Race Recap: The Marine Corps Marathon

Marine Corps Marathon 2014.  Photo credit: Elvert Barnes, Flickr Creative Commons.

Marine Corps Marathon 2014. Photo credit: Elvert Barnes, Flickr Creative Commons.

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In this episode we recap the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C., one of my favorite marathons to date. This is definitely a marathon I’d like to repeat!

One of the things that stands out about MCM is the exceptional organization and communication.

The Marine Corps motto is “Semper Fidelis” (always faithful) and they were definitely faithful to carry out an exceptional marathon experience.

The Marine Corps Marathon

The 39th edition of the Marine Corps Marathon was held on Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014 in Arlington, Virginia.

In 2013 it was the 3rd largest marathon in the U.S (by number of finishers). Registration for the race takes place by lottery starting in March. There were nearly 30,000 runners registered for the race.

They also offer a 10k with a different starting location. This race had just over 7,600 finishers this year. The MCM Kid’s Run (1 mile fun run for ages 5-12) takes place the day before the marathon. 3,600 kids took part in this event and can participate in Camp Miles, a free all day activity with interactive challenges and games.

Pre-Race and Expo

The Health and Fitness Expo by GE was held from Thursday at 4:30pm through Saturday evening and featured 200 booths at the DC Armory Building. They provided free parking nearby. Because of increased security there was a line all the way around the building on Saturday afternoon for packet pick up. Fortunately it was a beautiful day and we met up with Autum, Tim, Amy and spent the time in line visiting.

Our group waiting in line to get into the expo.

Our group waiting in line to get into the expo.

Once inside the Armory building you send any purses and belongings through an x-ray scanner and have your body scanned with a wand. There were clear signs directing us downstairs to get our race bib (with QR code), commemorative patch, race brochures/information, and official program. Then you go back upstairs through the expo area to get the race shirt (a unisex, mock-neck long sleeve tech shirt in brown with the MCM logo) and clear plastic gear check bag.

Angie and Trev with Jodi

Angie and Trev with Jodi

We got to meet Jodi, a coaching client of mine, at the expo. Her son is a Harrier Pilot in the MC preparing for his first deployment and she is running the marathon every year (on her 8th year) he’s in the service. We also met Shira & Chris from CT at the expo and signed a card for her son Tobey who was turning 11 on the day of the marathon.

There were a nice variety of expo booths with Brooks being the dominant merchant selling official marathon merchandize. In fact, if you spent $200 on Brook merchandize you got VIP access to special restrooms and VIP treatment on race day.

We went to the Generation UCAN booth, one of our podcast sponsors, and visited with Varun who gave us some free fuel packets, electrolytes and water bottles.


Trevor’s Sprained Ankle

Trevor's ankle cast

Trevor’s ankle cast

After leaving the expo we went to the grocery store to grab some food and drinks for the MTA meet-up being held in Alexandria, VA at Steve and Vivian Lott’s house. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting and interacting with many listeners and Academy members.

After the meet up we went and checked into our hotel for the night, Trevor went out and got an air cast for his ankle. He decided his ankle was feeling good enough to try to run/walk the marathon. (Don’t try this at home.)

Click here to see what his ankle looked like 6 days before the marathon.

Race Morning

On race morning we got up around 4:30 a.m. and left the hotel with my sisters Amy and Autum and brother in law Tim. We drove to the Huntington Metro stop, parked the car and took the metro to the Pentagon stop (courtesy of the metro cards Steve gave us). There were a lot of runners on the train and when we got off there was a huge stream of people heading the few blocks to the starting line.

As we got closer to Runner’s Village the crowds became denser and I started wondering whether we’d make it to the start on time. All runners had to go through security scanners and there was highly visible security presence. They did allow hydration packs and vests on the course but didn’t allow any masks/hoods that obscured the identity of the person.

photo credit: Creative Commons

photo credit: Creative Commons

Once we got through screening I ran my gear check bag over to the waiting UPS trucks and then got in line for the port-a-pots. There were a lot of people in line but it moved fairly quickly. Still there was that fear of missing the start by still being in line for the bathroom. If I were to do race morning again I would be at the metro stop at 5am and get to the starting area sooner.

The MCM opening ceremonies started with a team of 12 elite parachutists including Ret. Marine Cpl. William Kyle Carpenter who skydived in with a 7,800 foot American flag (the largest to be carried in a performance jump). Several other parachutists carried additional U.S. Flags and flags of each branch of the armed forces to the start line. It was an amazing sight to see. The National Anthem was performed as they landed (we weren’t close enough at that point to hear it).

