Marine Corps 17.75K Race Report

In late March, Scot and I ran the Marine Corps 17.75K. We ran this one in 2013 but our experience was different this year. Still, it was a challenging course and had a great reward. All finishers of the 17.75K are guaranteed an entry into the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM), which is becoming harder to get into each year. Like many big-city marathons, there is greater demand to run the race than there are spots for runners. After a few years of a record-fast registration sell-outs, MCM went to a lottery entry. That means that not everyone who applies is accepted to run. The 17.75K as a way to run MCM has now gained in popularity. The odd distance is a reference to the year the Marine Corps was founded: 1775. This translates to just over 11 miles.

Front and back of my guaranteed access ticket

I already knew that I had an entry to MCM, but Scot did not. Three days before the 17.75K, we found out that Scot was not selected in the lottery, so he would need his guaranteed entry. I would be giving my guaranteed entry code to a friend, as each code can be used by anyone, not just the person who earned it. Still, I was excited to run this challenging race and to compare it with the 2013 edition.

We woke up early to make the 25 mile drive down I-95. We wanted to be there early for a good parking space in the commuter lot, where we would catch the shuttle to the start area. We were early, indeed, and got to the start a good hour or more before the 7:00 gun time. It was COLD! The temperature was in the 20s and there was a cold wind. We, like many other runners, opted to wait inside Montclair Tabernacle, which graciously opened its doors to the runners. There, we were able to use indoor plumbing instead of port-o-potties, and chat with others in the small sanctuary. (I have heard that several of the runners made donations to the church, which was befitting, as collectively, we runners kinda trashed their bathrooms.) Inside the church, we found our friends Sid, Jill and Tim and waited for race time to approach.

Staying warm inside the church

Eventually, it was time to go outside and freeze. Some members of my Marine Corps Marathon & 10K Club Facebook group had scheduled a group photo at 6:30, so I got to meet a few of the folks in person, and we got a small group photo. I know there were lots of other group members at the race, but they may have still been in the church trying to stay warm. We also found our friend and fellow Marathon Maniac Leah before the start; we hadn't seen her since Houston Marathon (my race report) in January 2014.

A few of my Facebook Group members

Huddled with Scot and Leah before the race

There was a brief opening ceremony with the presentation of colors and the national anthem. And then, we were off. In 2013, there was a long stretch of highway at the start of this race and we ran it, mostly uphill, to the entrance of Prince William Forest Park. This year’s course only had a short bit on the highway before turning into the park. That was a very good thing, because it was still cold and windy, and the trees in the forest helped to block the wind. Scot, Leah and I ran together for only a short while before we were separated. The beginning part of the park was on a narrow dirt and gravel road. The pack of runners hadn't yet thinned out, and people were trying to find their pace. It was difficult to maneuver through the crowds, and even more difficult to slow down. I had intended to do consistent run/walk intervals, but I was afraid to begin walking in the midst of the pack of runners. There was simply no room to move to the side and get out of their way.

Eventually, I had to do some walking. The hills were long and steep, and worse than I remembered from 2013. Perhaps I just didn't want to remember how tough the race was. I did a lot of walking up the hills, and even some walking on the flat sections. I thought I was prepared for this race after the previous weekend’s double half marathons on trails and hills. But I was not prepared. It was a good thing that another Maniac Kristen spotted me on the course. She wasn't feeling fast that day either, so we stuck together for the rest of the race and walked when we wanted to. Our goal was simply to finish.

Going up one of the many hills; that's Kristen in the green

There were few spectators on the course, but there were some energetic volunteers, and a group of folks from Team RWB who encouraged runners up one of the worst hills. Even though we were all cold and tired, there was good energy at this race. The tough course was justified as a feat we must accomplish to earn our guaranteed entries into the MCM. I complained a lot, but only lightheartedly. I was happy to be out there and doing it, even if I was slow.

With about a quarter of a mile to go, we exited the park and came back out onto the highway. The finish chute was on a bike trail running parallel to the highway, and we could see the finish arch. We could also feel the blast of wind, and realized just how protected we had been in the park. Scot was at the finish line waiting. We got a quick finisher photo, collected our medals (new since the 2013 race where we earned plastic finisher coins) and our guaranteed entry access codes.

Me and Molly
Me and Miles

First year they had a medal for the 17.75K

We quickly made it through the post-race food and drink line and tried to see if we could find any friends. No one stuck around to be social, and I don’t blame them. It was probably in the 30s by then, but still windy. There was no reason to stay. There was no beer tent as there had been in 2013, so that was a bit of a disappointment. Scot and I got on the shuttle bus back to our car. Once we made it home and warmed, up, Scot registered for MCM (and I sent my access code off to our friend Sarah). We are now both registered for the 40th annual Marine Corps Marathon. This will be the first time Scot and I will run the race in the same year. I’m hoping they have some special perks for the 40th. We’ll find out in October.


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