The Marine Corps Marathon

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Jim Hage
Washington Post Contributing Writer
Thursday, October 22, 2009; 12:30 PM

Washington Post contributing writer and former two-time Marine Corps Marathon champion Jim Hage was online Thursday, Oct. 22 to take your questions about Sunday's 34th Marine Corps Marathon, what to expect from the race and running in and around D.C.

You can also read more about the Marine Corps Marathon in The Post's special section that chronicles all aspects of the race, from before the starting gun and after the finish.

A Few Choice Picks: Tony Kornheiser

The transcript follows.

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Jim Hage: Hey, hello and welcome. I hope all are fired up for the 34th MCM on Sunday. We're just getting started here, so send over your questions, comments and injury questions (if you must!).

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Washington, D.C.: I'll be running in the MCM10K. This is my first 10K, and although I've been training for it, I'm a little worried that I might not be able to run the entire time. Do you happen to know if some people run/walk the 10K course? I can't figure out if the 10K has its own time limit, or if it's just integrated into the marathon time limit (whatever that is), since the 10K finish line is the same as the marathon one. Thanks!

Jim Hage: For your first race, the MCM 10K is a good choice. Don't be afraid to walk a bit -- lots of folks do. The marathon is actually giving an AWARD for the slowest runner, not sure if the 10K is doing the same. Of the course the goal, for your next 10K, is to run the whole the way!

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Arlington, Va.: Hi! I'm running this Sunday and its my first marathon. I've been training for the past 16 weeks, so I'm excited, ready to cross the finish line, and nervous all at the same time. Any last mintue tips for a newbie?

Jim Hage: Last minute tips would probably take my whole hour, but first, congrats -- 16 weeks is serious delayed gratification. I'd say most important is to enjoy the journey. The crowds will be supportive, you'll feel great (at least through the early going) and every runner should savor that. More useful advice: halfway in the marathon is at 20 miles. In other words, save something for that last 10K.

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Philadelphia: I have heard lots of debate on this, so I would please appreciate your advice: what types of exercises do you believe are best in preparing for marathon running?

Jim Hage: I've been running for several decades now, and I've heard lots of stuff about cross-training, yoga, stretching, etc. Based on my experience, the best exercise for running is running. That approach does tend to make us one-dimensional (physically and mentally), but if you want to race, run.

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Chantilly, Va.: I'm a first-timer this Sunday (been on a Galloway training program since early April) and am wondering if you have any suggestions for what to do with the nervous energy I'm sure I'll have between my arrival at 6:30 AM and the actual start of the Marathon.

Jim Hage: Ah, excellent question. Be thankful, first of all, that you'll have only 90 minutes to kill prior to the start. The logistics at marathon starts such as Boston and New York require many hours of waiting around, which drains energy. I'd try to find a quiet place, sit, stretch out your legs and relax the best you can.

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Washington, D.C.: My friend is running the marathon, and it is also her birthday. Where can we go afterwards for some celebration involving food and drinks? Maybe somewhere in Georgetown? Are there restaurants that will have specials for runners?

Jim Hage: Restaurants and bars that cater to runners? Plenty, just be sure to bring your HeatSheet, that foil blanket you get upon finishing, and man, the drinks are on the house. Food is a little trickier, because the hosts know you'll be so famished. At least everything will taste great.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: I have run a few MCMs and am trying to get sub 4 hours. Any suggestions? Should you go slow and then go for negative splits. Constant pace? The last six miles kill me, how do I avoid getting done in?

Jim Hage: Sub-four hours will get you in the top 25 percent of all finishers, I'd guess, so you'll be doing well. I've always thought negative splits are the way to go, but of my hundred or so marathons, I've done that exactly once. And it was my PR. Go figure.

Hitting the wall is all about running out of energy, so slug down as much sports drink as your stomach can handle and be sure to knock back a good number of energy gels. Both really help.

Bon chance!

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Saint Louis, Mo.: Jim,

This is my first marathon. I wanted to know - will be plenty of cups of fluids available at the hydration points to accomodate all the runners, especially in the beginning? I've been training with my own fuel belt but want to be confident that I can get what I need during the race if I decide to run without it.

Jim Hage: If the weather isn't too warm -- and at this point it's looking pretty good -- the Marines will provide plenty of water and sports drink. But if you're comfortable with a fuel belt, that's not a bad way to go, as grabbing, pouring and actually getting stuff down can be tough. With your own drinks, you eliminate those variables. I'd recommend carrying your own gels, as that's the only way to have enough.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you our anyone out in the peanut gallery have any thoughts on running with a fuel belt? I trained with one all along, but now debating on whether I should run the marathon with it.

Jim Hage: Fuel belt, see my prior answer. If you're really racing, you won't want to bother, clearly. But again, to be sure you're getting enough fluids/gels and at the point you want them, carrying your own is a good idea.

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100 marathons?: Really? You've run 100? That's crazy. Which was your favorite? And where does MCM rank?

Jim Hage: One hundred, I'm pretty sure I'm past that. A bit nutty, yes, but it never seemed excessive at the time. I've run plenty of the big ones, NYC, Boston, MCM, Olympic trials, internationally around the world. Had a blast. Favorites, honestly, MCM is a great one (winning made it even better). Coming off the Queensboro Bridge in NYC is like nothing else. Unless you're running past Wellesley College in the middle of the Boston Marathon....

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Arlington, Va.: Tell me about the course a bit. I'm running for the first time but am an experienced marathoner. Where should I look out for hills that come out of nowhere? And I've also heard bad things about the highway stretch near the end. Is that a major problem?

