Be Careful What You Wish For…

I never win anything. That’s why I entered this year’s Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) registration lottery. The MCM has been on my bucket list since 2012. In truth, I didn’t want to do the race this year. Instead, I was looking forward to a relaxed summer. With the lottery, I was fully confident that I could service my bucket list and yet avoid feeling bad about not getting in. (Of course, the registration fee would never be charged to my credit card.)

Except that I was picked! In a flash, my non-refundable registration fee was gone, and my laid back summer which hadn’t even arrived yet was already a thing of the past.  The MCM had moved off the Bucket List and onto the Oh F#@k It List!

Now, for the second time, I am nearly half way through my training to racewalk the upcoming MCM.  Two years ago I was also registered for the MCM (different registration process entirely), and at this point in my training, I had injured myself and had to withdraw.

For the MCM, if you don’t cover the first twenty miles within 4 hours and 40 minutes (i.e. an average pace no slower than 14 minutes per mile), they detour you away from the wonderful scenery of the Washington Mall and significantly shorten the route.  When you cross the finish line, you haven’t actually completed a marathon (26.2 miles), but a US Marine nevertheless presents you with a medal.  Sounds embarrassing, no?

I suppose that running a bunch of 14-minute miles (4.28 MPH) would be relatively easy. But I’m not a runner. My body just doesn’t like it. Even in my twenties, I found that the only way I could run every other day was to undo the damage with yoga classes on every other other day.

Now older and wiser, I figured I’d racewalk.  Racewalking is substantially lower impact than running.  I had previously walked the Outerbanks Marathon (OBX)1  in seven hours by maintaining a steady walking speed of 3.75 MPH, with only a few short breaks. I thought it wouldn’t be too hard to bump up that speed by slightly more than half a mile per hour.

I was wrong! No matter what I did, I just couldn’t get anywhere near the minimum MCM pace. I took some coaching from two excellent racewalkers, did the drills they gave me, watched the Olympic racewalkers in slow motion so that I could see how they did it, and I became increasingly frustrated.

So one morning, at the beginning of a twelve mile walk, I decided to substitute raw enthusiasm and brute force for any semblance of good technique. Taking large strides, with bent knees, I muscled up a hill. By the time I crested, my right hamstrings were screaming. Down deep, I knew I had really hurt myself. As a physical therapist, I knew I should stop right then and there; hamstring pulls are painful, long-lived injuries.

But what’s awareness and knowledge in the face of goals and willpower? ONWARD! I finished all twelve miles, limping badly by the end. So much for a good pace that day, and so much for the race altogether. For the next six months, I couldn’t even walk up my driveway without wincing.

But this time it’s different.  Again at the midpoint, I’m finding health and success where two years ago there was only injury and failure.  How has this happened? Stay tuned for subsequent posts. But in the meantime, ONWARD!

  1. If you’ve never done a marathon before, the OBX is a fantastic first!  The route is easy; the scenery beautiful, the time limit generous; and the locals are incredibly friendly and welcoming. If you’re a seasoned racer looking for a new personal best, this mostly-flat course is also for you!