When I set out to run my first marathon in 2018, I apparently decided that I would make it as hard as possible on myself. And this weekend that involved joining 3,000+ runners for a grueling 11 miles cold trek through Prince William Forest Park to be guaranteed entry to the Marine Corps Marathon in October. Yes, I could have entered the lottery like everyone else but I really wanted those #accessgranted bragging rights as well I guess 😉 Oh, did I mention I actually ended up signing up for the marathon on Wednesday morning during the rush registration? Yeah, I basically ran a hard race to guarantee myself access to a race I already had access to. But hey, I’m running the Cherry Blossom 10 miler in 2 weeks and needed to run about 11-12 miles anyway that weekend… might as well get a medal out of it too right!? Right…
For those of you who are not as fluent in kilometers as I am, 17.75K is a nudge over 11 miles and that unusual race distance commemorates the founding of the U.S. Marine Corps in 1775. It takes place in Dumfries, VA, near the Marine Corps Base at Quantico, about an hour drive south of Washington. It’s known as a challenging course with both gravel and asphalt through the winding turns of a dense, hill-y forest. I basically only run in the city, so I was quite nervous about getting outside of my running comfort zone (so outside the mall basically!) But the logistics of getting to the race proved almost as challenging.
Initially, I had planned to just get up super early and drive to the race in the rental but that didn’t factor in having to pick up my race package. Unless you basically live in the area, the expo’s hours make it impossible to pick up your bib without having to miss work and they do not allow proxy pick up which is absurd. The idea of sitting in traffic on a Friday evening to get to Potomac Mills before 6PM then drive back to D.C. then back to Dumfries to get to the designated parking lots and race shuttles before 6AM the next morning combined with me having lots of Marriott points that I earned from the Satellite conference meant that I actually opted to make a mini-getaway out of it. I booked the closest Marriott property to one of designated pre-race parking lots for my friend Nicki and I to spend Friday night and I definitely think that was a good call. Traffic was atrocious Friday night, and we arrived at the race expo at VA Runner a few minutes after 6PM. Luckily, we were still able to pick up our bib and relax a little that evening. I had wanted to meet up with my friend Courtney, who was coming up from Norfolk to run the race but she was detained at work so Nicki and I just carbed up at Zibibbo 73 Trattoria & Wine Bar in Stafford before calling in an early night in. We had a 5AM wake -up call after all….
Since there’s no parking by the start line, runners all have to park at one of 3 designated parking lots the morning of and board shuttles to get there. We got to the start / finish area around 6:30Am, which gave Nicki just enough time to check her bag, and both of us just enough time to use the porter potties. We had bought $4 fleece blankets at CVS the night before to keep us warm before the race kicked off and that turned out to be a great investment!
We barely made it of the restrooms line on time to rush to the start line. Luckily, I guess, the start is really congested. There’s no waves since there are so few runners and we could definitely feel that in the first kilometer when you’re literally stepping on other runners. I was bummed I didn’t get to meet up with Courtney before the race, and Nicki speeded off pretty quickly (she’s a much faster runner that I am) so I started off on my own and that was fine.
I didn’t necessarily have a goal for the race. I figured I would need around as much time to complete these 11 miles as it took me to complete the Rock’n’Roll D.C. half since the course was a bit more challenging. I also knew that I only had 3 hours to complete the race if I wanted to get my “access granted” code so I did have to push myself a little bit more than I did during the half marathon. The first kilometer of the course, the most crowded one, is on the main road but then you enter Prince Williams Forrest pretty quickly. It’s a steep dirt road and I knew from looking at the course map that in the beginning, any parts that were downhill would be uphills on the way back. Since the course is literally in the forest, there are no spectators whatsoever but to make up for this, it is lines with at times funny, at times inspirational signs that I really enjoyed looking out. One stated “What Hill?” was a warning for the tough hill ahead though!
But before I had to run up that hill, a small race miracle happened. Since I was running without headphones, as I have for all of my races so far this year, I heard a voice talking about Yuengling and when I turned around it turned out to be Courtney chatting away with her boyfriend Rick. Yeah!! I had finally found my friend!! We chatted up the hill and ran together on and off for the majority of the race and that made the race really enjoyable. They’re a fun couple. Courtney’s bright orange shorts made her easy to spot if I ever fall behind a bit…
There are only 5 water stations along the course so I ran with my hand-held water bottle which was a good call. After running a fair portion of the course on a paved road, which I would have enjoyed a lot more if it hadn’t been for some of the inclines, we headed back into the forest and the gravel road, which was quite muddy from the weather we’ve had here recently. I definitely found the signs on the side of the road to be both motivational and distracting, especially at the end. They definitely kept me from slowing down…. also I knew I would be getting a medal from a cute marine shortly!!
Unfortunately, my Strava went dark for a few kilometers so I can’t tell accurately how long it took me to run 10 miles. Based on the time on the clock I estimate that I got to that point in around 2 hours and 6 minutes, which is definitely slower than my goal for the Cherry Blossom 10 miler but again, the course is also more challenging. In the end, I crossed the finish line in 2 hours and 14 minutes, which isn’t bad for me, especially given how tough the course was.
Unlike after the Rock’n’Roll Half, I’m definitely a bit sore today but I’m pretty happy with how the race went and I actually had a lot of fun. Running with friends and having people to meet up with at the end and take pictures with is a plus for sure! And knowing they’ll be running the Marine Corps Marathon in the fall is cool too! As for my “access granted” code, I passed it along to a fellow Girls Love Travel D.C. runner so she does’t have to deal with the stress of the lottery. If she gets in, I know she’ll pay it forward and make sure someone deserving can use her registration. Now comes the hard part I guess… I’m running my first marathon in a few months, and I’m gonna have to start training soon. It’s going to be hard, but that’s kinda the whole point. Wish me luck!! (and please share any and all advice for a first timer in the comments!!)