I’ve wanted to run the Marine Corps Marathon for eight years now and last year I had a friend run it and was reminded of just how awesome it is so I was determined to run it this year come hell or high water. This brought back my Military Marathon Slam idea and so I started searching for races and low and behold this year there was an inaugural Navy marathon and an inaugural Army marathon. I was elated but our dance card for the year was already getting pretty full and both the Army and Navy marathons were in Texas, which is fine, except that we are trying to collect our 50 states and we have Texas like 15 times over and this would mean two more Texas races in addition to the two that we have already done this year. I consulted with the GeekGrl, told her about my Military Marathon Slam idea and she said “Let’s do it!”
So, just a couple weeks after the mud fest in San Antonio we found ourselves back on a plane to San Antonio to rent a car and drive down to Corpus Christi for the Inaugural Navy marathon.
When we arrived in Corpus we were both amazed at the fact that it seemed like it was almost completely devoid of human inhabitants. Apparently the downtown areas are basically vacated on the weekends and most everyone is out on the peripheries of the city. We were able to come up with a pretty decent Italian dinner and our hotel was fair. As I recall from a few childhood trips to South Padre Island it’s pretty hard to actually find nice accommodations immediately on the beach. There’s always going to be a certain degree of rust and sand that makes things look slightly shabby.
We made our way to packet pickup at the convention center and it was also a ghost town. The people were friendly though that may have been because they were starved for attention. I doubt there was more than two other runners present when we were there and in wasn’t the final seconds of the expo either. Ultimately we found out that there were fewer than 200 people running the marathon. I think a huge problem may have been because the race took place the same weekend as Rock-n-Roll Dallas, which probably drew a huge number of Texas runners who otherwise might have come and done this race. I have also come to understand that it wasn’t publicized very well. Later this season at the Army marathon I spoke to a guy who was a native of Corpus Christi who said he would have loved to run the Navy marathon but he didn’t find out about it until the day before the race.
Anyway, on the whole I think the course is pretty fantastic. The only kind of blah part of the course happens in the very early morning when it's still dark to dawn and you are winding your way through a business district but this is only about 3 or four miles of the course at most. As the sun starts to rise the nice part of the course, which is the majority of the course, begins to unfold as you climb up and over a huge bridge that spans a shipping channel. It’s a suspension type bridge and the cables that hold the deck to the super structure have alternating colored lights, it’s pretty cool. I hit the peak of the bridge and there was enough light to see well out into the Gulf, which admittedly was mostly full of off shore oil rigs. That part is actually a shame. Some of the locals referred to the views as beautiful but I have faint childhood memories of the Texas Gulf Coast and what I saw was a dystopia version of that earlier day. I was reminded of the Cyberpunk classic Neuromancer by William Gibson who wrote of a landscape that was utterly dominated by technology and the refuse of technology but I digress.
So after crossing the bridge you get a little more of a brief tour through the business district and then you head for the convention center and get on a road that hugs the Gulf Coast the rest of the race. You spend most of the rest of the race running right alongside the coast line with a brief detour through a college campus. Even though the course has a huge out and back I still didn't get tired of running along the coast and most of the neighborhoods you run through are really nice. Also, apart from the bridge the course is flat, flat, flat.
While I loved the course I hated the wind! Yes, this has been the year that has been plagued by bad weather and today was the topper. We checked the National Weather Service and the winds at the start of the race were 43 miles per hour! It was amazing; I thought the entire starting area was going to be blown away. During the course of the day the winds apparently "died down" to 23 mph. Fortunately for much of the race the winds were either at our backs or to the side, however, I learned that strong side winds slow you down and suck your energy about as effectively as headwinds and tail winds that strong give you a bit of a boost but not as much as you are slowed by the side and head winds. The last eight miles of the course was directly into a headwind and so involved a lot of jogging mixed with bursts of running mixed with bouts of walking.
In the end I ran a 3:58:28, my slowest marathon since 2007 I think. However, everyone was slowed and I ended up winning my age group so I guess I had a relatively good race.
I really liked the course and I hope this first time race grows but there were some real organizational issues. The instructions for the busses were practically useless. Essentially you knew there would be shuttle busses to take you from the convention center to the start and then from the finish back to the convention center but the rest of the information was either completely absent of useless. Nobody I met really seemed to know how the morning busses would work out so that added a huge amount of unnecessary stress on race morning. However, it did work out fine so it was really the communicating and not the planning. The shuttle busses after the race were a different story. The drivers didn’t even know what was happening and pretty much everyone had a different idea as to where the runners and the busses would meet. This too eventually kind of worked itself out but the whole transportation thing needs a lot of work.
The aid stations were another area that needs improvement. The aid stations were woefully insufficient and I was glad I brought my own water and gel but I still ran dry between miles 20 and 24 or so and there is no possible way I would have had enough fuel to carry me through the run had it not been for what I brought. Maybe that’s why I won my age group; everyone else was too depleted to race effectively. However, in the race’s defense I think that way fewer people registered for the race than was hoped for and so the organizer was operating at a significant loss and was struggling just to pull it off. Aside from the transportation issue my impression was that everyone who ran the race enjoyed it despite the wind and relative lack of aid. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, I’m the only one complaining about the aid but seriously, I’ve now done 67 of these things. I know aid stations.
In any case, this race is well worth running and I believe that it will get better if people do show in larger numbers. I hope to see it succeed if only so others will have a shot at running their own Military Marathon Slams.