Jim Hage: The course on Sunday is mostly very nice. Revisions in the past couple of years have added serious hills in the early portions, I believe around Mile 3, during which runners need to climb Spout Run. Ugh. But of course most of DC is flat, so that's not a big problem. The crowds can be kind of sparse -- everyone has heard of the death march on Hains Point, but even that's better now that it comes during Miles 13 ro 16, so it's not as brutal. I think the Crystal City part at the end is a highlight for many, as the crowd support is excellent.

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What made the difference when you won: To when you didn't? Was it something about the conditions? The field?

And speaking of conditions, how do you think Sunday shapes up? It looks like it's going to be in the 60s, right? Is that a good temp, a bit hot or cool?

Jim Hage: I've run MCM four times, finishing third twice and winning twice. Naming difference is easy: I trained more. And after winning, I trained even more and went even faster. So for me, there was a direct correlation between running more miles and running faster.

Eventually, I quit my job and trained fulltime and finished eighth in the Olympic trials. Was it worth it? Man, I wish I quit earlier!

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Jim Hage: There's a good question about pace groups, and whether one should go with the goal pace or a slightly faster pace in antcipation of slowing down. A constant pace is the best way to go -- hence, PACE groups! These increasingly popular groups keep novices and experienced marathoners alike from blasting out too fast. Trust them! And believe in your training.

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Chantilly, Va.: Along the lines of fuel gels/gummies, etc., any suggestions on when to consume them? Seems like common sense to not wait until you're in big need of a boost, but can you also eat them too soon where they do little/no good?

Jim Hage: Fuel, gels, gummies, yes, yes and yes. As many as you can, as often as you can. For most people, anyway. I mean, you could stop and eat a turkey dinner, but you have to balance running (racing, really) with comfort. Again, the goal is time, right? So for myself (as a running geek), I wouldn't waste too much time eating. I mean, it's supposed to hurt a bit.

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The Droid: Jim,

When you come to the hash beer check for the MCM, do recommend chugging that sucker in one fell swoop or should you sip it and savor the moment?

Jim Hage: Droid, how are you? For those of you who don't know about Hashers, google it, learn and then avoid these types!

On, on.

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Fasionista: What do you usually wear on a race day? A tank-style singlet? A form fitting shirt? I know not to wear cotton, but what do you recommend?

Jim Hage: Is this really Robin Gihvan? First, pick out your gear ahead of time. And don't wear something new -- it's always tough to tell what will chafe or otherwise feel uncomfortable. It will be cool at the start, but we're in it for the long haul, verdad? So wear an extra T-shirt at the start, if you're cold, and plan on tossing it off as soon as you're able. Cotton, not good. Something wicking, something light. Lots of first-timers like to have their names on their shirts, which is very effective for getting spectator support. Which gets annoying after 20 miles (or sooner).

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Arlington, Va.: What is the one piece of advice you would give to a first timer?

Jim Hage: More advice for novices: Be cool. You're well rested, hopefully well trained, excited and ready. The tendancy will be to go too fast. The first 10 miles will be the easiest miles of your life. And if you go too fast, the last 10 will likely be the worst.

I can't say it enough: Halfway is at 20 miles.

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Jim Hage: The start can be tricky too because of the crowds, so many toward the back of the pack will feel constrained and concerned they're going too slowly. Fighting the crowd burns a lot of energy, so try to go with the flow, relax and know that the course will open up eventually. At which point, you can run more comfortably.

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Arlington, Va.: When do you feel like you reached your marathoning peak? How old were you? Does age in distance running correspond differently than age in other sports (i.e., as you get older you can kep improving a lot)?

Jim Hage: I think most marathoners peak at age 30. I was a bit older than that, but that was more a function of training better and running smarter. Of course, the Olympic gold medalist, Sammy Wanjiru, is just 22 or so. Then again, the world record holder, Haile Gebrselassie, is 36. The top women all seem to be in their middle and upper 30s -- Paula Radcliffe, Catherine Ndereba, Irina Mikitenko. So it's hard to say. I do believe that the best marathoners have a limited number of good/great marathons in them. Say four or five.

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Washington, D.C.: How do you find a pace group? Are there meeting points for the groups?

Jim Hage: Pace groups, I think you probably needed to sign up already, but I can't believe anyone would stop you from joining them. The pace group leader will have a sign at the start or something on his/her singlet with the pace times. They are generally pretty good at hitting their pace precisely. Lots of beginners find them very helpful, kind of like letting someone else do the thinking for you during the race.

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Still amazed at the 100 races ...: So, how often do you run marathons? How quickly can you recover from one to run another? I know it's different for pros compared to novices, but how quickly can a body turn back around from running 26.2?

Jim Hage: Ah, moi -- thank you. I don't really run marathons any longer. At 51, it's a bit discouraging to go so much more slowly than I'd like.

Twenty years ago, I could turn them around pretty quickly. Not exactly CC Sabathia, but I'd sometimes run twice in the fall. Mostly it's a function of running four or so for a lot of years -- you do the math!

The best, of course, try to avoid doing two in a season, although if the money (prize and appearance) is right, they'll do it. Check out the World Marathon Majors schedule, with a $1 million prize for the best over the course of two years, and you'll see some pros really pushing what a body can take.

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Jim Hage: I really want to wish everyone running on Sunday the best of luck. Don't fret too much about the weather -- as they say, nothing anyone can do about it anyway. And once you get going, it matters much less than you would have guessed. Do enjoy it -- running 26.2 is a great accomplishment. Your friends and family consider you a star, and that's always a good thing.

I'll repeat my best advice: pace yourself! The early going will feel very easy, the last bit very tough. A constant pace is the way to go. Drink plenty of sports drink, knock back those gels, be focused and confident. And enjoy it!

Semper Fidelis!

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