Over The Hills and Far Away: Marine Corps 17.75K Trail Run

“Many dreams come true and some have silver linings
I live for my dream and a pocketful of gold.

Mellow is the man who knows what he’s been missing
Many many men can’t see the open road.” – Over the Hills and Far Away, Led Zeppelin

Heather and I ran the Marine Corps 17.75K Trail Run on March 28. I’m a little late with this post but better late than never! In case you are bad at math, like me, 17.75K translates to 11.03 miles. The race was through the Prince William County forrest in a lovely park. The purpose of the race was to earn entry into the Marine Corps Marathon in October. If you cross the finish line, you get an access granted card with a special code to gain entry into the marathon. The 17.75K sold out in 7 minutes but Heather and I were lucky to get entry. Running the Marine Corps Marathon is on my bucket list. This is truly a dream come true!

We headed up to suburban DC on Friday morning and were fortunate enough to be staying at the host hotel for the event, meaning the shuttle buses to the race picked up and dropped off right in front of the hotel. It does not get much better than that! Packet pick up was at a local running store and the race director was there warning all the runners about the potential for bears on the course. Apparently, this race really is in the woods! Have I mentioned yet that I don’t trail run?

We had a great dinner of beer and nachos which has become our standard pre-race meal. I am sure that Meb and Shalane eat nachos and drink beer before every race. This meal is the secret to running squarely in the middle of the pack! We also did some serious shopping at Potomac Mills outlet mall.

10397990_10153275071072147_2211215911678607123_nDinner of Middle-Of-The-Pack runners. It is the secret to our success.

In the days leading up to the race, my allergies were horrible. By the time we got to Woodbridge and checked into the hotel, I sounded like a two pack a day smoker. My voice was raspy, my nose was completely stopped up and I was coughing up a lung. Heather told me if I coughed all night, she would smother me with a pillow. We are good friends but I know she would do it! I took the recommended daily dosage of allergy medication and we went to bed. The NCAA tournament was on but we fell asleep during the Duke game.

As usual, the 5 AM wake up call came too early. We checked the weather, again, and saw that it had not changed. Thirty degrees with 30 mile per hour winds. We obsessed over how many layers to wear. We did not want to get too hot. Ha! We jinxed ourselves with that sentiment. “Hot” was not a word I would utter again until I used it in conjunction with the word “shower” on the bus on the way back to the hotel!

The wind hit us as soon as we exited the hotel and headed over to the bus line. Some people were wearing shorts. They were unhappy. The F word and cold were used in the same sentence a lot. The bus was nice and warm and the ride to the start was quick. The bus let us off in the middle of a field filled with other extremely cold people. The wind whipped through us. Have you figured out yet that I was really, really, really cold? We noticed a little church on the other side of the field where runners were filing in. We flocked to it like lemurs! I was fortunate enough to fall in line behind an extremely tall man who blocked the wind! I told him that I was sorry that we did not know each other but that I was going to stand really close to him – like closer than is socially acceptable. He laughed and was a good sport. We crammed into the vestibule of the church and stood huddled with other runners for about 20 minutes, which was great, until Heather announced that she needed to use the port-a-potty.

The port-a-potty line was in the middle of the field with no shelter. Heather and I stood facing each other with our heads on each other’s shoulders to stay warm. The announcer was counting down the time to the race start and the potty line was not moving. Finally, we made it to the front of the line and ran to the back of the race line! We always line up in the back when there are no corrals, anyway. Better to pass other people than to be passed by hundreds of people in serious runner shorts! The start was crowded and the path in the beginning was pretty narrow. You could only go as fast as the person in front of you and the people in front of us were not moving very fast. It reminded me of the start of the Disney Princess Half Marathon.

Heather and I had no goal in this race other than to finish in the allotted time and earn our entry. Given how crappy I felt and how cold it was, I had no preconceived ideas about our time. There is something about racing, though, that gets the adrenaline going and we started passing people the first chance we had. Heather and I just pace really well together.

