9 Tips for Running the Marine Corps Marathon

Running coach Tammy Whyte shares what she wishes she had known before her first MCM.

Photograph by mtngirl999 via Flickr Creative Commons.

The Marine Corps Marathon drew 20,122 finishers in 2017, making it one of the largest marathons not only in Washington, but in the world. And, thanks to a relatively flat course, the race historically draws a huge number of first-time marathoners.

As with any race, despite proper planning and perfect training, some elements will simply be beyond your control once the 7:55 AM start time rolls around. When DC running coach Tammy Whyte of TW Training and Wellness first ran the race in 2012, Hurricane Sandy was barreling up the East Coast. “Luckily, the major rain didn’t hit until after the race, but I was definitely a little stressed about the weather in the days leading up to it because I hadn’t run much in the rain,” she says.

Here, Whyte—who has now run the race three times—shares what else she wishes she had known before her first MCM. (Oh, and not that you would, but don’t even think about cheating. This man will most definitely catch you.)

Prepare for any type of weather.
It’s October in DC, meaning one day it’s sweater weather and the next it’s 80 degrees and sticky. Whyte suggests testing out multiple race-day outfits ahead of time.

Don’t hit up the first Porta Potties you see.
Between the Pentagon Metro and security, you’ll see a number of Porta Potties. Save yourself some time and keep moving as many more await you. Says Whyte, “Smirk and walk on by the people who stop on the way, and know there are more [Porta Potties] coming with shorter lines.”

There are no official corrals, so be prepared to dodge runners in the early miles.
As you line up, expect to find signs with projected finish times pointing you to your appropriate pace group. The corrals aren’t enforced, though, as in other large-scale races, meaning some runners who are a minute slower (or faster) than you might end up in your corral. When you start, Whyte recommends not wasting too much energy weaving in and out of the bottleneck of runners. “It will eventually clear out a bit and you’ll get into your running groove,” she says.

Whyte in 2015 after finishing the marathon.

The crowds are awesome.
“DC is a vibrant running community, and the large groups that come out to cheer, as well as the hundreds of thousands of other spectators that make the race special, are a testament to this,” says Whyte. “Be sure to run right past them for high fives and a burst of energy.” Some of her favorite cheering stations are the Oiselle Volee Cowbell Corner (near mile 22), the District Running Collective crew (usually around miles 17 and 18), and the November Project (before the 14th Street Bridge—see below).

Prepare to tear up at the “blue mile.”
Around miles 11 and 12, you’ll see pictures of fallen service members lining the course and volunteers holding American flags draped with black ribbons. The “blue mile” is intended to honor those who gave their lives for this country. “It’s a somber moment of the race and I always choke up,” says Whyte. “Bring tissues in your fuel belt.”

Mentally prepare yourself for the 14th Street Bridge.
According to Whyte, “It’s the toughest part of the course. It’s around mile 20 when the fatigue is starting to settle in, there are no spectators, it’s slightly uphill, and there’s no shade on a sunny day. Tell your friends to spectate right before you run over it or right when you’re done to give you a much-needed boost.”

Power up that final hill to the finish line.
The last hill is no joke, says Whyte, “but the crowds are deep and the finish line is close, so drive those knees and arms to finish strong.” If you’re local to DC, she suggests preparing by ending a training run on this hill, which leads up to the Marine Corps War Memorial after passing Arlington National Cemetery. If you don’t live in DC, end one of your runs on a steep hill to practice.

Hug the Marine who gives you your medal and call them “Lieutenant Last Name.”
The Marines handing out medals are newly promoted lieutenants, so you can make their day as much as they are making yours. And don’t forget to get a picture.

Prior to race day, figure out how you’ll get home.
If you’re taking the Metro, make sure there’s enough money on your card, as you don’t want to be waiting in line after you’ve run 26.2 miles. It can be challenging to get an Uber or Lyft with the number of road closures and the traffic, so you may need to wait. And if you’re meeting family and friends after the race, tell them to meet you in the family meet-up area, not right at the exit from the finish area. “You’ll want a few minutes to collect your thoughts before seeing your loved ones, and you also don’t want them to crowd the exit area for all the other runners,” says Whyte.

Above all, smile and enjoy yourself out there. Studies show that smiling while running can make it feel easier and improve performance.

This year’s Marine Corps Marathon will be held on Sunday, October 28. Here is the Marine Corps Marathon course map. Water, food, and entertainment points can be found here.

Kim Olsen

Kim Olsen ([email protected]) is a freelance writer in Alexandria.