Monday, October 31, 2011

Ol' Blood and Guts


I did my very first marathon on Sunday and it didn’t go as well for me as I’d hoped. It was a nightmare, really, which is a shame because the Marines really do put on a great event. I just couldn’t take full advantage of it.


The 2011 Marine Corps Marathon was scheduled to start at 8 AM. The shuttle was scheduled to leave my hotel at 5:30 AM. I got up at 4:30 AM, which is 1:30 AM in Los Angeles where I live and where I was only a couple of days ago. See? Already my day was off to a bad start.


At 6 AM we were in the VIP area at the race, which normally would’ve been great except the temperature was in the low 30’s and the grassy area where all the tables were set up had turned into a cold soggy mud pit from all the rain and snow the day before.


I was wearing my race clothes (running tights, a t-shirt and a slightly heavier long-sleeved top over that) covered by a pair of cheap sweat pants. The sweat pants were going to be left at the starting line. The Marines have people collect all the clothes that get discarded at the starting line and then they wash them and give them to charity. I had a cheap hoodie too, but it was back at the hotel because I didn’t think I would need it. I needed it. I was freezing. Shivering. Teeth chattering. Feet and shoes getting wet from the mud. I had a pair of waterproof running shoes, too. I brought them with me from LA but I left them at the hotel because I didn’t think I would need them.


Someone was kind enough to get me a small piece of cardboard to put on the ground so I could stretch, kind of. I was able to do a short hip-flexor stretch but not much else. I normally stretch for about 30 minutes when I do a long run like this. And I always do a little bit of a warm up before I stretch so I’m not stretching cold muscles. That was all out the door today.


I was able to get a couple of cups of hot water before we were taken away to the starting line to do an interview for Comcast. The interview took place outside. There was frost on the table. Again, I was freezing. Not properly dressed or prepared. Wondering how my hoodie and waterproof shoes were doing back at the hotel.


The highlight of the morning was being able to stand in the crowded but heated Comcast production truck for about 20 minutes or so. I was with John Doman (From The Wire. He played the prick Deputy Police Commissioner. He always plays a prick but is a very nice man in person.), his wife Linda, and Robert Swan, OBE. John Doman fought in Vietnam. Robert Swan walked the South Pole. (That’s right. He walked it.) A bit later, at the starter’s podium, I stood next to retired Marine Lt. General Richard Carey. General Carey fought at the Chosin Reservoir (the “Frozen Chosin”) in Korea with Chesty Puller. I wanted to complain about the weather and mud and such a lot more than I did, but being around those kind of people I just couldn’t. The one thing you simply do not want to say in front of a guy who walked the South Pole and a guy who lost toes from frostbite while fighting in Korea is “Gee, I’m cold.”


I was also the official starter for the marathon, which was extremely cool. I had a perfect view of the starting area. I noticed a lot of the runners were wearing nothing more than shorts and a singlet. They weren’t shivering like me. I did not hear their teeth chattering, like mine were. I thought they were crazy.


My run, once I climbed down from the starting stand and got going, started better than I thought it would. My toes were numb, but I was excited. Everyone was. It’s a fantastic feeling being in that mob of people, everyone determined to run 26.2 miles no matter what. I was surrounded by hope.


By the first water station, around mile 2, I was nice and warmed up. I was feeling good. I was pacing well. My heart rate was right where it was supposed to be. The only problem, and it wasn’t really a problem because the energy was so positive, was that it was so crowded on the road it was hard to maneuver. But despite that, everyone was extra polite and supportive. Everyone knew how to say “excuse me” and “thank you”. They got out of the way of the wheelchair racers when they needed to. (“Make a hole! Left side!”) They all offered support to other racers who seemed to be struggling. They all seemed liked they were raised by good parents.


It was a fantastic experience to be anonymous in a crowd like that.


Soon, I had caught up to the pace runner for a 4-hour finish. Soon after that, I passed him. I felt strong. My stride was good. Everyone around me exuded confidence and love and positivity. Nothing could go wrong.


Until around mile 14 or 15. It’s hard for me to say exactly when, because it was such a blur of pain after that I can’t remember. My quads started cramping up. Just a bit at first. “Oh, maybe this is the ‘Wall’ that everyone talks about”, I thought. “I’ll just run through it and it will go away.” But it didn’t go away. It got worse. And worse. And worse.


