Oct 31, 2010 Marine Corps Marathon

(and Oct 30 Stewart/Colbert Rally to restore Insanity and/or Fear)


This write up begins two and a half years ago.

I met my friend Xuan at a Purdue recruiting event.  All of the Cisco people went to dinner afterwards, and some time during dinner somebody mentioned something about wanting to run a marathon.  I mentioned that I’d run a couple, and as always happens, everybody went silent and just looked at me.  They never have to say anything, you know what’s going through their minds – “Really?  Ha ha.  Good one!”.

During dinner Xuan seemed more interested in eating large volumes of chocolate, but afterwards she approached me and innocently told me she would love to be able to run a marathon some day, and asked me if would I help.

We tried our first ‘run’ in the spring, and she could barely make a single mile at a walking pace.  I figured things were pretty hopeless, but I will never discourage anybody who’s willing to make the effort.  Besides, it was nice hanging around with somebody who actually made me look fast!

Roll forward a couple of years.  Two weeks ago, Xuan attempted her first ever half marathon at Newport Rhode Island.  She had a great run, with no problems, and set her sights on attempting a real marathon in the spring.  So we decided on Boston in the spring, and I went back to training for the upcoming JFK 50.  Next training run, the Marine Corps Marathon.

We had a few Soles heading down.  Katy, who would be attempting to break the three hour barrier, Dane, Dave, Paul (with Captain Carol in support), and myself.

Katy was jetting down in style, Dane was driving down with his wife and staying with in laws, we didn’t realize Paul and Carol were heading down until a couple of days before, so that left Ranger Dave and myself to figure things out.  Dave mentioned that he’s never happy unless something is going wrong, so we figured we’d increase our chances by driving one of the Alfas.  For this mission, we chose my 1972 GTV.  What could possibly go wrong in a 38 year old Italian car?  While none of my Alfa friends would think twice about such a thing, this actually seemed like a good idea to Ranger Dave.

Our plan was to drive down on Friday, attend the Stewart/Colbert “Rally to restore Insanity and or Fear” on Sunday, run the marathon Sunday morning, then hop in the car and head back immediately afterwards.

On Thursday, I got an email from Xuan.  reprinted here with (sort of) permission:

I have been thinking and really want to go to MCM if possible. Just want to have some fun even if I know that I can’t complete. I can take a shortcut to the finish line after the half. I will not run with you because I don’t want to screw up your 5-hour goal.  I can carry all my supplies, pump, glucose testing, snacks, etc, with me and I will just run at my comfortable pace until I am tired. Is my thinking feasible? It will be my birthday, so I want to have some fun this year. I have never been to the DC before. Do you have an extra back seat in your GTV? I can either try to find a hotel room or just bring a sleeping bag. Let me know what you think. It’s fine if you reject my infeasible plan.

Well, of course it was insane!  However, one thing I learned from Ranger Dave a few years ago – if you ask a crazy person if you should do something stupid, don’t be surprised if they think it’s a great idea.  So that’s what I told her, it’s a crazy idea, let’s do it!

Friday morning we got a little delayed, but were on our way a little after 10:00 AM.  We stuck with the Alfa, which has a back seat that used to be labeled “WARNING – this seat not to be used while vehicle is in motion”.  Xuan sat sideways back there, no complaining, happy to be along for the adventure.

I’d given Ranger Dave the official job of navigator, but was not surprised when he showed up with absolutely nothing that gave any hint of where we were heading.  His only advice was to “Head South, where the Waffle Houses’s were”.  So I headed South, scrolling through my iPhone to hopefully at least find the address of the hotel we were staying at.

Here’s an Army Ranger trivia question:

Q) Why do they drop Army Rangers in the middle of the action?

A) Because they have no sense of direction, so dropping them in the middle of the action allows them to shoot in any direction and have a good chance of hitting the enemy.

Ha ha ha.  Seriously, Ranger Dave explained this to me, but I think deep down inside he just enjoys it when things don’t go as planned.

