Monday, October 12, 2015

Course Guide: Marine Corps Marathon

It's almost here! My first marathon. The hard training is behind me, I'm tapering, and I'm mentally planning my race. I'm breaking it into six pieces: four 5-Milers and two 5Ks. Here is my take on the course, along with some fantastic tips from members of the "Marine Corps Marathon & 10K Club" Facebook group. Thank you to everyone who shared tips!

(if you are looking for a spectator guide instead of a runner's guide, click here)


The pre-race tips are from Mike Gibbs, one of my coaches from the PR Training Program in Reston.
  • Use the bathrooms! The porta-potties at the corrals have little to no line, use them versus fighting the crowd at the runners village. 
  • Make sure you have warm throwaway clothes! You will be in your corral for more than 30 minutes, especially if you’re in the back of the pack. Do not get cold and waste energy shivering! Volunteers collect all discarded clothes and they are donated.
  • There is a long walk from the Metro to the start line, but don't freak out about the distance. Consider it your warm-up for the race. 
  • Remember to have extra lube to use later, as bathroom breaks will remove some of it, causing chafing later on.


MarathonFoto will be taking pictures of you on the course. Make sure your bib number is visible on your front - that's how your pictures will be tagged to you. If your bib is on your back or under a shirt you plan to take off later, you aren't going to see that photo when you look at your glamour shots after the race. The camera icons on the map below show you where the photographers will be, and I've added the locations to the course guide below.

photographer locations on the course 

Miles 1-5

  • Past Arlington National Cemetery
  • Around Rosslyn
  • Across Key Bridge into Georgetown
  • Water 1: a bit past Mile 2
  • Water 2: a bit before Mile 5
  • Mile 2.5: Yorktown Yahoos
  • Mile 4: Vandelays
  • Mile 4.25: Rockville High School Pipe Band
  • Mile 4.5: Georgetown University Pep Band & Mascot
  • Mile 5: Big Bad Juju
  • Some at the start
  • Don't go out too fast - good advice for any race, but especially for this one where the first couple of miles are uphill
    • "There be hills ahead! Take the hills with easy effort and let your pace drop a bit. You will make it up at Spout run. Charging the hills will hurt you at mile 18-20." - Mike Gibbs
  • "In the beginning don't be in a rush to plug into your music. Take in the experience, not your Rocky IV soundtrack." - George Cameron
  • "The cool thing to look forward to is the HUGE American flag that hangs over the road around Mile 2(ish)." - Jeremy Lee Radosh
  • "Take a water bottle with you and skip the first aid station! It is chaotic with 35k runners, why risk injury or frustration." - Mike Gibbs
  • "Be careful on the downhill run (Spout Run to the GW parkway) It's steep and there are usually potholes. I've seen someone go down every year and hammering that downhill will come back to haunt you about mile 18 in the form of screaming quads." - Anton Struntz
  • There is great crowd support in Georgetown - soak it up! High fives are a must!
    • "If you like coffee, make sure you get your fix before the run. Because running through Georgetown is brutal with the fine aroma of coffee that fills the air." - Scott Summers
  • Public indecency alert!
    • "At Mile 3 you turn onto Spout Run Parkway which begins almost a mile of all downhill on a nicely wooded road...many people use the woods to take pee breaks... turn onto the George Washington Parkway which goes along the Potomac River. Very scenic with Georgetown University on the opposite side and some wooded cliffs on the Virginia side (more peeing)." - Jeremy Lee Radosh


Miles 6-10

  • More Georgetown
  • Out & back on Rock Creek Parkway
  • Water 3: ~ Mile 6.5
  • Water 4: ~ Mile 8.5
  • Food 1: ~ Mile 9.5 - Oranges (the road may be sticky!)
  • Mile 5.5: Woodsy Owl
  • Mile 6.25/8.5: Doug Marshall Bluegrass Band
  • Mile 7.5: Georgetown Phantoms
  • Mile 9.5: Natural Born Thriller
  • By Miles 6 & 9 (same place on the course)
  • One just past the food station at Mile 9.5
  • Rock Creek Parkway is very pretty and has cool stone bridges. But there aren't many spectators and the turnaround seems farther away than it should be (~ Mile 7.5). Mentally prepare for this.
    • "The turnaround comes just when you think you may actually have a hill to climb. You don't." - Len Herring
    • "Stay wide at the turn-around. You don't want to be trampled by all your new friends!" - Mike Gibbs
  • "The road [Rock Creek Parkway] is banked in places and that can be hard on your hips. Try to find the level parts of the road." - Jeremy Lee Radosh
  • "Rock Creek Parkway provides good bathroom opportunities without having to wait for the porta john." - Anton Struntz
  • Look for the infamous "Watergate Hotel" on your left just after the oranges, followed by the Kennedy Center.


