marine corps marathon 2011

Miles 1794-1819, The Marine Corps Marathon (Part 2)

(Part 2 of 3)

Mile 10-Philip Ciulla

I got back up to speed faster than I expected.  On M Street in Georgetown I caught up with the fella that stopped to help me and thanked him for his concern.

Wisconsin Avenue dropped down sharply and I took it easy on the hill.  The numbness was fading from my knees, but remarkably, I didn’t feel any dire pain.  Everything else hurt, mind you, from my bleeding elbows and hands to road burn on my chest and forearms, to my shoulders and back, which had caught the shock of the fall.  Remarkably, my thumbs hurt worse than anything.  They were already red and throbbing.  They must have whipped against the pavement as I tried to catch myself.

We turned left and ran underneath the Whitehurst Freeway then turned right onto Potomac Parkway.  

I wasn’t wearing an iPod, but the Theme from Rocky started playing in my head.  In my opinion, there is no better piece of music to run to, no sound more inspiring, even when it’s only looping through one’s imagination.  I moved away from feeling unsure about things and back into a state of certainty.

We cruised past the Watergate Complex.  I had no idea it was still a hotel.  How about that?

Mile 11-Bonnie J. Monte

Bonnie’s mile began, appropriately, behind the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  That place is huge!

The sidewalks became crowded with people who’d walked across the Memorial Bridge from the Start area.  They were wonderful!  So many people offered encouragement and support along this stretch and I couldn’t help but smile.

“Keep it up, Paddy!!!”

“Alright, Paddy!!!”

“Paddy Runs for Haiti-Woohooo!!!!”

I felt it.  I absorbed it.  I used it.  I rode the tide of positivity like a surfer rides a wave, letting it push me down the road.  I clapped and cheered back, “Thank You!….All Right!” and that made people cheer even more.  It was incredible!

My support crew was supposed to be here somewhere, too.  I hoped I wouldn’t miss them amidst all the other people.

Joe made sure that wouldn’t happen.  Just after passing the Lincoln Memorial, I heard his unmistakable bellow,


They were up ahead, cheering hard and waving the banner like champs; just the thing I needed to inspire me for the next section of the course.  I nearly spat out a mouthful of gummi bears cheering back at them.  It’s awesome to feel people you love supporting you like that.  It’s a feeling I wish everyone could experience at some time in their lives.

The crowds and noise began to fade as we headed south on Ohio Drive towards Hain’s Point.

Mile 12-Mary Trotter

We ran along the Potomac near the FDR Memorial.  Near the mouth of the Tidal Basin, a pair of handcyclists pulled up next to me.  The lead guy was having a tough time.  He was busy shouting for people to get out of his way, which was no simple job since some runners were wearing earphones.  They couldn’t hear the guy unless he was right behind them screaming his head off.  To make his job even harder, his buddy was evidently a newbie.

“CLEAR THE LEFT!” the lead guy shouted hoarsely, ”CLEEEEEARRR THE LEEEEEEEEEEEEFT!!!!” 

Then to his buddy,“Downshift for the bridge, Billy……Downshift.”



“What for?”


It certainly a day that would test everyone…

We crossed a little bridge and passed the George Mason Memorial, one of my favorites.  A statue depicts the founding father sitting idly on a stone bench in a moment of quiet repose, legs crossed, hat off, like he’s just taking a break and enjoying the day.

We kept going south along the river and though the road wasn’t particularly exciting, it was at least shady and flat.

I was still passing people at a gradual rate, which was encouraging; even more so because by this time I was among the serious runners.  Nobody here was in an old cotton T-shirt from a Turkey Trot 5k, these were real runners wearing hi-tech performance shorts and matching dri-fit shirts, with fancy chronograph/GPS/heart monitors strapped to their wrists.  I was punching above my weight again.

Mile 13-Ellery Klein

Hain’s point marks the southern end of the long, narrow island on the south side of the Tidal Basin.  Besides the Jefferson Memorial and a highway interchange, the island is mostly taken up by the East Potomac Park Golf Course.  Massie told me that this was another dead zone offering very little in terms of scenery and no crowd support whatsoever.  Though the river was nice to look at, his description was otherwise accurate.  Knowing what to expect helped a lot, though.  In a way, the quiet was kind of nice.  It made it easy to focus on running calmly and evenly.

