Thoughts on the Marine Corps 17.75K
April 19, 2015
Last month, I ran the Marine Corps 17.75K race in Quantico, Virginia. At first glance, this seems like an odd distance; it equates to 11.03 miles. The Marines are a proud branch of the US military family with a rich history and tradition. The distance of this race commemorates the year in which they were founded, 1775.
The website advises that this is a very popular event with a small field and always sells out quickly. With this in mind, I booked myself into a meeting for the afternoon that the race registration was to open, so as not to be disturbed. The online registration for this event was set to open on Wednesday, March 11 at noon. I logged into the website a few minutes early hoping that perhaps they might open up the registration a bit before noon. No such luck. At the stroke of 12, I was able to begin registering. As it was an American website, I had to find my way around entering a province instead of a state and a postal code instead of a zip code. With this accomplished, I proceeded through payment and pressed submit. It had taken me only 9 minutes to get this far. Confidence was high! The screen refreshed and came up with a message thanking me for my interest in their event but unfortunately the event was now sold out. WTF?? Later that evening, while online, I read an article from Runner’s World that advised the Marine Corps 17.75 race had sold in 7:13. I can’t run a mile that quickly nor, it seems, can I complete a race registration that quickly. The reason this race sells out so quickly? All finishers, stress FINISHERS, are guaranteed entry into the Marine Corps Marine that fall.
Registration for the Marine Corps Marine lottery was to open the following Friday, March 13th. Perhaps Friday the 13th would be a luckier day for me. I also had set an appointment for myself on Friday to enter the lottery. The days in between gave me so time to think. At last year’s MCM, I had pushed a fellow RF teammate out of his comfort zone to approach the race director for a race bib. It worked out. I decided to follow my own advice. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. It also worked out! I was in the 17.75 race.
I was looking forward to race itself. Described as a romp through the woods with the Marines, what was not to like? The website had the course route and elevation map which showed some “rolling hills”. It also warned about not going out too quickly and to save your energy for the most significant hill at mile 4. Running up in Newmarket, and in Ontario in general, we are accustomed to running hills. Hills are our friend! Hills make us stronger! Not a problem.
The race started on a chilly, 2 degrees C, Saturday morning at 7am. I, like many runners, took shelter in a church adjacent to the start. Opening ceremonies delayed the start of the race for about 8 minutes, very inspiring but also very windy. We were off with the gun and with a field of just over 2,000 runners, it did not take long to cross the timing mats. It was only a few minutes before we left the open spaces of the 4 lane roadway we were on for the shelter of the Prince William Forest. The rest of the race would be run in this forest until we emerged at the same spot for the sprint to the finish.
The first 5K’s were mostly gravel, dirt, some mud and the occasional puddle. It had rained the day before the race. Here we encountered some of the rolling hills that I had been expecting. The group was still very tightly packed in this section as the roadway was barely larger than one vehicle. There had been no corral system at the start so the paces of the racers varied. This resulted in a very slow first 5K split while trying to find your way around slower runners. That’s okay; we all know the evils of going out too fast. Just past the 3 mile mark, the road turns and becomes paved. This gives a false sense of confidence and you could see the pack begin to separate and the rabbits sprint ahead. I, too, was able to pick up the pace through this part but was always mindful of the warning for what lay ahead at mile 4.
Many of you have had the pleasure of running the 30K Around the Bay so, when I tell you that the hill at mile 4 makes the last hill at ATB seem like a speed bump, you will appreciate my pain. The hills are similar in grade, but this hill goes the entire distance from mile 4 to mile 5. At least this challenge was early enough in the race that I still had some gas in the tank and distance to make up the time I had lost on this monster. The next four miles are on gently rolling hills and are paved. Being in the forest we were almost entirely protected from the wind. Many runners who had not already shed layers did so in this area. I was able to find my pace, fall into a groove and enjoy the sounds of an early spring morning, sounds that I was afraid might never return.
It was around mile 9 when this blissful reverie was interrupted as the course left the pavement and returned to the dirt trail. We had already covered most of this portion of the trail on the outbound leg of the race. Strange, these hills we were now running up did not seem that steep or long going the other way. In this section of the race there were two significant hills that had to be overcome. While they were not as long as the monster previously mentioned, they both did seem to be steeper. Once these last two hills were conquered, there was a hairpin turnaround to navigate and then clear sailing through the rest of the forest, out back onto the highway and down to the military band at the finish. Mission Accomplished.
In addition to the finisher’s medal, at the finish line we received our Access Granted card with which we could enter the marathon in October.
If you are looking for a flat easy course with lots of crowd support, this is not the race for you. Once we entered the forest, the only people we saw were the volunteers at the aid stations and one forest ranger. If you are looking for a race that will test your hill training and provide you with a new Personal Best, this is a race for you. Yes, I set a PB. Of course, that, like access to the MCM was guaranteed if I finished. I have never run any other race of 17.75K
The necessary training for this race, if you decide to try it, is hills and typing. You have to beat 7:13.