Thursday, November 13, 2008

Milkshake at the Marine Corps Marathon

For the 2008 Marine Corps Marathon I dressed up in a Milkshake costume. That's correct, a cup, a lid, and even a straw. The whole shabang! Now why on earth would a person choose to do this you ask? Well, I obviously have no problem with looking like an idiot now and then. I had run the Baltimore Marathon two weeks earlier with my friend Kelly Noonan. We had planned to run Marine Corps together at roughly a 4:15-4:30 pace. Kelly was running as a training run for the JFK 50 miler, and I was gonna go slow to taper for a big 50+ mile trail race the following weekend. Given the slow pace, I figured I could have a little fun and wear a costume during the marathon. I knew it would be different, and it would make things entertaining for the other runners and crowds. So, the night before Marine Corps, there I was at the local costume shop. Milkshake in hand. The hot dog costumes were all sold out, and I really wanted to be a food item of some sort.

Upon meeting the other Reston Runners before the race I decide to reveal my plans. Some folks had no reaction, some laughed their butts off, others probably thought it was just plain stupid. At 7:30 a.m I strap on the costume, and wonder if I can really make it 26.2 miles in this thing. The costume was not very heavy, but it was pretty much a big wind sail. It was made of cheap fabric with no ventilation, and a very unbreathable head piece. With temperatures rising to the mid 60s, I knew hydration was going to be VERY important, as I would be sweating twice as much as normal, with no airflow.

BOOM! At 8am, the starting cannon goes off. Me, Kelly N, Ellen M, and Donna R all pass through start line about a minute after the gun. Cluttered crowds kept the first quarter mile very slow. A person in a Teddy Roosevelt costume was the only other dressed up runner I saw. The "Teddy R" costume was about 8 feet tall, and weighed 40 lbs. I don't know how the guy did it, but I read that he finished the marathon in 6:26. Wow. Anyway, me and Kelly ran together at about 9:15 pace the first few miles. Pretty soon, Kelly was nowhere in sight. With 18,000 marathon runners, I had no chance of finding her. For the next 4-5 miles I ran with Ellen Mannion and Donna Rostant. We were all running about 8:30-9:00 pace. Not too long, I lost sight of both Ellen and Donna, assuming they ran ahead. I decided to try to "catch up" but never saw them again.

All by myself I decided to really have some fun. The streets were literally lined by hundreds, maybe thousands, of fans cheering the runners on. My Milkshake costume was a hit, although I had to explain that it was not a chicken, duck, or Spongebob. Soon I was being greeted by rows of fans sticking their hands out for high fives. I would run by the crowds and yell "I can't hear you, Make some noise!" Seconds later the crowds would burst into loud cheers. I also encouraged the crowds to "get loud for the other runners", and to get ready because "It's milkshake time!" I soaked it all in as much as I could. It was a phenomenal feeling to connect with the onlookers, and be able to make folks smile at my stupidness.

Before I knew it, my 8:30 pace dropped to a 7:00 pace. I must have really been moving through those busy street sections. A milkshake running 7:00 minute miles? At first the crowds loved the sheer silliness of my costume, but later in the day I think they began to appreciate how tough it must have been in that sweltering outfit. But, I kept smiling, and kept running at an oddly brisk pace for someone in a full costume. The entire day continued to be a big party for me. I never tired of waving and smiling to everyone, posing for pictures, and giving kids big high fives. Other runners even thanked me for making the marathon more entertaining for them. Other runners who were struggling in the late miles, managed to squeak a smile at the sight of my milkshake body. That alone made the whole gimmick worthwhile.

At 25 miles I was told that I was on pace to break 3:30. I had no time goal for the marathon, but thought a sub 3:30 would be kinda cool. I just needed to run 1.2 miles in 8:30. I pushed hard down the final flat, and then steep uphill to the finish. The same crowds that had lined the streets earlier must have moved to the finish, and I received a boisterous ovation from everyone. I was still grinning, still giving high fives, and still waving as I crossed the finish in 3:30:45 -- chip time 3:29:39