I chugged along behind a Danish Royal Engineer for a while.  He was at least 6'4 and nothing but muscle.  The guy was huge!

Someone had written out signs with encouraging messages and put them along the road.  They were wonderful and whoever put them up has a big hug coming to them. I remember a few of the messages:

“You’re stronger than you think!”

“Chuck Norris never ran a marathon!”


“I don’t know you, but I am so proud of you.”

If I could meet the person who put up those signs I’d say, ”I don’t know you, but I am so grateful to you.”  Those signs were great motivation.

I grabbed a sports gel from a Marine at a food station.

“Thank You, Marine!”

“Yes, SIR!”

The Marines were pretty awesome.

Mile 14-Colin McPhillamy

The race was half over!

A group of people had been stationed at the end of Hain’s Point, or Hate’s Point, as Massie called it, just to add some life to an area otherwise devoid of spectators.  They were great!  They cheered and clanged cowbells and noisemakers.

They were led by a woman who was….extremely enthusiastic.  Like frighteningly enthusiastic.  Like Italian-soccer-fan-about-to-win-the-world-cup-crazy-enthusiastic.  She was literally jumping up and down, shouting into a bullhorn, but I don’t think the device could cope with her output.  It actually made her softer!  Nevertheless, I appreciated her zeal and was glad she and her bullhorn had come out for us.

We made the turn and started the run back towards the National Mall.  I pulled up next to a lean, muscled guy wearing a white running visor, hi-tech shades and a coordinated black and brown running kit.  He looked like a serious, no-nonsense competitor.  I was caught off guard when he asked me in a broad Appalachian Accent,

“Did you fall?”

If an elderly Asian woman in a kimono and slippers walked up to me and started reciting Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon, I could not have been more surprised than I was when this gentleman spoke.  The voice and the appearance were so incongruous.

“I sure did.” I said.

“I fell once, too.” he said and amazingly, he described how he was running in another marathon when he snagged his foot on a metal hoop lying in the road and got taken to the pavement.

“That’s the exact same thing that happened to me!” I said incredulously.

Strange coincidence.

Mile 15-Rich Dionne

I looked down to see how my knees were doing.  Blood had run down both legs and soaked into my socks.  Though other parts of me still hurt, especially my throbbing thumbs, (I can’t believe how much they hurt!) surprisingly, my knees weren’t painful at all.

Suddenly, a big white and green Sea King Helicopter swept low and loud right over the top of us.  I swear I saw the Presidential seal glinting off the side of it.  Had the President just given us a flyover?  Maybe he was checking in to see how Massie was doing?

Despite the presidential benison this was, unfortunately, where I hit the first wall.  That ease of stride wasn’t coming like it had been and I was working to maintain my pace.  An empty kernel of fear grew inside me, telling me I didn’t have enough gas to get to the finish.  I stayed calm, told myself to run as fast or slow as I needed to, and that I was definitely, definitely going to finish.  In my head, I turned up the volume on the Rocky music to drown out the other voices.  The Support Crew were supposed to be just up ahead; hopefully they’d give me a lift.

Mile 16-Kathleen and Kathryn Ferrara

We continued around the Tidal Basin and turned left onto Independence Avenue.  While crossing the Kutz Bridge, I looked at the Jefferson Memorial across the water to the south.  I took a picture in my mind, to remember just how beautiful it was this morning.

I saw a woman holding a sign that said “There will come a day when you can’t do this.  Today is not that day.”

I know all this motivational shit sounds so cheesy, but you gotta buy into it.  It’s so helpful and inspiring and, to me, all the positivity and the focus on simply doing your best epitomizes what I like most about running.

There were even fewer runners around me now so it was easy to look down the road and find the Support Crew.  I saw the banner from a long way away and forgot all about being tired.  This time I could get over to their side of the road and get some high-fives.  I wanted to stop and hug them all and tell them all how much I appreciated their love and support, but I had to keep moving.  The 3-Hour Marathon was still a possibility.

