|Marine Corps Marathon, Washington
DC, USA. October 22nd, 2000.
Herve is HAPPY: the hard work paid off. It is 7 pm on Sunday and today I raced my first Marathon. I am so glad to be sitting in my hotel room right now. My legs are so happy when I give them a rest. And I think they deserve a rest because they got the job done, and did even better than expected. My finishing time was 3h26:35 according to my watch. That put me in 629th position. 24,588 runners registered, 17,641 actually started the race and 17,186 finished! The official results are available at http://www.marinemarathon.com/theresults.html. There is also an excellent article about this race in the Washington Post.
The day started at 4am. I had four alarm clocks setup: my watch, my digital diary, the hotel radio and a hotel wake up call. They all worked! I am so paranoid! The weather was perfect. 55 deg. F in the morning is bearably cold when waiting for the gun to start the race. 70 deg. F at the end with a 96% humidity feels very hot when there is no shade to hide on that 14th Street Bridge, but we all survived.
|The hotel where I was staying was only 30 minutes away from the race. Waking up at 4:00am gave me over 4 hours to get ready to get there. All that time came in handy to prepare all my equipment but the reason I do this is hydration and bathroom duty. I hate having to interrupt a race because I have to go to the bathroom. Actually I just met a girl who did not finish the race because when she came out of the bathroom at mile 16 both her legs cramped up and after 2 miles of agony she gave up. So here is a trick that works wonders with me: I drink as much water as I can for 2-3 hours before the race and stop drinking one hour before the start. I only drink what I can without hurting my stomach -- today I was just short of a gallon. Then during the last hour I try to get as much urine as I can out of my system. One more technique I used: Herve aid. I mixed 3 glasses of Gatorade with 2 pinches of salt and put this in my Camelbak (the hip mounted one, not the shoulder version that is great for bikers but does not work for runners). The salt helps the body to retain more water so that it does not just run through the body and get flushed as urine. Also during my long runs I have noticed that I loose a lot of salt and cramp up due to de-hydration. All in all I did not have to pee a single time during the race, did not cramp and my urine was perfectly clear just 10 minutes after the race.|
|At 7:50 am I left my bag in the baggage tent. I was shivering in my shorts and singlet covered by a 33 gallon trash bag. I then walked down to the staring line where the first of three waves of runners had just started lining up. The sun was getting up, the temperature was rising, I was feeling better. Looking around I could see most of the 25,000 runners. The Marines had organized this race so well that we did not feel all that crowded. The 3 wave deal helped a lot to reduce congestion at the start and at the first few water stops. There were a number of signs for pacing groups along the road. Closes to the start was the 3:10 group. Further away was the 3:20 sign. Then the 3:40 one. I believe there were more: 4:00, 4:30, 5:00, 5:30 and 6:00 but I did not see the signs. I stood right between the 3:20 and 3:40 signs as I was aiming at 3:30. The front row for the really fast runners was very accessible. It was really easy to pick any spot you liked. No stress, no shoving -- perfect organization.|
|At 8:25am the wheelchairs started and we all followed 5 minutes later. I expected to fight the crowd at the start so my plan allowed for a 10 minute 1st mile and a 9 minute second mile. Which would be a very nice warm-up. But I actually did 8:38 and 8:37 instead. I tried to slow down to 9 on the second mile but the girls ahead of me were just too good looking.|
|I ended up settling in my 8
min mile pace and we went around the Pentagon and its parking area. We
did get some cheering there, but nothing like what expected us. At mile
6 and 7 we run back through the starting line on Jefferson Davis Highway
and I just forgot I was running. I had never seen and heard so much crowd
cheering, waving signs at us, even some disguised comedians running
with us. These people literally carried us along. It was hard for me to
focus on my pace: i just wanted to run fast because people were
shouting "Go France", "Vive la France", "Allez, allez France!", "Parlez
Francais", and some more that I cannot recall. That singlet I got with
"France" written on it really worked miracles.
At mile 7.5 we went over the Key Bridge into an are of DC that I had never seen before. Nice little shops on cobblestone streets; it reminded me of Boston or a typical little French town. There were a few ups and downs on the course between mile 8 and 9 as we were running under a bridge, then over it, then down again. This is why my mile 9 time is faster than I planned. I wanted to average 8 overall, so I needed a bunch of 7:40s in the first half to make up for the time I took me to get up to speed, and an other bunch of 7:40s in the second half to make up for the fatigue that would probably slow me down towards the end.
At mile 9.7 we got on Constitution Avenue, the one that runs along the White House and in front of the Washington monument. At this point everything was perfect: the temperature was cool enough, the sun was shining, the clouds were rare, the crowd was everywhere and very boisterous. We had plenty of space to run but I always run close to one side and smiled at the people cheering. It was my way of showing my appreciation for their encouragements and they liked it because they all looked at my singlet and redoubled their: "Go France", "Vive la France", "Allez, allez France!".
Another domain that was perfect were the water stops. All manned by Marine Corps soldiers. The stops were placed every two miles always half way between mile markers. I really like it when there is plenty of distance between mile markers and water stops. That gives plenty of time to runners to check their pace as they don't have to grab water at the same time. Also, those water stops were all at least 100 yard long! That is great because I like to get at least 2 glasses of water. So if I happen to be eating with one hand I can grab a cup with the other, get out of the way of other runners trying to get a cup too, drink it all as I run and then grab another cup towards the end. They were also serving some sport drink called Ultima, but as I had never used it during my training I did not want to take the risk to have my stomach not like it.