After mile 20 there were a few times I had to stop completely because of the cramping. I could barely walk. With a little bit of make-up I could’ve been a zombie extra in The Walking Dead. Then the cramping would subside enough for me to run again, if you can call what I was doing “running”. I had a splitting headache. My running clothes were soaked with sweat and cold wind was blowing through them. I though I was catching pneumonia.


It took me almost 20 minutes to complete the final mile. I was devastated. I privately was very confident about completing my first marathon in under 4 hours. I finished in 4:37:11.


But again, positivity reigned. Everyone was so happy for me. “Hey, you finished!” I heard that a hundred times after the race. People hugged me and shook my hand. At least I finished.


My fiance told me about all the people she saw throw up at the finish line while she was waiting for me. She also saw a guy at mile 16 who stopped and took off his shoe and it looked like “his toenails blew up”. All his toenails except the big one had come off. Blood all over his socks. So at least I wasn’t one of those people.


Nearly everyone I saw at the finish looked fine, but there were a few that looked in worse shape than me. The Marines had it all covered, though. Medics everywhere. Support troops everywhere. They really know their business.


I sat in the sun with my medal around my neck for a bit, aching. I ate. Talked to Rob Swan, the arctic explorer. Did a couple of interviews. Soon I was shivering again. My clothes were soaked and the wind was blowing. I couldn’t stop shaking or stuttering. I felt hypothermia coming on. I had to be held up to walk. I got a ride back to the hotel to start recovering, starting with an ice bath, which was necessary but sucked harder than you can imagine.


I want to do it again next year.


64 comments:

  1. You did GREAT. Proud of you for hanging in. It's all good knowledge for next time. ;)

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  2. Sorry that you had such a tough time at the finish, but so happy for you that you finished!

    Best of luck for a smoother run next year!

    :D

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  3. That sounds EXACTLY like my first Marathon. I was very confident about getting a sub 4-hour time, then the last few miles, well, sucked. Cramping, walking, and watching everyone pass me by. Good work sticking it out. Train more next time, and pace yourself during the run and you'll do great!

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  4. Bless you for everything you do Drew. You did something I couldn't do. I know all about cramps. Mine are controlled with Dilantin.

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  5. ,From one NE Ohio runner to another. STRONG WORK!!
    Plan your next 26.2 for June in Canton, it'll be my first.

    I've bren running to some early MSB. Good stuff for LSDs.

    Cleveland ROCKS

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  6. you go, Drew!

    well told story.


    nate, the bow-tie Las Vegas tv weather guy (who hung with you once or twice with the Lon Bronson Band)

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  7. Great work on your FIRST marathon. A biker friend suggested TUMS for cramps... I took one before and during the race but I still had my legs locking up the last two miles. I actually finished next to you which was a big treat for me...I think my bragging has helped speed my recovery! Thanks and kudos for your journey to a healthier Drew...

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  8. Very cool for what you did congrats ...

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  9. That's the beauty and challenge of a marathon. Everything must go perfectly to post a great time because 26.2 miles is a long way! Good luck at your next one!

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  10. Drew I would like to nominate myself to be your "East Coast Weather Representative" the next time you run a marathon here!!

    Help you know what you should and shouldn't be wearing - congrats!!!

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  11. God job Drew, we're proud of you!

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  12. Drew -

    I had a very similar experience doing the MCM a few years ago - I did the first 20 miles in 2:50 and mentally said "ok, now it's a 10k, just go". Loved the guys out on that park that juts into the Potomac that were blasting AC/DC on their PA system. Everything was looking great until I hit the 14th street bridge and then I cramped up like I've never cramped before. Quads, calves, hamstrings - everything. I hobbled in on straight legs to a 4:16 finish. Slowest 10k I've ever done.

    Glad to hear you did it and that you'll do it again. Love the Chesty Puller reference!

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  13. Great recap, Drew! I was there and could picture everything you described. I was looking forward to seeing you out there but had no clue of the crowd size. My first marathon a year ago was exactly like yours, minus the hypothermia. Cramping sucks. Pre-race hydration rules. Also like you, I felt no room to complain yesterday. Our Marines (and all service men and women), like yourself, are putting it on the line everyday for our freedoms. We run for those who can't.

    You'll get 'em next time!! You're a marathon FINISHER, baby! Sport the sticker!