Not far down the road, we made a U-turn around the median and headed back down the other side of Independence Avenue.

Mile 17-Celeste Ciulla

Mom, Joe and Denise gave me high-fives and a huge cheer as I went by.  To catch me going the other way, they’d had only to turn around.   I was so glad they were there.  I got some energy back and forgot about being tired for a while.  A few yards further on, a Mom crossing the street with her kids nearly ran into me.  That was all I needed; to fall down twice!

Independence Avenue took us near the Korean War Memorial and also the huge WWII Memorial.  I kept chugging towards the Washington Monument.

I was sliding further down the slope of tiredness and spent a lot of this mile motivating myself, coaching myself into keeping up the pace.

The marching band from Spotsylvania High School was stationed here.  I really appreciate them for getting up and coming out to entertain us, but they sounded like they’d rather be anywhere other than playing music for runners on a chilly autumn day in Washington.  The weary music they played was right in line with how I was feeling.

Mile 18-Anonymous

We turned onto 15th street near the Washington Monument, crossed the Mall then made a right turn onto Madison Avenue.  Last December, from that very corner, 15th and Madison, Denise and I stood in the cold while the President’s motorcade drove by.

My original strategy, concocted weeks ago, probably while I was lounging comfortably on a porch in New Jersey sipping a glass of wine, was to take it easy over the early parts of the course and then really open it up here on the Mall.  (I realize that’s not a particularly complex strategy, but give me a break, it’s running, not chess)  That plan, basic as it was, was out the window at this point.  I was struggling to maintain my current pace, let alone put out any speed.

We cruised past some of the Smithsonian buildings including the Museums of American and Natural History as well as the National Archives.

The Mall was not particularly crowded with spectators, which surprised me.  For some reason I thought that people would be flocking here.

Concludes in Part 3 here:

For more information visit Paddy Runs for Haiti on Facebook.

Miles 1794-1819, The Marine Corps Marathon (Part 1)

Friends, this is a long one.  Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy…

I woke up at 5:30am and by the light of my cellphone quietly gathered my race things.  My parents and I were sharing a hotel room and I didn’t want to wake them. The day before, in the middle of a freak October snowstorm, they’d driven up to Washington D.C. all the way from Cincinnati.  I could hear people moving around in the neighboring rooms, probably doing the same things as me, gathering clothes, checking gear, attaching race numbers, being simultaneously nervous and excited.

The lobby was full of runners but quiet; the calm before the storm.  It was chilly outside, around 35 degrees.  I was very glad I’d brought a hat.  Walking down the street, I didn’t feel cold but I sure didn’t feel warm either.

There were few runners heading for the Metro, which surprised me.  The race started at 8am.

The Pentagon Metro station looked like the London Underground during the Blitz.  People were huddled together in corners looking frightened and miserable, like this wasn’t the kind of “fun” they were expecting.  They were dressed in old sweatshirts and garbage bags or white throwaway coveralls.  Some were already in their shorts and t-shirts, shivering while their pale legs broke out in goose bumps.

 I rode the escalator up into the still-dark morning.  The sight of the Pentagon made me smile.  I was really here!  I was really going to do this!  Walking to the runners village, I felt positive energy building inside me.  I knew I was going to have a great run.  I knew I was going to feel proud of myself by the end of the day.  I looked to the east and saw the Washington Monument glowing like a beacon across the Potomac.  After four months of training, I was ready!

I passed some time in one of the tents watching the other people preparing.  I went to the bathroom.  I ate a Clif bar.  The hour passed quickly.

And then it was time.

I dropped off my bag and headed for the start area in the middle of the Jeff Davis Highway. I was cold now that I’d stripped down to my shorts so I mixed in among the crowd hoping mutual body heat would warm me up a little.

The starting line festivities included a parachute jump by two disabled veterans.  Once I got onto the Highway, I could see them twirling down, trailing a huge American flag beneath them.  

The race announcer came over the PA,”Ladies and Gentlemen, please turn and look towards the Pentagon!”

