The seeds for running the Marine Corps Half Marathon in Camp Lejeune, NC were sewn back in February when my Cruiser friend Beth told me about last year’s race being canceled after Hurricane Florence ravaged the area. As a result, Beth’s registration was deferred and she invited me to join her for this year’s race. The race is part of the Semper Fi Grand Prix, a series of four running events on or near Camp Lejeune.
Before The Race
After stalking the weather for days leading up to the race, I awoke at 3:30 AM to 73° with 90 % humidity; certainly not ideal running conditions, but not as bad as I feared considering how warm Southern North Carolina can be in mid-September.
After a light breakfast of bananas washed down with lots of water, Beth and I left her beach condo on Emerald Isle at 4:47 AM. As we neared the base, I ate half of a blueberry bagel while sipping on my sports drink.
We arrived outside the base entrance at 5:30, 90 minutes before the race started as suggested at registration. As civilians without proper credentials to get on a military base, we’d each filled out a form to obtain a 1-day base pass. No one is allowed on base without the pass which takes 17 days to obtain. So even though race registration may remain open until race day, civilians without credentials must register before the 17-day cutoff.
We arrived early enough that there was no line to pick up our base pass and within a few minutes we were back in line to go through base security.
Once on base, we easily found the Goettge Memorial Field House, the site of packet pickup.
Packet pickup was a breeze and we were in and out of the gym in no time. Even though I’d spent way too much time at registration deciding what size women’s shirt to order, we were told that only unisex shirts were available; and we all know how I feel about unisex shirts. I was initially disappointed, but have to say that I love the shirt! The fabric is amazingly soft and the neckline is quite comfortable. All-in-all, it fits very well and I’ve already worn it several times.
Indoor Restrooms for the Win
As early arrivals, we’d snagged a prime parking spot right in front of the field house. Beth backed into our parking space which not only gave us a great location for making frequent trips to the indoor restrooms, but also gave us prime people-watching opportunities while we waited until time to walk over to the race start.
As Beth and I sat in our dark car, we scanned the competition, guessing the age of older women as they walked past. The lady parked next to us caught our attention as a possible fierce competitor. She looked about my age and seemed very focused on memorizing the course map set up in the gym. After the race, we learned that she was an age group younger than me – the one between Beth and me – and sadly, had to slow down during the race due to a sore hip.
We dubbed a couple parked in front of us as “Insta Couple” as we watched the women make her significant other retake her picture until he got it exactly like she wanted it. They first came to our attention when we overheard her complaining that he hadn’t gotten her picture just right as she posed upstairs behind this USMC plaque.
Overall the people were very friendly and we enjoyed interacting with them as we made our way around the field house and athletes’ village before and after the race.
The Marine Corps Half Marathon course winds its way around the Camp Lejeune base. It’s a fast and flat course with very little shade.
I found it very interesting seeing the different sized houses based on the rank of the Marine living in each location. We ran past barracks, modest homes, and larger colonial homes with beautiful water views. It wasn’t difficult to figure out who lived in the larger homes across from the water between miles three and five.
Prior to the race, Beth told me that one of the most heart warming parts of the race would be seeing the Ainsley’s Angels participants along the course. As we made our way from the car to the race start, we walked past Ainsley’s Angels lining up as they prepared to start the race. Here’s a little information about their organization taken from their website:
In addition to ensuring everyone can experience endurance events, Ainsley’s Angels of America aims to build awareness about America’s special needs community through inclusion in all aspects of life. Serving as advocates to providing education and participating as active members in local communities, we believe everyone deserves to be included.
With about 20 minutes until the start of the race, we got in line for the porta potties which were lined up near the starting line. I had just exited my porta potty when the National Anthem began to play, but Beth was still inside hers.
As she quietly stepped out, we were both taken by how not a person moved or spoke. Those in line, waited until the end of our National Anthem before turning away from the flag to use the restroom. I had never attended a race where so much wonderful respect was given to the National Anthem, not even at the Marine Corps Marathon.
Self-seeding Starting Corral
There were no signs indicating paces for self-seeding so Beth and I guessed at where we should position ourselves. We decided to start about a third of the way back from the start, and other than passing a few walkers within the first quarter mile, we seemed to have chosen a pretty good spot.
Having just turned 50 the previous month, Beth immediately zoomed in on her competition.
And We’re Off!
Beth and I noted the absence of a howitzer’s boom sending us on our way like in the Marine Corps Marathon, but this was a much smaller race – 868 runners versus 30,000. Still, the words of encouragement over the bullhorn made the start exciting as we tapped our Garmins (affiliate link) to track our next 13.1 miles.
