A year ago, history professor Michael Davidson was one of the 100,000 spectators attending the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. to support his brother-in-law, who is an active duty marine. This year, Davidson was on the other side of the race barrier, among 30,000 runners racing in the event.
Davidson decided to do this race due to some friendly teasing from his brother-in-law to get him to participate, plus he enjoyed the environment of last year’s event.
“It was a really, really great atmosphere,” Davidson said.
Through this marathon, Davidson raised money for Wilkes’ Dr. James Rodechko Scholarship in History. The Maine native chose to sponsor this scholarship because of his involvement in the history program and to bring publicity to Wilkes. He has raised over $647 so far.
While choosing a scholarship to benefit was easy, the training process was not. Davidson said he had never run a marathon before. He completed a ski marathon in the past with a time of 3 hours and 20 minutes, but admitted that it’s not quite the same as a running marathon, even though it’s the same distance.
“Frankly ski marathons are a lot easier,” Davidson said. “You get to glide. In running, you don’t get to glide.”
The only running experience Davidson has had dates back to his time doing track and cross-country at his high school in Windham, Maine. At that time, he was a three-sport athlete, with skiing included. He decided to only continue with the skiing through his career at Bates College.
“I decided ultimately I was better off exclusively devoting my training to the skiing,” Davidson said. “I was more competitive, and I had more fun with it.”
He explained that the difficulty with focusing on multiple sports in college was mainly the overlap in training cycles. The tapering period in cross-country is when the most work should be devoted to skiing, and the competitive season for track is the rest portion of the skiing season.
Davidson said he stopped significant exercise when he got into graduate school, so adjusting to his training was difficult at first. To prepare for the marathon, Davidson completed an 18-week novice marathon program that his brother-in-law used. However, the training regiments peak at 20 miles, 6.2 miles short of the mile marathon length.
“What happens beyond 20 miles is very open to question,” Davidson said.
The program had a weekly break-down of four days of running and one day of cross training. The first week started off with a total of 15 miles: three days of three miles and one day of six miles. The program peaked at the beginning of October with a week of 40 miles of running.
Davidson said that the first month of the training was the hardest to adjust to.
“It was the worst for the first month or so, because my body frankly was not used to running,” Davidson said, “and essentially what tended to happen was one week my calves were killing me, the next week my hamstrings would be killing me, the following week my quads would be killing me.”
After his body adjusted, the main difficulty Davidson had was with the length of the race. He said the majority of the hills are in the first seven miles, so he had to force himself to walk the first uphills to reserve energy for the rest of the course.
The course is one of the aspects that attract runners to take part in the event, said the Marine Corps Marathon Public Relations Coordinator Tami Faram. The marathon, which is the sixth largest in the U.S. and the ninth largest in the world, starts in Arlington, Va. and passes many Washington monuments. The scenery, along with the structure of the event, has made it popular.
“It has certainly earned a reputation for being one of the most organized and scenic marathons you can run,” Faram said.
The race finishes at the Marine Corps War Memorial near Arlington National Cemetery, where a marine awards all the finishers with a medal. Faram said this ending is unique to this race, and a large reason why many people run to honor and remember servicemen and women.
Davidson was not the only first-time marathon runner at this event. Faram said this year yielded about 11,000 first-time runners. She said that many are them are encourage because it’s open registration, meaning participants do not need a qualifying time. She added most are attracted, like Davidson was, to the atmosphere. She said there were 27 musical performers and about 100,000 spectators to entertain and support runners along the way.
“It’s really welcoming for first timers, with the scenery and motivation you get,” Faram said.