Against the orange backdrop of the morning sky, two Osprey aircraft slowly flew over us.  We could feel the vibration of the rotors down on the ground.  Everyone cheered and clapped.  It was exhilarating!  The aircraft passed over with deliberate grace, then veered off to the west.  

A female a capella group sang the Star Spangled Banner.  Hats were removed, service men and women saluted and an army of people were brought to silence.  Very moving.

I lined up in the corral for runners expecting to finish between 3 Hours and 15 minutes and 3 Hours and 25 minutes.  That’s a bit slow for me, but my philosophy is to go out easy, and build speed the whole way.

My expectation for the day was, as always, to enjoy myself.  To take in the run, enjoy the sights and most of all, enjoy the other people, spectators as well as runners.  To enjoy the sensation of running alongside 21,000 people on a beautiful day in this historic city.

Beyond that, however, I’d be really impressed with myself if I finished the marathon in 3 hours or less.  I’d come close to doing that in New York, finishing in 3 hours, 1 minute, but a result like that seemed unlikely here in Washington.  I was unfamiliar with the marathon route plus there were two long hills in the first eight miles.  So I simply resolved to do my best.

The start area was organized chaos.  The marines removed the barriers that formed the corrals, people moved up towards the starting line,  surplus clothing was removed and thrown off to the side, guys rushed off to the bushes for a last-minute pee, friends said a final goodbye before parting ways and people traded kisses for luck.  It’s like we were going into battle.

Drew Carey was the honorary grand marshal of the race and as I walked forward, he mounted the stage at the starting line.  Unfortunately, I ended up standing in a weird dead zone, where I couldn’t hear the PA anymore and my view of the stage was blocked by a piece of signage.  (Bummer, because apparently the event announcer was fantastic.  My Mom, who was watching from up on the hill, told me how he shouted, “You are all AWESOME!!!!” and made her cry.) The next thing I knew, the Howitzer fired, everyone cheered, and the race began.

The start of a marathon is always euphoric.  After months of training, we’re finally running!  I couldn’t help but smile; in fact, everyone is smiling.  People are cheering and high-fiving.  It’s jubilation.  And it’s probably the last time most of us will have that feeling today because regardless of how much anyone has trained, 26 miles is a long, hard way to go.

The crowd stood still for about ten seconds, then began shuffling forward and finally we started to jog.  When I crossed the starting line, I was off and running.

As with the other marathons, I drew names out of a hat to see who sponsored these marathon miles.  I wrote their names on my wrist so I’d have some inspiration at the start of every mile.

Mile 1-Dominic Cardarelli

This kind of breaks the punishing terms of Dom’s donation because this was far and away the easiest mile I would run today.

We ran close together after the start, but I didn’t feel cramped.  Families and well-wishers lined the road to cheer us on.  I caught sight of Mom, Joe and Denise on an embankment yelling and waving the Paddy Runs for Haiti banner.  Many years ago, Mom bought a huge, plastic megaphone at a yard sale.  She had it with her today and was hollering into it as loud as she could.  I waved and shouted at them, deeply moved by the fact that they’d gotten up early, walked all the way from the Pentagon, and stood around in the cold just to watch me here at the start.

The Jeff Davis Highway ended, the road narrowed, and we started up the hill into Rosslyn.

Mile 2-Kate Ivins and Jack Moran

Since no building in Washington D.C. is allowed to be higher than the Washington Monument, most of the tall buildings are in Northern Virginia.  Many of them are in Rosslyn.  

There were a lot of people there too, who had come out to support the runners.  Their cheers bounced off the smooth walls of the office buildings making a canyon full of sound.  We turned right on Lynn Street, then left onto the Lee Highway.  Spectators began to peter out at this point.  There were small groups here and there, but they hadn’t quite warmed up yet and stared at us a little awkwardly as we ran by.

The modern and busy part of Rosslyn faded and we entered a less-trafficked area with rather tired looking buildings.  I remember running past a big, blocky furniture store built in the seventies, painted white.  It looked more like a bunker than a business.