Miles 11-15

  • By the Lincoln Memorial
  • Past East Potomac Park, into West Potomac Park, and around the entire Hains Point peninsula
  • Water 5: ~ Mile 10.5
  • Food 2: a bit before Mile 13 - Clif Shots 
  • Water 6: just past Mile 13 (drink up - no water stops for the next 3 miles)
  • Mile 10.5: Marine Corps Band Quantico
  • Mile 10.8: Kazaxe Azuka Bom Cheer Stations
  • Mile 12: Wear Blue: Run to Remember
  • Mile 14.25: American University Pep Band
  • Three between Miles 10 & 11
  • Three between Miles 11.5 &12
  • Mile 12 is frequently cited as one of the most memorable, and emotional, parts of the course. Fallen service members are honored throughout this mile. 
    • "If you are a first timer, be prepared for the Blue Mile. It is inspiring, heart wrenching and may stop you in your tracks." - Karen Karrmann-Alasin
  • It can be crowded by the Lincoln Memorial, which is typically spectator-heavy.
  • There will not be many spectators around the Hains Point peninsula. Many find this to be a challenging section of the race. 
    • "It's at the point where you might start to notice if you've gone out too fast" - Rob Griesemer
    • "Hopefully you have made a friend or two. You will need them to chat with through Hains Point." - Mike Gibbs
  • "Hains Point's best feature...4 park bathrooms with running water and usually little crowding. Take advantage!" - Jeremy Lee Radosh 
    • Jeremy notes that one is closed for repair & won't be available during the race
    • "But unless you get there early it will not have toilet paper. Bring your own!" - Juliet Cat
    • "Hains Point also offers good peeing options if there are lines at the bathrooms. My dad always said "Never pass up the opportunity to use the bathroom" MCM is one of those places." - Anton Struntz


Miles 16-20

  • Past the Tidal Basin
  • Along Independence Avenue & the National Mall, around the Capitol
  • Approaching the 14th Street Bridge - BEAT THE BRIDGE!
  • Water 7: just before Mile 16
  • Water 8: ~ Miles 17.5
  • Food 3: a bit before Mile 19 - Sport Beans (Look for Coach Mike, perhaps in costume)
  • Water 9: just past Mile 19 (drink up - no water stops for almost 3 miles)
  • Mile 15.5: Monacan HS Marching Chiefs
  • Mile 17.2: Spotsylvania High School
  • Mile 18: In Step Entertainment
  • Mile 18.6: Bruiser
  • Mile 19: CHEC
  • Mile 19: Moonshine
  • Mile 20: Batala (I LOVE BATALA!)
  • Two between Mile 15.5 & 16
  • One just past Mile 17
  • Three between Mile 17.5 & 18
  • Two just past Mile 18.5
  • There is tons of crowd support in this section. Savvy spectators will cheer for you at Mile 15, walk a few blocks north to see you at Mile 17, and then one block east for another look ~ Mile 19.5.
    • "Watch out for people suddenly stopping to hug their family/cheering squads!" - Mike Gibbs
    • "Use the huge crowds from 15 to 20 to boost your energy. You will be feeling the run at this point." - Mike Gibbs
  • Memorials and monuments are everywhere. Watch for:
    • Jefferson Memorial
    • Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
    • Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
    • Korean War Veterans Memorial
    • National World War II Memorial
    • Washington Monument
  • "The tourists aren't sure what to make of you but you can get a lot of high-fives along here. Strangely though, Congress won't show up. Maybe that's to be expected." - Len Herring
  • Mile 16 advice:
    • "Watch the turnaround before mile 16. It is crowded with spectators and can feel cramped on the roads." - Mike Gibbs
    • "Around Mile 16 as you begin the run toward the Capitol building & National Mall area there is a Vaseline station for any chafing. People with latex gloves & globs of Vaseline." - Cindy Bell
  • Make sure to hydrate at the water stop just past Mile 19. There will not be another water stop for almost 3 miles. Similarly, use the porta potties if you think you need won't see them again until after the bridge.
  • The much-loved all-women Afro-Brazilian percussion band Batala is at Mile 20, providing the perfect accompaniment as you BEAT THE BRIDGE. You must be here by 1:15.
    • "Everyone cheering from 19 to 20 is there to push you through the bridge. Use it!" - Mike Gibbs 