By the 7 AM race start, the temperature had dropped a whole degree to 72°, with 92% humidity. The sky was overcast which kept the temperature from rising; however, as a result of the darker sky my GoPro (affiliate link) pictures didn’t turn out as well as I would have liked.
Miles 1 Through 3
I’d put a lot of thought into my race strategy and considering that I’d done zero speed work leading up to the race, I decided that running even splits would be my best bet. My stretch goal was to run a 2:05 race which meant I’d need to maintain a 9:32.5 average pace, a good 15 to 45 seconds per mile faster than any of my recent training runs.
- Mile 1 – 9:29
- Mile 2 – 9:18
- Mile 3 – 9:18
Beth and I decided to stick together for the first mile or so and then each run our own race. Early on we passed the lady who I’d been eyeing as my most serious competition – I really hadn’t seen any other ladies who looked as old as me. Shortly after that, we passed Insta Couple.
Within another half mile, I saw a lady in front of me who looked familiar so I picked up my pace until I caught her. As I ran up beside the lady, I said, “Pam?” She turned my way and gave me an inquisitive look so I said, “I’m DebRunsFit.” Doesn’t everyone refer to themselves by their Instagram handles? Pam, from TwoRunnersTravel, and I ran together long enough for me to pull out my GoPro for a quick picture before we each turned our focus back to our own races.
As Beth and I approached a bridge crossing Wallace Creek, we passed volunteers handing out RedBull. Having not trained with Red Bull (we later learned that neither of us had ever tasted it), we both passed by without taking any. A guy running near us started talking about how much caffeine is in Red Bull and how it affects your heart rate, especially while running when you’re not used to it, blah, blah, blah… When he wouldn’t stop talking, we kicked it up a notch and left him in our dust.
Beth and I stayed together until just after mile 2 when it was time for us each to focus on our own races.
Running alone, I struck up a short conversation with the runners around me as we laughed at a sign at the 3-mile marker that said, “You’re almost done.” We surmised that the evil person who had made the sign was probably hiding in the trees laughing at our reactions to his taunting sign. 😉
Miles 4 Through 9
- Mile 4 – 9:23
- Mile 5 – 9:26
- Mile 6 – 9:38
- Mile 7 – 9:43 – stopped to refuel
- Mile 8 – 9:36
- Mile 9 – 9:17
Feeling good, I continued at a pretty consistent pace, slowing only long enough to grab and gulp a water as I passed a water stop around mile 4. This particular water stop was supported by a very enthusiastic group of volunteers. Children lined the course just prior to the stop, offering high fives as runners slowed for water or Powerade.
One of the loveliest sections of the course was between miles four and five when we ran along the New River Inlet – not to be confused with the New River that flows through West Virginia, Virginia, and western North Carolina.
As we approached the five-mile point of the race, we came upon Hero Mile and ran alongside picture after picture of fallen Marines. It was a somber section of the course and I said a prayer thanking them for their ultimate sacrifice.
Around mile seven, I stopped for a Honey Stinger gel (affiliate link) and long drink of water. I’ve learned to come to a complete stop to get my water in me rather than on me, especially when I’m chasing down a gel.
Soon after my stop, I’m pretty sure I saw the back half of a copperhead. For whatever reason, the snake had been cut in half and the tail half was on the street. Of course, I’m no herpetologist, but the coloring and markings looked very familiar to that of a copperhead. And even though it was the non-biting end of the snake, seeing it put a temporary pep in my step!
The sun came out shortly at mile eight, but went back in almost as quickly as it peered through the clouds. I was grateful that it made a very brief appearance because it was plenty warm enough without the sun beating down on us.
There were seven aid stations along the course (at miles two, four, six, eight, nine, ten, and twelve). Marines were manning most of the stations, always ready with a cup of water or Powerade and a polite “yes ma’am.”
I had a good chuckle as I ran past this sign. Seriously though, I need to replicate whatever I ate leading up to the race because I had absolutely no GI issues during the race, a huge win for me.
During the race I saw several different Ainsley’s Angels and caught up with Team Luke as we approached mile ten. I loved encouraging and giving high fives to the different teams.
Miles 10 Through 13.1
- Miles 10 – 9:24
- Mile 11 – 9:45 – stopped to refuel
- Mile 12 – 9:26
- Mile 13 – 9:25
- Mile .2 – 7:33 pace
Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, the bridge we crossed at mile ten was the same one Beth and I had crossed in the opposite direction just before mile two (I guess I didn’t study the course map closely enough). I felt quite good at this point and was happy with how consistent my pace remained.