Mile 3-Christian Conn

The Marathon route had two big hills and mile three brought us to the top of the first one.  This was a serious hill, rising over 200 feet; about the same height as the Queensboro bridge.  It was nice that the big hill was early in the run, but I had to resist the urge to charge up.  It was important to go at an even, steady pace.  There was no point in getting worn out this early.

We passed some of the wheelchairs and handcyclists who were really struggling.  Hopefully they knew what they were in for when they signed up.  We also passed some Marines in full gear jogging evenly up the hill as a unit.  Cresting the top felt magnificent and the glide down, which would last for about a mile and a half, felt great too.

We came to the first water station.  The Marines working here been well instructed, shouting out clearly, “Water!” or “Gatorade!” depending on what they had.  It really helps knowing in advance what they’re handing you because it’s no fun grabbing a cup and dumping over your head only to learn that you’ve just doused yourself with gatorade.

We made a right turn onto Spout Run Parkway, and crossed under Custis Memorial Parkway.

Mile 4-Neal Freeman

Unfortunately, another person who’d hoped to punish me with their donation was ripped off again.  Mile four was one of the easiest, most beautiful stretches of road I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience.  The road ran through a tree-lined valley that felt worlds away from the buildings and traffic of DC.  The trees made a gold and green canopy over the road and it was actually nice that there were no spectators here so we could enjoy the quiet of the woods.  Spout Run, a small creek dappled with bright, fallen leaves, ran peacefully next to us.  I took advantage of the downhill slope and drifted forward, careful not to overexert, but making the most of the momentum from the hill.

Once in a while the quiet was broken by the shouts of handcyclists who’d made it over the hill.  Somewhere behind us, one of them shouted,“Clear the Left!”

Runners picked up the call, shouting up the line, “Left Side!  Clear the Left!”  As he zipped past us, the wheeler shouted, “THANK YOU!!!  You are INSPIRING!!!  You are MOTIVATING!!!!  THANK YOU!!!…..”.

We eventually dropped down and ran next to the Potomac on the George Washington Parkway.

Mile 5-Betty Wahler in Memory of Richard Wahler

We crossed a small bridge covered with patches of thin, slippery ice, remnants of yesterday’s storm.  The wheelers had trouble getting traction and some needed help getting across.

We turned left onto the Francis Scott Key Bridge which was crowded with spectators.  They did a great job ushering us across the Potomac into the District.  In the clear light of the new day, Georgetown looked like a picture from a travel book.  It was beautiful!  The deep blue of the river in the sunshine and the cheering from the spectators made this a runners dream!  Maybe this was Rich’s gift to me this morning.

On the DC side, we turned left onto Canal Road, which ran along the river.

Mile 6-Paige Blansfield

My friend Massie told me that the run down Canal would be one of the duller parts of the race.  Massie, who lives in the area and makes his living fixing the President’s airplane (I’m not making that up), was also running today.  While it wasn’t particularly lively, it was certainly beautiful.  The road was lined with trees in various shades of green, yellow and red, and the river, deeply blue in the early sunlight, was off to our left.

I felt great!  True, it was still early, but I was making excellent time and didn’t feel an ounce of fatigue.  Maybe the 3 hour marathon was possible?  Though it could still happen, it was too soon to get excited.

I glanced across the river and saw runners pouring off of Spout Run Parkway like a flood.  It was reassuring to see all those people running with me.  What makes a marathon different is that the race is really you versus the distance.  To me, we’re all there just to help each other along.

Canal Road follows the old Chesapeake & Ohio Canal which once carried coal and other goods 184 miles from the Allegheny Mountains down to Washington DC.  In the 1950’s, a plan to turn the Canal into a Highway was put before congress, but an eight day hike along the canal’s entire length by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas attracted popular support and the Canal became a park instead.

Mile 7-Jamie Brink

We continued out of town along Canal road which was absolutely pleasant.  Once in a while, runners would peel off to the side and have a pee.  That wasn’t particularly pleasant, but if you gotta go, I guess you gotta go.

We reached the intersection of Canal and Reservoir Road, where we made sharp turn and started up the course’s second hill.  I threw myself into climbing gear, letting my arms help out as much as possible.  This hill seemed steeper than the first, but not as high, taking us away from the river and into a more residential area.  People sat in their driveways and cheered us on.

