Monday, October 31, 2011

"Getting Closer"...My Marine Corps Marathon 2011

One of the best races around to honor the loss of a loved one is the Marine Corps Marathon. The race has so much meaning whether that person was lost during a war, 9/11, or for any other reason. For me, personally, I wanted to run this race for my cousin Jeff, who passed away almost exactly 1 year ago.

There is no race that has been more difficult for me than the marathon. Like I said in the earlier blog post, it is the race where I have run the most bad races, and it is my weakest time in comparison to my others. Still, though, I believe that I can get it right eventually, and learn how to race the entire thing at some point. Running a marathon is one thing-and believe me, I am not trying to make if sound any less for those who run to finish(most people don't have the will to run a marathon and it is a tremendous distance to tackle)...but racing it is what I have been trying to get my body to do...and it has required a lot of physical adaptation, patience, and faith. My definition of racing is running at a pace where my body is running evenly or my pace fluctuates very little during the entire duration. The world's best marathoners know how to do this. I can do it for 1 mile, 5000 meters, 10K, 10 Miles, and 13.1 Miles...But I have not been able to do it for the marathon yet. I know I can, it's just a question of when.

Here is how the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon went for me:

I lined up in the front next to Mike Wardian. 30,000 people lined up behind me in their respective corrals. The canons went off and BOOM! runners started each of their 26.2 mile journeys. I tucked right in behind Wardian(who eventually placed
2nd in the race). I felt smooth and relaxed and held my pace well. I did not feel like I was going too fast, but I felt like I was racing, which was the goal. If I were able to race the entire thing, I believed that I had it in me to run anywhere from 2:23-2:25 today, and I was going to give it the best shot I had. The hills in the beginning were quite challenging, though nothing I couldn't handle...I tend to be built for hills. Wardian pulled up ahead with a pack of 5 or 6 guys and I was in the top 10 keying off of them. A few dropped back who I passed and found myself suddenly in 6th or 7th position. Then I found myself being followed on my heels by an African guy. We made the climb up to the Key Bridge where thousands of people cheered. I saw some of the GRC team cheering as we approached Georgetown and Jake was the loudest. One of the bridges was icy which caught me by surprise. It was pretty cold out but it didn't really bother me much. I wore arm warmers and gloves and was just fine. As we ran down lonely Canal Road, I saw a woman cheering loudly who I didn't recognize until I got closer and realized it was Jeanette(PR's apparel guru) which was cool. I made the U-turn onto Reservoir where Rich Saunders was cheering and took a photo of me. As we climbed up the hill, the African guy lost some ground on me and I found myself alone on MacArthur Blvd. As I got back to Canal Road, many runners who I coach going opposite directions cheered loudly for me "Go Coach!" and "Go Chris!"....which was really awesome...I couldn't see them in the crowds since there were certainly so many people but I definitely heard was awesome. I did see Julia cheering and also Tracy while she was running.(Tracy ended up qualifying for Boston in 3:49).

I approached M Street and made the turn down under WhiteHurst Freeway. Then, a runner caught me, who I recognized. It was the guy in the USMC uniform who I barely beat in the Philly Half last month. Same build. I stuck right behind him. 55 minutes in, I hit 10 miles(5:30 pace), took a gel, and was on PERFECT pacing. This was 2:24 pace, right where I needed to be. We approached the Lincoln Memorial where thousands and thousands of crowds cheered. I was still in 7th place. I put my hand near my ear to give a "what I can't hear you" symbol...and I heard LOUD CHEERS. No wonder Ryan Hall does this. What a GREAT feeling. Then I saw my Dad and Marian cheering loudly who took a photo of me as I passed by and quickly glanced at him. It was awesome for them to come out. My Mom and Beth and Carole were there as well, who I didn't see there were so many people but knew they saw me.

Approaching halfway in, we ran to Haines Point where I was still keying off the USMC guy. I split 1:12(5:30 pace) at the half and was super excited. I felt like I could do this...just gotta keep the turnover, keep the turnover. I was racing...

The second half began eating me like a peeled orange...layer by layer...until I wouldn't have any layers left. I lost some ground on the USMC guy and tried to maintain my rhythm. I saw Becca cheering near Mile 15 or so and that was great. I also saw Dave and Eric running along the course which was also very helpful. As I got back towards DC, a pack of guys including Adam Condit caught me and Jake Klim found me and ran with me for a while. Just stick with the pack, and I did. I took another gel at mile 16. I still hung on with Adam and we approached Mile 20 in 1 hour 52 minutes(5:36 per mile pace)....but I was 1st 10 miles was 55:00, my 2nd was 57:00. By Mile 21 Adam pulled ahead, the pack broke up, and we were climbing up the arduous 14th street bridge. It was tough, and it ate me up pretty good. At this point I wasn't racing anymore, I was just trying to was all I could do and had in me. My legs were shot, and were no longer in racing mode. Still, I wanted to finish strong, so I kept my head up and Jake helped tremendously by coaching and encouraging me to hold things together and keep running. As I got in to Crystal City, Miles 22 and 23 were by far the hardest for me. A few more runners ran me down. I had to stop for a moment and get myself together. I was, quite simply, thunderstruck. I suddenly felt all the races I had done this year, every PR...every effort was hitting me. But I kept on truckin, and the marines gave me cheers for my persistence. At Mile 24, I saw Jake again and together we ran a memorable 2 miles, he stuck with me the whole way-the veteran runner coached me as I ran. It became just a memorable training run where he was pushing me like any other run.

