race, it is a signal that the racing year has ended. It is booked ended on the other side of the year by the HAT Run 50k, which signals the start of the racing year. In the seven years since college, I can only think of two races that I’ve run between MCM and the end of the year – the Stone Cat 50 miler in November 2003 and a Veteran’s Day 10k in November 2005. However, the end of race season isn’t simply about an end to racing; it’s also about the end of the hard training and an end to the heat. All three roughly coincide. What falls between MCM and HAT is a season of peace, of running for the sake of running. Certainly, I put in the miles so that I have a base come spring, but my training is so much less structured. The end of the heat also means the miles are more enjoyable. The sauna-like heat and humidity of the mid-Atlantic summer are shipped away to be replaced by crisp evening runs through crunchy leaves and lonely winter night runs under an icy black sky. During the racing season, I find myself through challenge and turmoil. In the off season, I find myself through peace and quite and simplicity and effortlessness. MCM marks a symbolic setting of the sun, but not an end to the day.