We caught up to more of the wheelers, doing yeoman’s work at cranking up the hill.  A few had broken down and had to pull off to the side.  What a shame!

Mile 8-Jeff Bender

There was a water station at the top of the hill staffed by Marines.  I grabbed some water and a cup of gatorade, calling out, “Thank You, Marines!”  About 20 of them replied with “Oo-rah!”  Badass!  What an inspiration!

We turned onto MacArthur Boulevard and cruised along the next to the Georgetown Reservoir which has been providing Washington D.C. with clean drinking water since 1858 courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers.

I passed a group of British paratroopers running together.  One of them was rolling along in a handcycle.  I also passed another handcyclist who, amazingly, had taken on this 26-mile challenge despite having lost his legs and forearms.  His elbows were harnessed to the handles.  That’s determination!

The road started slanting down towards the river again, giving the handcyclists a boost.  They went flying down the hill!

Mile 9-Becca Schneider

We dropped back down to Canal road and ran past runners still three miles behind us.  I scanned the crowd going the other way.  Based on our expected paces, there was a mathematical possibility that Massie and I would pass one another here.  Sure enough, I heard someone yell, “HEY PADDY!” and there he was; red hair, sunglasses and regulation Air Force Mustache!  We both shouted at each other, but who knows what either of us said.  When you’re running and you see someone you know, you kind of lose your mind with excitement and yell whatever pops into your head.  We probably sounded like two barking dogs. 

Massie was running for a charity called Hope for the Warriors, an organization that assists veterans and their families with a variety of services including PTSD counseling, scholarships for military families and building houses for seriously disabled veterans.  Massie, like many other runners I saw that day, was also running in honor of a fallen soldier.  He had the soldier’s picture pinned to his shirt and when he finished, he would give his medal to the guy’s family.

I was flying high after seeing Massie.  Everything felt good, the legs, the heart, the mind, the lungs.  I had a very light feeling and every step seemed effortless.  I was gliding.

Then I suffered a setback.

Before I knew what had happened, I was sliding across the pavement on my stomach, to the sound of about a hundred onlookers going “Oooooooooo!” in a way that you never want to hear when it’s you they’re looking at.

A metal hoop about 11 inches in diameter had been lying in the road.  It must have been too heavy to get pulled up by the street sweepers and I hadn’t seen it until it was too late.  I stepped on it with my right foot, popping it up at a right angle to the ground.  It snagged my left foot like a perfect booby-trap and with both feet tangled up in the thing, down I went.

It seemed to happen instantly.  One moment I was running along feeling great, the next I was laying on the ground with bloody elbows watching people run past me.

“There goes my 3-hour marathon” I thought.

I sat for a second, staring at my bleeding hands.  I couldn’t believe that I’d actually fallen down!

Another runner stopped and asked if I was okay.  I really appreciated that.  I thanked him, but told him to keep running.

A spectator, a woman, bent down to check on me.  “Yeah, I’m okay.” I said, picking up the hoop and placing it on the curb.  “Do me a favor and keep this out of the road”.  I slowly stood up.  My knees felt sickly numb.  My back ached.  In spite of that though, I wanted to keep going.  I didn’t want to quit.

“Are you sure you don’t want to stop for a moment?”

“No.  Thank you very much.”

Stopping, even briefly, seemed like the worst thing I could do.  Everything would lock up and my run would be over.

Besides, this was the Marine Corps Marathon!  There were guys running today who’d been though a lot more than a nasty fall. I thought back to the guy who’d lost his arms working his handcycle up that hill.  Most importantly, I thought of the people who’s names I’d written on my wrist.  There was no way I could face them and say, “I gave up.”  This is Paddy Runs for Haiti not Paddy quits for Haiti!  As long as I could move, I would run.

I walked a few steps just to make sure everything was still in working order, then broke into a shuffling jog.  After about twenty yards, the Paddy Runs for Haiti train was back on track.

Part 2 continues here:

For more information visit Paddy Runs for Haiti on Facebook.