We enjoyed endless shrimp and endless laughter at the Silver Spring Red Lobster (where our waitress simply didn’t believe I was there to run the marathon), and turned in early so we could get an early start in the morning.

On Saturday, we were up early, there weren’t any Waffle Houses close by so we enjoyed breakfast at some place called ‘Eggspectations’.  We headed towards the Metro and found an incredible line of people streaming towards it, many carrying signs and placards.  This rally was going to be pretty big!  We arrived at the Metro and the lines for the fare machines were out the door!  We finally figured out how to use the machines (well, most of us did), and found ourselves in a subway car that rivaled the Tokyo transit system during rush hour.

We got off the subway, Ranger Dave wanted to head South, so we headed North and soon found ourselves at the convention center, where we picked up our numbers for the marathon, and looked for a balloon to tie to Xuan so we wouldn’t lose her.  After that, Dave wanted to head North, so we headed South West, and soon found ourselves joining a very large and boisterous crowd of people heading towards the mall.


It’s very difficult to describe the size of the crowd, or the level of energy.  Imagine the biggest crowd you’ve ever seen, then multiply by 100.  We joked with Xuan that if this crowd gathered in Beijing, tanks would soon get involved.  RD and I were getting very concerned that we hadn’t found a balloon to tie to Xuan, who kept wandering off to take pictures.  We thought we’d lose her for sure.


There were a lot of great signs, this was one of the best:


The Stewart/Colbert rally was a hoot!  What a production!  We didn’t stay for the entire thing, after we heard Cat Stevens (thought he was banned from the US) and Ozzy Osborne perform together on stage, we decided to take Xuan on a walking tour of DC.  I’ve got to say, it was a great experience to tour the WWII and Vietnam memorials with RD, it puts things in a whole different perspective.

The ride home from the rally was quite interesting.  RD wanted to head towards some place called “Shady Grove”, so we went the other way towards “Glendale”.  We got about halfway towards our destination when they stopped the train and said it’s out of service.  They told us to look for a train on the other side of the platform (which would usually be going in the other direction, right?).

Standing there on the platform, we heard the following announcement, which sadly I am not making up:

“Attention Metro riders!  Please look for a train on the other side of the platform.  If it is full, it is heading in the direction you want to go.  If it is empty, it is not headed in the direction you want to go..”

Seriously.  Many people read these little write ups and wonder how I can be so incredibly funny.  The truth is, I am not.  Just think about that announcement, how could any humor I could possible make up be funnier than that reality?

Eventually a full train pulled in.  Having a Ranger with you can really come in handy some times, I called out “Rangers, lead the way!”, and immediately there was a gaping hole in the crowd in front of us.  Xuan and I eased our way in, and eventually we ended up back at Silver Spring, where we decided to do some carb loading.

Over dinner, we discussed the following day.  I was starting to get the idea that Xuan was serious about trying the full marathon.  I put a couple of options in front of her, such as jumping in at mile 10 and running the last 16.  The second half of this course is the scenic part, so if she was going to run part of it, then it would be best to run the second half.

But Xuan was having none of that.  She wanted to start at the beginning and go as far as her legs would take her.  Ranger Dave and I agreed that this was stupid, but reasonable.

When I was a kid, my parents would punish me for encouraging other kids to do stupid things.  Now, we call it inspiration.  Go figure.

It was funny watching Ranger Dave prep for the following day.  He started fretting about what he should wear, what the temperature would be at the start, during the race, etc.  Should he start with his shirt, would it be too cold?  What the heck?  This was the guy that changed my running life a few years ago, when, during one of my whining sessions, he gave me some advice that would stick with me – “Brian, just shut the hell up and run.”.  No whining, no excuses, just shut up and run.  That was brilliant!  Since then, I’ve never worried about anything, have learned to embrace and welcome adversity, blah blah blah.  And now here was the guy who taught me to adopt a ‘warrior mentality’, whining like a little baby.

I said what had to be said.  “Ranger Dave, just shut the hell up and run.”.  I’m not dead yet, so apparently he thought it was funny.  I did sleep with one eye open, however..