This course is notorious for being hilly. After the first two hills, I took my ear buds out and said to Heather “This really is not so bad”. Ha! Jinxed myself, again. At mile 4, there was a hill, the likes of which we don’t even see in Chapel Hill. Hills in Chapel Hill tend to be long with gradual inclines – think Laurel Hill or Columbia up to Franklin. The hill at mile 4 was an incredibly steep incline. It was painful. I run up half of it but had to walk in the middle (yes, I moved to the side of the course). Heather took her ear buds out and said “Jesus, I can hear your breathing over my music. Are you OK?” No, I was not. By now, my stopped up nose was no longer allowing air to move through it and I was breathing cold air into my asthmatic lungs. I was having a hard time catching my breath and I had no inhaler with me. I told her we just needed to keep moving. Runners, ignoring pain and dangerous medical conditions on a regular basis!

I needed to switch to intervals to catch my breath in between running. As is often the case when I run intervals, my running time was much faster and my overall pace was better. It just works for me. All along the course, Marines were out manning the water stations, the medical tents and monitoring the course. They were cheering and encouraging, saying things like “Good job, m’am” or “You’re almost to the next mile marker, m’am”. It was hilarious! I’ve never been called “m’am” by a race volunteer before. There were also signs out on the course with sayings like “Marine Up”, “Is that all you’ve got?” and “OOORah”. It was cool. It was also a beautiful course through the woods and we did not see any bears.

There were two more really awful hills at miles 9 and 10 but we made it up them. I don’t know why but the miles just flew by. This race passed so much faster than any other race I have done. At some point during long races, I often think to myself “Geez, when is this going to be over?” but the miles in this race seemed to fly by. It felt like a 5K despite my labored breathing. Maybe, it was because I could not feel my hands or feet because I was still freezing. Maybe, I was distracted by the Marines (sorry, but some of them were cute). Maybe, I was too busy watching the trail in front of me, making sure I was not going to break my ankle, to notice the miles. At any rate, the flats at mile 10.5 were a welcome sight. We did a little dog leg out and back and, the next thing I knew, we were rounding the corner and sprinting to the finish. People were holding funny signs like “Get your Golden Ticket” and “We don’t need no stinking lottery” referring to the guaranteed entry to the MCM. We crossed the finish and a Marine who was probably young enough to be my son handed me a medal and my access granted card. I looked at the clock and my Garmin and was SHOCKED by my time on a hilly, trail run. I beat my 10K PR and my Tarheel 10 Miler time through the course of the race. I had no intention of running so fast, I just did. I think I can definitively make the statement – I AM GETTING FASTER! I am still slow by other people’s standards but I see some serious improvement in my overall times. This makes me so happy. Not only can I go the distance, I can get faster. Even when I am sick. Of course, the weather is about to warm up, a lot, and I am sure I will be humbled, again, when I can’t run so fast because I am dying from the heat. Runners are rarely happy with the weather!

17418_10206277364072610_851988395945339856_n My golden ticket!

Heather and I were instantly cold, again. All we wanted was to get on the bus and get back to the warm hotel. They handed out these Hazmat looking suits for us to wear instead of mylar blankets. I prefer the mylar because you can fashion a shawl or a cape out of them but we put those Hazmat suits on, including the hoods, because we were so freaking cold. No one cared what they looked like. We just wanted to be warm. We got back to the hotel and I registered for the MCM while Heather was in the shower. I don’t even think I had the access card in my hand for an hour when I was all signed up. I am so excited! The Marines put on a great a race and I can only imagine how much fun the marathon will be. I am so happy that I get to run it with Heather and the women from my regular running crew, who also got into the marathon.

IMG_2936Heather in her Hazmat suit. We also got free bananas.

All in all, this was a great race. If you want to run the MCM, this is a fun way to earn your entry. There is a sense of pride in having earned my way into the marathon with a tough 11 mile trail run, taking me outside my comfort zone. The Marine Corps 17.75K, the only race where your prize is, you get to run 26.2 miles!


On Sunday, I run the Rock N Roll Raleigh Half Marathon and the next Saturday, the Tarheel 10 Miler. I’ve got a busy race season between now and June 1. MCM training starts June 25. Just the way I like it.


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