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  14. Wow! What an amazing achievement! Congratulations!!! :]

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  15. Congratulations Drew!! I commend you for finishing in spite of all of the issues you had!! I was running beside you in the Disneyland Half Marathon for quite some time and you looked great!! Marathons are tough but we keep coming back for more! Good luck on the next one!!

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  16. congrats drew... awesome job!! i ran the 10k for the second time.. hoping to make MCM my first full marathon in 2012!!

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  17. Drew, what is commendable is that you finished at all. You took the crap you were dealt and pushed through. I believe that time goals are for later runs, your first marathon is just for gutting it out. You did tremendous and it is something that no one can ever take away from you, even if Proops will try to take the piss out of you for it! Congrats

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  18. Although a newbie to marathons myself, a short glass of scotch and a beer make the ice bath much more enjoyable. Congratulations!

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  19. congratulations drew! i think it's wonderful that you finished and even with all you endured you persevered. my mom, my 2 aunts and my uncle did the LA Marathon last year and finshed in a little over 6 hours. then my same 2 aunts just completed the chicago marathon last month, and one aunt will continue on and do the NYC marathon in November. i can't begin to describe how proud i am of my family for doing this, and of you for doing this as well! Congratulations!

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  20. Great job on your first marathon! Try Salt Stick salt pills the next time and it might help the cramping (and the headache was also probably related). You'll get your sub 4 eventually!

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  21. Congrats on your first. Great write up.

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  22. Congratulations! I could never imagine running a full marathon. Hopefully your accomplishment doesn't remain overshadowed by your trials.

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  23. Drew, I ran my first Half Marathon with you at the USMC Half this past May. I also ran my first Marathon with you, the MCM this past Sunday and I understand you 100% - I too started cramping up at mile 12. Quads would not let me move faster than a "fast" walk of about 17" pace. SOMETIMES I could shuffle to a 13" pace for... 30 seconds. Now, I don't know if it was the famed wall or not... but I can tell you this - I finished. Just like you. Sadly, 2 hours behind you though, but we finished.

    And just like you, I want to do it again next year.

    Same place, same races, 2012? See you then.

    @BroSose #36thMCM

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  24. Congratulations. Great write up. Glad you're doing it again next year. Going hypothermia after a hard race is something every runner should experience. The only way to find your limit is to go over the edge every once in a while.

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  25. Cool. Congrats on completing your 1st marathon. Huge accomplishment and something that most people will never experience. Very cool.

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  26. Congratulations Drew! What an awesome recap filled with positivity. :)

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  27. Wow, congrats Drew! Good luck getting it done next year!

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  28. Congrats on finishing! I was there, too, but you were probably back at your hotel and in your ice bath by the time I finished. Take heart that you were still faster than Oprah. OORAH!

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  29. Way to go Drew! I was out there shivering with you and 35,000 other friends. Much appreciation for your very brief speech at the beginning of the race - just needed to get everyone going and start warming up. Sorry it didn't end the way you wanted - mine didn't either - but that's as strong a draw for bringing you back as a great finish. Hope recovery is treating you well.

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  30. Hooray Drew! I looked for you out there, well, once or twice but then I went in the pain cave too and it was all I could do to remember my husband was out there.

    HUGE CONGRATS on your first marathon! The crowded course was a serious challenge. You rock!!!

    @ultrarunnergirl

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  31. "Soon, I had caught up to the pace runner for a 4-hour finish. Soon after that, I passed him."

    Oh Drew. This might have done as much as anything to have determined your fate. Almost everybody feels great at mile 10-15ish. It's only after you've felt great, sped up, then been relegated to the death march do you realize that the hard work doesn't start until mile 20 or so.
    No matter. You are a marathoner now. Pretty cool, eh? Congrats on that. Recover. Lick your wounds. Run some shorter races over the winter. Then, when you begin training for MCM next summer, you'll know just what to expect on race day. But let me say, it will still hurt on race day. Good work, slugger. :-)

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  32. Heh - that was a cold day indeed. I ran the 10K, and the 14th Street bridge was iced up nicely for us (we defrosted it for you marathoners).

    So, a tough day, but I know you learned a lot, and I can't wait to see what you do next.

