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Marathon Bucket List: The 40th Marine Corps Marathon

I had the great privilege to run the 40th annual Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday, October 25, 2015. This marathon is a “bucket list” race for many runners – it’s The People’s Marathon, a race unlike any other. Prior to this weekend I was amazed how many fellow runners had encouraged me to add this race to my list – by and far it was the race most often mentioned as a “must run”. It’s not a particularly fast course – in fact the last .2 miles is all uphill, which is really kind of crummy from a running perspective. It’s also held in October – which means the bulk of your training, including your longest training runs, are done during the hotest months of the year. So I wondered, what makes this race so special? Yes, it’s in DC and you get to run by all the memorials and it’s hosted by the Marine Corps – but if you don’t have a connection to the Marines, that may not be a motivator. This weekend I learned for myself what it is that has people coming back year after year to run with the Marines and why runners consistently recommend adding this race to your calendar.

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I first want to share a little about how this race came to be. Col. James Fowler, who died earlier this year, is credited with the inception of the Marine Corps Marathon. Back in the 70s, following the Vietnam War, the military had suffered adecline in popularity while distance running was gaining in popularity.  Fowler recognized this and sent a memo to his superior with the idea for the first Marine Corps Marathon. His purpose for the marathon was “to promote community goodwill, showcase the Marine Corps, serve as a recruiting tool and to give local Marines an opportunity to qualify for the legendary Boston Marathon.” These ideas became the core focus of the Marine Corps Marathon that live on today. Unlike many other marathons, MCM does not have prize money for the winners because Fowler believe that would change the nature of the race. It is truly “The Peoples Marathon.”

Now, on to my experience at the 40th MCM. After arriving in DC, there were several pre-race festivities to check out including the Race Expo/Packet Pick Up, a Pep Rally, and a Runners’ Brunch. All the runners need to attend the Expo and Packet Pickup so you can get your official “bib” (race number) and your shirt. The shirt we received was a ruby red (for their 40th anniversary) mock turtleneck – it’s reminiscent of the shirt for which the Marines were nicknamed “leathernecks.” Right off, I recognized that instead of race volunteers – there were Marines volunteering to hand out race packets and shirts. This isn’t just a Marine Corps race in name – the Marines are there at every turn being helpful. The Expo area was well laid out and spacious. I was pleased with the number and variety of vendors in attendance.

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MCM Expo and Packet Pick Up

There was also a runners conference on Friday/Saturday with a variety of speakers and topics as well as a celebration concert on Friday, but we didn’t attend those events. We did get to meet a couple celebrities though – Jeff Galloway and Bart Yasso are both legendary in the running community and we were privileged to meet both men.

With Jeff Galloway

With Jeff Galloway

With Bart Yasso

With Bart Yasso

We did head over to the MCM Pep Rally Friday night. There was an additional fee to attend the Pep Rally, but it was worth it. The Pep Rally included live music, cheerleaders, light appetizers and raffle prizes. We also received a commemorative pin and temporary tattoo. Since this was my first MCM, I received the “1st Timer” versions. Bart Yasso, from Runners World, kicked off the event for us and shared some amazing stories and motivation. The most touching moment waw when we heard from Lisa Hallett from the non-profit Wear Blue: Run to Remember. Her inspirational message reminded us of the blessing it is to be a part of the running community and to be a part of this event that supports and commemorates those who serve to keep our country safe. 

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MCM Pep Rally

Saturday morning was the Runner’s Brunch, another event that was available for an additional fee. Here, we received a yummy breakfast and all attendees received a copy of George Banker’s book The Marine Corps Marathon – A Running Tradition along with a commemorative MCM coin. Bart Yasso spoke at the Brunch as well, and we had the honor of hearing from a member of the Dutch Marines too.

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Runners Brunch

Sunday morning arrived cold and wet. Most of the races I have participated in have early start times (6:30am or earlier) so it was nice to have a 7:55am start for this race (especially since I was dealing with a 3 hour time difference!) We headed out three hours before start so that we’d have plenty of time to take the metro over, get through security, and enjoy the start line events. We had no problem getting through security and into the starting area, but I know this year there were problems getting the massive amount of people through as the morning progressed.