After landing, Carpenter who was awarded the Medal of Honor in June after his brave actions and serious injuries in Afghanistan, ran the MCM for the second time finishing in 5:07. There was also a flyover by two Osprey aircraft. The wheelchair and hand-cycle start was at 7:40am and the general start at 7:55am is signaled by a Howitzer blast. It takes approximately 23 minutes for the final runner to cross the start line. The MCM doesn’t pay appearance fees for elite runners or have award money. But the featured race celebrity was actor Sean Astin who ran his 7th marathon in 4:29.

The Course

The spectators are truly awesome during this race and there were five key spectator locations. The volunteers were also wonderful and in addition to the volunteers there were 2,500 Marines and sailors helping along the course. The regular aid stations were supplied with water, sports drink, occasionally food (energy gels, orange slices, Dunkin Donuts donut holes) and medical support. There were also unofficial aid stations handing out water, beer, and candy.

The course was well marked every mile and there were timing mats to cross every 5k. The Clif Bar Pace teams offered groups from 3:05 to 5:30. The course had a 7 hour time limit and was closed to traffic.

Some of the Course Highlights:

  • Arlington National Cemetery near the start
  • Key Bridge and Georgetown at mile 4
  • Kennedy Center, Lincoln Memorial, FDR Memorial and MC Quantico Band at mile 10
  • Blue mile at 12
  • Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial at mile 15
  • Korean War Memorial, WW2 Memorial, DC War Memorial at mile 16
  • Washington Monument, National Museum of American History and NM of Natural History at mile 17
  • National Gallery of Art, US Capitol, National Museum of the American Indian at mile 18
  • National Air and Space Museum, Hisrshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, at mile 19
  • Beat the Bridge at mile 20 which you have to reach by 1:15pm or be transported to finish line by bus (must maintain better than a 14:00 min mile)
  • Crystal City mile 22
  • Pentagon mile 24
  • And back by Arlington National Cemetery at mile 25 and to the US Marine Corps War Memorial at the finish.

Large portions of the course also ran along the Potomac River. It was a beautiful sunny day, some of the trees still had their leaves in color and it was the perfect way to tour the D.C. area. Sixty percent of the course is on National Park Land.

The marathon is committed to providing an environmentally friendly event and encouraged runners not to drop trash on the course (which didn’t happen). There were areas to compost food items at the finish and recycling bins.

There were a few small hills along the course, and the biggest and longest hill (200 ft elevation) was from the start to mile 2.5. However, getting up the short hill at the finish felt the hardest of all.


There were so many inspiring sights along the course…from the many people running for charity, to military members running in full gear, to fire fighters running in their turn-out gear in memory of a fallen comrade. There were people running with prosthetics, crutches, and in costume (we saw super-heros, ninja turtles, and a marshmellow man). Many runners were wearing blue shirts saying: Wear Blue: Run to Remember.

There is a special portion of mile 12 known as “a mile of remembrance.” It was the quietest place on the course and every few feet there is the picture of a fallen service member with their name, date of death and how old they were. Family members of these fallen often volunteer along this section and it is truly impactful. Tears came to my eyes as I read every name and thought about the lives cut short and loved ones left behind.

Finish Line and Top Finishers

MCM bib, t-shirt and medal.

MCM bib, t-shirt and medal.

Before reaching the finish line at the Marine Corps War Memorial you have to turn a corner and run up hill for the final few yards. Then you’re presented with the awesome finisher medal by a Marine lieutenant who shakes your hand and congratulates you. This is my new favorite medal- a black, 3D version of the Eagle, Globe and Anchor.

Then you move forward to get your water and a bag of food. It contained chips, cheese dip, fruit bowl, fruit snacks, and granola bar. Also available were bananas, recovery drinks and beer. They also had a disposable post-race jacket instead of the traditional Mylar blankets (but it was so warm that I didn’t need mine).

There was also in Info Tent in the finisher’s area, bag check, and reunion area with letters of the alphabet. Shuttle buses, taxis and the metro were all easily accessible from the finish area.

At the Finish Line festival near the Rosslyn Metro stop there was live music from the United We Sing trio, the Marine Corps Base Quantico Rock Band (who were performing when we were there) and the Royal Marine Band (which performed along the course).

The Marine Corps War Memorial finish line welcomed 19,661 finishers including 98 athletes in the wheelchair/hand cycle division.

You can visit Comcast SportsNet (which provided live race day coverage) online and view video of the MCM start, Medal of Honor recipient Marine Cpl William Kyle Carpenter’s jump into the start, numerous runner profile stories or all-day footage of the MCM finish line. You can access the time-stamped finish line video and view your finish. There are also some amazing stories of runners and their motivation for completing the marathon on this site.

My sister Autum and I near the finish line

My sister Autumn and I near the finish line

MCM lottery opens for 2015 on March 13th. You can get guaranteed entry by running the MC 17.75k (commemorates the year the MC was founded) on March 28th. A number of active duty military registrations are available. If you are unable to do the marathon you can transfer your bib to someone else or defer to the next year within a certain time frame. There are also 86 charity partners with whom you can fundraise and run.