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  33. Hey Drew, Great job on Sunday! I was running also in my first marathon and had every ache, pain and hurt that you mentioned, but the hope and positiveness far surpassed all that negativity. When I entered and all through my training I was completely on the thought that I was running two marathons that day, my first and my last, but the whole experience was something that I didn't expect and now, I am thinking, never say never. I hope your aches and pains are subsiding and that you are able to slowly walk down stairs again. All the best!

    Steve

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  34. Drew, your write-up is such an accurate account of exactly what I experienced. Goal time 3:45:00, actual 4:17:28.

    Body completely shut down around 23 and struggled to walk the rest. Somehow got the strength to run the last half mile or so.

    Devastating is right. I think the psychological pain of not being able to run was much worse than any physical pain at the time.

    Great post!

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  35. Congrats!!!

    I also completed the MCM Sunday and was also freezing at the start. I don't think my feet warmed up until mile 3.

    I didn't finish exactly where I wanted either, but as my first marathon, I was just happy to finish and in one piece. With your attitude, you have many more marathons ahead of you. Best of luck!

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  36. I ran my first one at MCM as well. It was an amazing experience. The photos are awesome, especially the ones of me where I hit the WALL. I don't think I'll be ordering any of those. Congrats on finishing and I hope you will keep on running! I used to weigh 300lbs and use running to stay around 180-185lbs now and I know you run to stay in shape as well. Stay motivated!

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  37. Lots of respect Drew, as a good friend of mine told me when I finished, unlike peewee soccer this is one of those events where it makes sense that everyone gets a medal. It pales in comparison to what those who put on this race do for us each day, but in terms of athletics, it is a pretty incredible experience. Great job Drew!

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  38. My husband finished the marathon in about six hours. (this was his 5th MCM) He described pretty much the same experience where he cramped up around Haines Point and walked the rest of the way because the pain was so bad. Congrats on finishing! That's the most important part! And yes, this was my first MCM experience as a spectator and the positivity around was awesome. I found myself cheering for complete strangers especially at the hill going up to the monument. But wear that medal and red competitor shirt with pride and we'll see you next year!!

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  39. It is a bit addicting, huh? Please do not lose the motivation. Keep up the training as much as you can. I know things get a bit crazy.

    I was running with my wife the whole way because it was her 1st as well. Her knee stopped her from running the last 13mi. But like you, she said "I started this I am going to finish". We did our run for the SGK foundation. Everytime she wanted to quit, she reminded herself of why she was there. She also told that since she was married to a Marine, she could not let me be married to a quitter.

    She will not be doing the run next year, but if I am state side, I hope to see you next year, since I missed you this year.

    Stay Moto Devil

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  40. Would you consider running for a charity? Each year we attend theMCM in honor of my brother and two other marines who have lost their lives while serving this great country.

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  41. Congratulations on your first marathon Drew! Don't be disappointed in your time - it's a huge accomplishment just to finish. I finished in 4:53 and had hoped for 4:30. It was my 4th full. Each time something prevents me from getting that goal that should be well within my ability. This time it was a stress fracture that kept me from getting all my training in. I also wrote up my story that you might enjoy. It's on my website www.sweatygirlsrock.ca under running stories. Congratulations again - you did awesome!

    Susan

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  42. Drew, congrats! This was my 7th MCM, like you I am an old Marine. Running the MCM must be what crack is like because you always come back for more. I hope to see you out there next year

    Bill Davis

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  43. Been there done that! Congratulations Drew Carey! This was my story last year to a "T" ...except for the part where you were being interviewed, ...the official starter, etc. When your body gives out like that it's a freak show, I didn't know if I should shuffle or hop to get through the thing; but seeing all of those marines, I could not quit. Good job! See you next year!! I'll be there for #3!

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  44. Way to go Drew! My wife and I live right there and watched the start and finish. It was freezing at the start and we can't believe you stood out in that weather for 2 hours before the race. Crazy. You should be very proud of your performance and make it an annual tradition! Thanks for the inspiration.