The sun gradually started making an appearance again during our tenth mile and even though I could feel the temperature start to rise, I continued to feel strong. I was happy with my performance and kept telling myself to just take one mile at a time and to keep aiming for a 9:30 pace.
Even though I didn’t need to stop, I was comforted to see so many porta potties available along the course.
I slowed again around mile eleven to take my second gel. I felt well-fueled during my race and seemed to hit my fueling perfectly.
Around mile twelve, I passed two marines helping a young lady who was down. Another marine was carrying water from the water stop across the street to the her. I was happy to see that she didn’t seem to be in too dire of a situation and was certainly in good hands.
Shortly after the downed runner, I saw a woman who looked about my age turn around and look back behind us. I’m not sure if she was turning to wait for someone or just needed to stretch. I nonchalantly tried to make myself invisible as I ran past and didn’t look back. I certainly didn’t want to bring attention to myself and cause her to feel the need to sprint toward the finish line.
As soon as I saw the 13-mile marker, I kicked it into as high a gear as I possibly could and put that race to bed.
I crossed the finish line with an official time of 2:04:37 (9:31 pace), arms high and thrilled with how good I felt after a winter and spring of being plagued with injuries.
Immediately Upon Crossing the Finish Line
As soon as I crossed the finish line a marine hung a finisher’s medal around my neck and as I walked down the chute other marines handed me Powerade, water, and an ice cold wet towel to drape around my neck.
Once out of the finish area, I remembered to check my WeatherBug app. The temperature was 75° with 84% humidity, not as hot as I’d feared it might get.
Beer and Dogs
As I wondered around the athletes’ village while looking for Beth, I stopped by the food tent. I didn’t indulge in a hot dog or beer (it was around 9:30 AM at that point), but I did later grab a small cheese Danish with Beth.
Post-Race Festivities And Awards Ceremony
I asked a random spectator to hold up my medal in front of the finish line arch so I could zoom in for a picture of the medal with the arch in the background for Instagram for #medalmonday. While holding it he teasingly asked if he should flex while holding the medal. When we were done, he asked if I’d like for him to take a picture of me with my medal. It only seemed appropriate that I flex, too!
Once Beth and I found each other, we made our way to the results tent to see how we’d done. I was excited to learn that I’d won my age group, but that meant we’d have to hang around for the awards ceremony.
The awards ceremony took forever to start so Beth and I made the most of our time while waiting. We asked someone to take a picture of us together and then Beth bought a pint glass for each of us.
Finally it was time for the awards ceremony to start so Beth and I found a place to sit down on the bleachers and rest our tired legs. As my age group was announced, I was surprised that I had not seen the third place finisher at all up until that point, but guess who was the second place finisher? That’s right, the lady I’d caught up to and passed during the last mile of the race.
Immediately after returning to the bleachers after getting my award, Pam ran over to say hi. She’d also won her age group – we finished within 29 seconds of each other.
Goals Versus Reality
Going into the race, I dared to think that I might be able to run a 2:05 race. I knew it would be a stretch based on my lackluster training due to injuries lingering throughout the winter and spring. If I could maintain a 9:32 pace, I’d reach my goal. My strategy was to focus on the present mile, adjusting my effort level as necessary to keep my pace as close to 9:30 as possible and I was relieved when it seemed quite doable.
I was pleasantly surprised when I nailed it by running a 2:04:37, 23 seconds faster than my 2:05:00 goal!
I finished the Marine Corps Half Marathon with an official time of 2:04:37 and 1st out of 16 in the female 60-64-year-old age group. I also finished 63rd out of 389 women and 263rd out of 868 total runners. My Garmin recorded the race as 13.2 miles giving me a 9:27 average pace.
Top three times in my age group:
My Overall Reaction to the Marine Corps Half Marathon
The race organizers and volunteers were amazing and put on a great race, but I expected as much. With ten Marine Corps Marathons under my belt, I knew the Marines would do a great job and they didn’t disappoint! I’m so glad that I chose to run the Marine Corps Half Marathon and will definitely consider running it again.
If you’re looking for a fun race to run in the Emerald Isle area during the off-season, you really should consider the Marine Corps Half Marathon.
- Have you run any of the Marine Corps sponsored races?
- Have you ever visited a military base? ~ This was my first time
- If you’re in the military or a military brat, what branch? ~ My dad was enlisted Army for a few years and then Army Reserve.
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