On Sunday, we woke up before the crack of dawn, had a breakfast of cold dry bagels and a banana, and were on our way.  Not wanting to repeat my hydration nightmare of two weeks earlier at Newport, where a full pot of coffee in the morning (followed by a large Dunkin Donuts coffee on the way) had me searching for porta potties non stop during the run, I limited myself to one small cup of coffee.

The Metro was a breeze, 35,000 marathon runners are a fraction of the 350,000+ rally attendees the day before.  We arrived at the Pentagon in plenty of time.  Or so we thought.  While there were hundreds of porta potties in the runners area, there were thousands of runners lining up to use them.  We let RD go first, since he had the most to lose by not joining the start early, and took his drop off bag to the drop off area so he could go straight to the starting line.

While we were waiting in line, the Marines had a flyover by a pair of seagulls:


After that inspirational moment, Xuan and I worked our way to the starting line.


Xuan had this huge grin on her face, which I figured would be replaced by a grimace of agony fairly soon.

Our start was pretty uneventful.  It took us a half hour or so after the gun to get to the actual starting line, at which point we were able to start running right away.

Almost immediately, I had to pee.  That was kind of strange, as I’d already been to the porta potty once, and had only a single cup of coffee that morning.  Whatever.  Around mile 2, I found a bush and watered it.  I quickly rejoined Xuan, and almost immediately had the urge to pee again.  I held off until mile 4, found another bush, then had to go again as soon as I started running again!

This went on for the first 8-10 miles.  I have no idea why.  The good news was that the course was pretty hilly for the first 9 miles, and by watering bushes on the uphill sections we didn’t lose a lot of time.

We completed our first 5 miles in a touch over an hour, and our second 5 miles in about the same amount of time.  Between mile 4 and 5 there is a section where you can see faster runners going the other way in an out and back, I joked to Xuan that we might see Dave or Dane.  I turned on my camera just in case, and amazingly picked Dave out of the crowd!


Take note of what’s right in front of him – I heard they were setting a pretty good pace..

Xuan and I kept plodding along.  We hit the half marathon mark, the furthest distance she’d ever run, and I wondered how much more she had in her.  I assured her that we’d finished the toughest part of the course, the second half was flatter and had all the good scenery.  Still, at mile 14 she started to lag behind a little bit, and I was worried.  But every time I turned around there she was, still with this huge grin on her face, showing no indication that she wanted to stop.




My concerns were unfounded.  Xuan was doing just fine, our third 5 miles were faster than our first two, a little bit under an hour.  Now, the scenery was incredible, we were running past so many national landmarks, and the Marines were everywhere, cheering us on, and thanking us!  I tried to thank them all for their service, but I think I missed a couple.

At mile 17, Xuan was showing no signs of slowing down.  Her grin was getting bigger, if that was possible.


Our fourth 5 miles were also under an hour, which was really good!  While I set the pace for the first 20, I started to hit my wall around 20, but Xuan seemed to be gaining energy.  For the last 6 miles, she just kept running and kept smiling, dragging me along with all of her energy.  Around mile 22, I think she realized for the first time that she was capable of making the entire distance, and told me “I am so happy right now!”.  I just wanted to take a nap and finish later, but how can you not feed off that excitement?


Before the race, Ranger Dave gave me a little bit of history.  The Marines have a saying that goes something like “If you think your day is over, take that hill!”.  That pretty much summarizes the end of the Marine Corps Marathon – the last two tenths of a mile are up a very steep hill, to the finish line at the Iwo Jima memorial.  When we reached the final hill, Xuan literally reached out and started dragging me up it.


The Marines are a bunch of classy individuals.  Even though Xuan ran as a bandit, and told them so, they still insisted on placing a medal around her neck.  She ran the distance, and they honored her for her accomplishment.

For me, seeing one of my best friends work so hard for so long, and accomplish such a dream, was priceless!  Xuan never stopped smiling the entire ride home (even when she was sleeping), and we’re pretty sure she wore her medal to work on Monday.

Well done Xuan!