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  45. Great personal narrative of the MCM, Drew! Every single runner of the MCM is there with their individual backgrounds, pursuits, and objectives. It was my 3rd MCM, and I finished this year in 5h 24m 17s, about 4s slower per mile than last year. I was not crestfallen. I was happy! I stopped to greet my friends and dog Baxter along the route. I run with a camera and stop to take fun photos. As you note, the MCM is a rush, a shared experience among the 30,000 individual runners. However, it isn't a nightmare. I want to do it again next year as well. Next year will be my 4th MCM. My first year, 2009, was triggered when a work colleague posted on Facebook that he had registered for MCM. In a lark, I registered for the 2009 MCM. I had never run outside before. Now running is an essential part of my life. Thanks, Drew, for your personal perspective on the MCM. It is, of course, the People's Marathon. All the best! - Rick

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  46. Marathons are kind of like sex. Your first time is NOTHING like they tell you it should be. It's painful, embarrassing, awkward, and covered in all sorts of strange bodily fluids. But there's still something about it, so you keep at it and one day after your second, or your third, or your tenth attempt, you finally have that great moment that you've waited your whole life for, and you think, "Yeah. Now I get it. That's what the big deal is about."

    Welcome to the world of marathons. Check your ego and your toenails at the door!

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  47. This was my first MCM, and my third marathon.

    It was a bit nippy at the start. But the energy and excitement of the crowd more than made up for it.

    The firefighters in Alexandria had the American flag draped across the course low enough so that runners could touch it as they ran underneath. Kind of set the tone that this wasn't just another marathon.

    The Marines at the water stops were getting into motivating the runners. Giving them a "Ooh-Rah" back and watching the excitement got to be a game for me at the water stops.

    Somewhere around the third hill, a couple of the wheelchair racers were struggling to go up. You couldn't help to ignore your own discomfort and encourage them on.

    Every time I started to loose my determination and focused on my pain, I'd look up and I'd be heading towards the Washington Monument, so I'd just focus on it.

    As I was starting up the final hill up to the Iwo Jima Monument (who'd have thought such a small incline could be such a royal b**ch!) I could hear the announcer calling out the names of those who crossed the finish line. The first name I heard was "Drew Carey!". I finished 19 seconds behind you.

    When I returned to Cincinnati, the first question everyone wanted to ask me was "What was your time?". I always respond by pausing, pondering for a moment, then saying, "You mean they actually time these things?".

    See you at the finish line next year,

    Semper Fi

    Chad Richter

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  48. Drew,
    The last line says it all. It's a strange addiction, isn't it? Midway between torture and elation lies...serenity? I've done a full and a half, both after 45. The body is balky, unpredictable. I had a much easier race, and recovery from the full than the half, despite being in better shape overall for the latter. Congrats, and happy trails!

    Kelly

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  49. LOVE IT!!! Congratulations on being a finisher and I understand that this is the best 1st marathon course to run. It was truly an amazing day (also my first marathon) and one of the best experiences that certainly is worth doing again - and doing better. And you finished something that many people will never start...so congratulations and all your hard work and effort and seeing it through to the finish line....hopefully I will see you at next years race :)

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  50. I'm so proud of you!! My friends finished the same race on Sunday and one did it in 6 hrs. Your time was outstanding! I've finished 2 marathons around 6 hrs and plan to do my 3rd in 3 weeks! Outstanding determination Drew!

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  51. First marathons rock whether they go well or not. My first was the MCM in 1997. It poured and was freezing. I ended up injured and hobbling most of it but still, it was one of the best days of my life. Suddenly, I knew there was nothing in the world I was not capable of. Congratulations on your first of many marathons Drew!

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  52. You know what? I think you did awesome. When its not a perfect run; you work harder. Its harder mentally when you don't have the sunshine, the warmth. When you hit 'the wall' it is very hard. I too, completed my first marathon a couple weeks ago. I was not prepared for it (longest run 16 miles) but I wanted to challenge myself. My run was SL-OW.. slower than Oprah (which ticked me off) but I finished, and I didn't die, and I didn't lose a toe nail or even get a blister. I cried and cried, and yes, also pissed my pants (I'm a mother, I have rights to pee). But I'm soo glad I did it. I ran from USA to Canada. Not many people can say they did that! I'm proud of you Drew. VERY PROUD. Did you wear your medal everywhere and have people look at you funny? Its is a small percentage of people who complete marathons (like 1%), so join the elite. You are AWESOME!
    Jenny From Canada

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  53. Drew,

    Love the post! Just wanted to share that year the MCM was my first marathon as well. My goal was the same as you (under 4 hour finish). Again like you I was hit with the quad cramps starting at mile 19-20 and struggled with them the remainder of the race. I ended up finishing in 4:11. This year my goal was the same, but also I added to that goal to be cramp free. Well, unfortunately, I did not beat either goal. I did finish in 4:02 this year, but still had the cramps right around the same point in the race. I was a little disappointed at first that I did not make the under 4 hour mark, but then I looked back at the experience again and the sheer accomplishment of running the 26.2 miles was enough to get me past the 2 minute overage. There is always next year right! Here's to being cramp free the next time!