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Heading to the start line – Washington Memorial can be seen in the distance

The MCM start line is situated in Arlington, VA between the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetary. You can’t help but recognize that this race is like no other as we began our run flanked by reminders of the sacrifice made by men and women of the military – those who are currently serving and those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Just prior to the official start, four paratroopers descended from the sky – trailing large American Flags. The paratroopers were followed by an Osprey flyover and the Howizter cannon marking the official start as doves were released to flight.

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Map of the course – picture taken at the Expo

The 26.2 mile course winds through the DC area near several memorials, museums, the US Capitol, the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetary, and ends at the Marine Corps War Memorial. Running through our nation’s capital with almost 30,000 other runners was nothing short of inspiring. One of the things that stood out to me was the number of spectators at this race. It reminded me of the crowds at a big parade – there were even sections where there were so many spectators that they were spilling off the sidewalk and into the street – which narrowed our running course, but was nonetheless motivating. Also, along the course at the water/food stations there were Marines there serving us instead of the typical race volunteer. How humbling to be handed a cup of water or Gatorade by a man or woman in military uniform!

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Marines handing out water to runners

The most poignant part of the race for me was at mile 12 – this stretch is known as the “Wear Blue Mile.” This is just before the half-way point and it’s in an area where there are no other spectators. The road is lined on both sides by photographs of men and women in our armed forces who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Following the photos are volunteers, in blue, again lining both sides of the street – each holding an American flag in commemoration of one of the fallen. I couldn’t help but become teary-eyed as I ran this quiet stretch of road taking in face after face of men and women – many younger than I am – who died in the service of our country. Truly an experience I won’t have at any other race.

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Blue Mile Photos

Blue Mile

Blue Mile Flags

Prior to finishing, the MCM has a course timing requirement known as “Beat the Bridge.” All runners need to reach the 14th Street Bridge at mile 20 by 1:15pm to be allowed to finish the race. Those who don’t make the cut off are picked up by buses and ride to the finish line. Along the route there’s a multitude of spectators cheering the runners on. Fortunately, we were able to Beat the Bridge and make our way up the final hill to the finish line at the Marine Corp War Memorial where we were saluted and then given our finisher’s medals by Marines.

Finishing the race

Finishing the race

After receiving our medals, we treked through the finisher chutes where we received food boxes, water, bananas, and a finisher jacket. We also had pictures taken at the memorial, then treked over to the Finish Festival where we got a massage, watermelon, ice cream, and were able to relax and listen to music from the Marine Corps Rock Band. There were plenty of booth set up with food, drinks, and other goodies set up along the streets (think giant street fair) – they basically shut down traffic in Rosslyn for the festival. After recouperating, we headed out to the Metro in Arlington, since the Rosslyn station had a very long line. We even had enough energy to do some sight-seeing after our much needed showers and dinner.

MCM Finishers at the Marine Corps War Memorial

MCM Finishers at the Marine Corps War Memorial

For me, this race was everything I hoped it would be. I had a great time with a dear friend and the Marine Corps put on an event that I can’t even begin to compare to others. I believe that Col. Fowler would be proud of this year’s race. My experience certainly embodied his goals to “promote community goodwill, showcase the Marine Corps, [and] serve as a recruiting tool.” If I wasn’t a mom of six kids, I’d be tempted to join this amazing group of men and women who serve our country. Every Marine I was in contact with was nothing but respectful, helpful, and kind. So, now I will join the multitude of runners who tells everyone to go “Run With the Marines.” If you’re going to run a marathon – this is the one to run.

MCM 40th - Mission Accomplished!

MCM 40th – Mission Accomplished!

For more information or to register for one of the upcoming Marine Corps Marathon events visit:  http://www.marinemarathon.com

Julie is an OC Supermom to six beautiful children in Orange County. She is an editor with Blue Tulip Publishing, active in the community and enjoys running in her free time.

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  1. Washington DC in Less Than 72 Hours - OC Mom Blog - […] enough to be selected to run this year’s race. You can read all about that experience here. But running…

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