My Journey to the Finish Line of The Marine Corps Marathon

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I heard about the Marine Corps Marathon from a friend/ mentor, Omar Rodriguez. Omar is an ex-marine, endurance athlete (Multi Iron Man), and a world-class human being. When I began running, he bought me my first running shoes… He even invited me to my first half-marathon in Fort Lauderdale Florida. I guess it only makes sense that my first marathon experience is tied to him in some way… 

Back in February ’23 I was made aware of this marathon and heard great things about it. Instead of procrastinating further, I made the commitment to run. When I went to sign up, the only bibs left were tied to an organization… I did research on the ones available and was pulled toward the Travis Manion Foundation. I thought, how cool it was going to be to run in the Marine Corps Marathon AND support a great cause for our veterans. 

Going into the weekend of the marathon I felt more prepared than in any competition I’ve done before. I’m 99% sure it’s because Ivie helped organize everything from logistics to nutrition. I was loaded with cookies, gummies, coconut water, fruit, pasta… all the good stuff. 

Checking in and receiving my bib at the Gaylord Convention Center was a seamless process. It gave me the “night before the game” jitters. A feeling I didn’t realize how much I missed! 16 weeks of focused training came down to this!

On the morning of the marathon, I was ready to roll. God gifted us a beautiful sunrise! I had my Orange ‘Power T’ headband locked and loaded! Coconut water in hand. Body wrapped in my NOBULL sweater. I was ready to rock and roll! Ivie dropped me off at the athlete shuttle area. By the time I looked up, it was race time! 

Going into the race I knew the majority of the climb would be in the first 3 miles. In a race of 17,000 + runners, the first few miles are thickkkk! I’m talking shoulder-to-shoulder. So running at my ideal, controlled pace is close to impossible. Once the gun went off adrenaline was pumping, I wanted to sprint around people and hurry to the front, but I knew I needed to preserve the energy. 26 miles is a lot of running. No matter how you chop it up. 

I was amazed by the support throughout the race. There were people everywhere. I saw all the funniest signs, and people dressed up in funny outfits, everyone there to help the runners complete the mission. One guy had a tent with something along the lines of “Come take a shot of bad decisions”… He was serving Fireball shots on the course. Lol And on top of that, he was playing the “Firrrrrreeeee ballllllll” song on repeat for 6 hours, per his sign. I didn’t crave a shot. Actually don’t even like Fireball, but I was curious if others took one. 

During the run, I felt amazing… Listening to a mix between Tim Ferriss’s Show and a Marine Corps Marathon Playlist I made ( a mix of everything from POP, Rap, Country, and Afro). I had wide eyes, and an open heart taking in this first experience. The first 8 miles were easy and smooth. I was on pace with my overall goal and my average heart rate up to that point did not exceed 150. I felt in control with more in the tank! An effective way to make miles go by fast, converse with another runner about college sports. Though I forgot his name, I recall he was 50 years old, and from Athens, GA. We talked SEC ball and shared an 8:00 pace for about 5+ miles.  

Pre-race selfie at the Marine Corps Marathon Startline. 17k + in attendance

My Key to a Good Marathon: Effectively Hydrate and Fuel for 26.2

During the race, I burned over 4,000 active calories. ~7500 calories for the total day. Being 226lbs, my body demanded a lot of fuel. The gameplay was to drink at every station even if I wasn’t thirsty.  I made sure I ate any snacks offered, apple sauce, bananas, cliff bar gels.. whatever was available. The most important strategic action Ivie and I took was planning several touchpoints to exchange hydration and other forms of fuel. She’s a beast. Every planned pitstop Ivie and Coach Gilly were there ready to make an exchange so that I could continue my journey to 26.2.

If you’re curious about why we emphasized this so much, during my training I ran 21 miles with poor planning, dehydrated, and no fuel on the run. I completed the run…. The first 19 miles were good 8:10-8:15. I finished the 21 with an 8:51 pace. The last two miles my body was ready to shut down… This was the first time I felt I was about to pass out. In a downtown Knoxville condo post-run, I committed to not experiencing this feeling again, ESPECIALLY NOT ON GAME DAY BABY!

Okay, back to the run, once I hit 13.1 miles and I was under my half marathon pace, I was cooking with grease. Lol At this point I’m where I need to be. The views of the run are still BEAUTIFUL! The course layout was special! A little over the halfway mark, we ran through the Blue Mile; this is a mile-long remembrance of the fallen. Talk about perspective… A lot of these soldiers were my age, and most were younger. The visuals were on both, the right and left sides of the route. One poster every 5 feet, for 5,280 feet, 1 mile. Concluding the Blue Mile we ran through a heavy crowd of supporters and veterans waving our US flags. This route highlighted the Blue Mile was not in vain but for the ultimate sacrifice of our country’s freedom.

Around mile 18 I begin to mentally prepare myself for the last 10k. To be honest, I knew that this was when the race started! Between 18-23 miles I saw so many runners on the ground, pull themselves out, begin walking, or get help from medic. Being mentally strong during this phase is vital! It’s easy and convenient to tap out… but the reality is, ITS EXPENSIVE! I promised myself that’s one thing I can’t afford. I understand that everyone’s situation is unique and not downing the runners who did not finish. My point is, that this moment is when commitment is tested. Inky said it best, “Commitment is doing what you said you would do long after the feeling, in which you said it, has left you”. 

THE LAST MILE(S)

At mile 20 my headphones died. At mile 22 I felt cramps creeping in and by mile 24 the feeling in which I made my commitment had left me. By this point, humidity increased, and I was essentially out of fuel until the end of the race. .5 miles felt like 5 miles. Mediocre climbs felt steep. With people stopping left and right, and some passing me, I had to make a decision to keep moving. The decision had to be made about 200 times in the last two miles. 

At 26.2 miles I was at 3:34 min. Too bad the course doesn’t care about what your watch calculates. I calculated approx distance left, I had about .45 miles to go in the race. At this point, I know I missed my goal… By the time I complete the last .45 miles, it’ll just increase my overall time. This is the honor of competing, pushing yourself, and growing; when said mission is not going as desired, how will you react? When what you sign up for is a little longer, a little tougher, and a bit more taxing than anticipated, how will you respond? I love these moments. I thrive in these moments. My clarity and awareness increased. I’m hyper-aware of my self-talk, my surroundings, and what my body is telling me.

In my mind, if I stop now, everything I trained for will be a waste!

In the last two miles of the Marine Corps Marathon, I demonstrated additional capacity in my resilience tank. I finished with honor and refueled like a champion at the Travis Manion Foundation tent. I was greeted by friends and my greatest teammate, Ivie. My heart was full of gratitude for such an incredible experience and amazing support. I hope you welcome a challenge of some level, you’ll discover more about yourself and have a BLAST!

To our marines and family members of those who serve. Thank you for your sacrifices so we can thrive in the best country in the world! 

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