Miles 21-23.1

  • The 14th Street Bridge
  • Crystal City
  • Water 10: a bit before Mile 22
  • Mile 22: Band of Brothers
  • Mile 22/23.6: Fusebox Radio
  • Mile 22.2/23.1: Brad Doggett
  • One a bit past Mile 22
  • Many have told me the bridge is a rough part of the course. No spectators. No water stops. No protection from the weather - if it is sunny, windy, rainy - you will feel it. There is a bit of a hill. The bridge seems to never end. Be mentally tough. Support your fellow runners.
    • "The first three times I ran in the middle of the 14th Street Bridge there was a guy in a grim reaper costume holding a sign saying 'the end is near'." - Jeremy Lee Radosh
    • "Last year was just a tad warm and windy, which caused many, myself included, to dehydrate. If you have ever seen movies of zombies walking that is what it was like." - Richard Costa
    • "The bridge is tough. I had my friend focus on the lamp posts and making it to the next one instead of looking to the end of the bridge. It is long and daunting. The focus on the shorter distance made the bridge not seem so bad." - Kristen Day
    • "The bridge is the easy part; it is the off ramp that goes on. Zone out on the bridge, and just enjoy the fact that you Beat the Bridge and are almost home!" - Mike Gibbs
  • Crystal City brings crowd support and the family festival. Rejoice! Regain the energy that the bridge may have sucked out of you!


Miles 23.2-26.2

  • Through Crystal City
  • Past the Pentagon
  • Past the Arlington National Cemetery
  • Up the final hill at the Marine Corps War (Iwo Jima) Memorial
  • Food 4: ~ Mile 23.5 - Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins 
  • Water 11: just before Mile 24
  • Water 12: just before Mile 25
  • Mile 24: The Melonheads
  • Mile 24.5: Greensville County High School
  • Mile 25: Moonlicious
  • One at Mile 25.5 (unless that is just a start line location)
  • Some in the "pre-finish area"
  • The finish line camera is above you and you are unlikely to notice it. Try to remember to look up when you are crossing the timing mat. 
  • "I find the turn into Crystal City worse than the Bridge (if you know DC). You're tired, you want the race to be over, and all of a sudden YOU'RE RUNNING AWAY FROM THE FINISH LINE watching all the faster people headed in the right direction." - Becky Johnson
  • Think twice before eating a munchkin: 
    • Some have said they were a perfectly-timed delicious treat, others have said they felt sick afterwards. Did you train with munchkins? If not, do you really want to take the risk to find out which type you are?
    • "Take the dunkin munchies but don't eat them till after you finish." - Beth Richardson
  • "There is usually an Hash House Harriers bandit aid station in Crystal City with small cups of cold beer." - Anton Struntz
  • After leaving Crystal City, the crowd support will drop off until you near the finish.
  • The final hill:
    • "A mile to go, as more and more spectators appear, the end is near. Make a left turn and charge that hill - it's short! A right turn and around the side of the hill you go for the last tenth of a mile or so, don't fall now, you might never get up! Cross that finish line and collect your finisher medal!" - Len Herring
    • "That hill at the end is nothing to worry about. You will run up it, forget it was a hill, and charge the finish line! The crowds here are huge and will push you through the end." - Mike Gibbs 
  • Special finishers:
    • "Finishers will receive an extra-blingy medal that MCM race director Rick Nealis says will have a “ruby surprise” in a nod to the history of the U.S. Marine Corps" - Runner's World
    • The last finisher to cross the line within the official time limit will get a special award: the Penguin award!  
    • "The last finisher in front of the bus (which will be beyond the official maximium time on the course) will be run in by the Officers at the last aid station!" - Mike Gibbs



  • Go get that iconic finisher picture at Iwo Jima. There might be line, but it will be worth it.
  • The walk from the finish to where runners can get out is over a mile.
  • The line for finisher gear at the Brooks tent will probably be long. If you have friends/family hanging out in the finisher festival waiting for you, you might want to suggest they wait in line and buy you a shirt if they make it to the front before you get there...
  • Have a plan to meet up after the race - it is chaotic, crowded, and texts may not go through.
    • The "family link-up" area in the finisher festival is a good spot for this. MCM recommends choosing the first letter of the runner’s last name as the pre-planned location to reunite. (the link-up area is arranged alphabetically)
  • Leaving can be challenging - there are lines for metro and taxis, and Uber's prices will have a surcharge that is proportional to demand for rides. Have an exit strategy:
    • Walk to a different metro station instead of getting on at Rosslyn
    • Pre-arrange for someone to pick you up (check road closures before picking a spot)
    • Make reservations (well ahead of time!) to eat in the area and wait the crowds out

Did I miss a good tip? Let me know in the comments below!

Please say "hi" if you see me out there on course. I'll be the one wearing a sparkly white tiara that says "Kim". Have a great race!


