Check out these 26.2 tips for the best marathon experience — Marine Corps Marathon style! Lots of insider secrets and tips from the course.
Fall marathon season is almost upon us. These days, many of us are logging increasingly higher mileage, testing and retesting what nutrition options work best on long runs, and are getting cranky with our foam rollers. (Hey, it happens. Don’t judge.)
I’m training for the 43rd Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. This will be my fifth overall marathon and third MCM. D.C. is one of my all-time favorite cities and I can’t wait to get back there for this iconic race. Today I’m sharing with you 26.2 tips for an enjoyable experience running the Marine Corps Marathon. Most of these tips are specific to MCM but many are applicable to any distance race — including half marathons.
26.2 Tips for the Best Marathon Experience: Marine Corps Marathon Style
As a visitor
1. Plan your trip to D.C. to include a day or two of sightseeing.
D.C. has no shortage of things to do and see so plan accordingly. Areas of interest: Ford’s Theater, Smithsonian Museums, Galleries, and the Zoo, any of these restaurants and then some!, and don’t forget about all the monuments and memorials on the National Mall.
2. Eat well the day and night before the race.
And probably the night before the night before the race. Last year I went on a bit of a bender with my college roommate on Friday (the race was on Sunday) and I did a terrible job fueling on the day I needed to most — Saturday. Don’t do what I did. Save the partying and the eating shenanigans for after the race.
At the expo
3. Attend a shakeout run the day before the race.
I’m part of a pretty kickass group on Facebook called the Marine Corps Marathon & 10K Club. There are a ton of members but it feels like a really small community. Every year on Saturday morning, the admins host a pre-race shakeout run. It’s just a chill 3-miler on the National Mall to get our bodies ready for race day. It’s a fun way to put faces to names and meet new people. Plus we end up with fantastic group photos. Will you be there this year?
4. Spend some time at the expo.
Take your time and have fun at the expo. There’s no experience quite like it. Pose with a marine before entering the expo. Have your picture taken in front of the many fun backdrops provided. Enjoy your time perusing the official merchandise shop. Bottom line: have fun!
At the starting line
5. Use public transportation or a ride service.
I recommend using either the Metro or Uber/Lyft to get to the starting line. Taxis in D.C. are notorious for running the meters (even at green lights — yes, it happened to me!) and you don’t want to start your day with chaos. You can pre-plan when to get on the Metro and you can schedule an Uber or Lyft ride in advance.
6. Wear throwaways for the long wait in the corrals.
Even on hot days, the temperature in the darkness of morning can be a bit chilly. Wear a throwaway and keep it on as long as possible. Think sweaters, zippys, bathrobes, etc. All the discarded apparel gets donated so you’re not littering. Stay warm!
7. Use the porta-potties — often.
Continue to use the potties in the starting corrals as often as possible before the start of the race. There’s nothing worse than having to pee on the race course and the lines during the race are a doozy.
8. Watch for the pre-race show!
Ospreys, skydivers, the Howitzer — all the feels!!! Marine Corps Marathon spares no expense at creating an amazing, unforgettable, emotional race experience and it all starts in the corrals. Keep your eyes to the sky and enjoy it!
9. The start begins with a split — don’t panic.
The race begins with a split down the middle. Do not panic. It doesn’t matter which side you’re on because they come together within a few minutes of the separation. Pick left or right and stick with it.
The race course
10. Take it slow on the first uphill.
There’s a fairly sizable climb within the first two miles of the race. Don’t push too hard and don’t run by pace. Try to focus on running by effort here so you don’t burn too much energy so early in the race.
11. Enjoy the downhill of Spout Run.
Once you’re at the top of that first hill, you can now enjoy the reward of a fun downhill on Spout Run. This is one of my favorite spots on the MCM course.
12. Georgetown will give you a boost!
There are several “party spots” along the MCM course. Running through Georgetown is the start of those parties and the spectators here will give you a huge lift as you continue through miles 4 and 5. Let the energy you get here stay with you for a few more miles.
13. Rock Creek Parkway is great for “people” watching.
And by people watching, I mean runner watching. Rock Creek Parkway truly is beautiful but it’s a crowded and very dense out-and-back. Which makes it great for runner watching! You can easily spot friends running in the other direction, or shout encouraging cheers at random runners. It can be a drag or a lot of fun depending on how you look at it!
