Marine Corps Marathon Chat with Jim Hage

Oct 20, 2015

Marine Corps Marathon Hall of Famer Jim Hage, the race's first back-to-back men's champion, answered questions about the race.

Greetings long distance running freaks! I know there's a lot of adrenaline out there with the marathon just a few days away. That's all good but remain calm, eat and sleep well, and hydrate! 

Running the MCM is a great accomplishment, and while the icing is not yet on your marathon cake, you've done all the hard work already -- congratulations. Now just be smart. We'll talk about some of that and other two-footed trivia. Thanks for all the questions so far and please feel free to join in. 

MCM will be my first marathon and I have gotten such conflicting advice from people about what to do in the last few weeks. What do you recommend?

MCM is a great first marathon, especially if you live in the area and can sleep in your own bed the night before. Running at home obviously eliminates many variables that can conspire to mess you up. As for the last few weeks, let's hope that's gone well. Tapering, most of us know, is the phase (my favorite!) when you relax a bit and stop adding to your miles. The next few days may more relevant here. Drink lots of water, eat easily digestible foods, relax mentally, get rest -- no rocket science here but don't blow it these last few days!

What was your training schedule like when you won the Marine Corps Marathon? How has training changed or developed since then?

I was a reasonably focused and hard-working lad, i.e., boring and antisocial, so my training is hardly a template. It's worth noting that I had finished third at MCM three and four years earlier, and resolved to do better. So I increased my mileage from 60 to 70 per week to more like 70 to 85. Not surprisingly, I got quite a bit better and won. After that, I upped my mileage to 100 to 130 and ran PRs.

Since then, it's been a slow and steady decline. These days (I'm 57) I average about 60 per week.

A recent book called "Two Hours" by Ed Ceasar explores whether or not the two-hour mark will ever be broken in the marathon. When do you think the first ever sub-2 marathon will be run?

Our own Wash.Post book review dude/runner Carlos Lozada wrote a nice and favorable review in Sunday's paper -- check it out. Will 2 hours be eclipsed? Sure seems likely, maybe more in your lifetime than mine. The marathon WR has dropped five minutes in the past what, 10 years? So another three seems, well, a matter of time. I've got my money on 2058 and 1:59:55.

Hi Jim, what do you recommend eating the day before and the morning of the race? Thanks!

Eating, again, be smart. Not a steak, clearly, the night before. Carbo loading is still gospel. Top it off with salad. And did I say lots of water? I ate a bagel or bread product on race morning just to settle my stomach. And I topped it off with an energy drink to carry as many calories as I could. I'm also a believer in those energy packets, GU and such, during the race. Optimally, I'd knock back three in a marathon. 

How many corrals are there at the race? Do you recommend going up to a faster corral to avoid having to weave in and out of people during the early parts of the race?

Runners are nothing without our integrity! Seed yourself properly and everything flows more smoothly, you won't be running up others' backs or getting pancaked by wheelchairs. 

Any pointers for first time marathoners? Advice on hydration or nutrition for those embarking in the marathon adventure?

I know running 26.2 miles is often a leap of faith, but as long as you've prepared reasonably well all should go well. So go into the race with that confidence. More practically speaking, yes, hydrate: most first-timers end up dehydrated and crash. "Literally blow up on the course," some folks say. As a former copy editor, I'd be particularly interested in seeing that. And do those energy gels. When I started competing, they didn't exist. I think they're a real boon. If you haven't tried one before, experiment on Saturday, not at the race. 

Who is/was the most athletic person in the Post's sports section?

Without a doubt, Christian Swezey.

Oh, sorry, I thought that said most UNATHLETIC. My bad. 

Do you recommend any good running books? I was fan of Liz Robbins' "A Race Like No Other" and "Born To Run" (not the barefoot running screed part, but that's another discussion...). Any books you think runners should definitely read?

Runners are especially  cerebral, or at least we think we are, so there are a lot of excellent books by great writers available. I like Liz Robbins but haven't read her book. Born to Run is a bit too spiritual for my tastes. Haruki Murakami wrote a good book on running, as has John Cheever, to drop a couple of prominent names. The best running writer I know personally is Scott Douglas, who recently wrote a book with Meb Keflezighi. Check out Scott's Little Red Book of Running, also. 

And Mike Plunkett just published an exclusive with Meb, right here:

Besides MCM, which marathons did you enjoy running the most? Which marathons do you think runners should have on their bucket list?

MCM is pretty awesome. The course, the Marines, running at home, all that can't be beat. Unless it's the turn off the 57th Street Bridge onto First Avenue in NYC. Unbelievable and a moment that has made my life worth living each of the five times I've made the turn. Also Boston, running into Kenmore Square. Wow, if you're a runner and can experience those thrills, do so. 

When I was younger, I ran and raced regularly. Now my body hurts when I try to run even a short distance. But it seems some people who started later in life can run well when older. Do we have only so many miles in us, and if we "use them up" when young, we have to settle for line dancing?