Jake left me at the last hill up to Iwo Jima Memorial, and said, "You can actually still PR. Just get up that last hill and finish your great year." During a tough race that became a run to just finish, to STILL run a PR would be great, I thought to myself. Then, right before the hill to the finish, another runner was about to pass me when suddenly a surge of energy shot right through me and I roared "NO!" and charged right past him up the hill with the power that makes me a competitor, looking like the Chris Sloane that finished the Philadelphia Half Marathon last month. No one was going to stop me getting up that hill-I ate it up for lunch, and Jeff would have been proud. I pumped my fist as people cheered and PROUDLY finished in 19th place overall out of 30,000 runners in a new PR of 2:37:21. To end the year with a PR in a race that certainly was not my potential really shows what truly different level I have gotten to in 2011. I greeted my Dad, Mom, Marian, Carole, and Beth as they all hugged me at the finish. What a great event this is and I'm glad they were able to come.

2011 was the best year of running and racing I have ever had. I have PRed in nearly every event: 1 mile, 5000 meters(twice), 8K, 10K, 10 Miles(twice), 13.1 Miles(twice), and finally, even the 26.2 distance. There have been flashes of brilliance in some of my races this year, and by far the Philly Half was without a question the race of the year. 68 minutes for 13.1 miles(5:14 per mile) has put me on a new level in my running, and sets up for some amazing goals for next spring. And as Beth said, I am the strongest at the half marathon right now. But Marine Corps was also a race that reflected my year, showing perserverance and determination go a long way, and are the ingredients to what have gotten me to having such a great year. So yea, of course I wanted to run 2:24, it would have gotten me 3rd place and I was on pace halfway through. But I am not unhappy about the race either, I am content and satisfied it was all I could do given the phenomenal year I've had. It's all I can ask for. And I'm confident that I am heading in the right direction and my training is paying off. I am not injured, am training the best I can, and will be close to acummulating 4,000 miles for the year. I now begin to look ahead to 2012, and it is looking exciting with the races I am planning on. I will not do a marathon in the spring, however, but pretty soon, I will have that outstanding marathon race that I KNOW I am capable of. It is just a matter of time, really. The lesson here is never give up and be consistent, because the hard work will pay off eventually if you want it bad enough.



  1. You are an awesome runner and an even more amazing person. I'm so glad I know you. Congrats on a tremendous race and year!

  2. Chris-- Fantastic race!! A fantastic year!!! The distinction you made between finishing a marathon and racing a marathon is totally on point.

    There's also a huge difference between training for a half and training for a full. Here are some recent examples. Claire Hallissey ran a 1:12 at the Philly Half this year. Three weeks later, she ran Chicago in 2:29. On the same day, Abby Swift ran a 2:43 at the Long Beach Marathon. Her best half is only 1:21. A friend of mine ran the Philly half this year in 1:22; yesterday, he struggled to finish MCM in 3:14. Another friend of mine finished the Philly half this year in 1:23; last week, he ran a 2:59 at Ridge to Bridge. (He's 41, and that was his first sub-3!)

    As for me, when it comes to the marathon distance, I'm clueless. With the exception of pacing a friend of mine to a 3:13 in Richmond in 2009 (his only BQ), I haven't seriously trained or attempted to race a marathon since 1995. A narrative of each marathon I ran in my mid-20's would have been very similar to your MCM race this year. Frustrated and humbled by distance, I didn't even consider running a marathon for approx. 15 years.

    However, this year, at age 41, I decided to tackle the 26.2 experience once again. If a temporary injury prevents me from toeing the line in Philly on Nov. 20th, then I'll recover and continue the journey next year.

    The quest to run a marathon that each of us believes accurately reflects his capability continues. Unquestionably, it's a quest worth pursuing!

    Congratulations once again on a great year. We should try to run a few easy miles together somewhere in Rockville/ MOCO. I said a few because you could only tolerate my glacial pace for a mile or two :).


  3. Congratulations Chris! So proud of you! Sorry I couldn't get there to cheer for you as well (my son had a commitment I had to attend to).