Best Marathon Experience
14. Grab an orange if it suits you!
Around miles 7-10 there’s an aid station with sliced oranges. So delicious but beware those sticky hands after! Mmmm.
15. Turn up the tunes after the Lincoln Memorial.
After Rock Creek Parkway comes the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. There’s usually a fairly decent crowd here as the Quantico Marine Corps Band plays a tune for runners and spectators. But as soon as I pass the Lincoln Memorial I know I’m in for some quieter miles. This is when I usually turn on the tunes.
16. Turn off the tunes for the wear blue Mile.
By far the most solemn of the entire course is the wear blue Mile. This is the mile of the race “where fallen service members are commemorated in photographs along the roadway decorated with American Flags.” Please show respect for these individuals and their families and turn off the tunes.
17. Have your spectators meet you at the Gauntlet.
Miles 15-20 are great for spectators and runners alike. Spectators: the best places to see your runners are between the Washington monument and the Capitol. You can see runners multiple times in this location.
18. Use the energy of the Gauntlet to keep you moving.
These are the tough miles. Use the energy from the crowd and your fans at the Gauntlet to keep you moving forward. Starting at about mile 20.5 you’ll cling tight to that energy.
19. Don’t let the desolate concrete wasteland sap your resolve.
I’m sorry, did I just say that? Eek. I hope you aren’t too freaked out. But really — there is one part of MCM that’s just awful (actually in 2016 there were TWO so we should consider ourselves lucky!). It’s the bridge of concrete desolation. Do NOT let it win. Do NOT let it zap your energy. Keep moving forward with one foot in front of the other. You’re almost there!!
20. After you make it across the bridge, enjoy the party in Crystal City!
Crystal City is yet another big party! Lots of snacks provided by local run groups, usually a giant fan and possibly some hoses if it’s hot out. And music! Lots of music. Enjoy these miles through Crystal City. You’ll appreciate the energy boost!
On the course
21. Gatorade first, water second.
Aid station tip for the Marine Corps Marathon: Gatorade will be first, water will be second. And keep moving through — there’s no need to stop at the very first table.
22. Speaking of aid stations, thank a marine!
The marines are out there making sure we’re safe, having a good time, and working hard for us as volunteers. The least we can do is thank them. You might want to thank them for their service, too! Don’t forget to thank volunteers at any race you run, by the way!
23. Raise your hand if you need to walk.
The first time I encountered this protocol was on the MCM course in 2016. It took me a minute to figure out why folks were raising their hands and then walking. Then I realized they were doing the Galloway method and using the hand signal to let other runners know they would be walking in a few steps. Brilliant. Now if I ever need to walk in a race, I raise my hand to let others around me know I’m walking.
At the finish
24. You made it! Hug a marine!
You did it! You rocked 26.2 miles through the nation’s capital and you kicked major ass! Now it’s time to hobble through the finisher chute and receive your medal from a marine. Feel free to hug, high five, or take a selfie. These guys love it and you’ll cherish the memories, too.
25. Have your picture taken at Iwo Jima.
You can’t run MCM and not have your photo taken at Iwo Jima. Do it!
26. Smile for the camera!
Make sure you smile for the camera when you see them. Start smiling when you think you’re too far away to be caught on camera and continue smiling until after you pass the photographer. Pro tip: there’s a photo opp between miles 11 and 12 just before the wear blue Mile. It’s kind of a surprise so look up and smile!! Second pro tip: there are tons of photogs in the Gauntlet. Plan accordingly!
26.1 Buy all the photos!!!
I’m usually the first one to poo-poo buying race day photos. But MCM is different and you’ll cherish those photos for a long time to come. I’ve purchased all my MCM photos for both years and I plan on buying them again this year.
26.2 Enjoy your beer in the beer tent.
Much like not buying race photos, I usually don’t partake in the beer tent, either. But I gotta tell you, the beer tent at MCM is hella fun. I highly recommend it. At least linger at the Finish Festival. There’s a lot going on and even if you can’t move, some nice person will offer to bring you bacon and fruit. (Thanks ladies from 2017!)
Running a marathon can be a daunting and intimidating endeavor. But it can also be a ton of fun. I hope these 26.2 tips help you run your best marathon ever!
Will I see you in D.C. this fall?
What’s your best marathon memory?
What’s one tip you’d add for someone looking for their best marathon experience?