  1. Hains point does have bathrooms. But unless you get there early it will not have toilet paper. Bring your own!

    The Batala band is the best! And skip the munchkins. Really.


    1. Thanks Juliet! I've added your TP tip above :)

  2. I just love this! Seriously, I am about to share it on Facebook just so I'll be able to find it easily. Four five-milers and 2 5Ks -- you are a genius.

  3. Thanks so much for taking the time! I live this. It seems so much more doable now! - Zaneta

    1. You are so welcome and I'm glad it makes MCM seem more doable. Have a great race & enjoy it :)

  4. Kim, this is a FANTASTIC course guide! I'm not running but reading this gives me a little FOMO! Fantastic job! Cannot wait to track you on race day!!

    1. Thank you Gina! I can't wait to be tracked :)

  5. Ok, finally at a desktop (I've been having trouble with commenting on Google w/my phone). Of course, great guide, really nice work!

    This will be my 6th MCM and 9th 26.2, and I have a few vivid memories/tips on this course.

    First, no matter how much you remind yourself, (and I still tend to make this mistake), mile 2, with it's sustained, long climb, is not to be overlooked. You're in a giant pack of people, almost ALL of whom went slower than then planned in mile 1, and some (or a lot) will try to pass and make up ground. Let them. You'll see them later . . . . So please remind yourself to take it easy in that second mile. You'll make some of the time back in mile 3, and you'll find a good cruising speed by mile 5 for sure. So, keep your excitement in check, and respect the early climb.

    Next, I find that Hains Point hasn't been as bad as people make it out to be. There are a LOT of pre-placed signs, often quite funny, to spice up this quieter section. The Blue Mile at mile 12 is of course important. The only tip I remember here year after year is that this stretch really narrows. Like, a lot. You've had all this room in RCP, and now you'll often find yourself shoulder to shoulder with other runners. So be careful, especially at the water stop by the Halfway mark. Lots of cutting across back and forth from some runners, and it's plenty wet on the ground to add to the narrow nature of this part of the course.

    If you want to open up the throttle a bit, you'll have a good opportunity around mile 16 as you start to run the length of the MCM "shaft" (sorry, like I'm going to miss an opportunity to make that joke). The crowds are fantastic here, and you'll find more running room in this part.

    The Bridge. First of all, don't read this as a jinx, but instead a guarantee -- YOU. HAVE. THIS. You're going to beat the bridge like it owes you money.

    Anyway. The bridge is, as I recall, a little over a mile. The thing to remember on it is that giving in to the bridge, either because of heat, wind, or just despair just PROLONGS it. Don't prolong it, get past it. Watch your tangets, don't stray out too far to one side or the other, and know that once you're off it, you're beginning a less than 10K victory lap to your first marathon.

    Crystal City. Basically, this is infuriating. Everyone here is having fun. Well, not the runners. The spectators. This is a good time to try and take their energy, anything you can do to find positives.

    Route 110 is, for me, quite exciting, because you're literally in sight of the final stretch, and if that doesn't inspire you, nothing will! Years ago, a slight course change had runners going PAST the uphill to Iwo, and doing a little out/back before they came back for the climb. That was soul-sucking. You don't have that this year.

    Finish -- it will be crowded. It will be awfully hard to find loved ones. You need to work your way over to Wilson Blvd (and the newly-named MCM street!) to the rows of UPS trucks, assuming you've checked baggage.

    My biggest tip here is that getting home will be difficult, and you need to prepare yourself for that. Metro is snarled, and they turn off the Rosslyn escalators that day (at least going down). Some folks will find a restaurant along Wilson, and wait out the crowds. Also, almost all cellphone coverage / data is spotty. Lots of hanging text messages.

    Whew. I'm done! And on the last Sunday in October, you'll be a Marine Corps Marathon finisher!

    1. Best comment ever! Thank you for taking the time to share all of these fantastic tips. You've been such a great believer in me all along and I really appreciate it. I will beat the bridge! I will be a Marine Corps Marathon finisher! I am ready!

  6. Great breakdown! It sounds like you are well prepared and that crown is the perfect final touch!

  7. Great guide! Malinda can't remember anything about running her 1st Marine Corps Marathon 20 years ago! ;-)

    1. Hopefully she will remember it all after running it again this year :)

  8. Thank you! I'll be out there on Sunday, too. Good luck!

  9. This is amazing - not only is a great idea for a post, but you knocked it out of the ballpark with such great detail! Everyone running Sunday's MCM should read it.

    Good luck on Sunday, and have fun!

    1. Thank you Deb! That really means a lot to me. Hugs :)

  10. You are welcome - glad it was helpful. Have a FANTASTIC race!