Mile 12 to 14 took us around the US Capitol. At that point I remembered that famous quote: "Monuments? I didn't see any monument.". So far I could see the monuments so I figured that I was in good shape. The only thing that was troubling me were blisters on each foot that I could already feel. I had never had them so early and painful before. And I did apply a fair amount of vaseline on my feet. So I focused on keeping my running form, on not changing my stride because of the pain because that was going to make other things hurt or even injured. And after a while I tuned it out, no doubt thanks to the scenery: both the monuments and the beautiful female legs I could see here and there - some of them were really stunning.
Mile 15 took us along the other side of the Washington monument and towards the Lincoln memorial. We saw all the Vietnam war sculptures as we run in the shade of the trees in the park. The crowd was there too! Lots of them! More "Go France", "Vive la France", "Allez, allez France!" for me.
Then came mile 16 to 18 along Jefferson Memorial where they have those beautiful Japanese Cherry blossom trees. Autumn in Washington is such a wonderful season to run. Whenever we were running under trees and the wind picked up a little we were sprinkled with a few yellow leaves. During this section of the marathon I really felt at my strongest. I was catching up a lot of people in the 3:20 pace group. Even some 3:10 that dropped off. We were running along the Potomac River on Ohio Drive around the East Potomac Park all the way out to the Hains point that is just across the river from the Washington Reagan National Airport. When we turned Hains Point to take Ohio Drive along the Washington Channel is when I started feeling really tired. It's funny how 2 miles before I was feeling invincible even though at mile 17 both my feet had blisters burst on me -- a very refreshing experience for the feet. Feet pain was relatively easy to bear but leg muscle pain and general fatigue were something else.
At mile 20 to 22, I was really trying hard to keep my pace at 7:40 but all I could do were upper 7:50s. I knew that was OK though because I was 5 minutes ahead of schedule and there were "only" 3.2 miles left. I also knew that I was not bonking (translation for non runners: hitting the wall, hitting that sudden total depletion of energy) because I had done a good job of eating throughout the race. I was ingesting 330 calories per hour: Powerbars, Gu and PowerGel -- only things that I had trained my stomach on. I did not want to eat anything else offered by the organization like oranges at mile 6.5, bagels at mile 14, Gu at mile 17 (I took one there) and Jelly Beans at mile 24. I was very paranoid about eating and drinking: I would not even take the water offered at non official stations. I only took water from Marines, ate the things I had brought with me and sipped my Herve Aid that run out at mile 23.
|Miles 21 and 22 took us around the Jefferson Memorial and its tidal basin, but at this stage I did not notice anymore. I knew that the 14th street bridge was coming up soon and that I would suffer there because there is no shade and hardly anybody to cheer runners. Mile 23 was halfway across the bridge. It felt too hot and humid, we were all suffering but being a stubborn guy there was no way I was going to falter so "close" to the finish line. "Only 2 miles to go Herve", "Suck it up", "Dig deep" were the themes of my soliloquy. I could see a lot of people walking, some just standing there on that bridge, not seeming to know where they were. A few people were throwing up. "Dig deep" I kept thinking. I was also trying to focus on my running form. I did not want it to degenerate. "Maintain you technique, you will maintain your speed and make it easier for yourself".|
mile 24 we got off the bridge. There was a water station there and water
never tasted so good. Only 2 miles to go. Incredibly I was still nearly
5 minutes ahead of schedule. "It's in the bag" I was trying to think.
I was still doing very close to 8 minute miles, even though I felt
terrible. Some runners around me were not pretty to look at, no need to
be graphical about it. I was trying to catch up some Marine runner ahead
that looked good but just couldn't. "Dig deep, Herve" -- I was thinking
of what Peter Reed was saying after his victory in Kona 2000: "I have
never dug that deep before.".
Between miles 24.5 and 25.5 the crowd was fantastic. They were literally carrying us with their cheers. Whenever I'd hear "Allez, allez France!" I would wave back as I had done throughout the race, only it was more taxing now. Then the horrible part stared: The hill to the finish. It's not that tough a hill -- the ones in Tallahassee are way tougher -- but at mile 26 it hurts! Mile 26 was very close to the top of the Marine Corps War Memorial. After that it seemed to level off a little and there was some shade. When I crossed the line I cold hardly believe that I broke 3 hours and 27 minutes. I was exhausted but I was elated! I had done it. Even better.
|After the finish line my brain did not
seem to command my legs any more. First it took several seconds to stop
running or fast walking. Then I could not walk a straight line! But I
did not fall and did not require assistance. I grabbed a bottle of water
and some food and forced myself to have both right away, even though I
felt like it would make me vomit. At that stage I was walking slower than
most 90 year people and any little hill was a struggle. You should have
seen me trying to get up the stairs of the bus that took us back to the
parking lot! Or worse: going down the stairs.
One of the top things that give me great pleasure is knowing that I gave it 100% of myself. All I could do in the last 1/2 mile was to try and reach the finish line. I had absolutely nothing left to even pick up the pace a little, though I did try. Now all I have to do is sleep a lot (naps are a must), rest, drink and take it easy for a few days. I am so glad that I did not have a plane to catch after the race, I don't know how I would have managed the walking part of traveling, especially the connection in Atlanta.
|1st finisher from Tallahassee, FL. (VERY lucky, Tally runners usually kick my ass).|
|7th overall finisher from the state of Florida. (Where were the good runners?)|
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