Congratulations to the Groundpounders -four runners who have participated in every MCM since the inaugural running in 1976. Mel Williams and Matt Jaffe were not able to complete their 39th consecutive MCM. Congratulations to Will Brown, 73, (6:45:51) and Al Richmond, 75, (5:43:15), who continue their impressive streaks. Also honored was Maureen Higgins who’s run MCM 28 times including last year during treatment for stage 4 cancer. During the 1st MCM only 24 women toed the line along with 994 men. Now women make up 30% of the finishers.

My 27th Marathon

This was my 27th marathon overall and 21st state. I ran with my sister Autum and we finished in 4:33:17. It was a little hard sticking with each other in some sections but the race seemed to go quickly. We held hands to cross the finish line together (nearly taking out a man). Trevor finished in 5:25:17 with his bum ankle.


MCM photo: elvertbarnes.com/39thMCM2014

Also Mentioned in this Episode

Lock Laces – never stop to tie you shoes again.
Riley’s blog – our 10 year old son’s photo diary of our trip
Generation Ucan – use the promo code MTAMCM to save 15%!

MTA Meet up

MTA Meet up

Thank you Steve and Vivian for hosting our meet up!

Trevor and I at Mount Vernon the day after the marathon.  Liam, photo bomb.

Trevor and I at Mount Vernon the day after the marathon. Liam, photo bomb.

7 Responses to Race Recap: The Marine Corps Marathon

  1. Adolfo Salgueiro November 11, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

    I enjoyed the MCM. it was a beautiful day and a great course, a little bit hillier than I expected, though. I PR’d by 8 minutes, so I can’t complain about that.

    What really caught my attention is how a big marathon like this one, which had been ran 38 times before, had such amateurish water stations with ill prepared volunteers. It was like they’ve never don this before. The race shirt, other than ugly, was to warm for the race. I’ve never seen a race with so few people wearing the race shirt. Barely a handful did.

    I liked the race, don’t get me wrong, and the medal is a great addition to my bling collection. but for the 3rd largest marathon in the country, I expected better organization.

    • Angie Spencer November 11, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

      Congratulations on your PR Adolfo! I really didn’t notice that the aid stations were unorganized, however it’s often different depending where you are in the pack (and I’m sure some volunteers are new to the whole process). The race shirt definitely isn’t my color 🙂 but it will be a good winter running piece. I always think it’s weird when people wear the race shirt before they’ve completed the marathon, but that’s just me. My sister who was spectating found dozens discarded on the ground because it was so warm.

      • Adolfo Salgueiro November 12, 2014 at 10:55 am #

        I think the same as you regarding using the race’s shirt during the race. You never know how it is going to fit or if is going to chafe you. Like many others I only compete with proven gear, But you always see tons of people with the race shirt, not this time, that was my observation… A winter shirt is not very useful to a South Florida marathoner but I understand they can’t design state-specific gear. It will be a nice undershirt next time I go to a wintery place.

  2. Brian November 11, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

    I’ve run the last 18 MCM’s and I’ve always felt the race was very well organized from start to finish. I’ve had some complaints about the water stations at other races but never this one.

    And I love the race shirt! This is the second year they’ve done a technical shirt. Previously it was a cotton mock long sleeve shirt which I liked better but I’ve never worn them to run in. Only for casual wear. I never thought of the giveaway shirt in any race to be for running in that race but that’s just my opinion.

    I also love the Quantico Rock band Angie and Trevor. I think they started performing 3 years ago and since we stay at the hotel right at the finish area, we always hang out and listen to them.

    Two things always grab me this day. The first is walking to the start through Fort Myer in the dark, turning down the hill with the Iwo Jima Memorial to your left, Arlington Cemetery to your right, and lights shining on the Washington and Lincoln Monuments right in front of you. Second is having the First Lieutenant putting the medal around your neck. When they congratulate me I always feel embarrassed because what I just did doesn’t compare to what they’ve committed to doing for us.

    • Angie Spencer November 11, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

      Congratulations on MCM #18 Brian! Maybe someday I can say I’ve run it that many times. There are so many spectacular moments in this marathon from the scenery, historical sites and inspiring runners. I also felt like the accomplishment of running the marathon paled in comparison to the accomplishment of those who serve in uniform. Saying, “thanks for your service” doesn’t seem adequate.

  3. Cynthia Torres November 11, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

    I ran the MCM 10K and have to say it was an incredible experience. I was so inspired by those running in memory of fallen loved ones and with the back drop of all the great monuments how could I not tear up along the course. I loved all the positive energy and the Marines cheering for me that last hill before the finish line. I am so glad I was able to be apart of this great race!

    • Angie Spencer November 11, 2014 at 7:50 pm #

      Congratulations on running the 10k Cynthia! Glad you had an inspiring race as well.

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