    Have a good one!

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  54. 4:37 is a very respectable time. Be proud. There is no price on that.

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  55. OMG Drew! You poor thing..it was cold but I wasnt as cold as you..it was my first marathon as well and I felt great till 20...then I thought my IT band was going to snap off...it was brutal...finished in 4:20 which for a marathon virgin was pretty damn good...MCRR knows what they are doing...me and my other Marathon virgins are going to do Chicago next year...You should come with us!! It is supposed to be flat and earlier in Oct so cold wont be an issue. wooohooooo..cant wait till next year

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  56. Drew, what an awesome story - and completely understandable! I am shooting for my first full 3/4/12 in Little Rock ... but with far less loft time goals! I just want to finish before the finish line is disassembled! Nice job, great finish time, and awesome attitude ... not surprising you want to do it again next year!

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  57. Yeah Drew!! Welcome to the world of marathon finishers!

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  58. Drew, a marathon is never about the time. It's about what it took to finish, what you live through to complete a marathon.

    Congratulations on your finish and joining the club. You are a marathoner!

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  59. Congrats! MCM is a great race.
    The best rule or lesson I learned, is that especially the first, your goal is to finish. Save the time improvements for your next marathons! Don't be disappointed in your time, learn from it and you'll improve next time.

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  60. Ooooh-rah!!!! Speaking from experience, they do get easier. My first marathon, which was Chicago '09, I vowed never to do it again. I felt like crap. When 2010 rolled around I was like "hell no, not going through that again." As the days drew nearer to the event I felt a longing and this crazy voice in the back of my head urging me on. Two weeks prior the marathon I found out that it was going to be 10-10-10. There is no way I was going to miss that. Bought a bib off someone who got hurt. Prepared with all the right items; gloves, ear muffs, hat, music and my camel pack (security blanket.) I had the time of my life! The crowed was so lively I didn't listen to my head phones at all. No cramping, no previous hip injury, just running and enjoying the positive words and encouragements... the feeling of completion cannot be explained. It's kind of like trying to explain how Marine Corps boot camp felt. There are no words for it. You just look a marathoner in the eye and just know. Congrats on finishing! That is an awesome time too. I'm an hour behind you. Thank you for sharing your story.

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  61. Nice work, Drew! I was running with the four-hour team, so you definitely passed through very close to me. Then, alas, we probably passed you somewhere on the Mall, given your description.

    But you are not the first (and won't be the last) to get hit by cramps in the latter miles. My friend Mark (also shooting for sub-four) had a very similar story. Are you taking gels or doing anything to get some calories and electrolytes in you during the race? That may be the key next time. Regardless, it was an honor running with you and everyone else.

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  62. I had a heartbreaker, too. My IT band started acting up around mile 4 and I knew that it was going to be a long walk from there. Though I was able to suck it up and keep running, my knee totally gave out at 21 and I had to limp the last 5.2 miles to the finish. I couldn't even look the marines in the eye as they handed me my medal. It was my first marathon and I was sure I could do it around 4: 30. My time was 6: 14. No amount of "at least you finished" will take away that disappointment.

    BUT, that's the risk you take when you challenge yourself to a marathon. It can be as humbling as it can be glorious. I guess the true test is whether you will rise to either occasion. I'll see you out there next year!

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  63. Congratulations! You never forget your first time, and regardless of how you feel about running a 4:37, your first marathon is not about the time on the clock but just having the experience of going 26.2 miles. I'm one of the coaches in the local running club (MCRRC) that gave you that yellow singlet. My first Marine Corps was in 1994 when Oprah ran it and it poured rain on us the whole time. You at least got to suffer on a gorgeous day! I was one of the mobility impaired athletes and I was thrilled, THRILLED to run a 5:57:06 and qualify for Boston. This was my 11th Marine Corps since the one in 1994. I look forward to joining you in MCM next year as well!
    Bill Riggs

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