I hear you on the notion of using up miles. Many competitive runners started late and were able to train hard and compete well in their 40s, beating guys like me who went to the well earlier. One of my favorite quotes is from WR holder Steve Jones: "It's a tough old game." He was dealing with a tough marathon but might have been talking generally about running. Aging definitely takes the spring out of our legs, so many of us transition to other forms of exercise (line dancing may be a fine "alternative" for you). 

Hello, Jim. I'm Doug ... another first-time marathoner. I'm concerned about late-stage--say, mile 22 and onward--joint pains. What are your thoughts about taking analgesics prior to, or even during, the marathon, please?

Hey Doug, lots of luck Sunday. Hitting the wall after mile 20 is one of those life experiences that simply can't be experienced any other way! While you don't want to embrace it, be prepared. Excitement and adrenaline will carry you some of the way, but consider yourself fortunate if you get to Mile 22 in good shape. 

I've experimented with ibuprofen during a race and I'm not sure it helped a lot, but it didn't hurt (no pun intended). But just as I wouldn't mess around with new shoes on race day, don't try aspirin or such for the first time on race day. Do try water and energy gels. 

Where are some good spots for spectators to watch the race? Will it be too crowded at the finish line?

MCM is especially spectator friendly. I like to catch the start and hoof it over Memorial Bridge, where spectators can then catch the runners twice more before scooting back across the bridge to the finish. 

I've heard the street party in Crystal City is great fun. The Mall is mostly quiet, as is, of course, Hains Point. As a result, those are great spots to encourage friends on the course. 

I know about your streak but I don't understand how you balance that with quality (actually being competitive!) Surely there are many days when rest would be best??

Streaking, of the clothed kind: I've run at least two miles every day for the past 33 years. I certainly never intended to do that when I started running every day, but it was a way to encourage myself to train regularly. Many top runners train two and sometimes three times a day, so for me, at least once isn't such a big deal. Of course, once you're past 10 years or so, you really can't stop, and while it's not debilitating, there are many times I'd rather have a beer. But running is who we are, who I am, so we beat on. Streaking, however, is not recommended. 

What's the closest you've come to missing a day? Do you intend to keep the streak alive as long as you are (alive?)

I arrived by boat into Pireas (near Athens) at 11:30 p.m., quickly changed and started running, without noting my location very carefully. I got the run in but my two miles turned into a frustrating eight. I really haven't come close to missing a day, but I do stuff like pack running clothes and shoes while overnight camping in the Grand Canyon....

Planning to change things up this year, I'm going to try Jeff Galloway's run-walk interval method to keep myself from rabbiting and running out of steam around mile 17-18, but I'm also a little worried about getting run over especially during the first half mile before the start line and probably until the key bridge too. How do you keep your pace slow enough at the start to go the distance and how do you take walk breaks without getting steamrolled? I'm slightly worried that the prescribed intervals for my pace are so short (90seconds run, 30seconds walk), but they've worked really well in my training long runs so I'm also not excited about trying to switch to something with a longer run interval. It seems like every time I've walked in past years though, somebody is right behind me even if I try to peel to the edge of the road.

Jeff Galloway is being inducted into the MCM Hall of Fame this weekend due at least in part to how he has inspired so many runners like yourself to take up the sport. While I'm not a fan of his run/walk method, it sounds as if it's working for you, so congratulations. Seeding yourself in the proper starting corral is important, as I've already noted, and that should save you a few footprints on your back in the early miles. A longer run interval early on would probably help, too. Sticking to the side of the road helps, but runners coming from behind aren't expecting to come up on a walker. So exercise caution and patience, particularly in the first half of the race. 

I've been experiencing knee pain in the last couple weeks, starting with the 18-mile run. Now it feels stiff and tweaked starting at just a couple miles. Not debilitating, but not something I want to happen on race day. Any quick-healing tips for the next few days?

Knee pain is very tricky, I'm sure you know, so be careful. Maybe some anti-inflammatories? The longer and harder we train, the more likely overtraining becomes. Ice the next couple of days? Soft surfaces now and after the race? 

A word about recovery -- keep getting out there for the best recovery. Shuffle through a few miles as soon as possible in the days following the race to keep the muscles firing and the broken bits moving out. Have I mentioned plenty of fluids?!

What is your favorite part of the course?

The finish line, obviously! But really, soak in every mile, every step. Running a marathon, especially the MCM, is a huge accomplishment. Savor it. Yes, it's going to hurt. Yes, you're likely to hit the wall. Yes, you'll swear never again (which doesn't count for the 72 hours following the race). I last ran MCM 26 years ago -- unbelievable to me. And I'd give a lot to hoof it around like that again. 

So lots of luck, the weather shouldn't be too warm, carpe diem and all that. Hoo-Ah! 

In This Chat
Jim Hage
Jim Hage is a two-time Marine Corps Marathon winner (1988 and 1989) and was inducted into the race's Hall of Fame in 2003. He is a former running reporter and columnist for the Washington Post and has contributed to Running Times and Runner's World. Hage also won the Army Ten Miler in 1990 and 1993 and qualified for the Olympic trials marathon in 1988, 1992 and 1996.
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