Marine Corps Marathon course to change, starting line to remain open later for SafeTrack

Runners won't get this far up Rock Creek Parkway during the Marine Corps Marathon this year. Photo: Cheryl Young
Runners won’t get this far up Rock Creek Parkway during the Marine Corps Marathon this year. Photo: Cheryl Young

The Marine Corps Marathon course will change and the starting line will be open 40 minutes longer to allow the race to go on in spite of WMATA’s SafeTrack restrictions on the Metro system. The accompanying 10k will be run entirely in Arlington County this year. The race will also offer shuttle buses from various parking locations in Virginia and Washington, D.C. and Arlington Transit will open a bus line early. The race starts on U.S. 110, close to the Pentagon Metro station.

What’s different about the race?

The Marine Corps Marathon starting line will be open for 40 additional minutes, until 8:55 a.m.

The 14th Street Bridge deadline, usually the 20th mile mark, will become the 18 mile mark, and runners will make up most of the distance around the Pentagon parking lot and in Crystal City. The course will cut off two miles of Rock Creek Parkway, which returned to the course configuration in 2013.

The MCM 10k will start in the Pentagon parking lot and be run entirely in Arlington. It ordinarily starts on the National Mall.

Hemmed in by an inflexible deadline to reopen the 14th Street Bridge to traffic, the race course will cut nearly two miles from what has traditionally come before mile 20, with that distance being made up in Crystal City and around the Pentagon parking lot. Runners will also change course early in the race, in the third mile, to complete and out-and-back on Kirkwood Road in Arlington before descending Spout Run Parkway.

The start will remain at 7:55 a.m. but the timing mats at the starting line will remain in operation until 8:55 to allow for people to arrive late. The race ordinarily contracts with Metro to open the system two hours earlier than the typical 7 a.m. Sunday start, but the SafeTrack accelerated maintenance plan, announced in May, included a moratorium on extended operating hours through April 2017, excluding January’s presidential inauguration.

Last year, long lines at malfunctioning metal detectors slowed runners’ approaches to the starting line in some directions. Race organizers attributed those complications to the rain and promised to improve their efficiency, and this year’s security checkpoints will feature more “wands.”

Over the last five years, all but one of the system’s early openings were to serve road races. MCM Operations Director Bret Schmidt said more than 21,000 people took advantage of the early opening in 2015.

MCM course change details

The Metropolitan Police Department and Park Police denied the race’s request to add 30 minutes to the traditional “beat the bridge” time of 1:15.

“I looked for ways to cut as much as I could from the course before the bridge,” Schmidt said. “We could get cut a mile each way from Rock Creek Parkway by turning around near Waterside Drive.”

Schmidt would have liked to have simply extended the out-and-back section in Crystal City to make up the distance, but that would have blocked the exit route for area residents. So most of the distance came in the Pentagon parking lot,with just a little left over. He prioritized reducing the number of additional traffic control points in a course change.

That’s why a short out-and-back was added to the third mile, on Kirkwood Road.

“I don’t like a lot of turns and I really don’t like U-turns,” Schmidt said. “Kirkwood is flat, it’s scenic, but it’s a narrow road and it’s early in the race to have a lot of people there. I’m hoping the rolling start from the starting line being open longer helps cut down on the foot traffic.”

“(D.C.-area) residents have altered their commutes and adjusted entertainment plans in response to the surges that have shut down lines and reduced the service schedule,” Marketing Manager Marc Goldman said. “The MCM will ask for the same flexibility from runners during Marine Corps Marathon weekend.”

While it will not open early to accommodate the race, WMATA will increase traffic on the Blue and Yellow lines, which serve the Pentagon station, and have several eight-car trains in service. The race will operate shuttles between parking lots in Arlington, Prince George’s County, Md. and from the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C., and Arlington Transit will run the ART 42 bus route, between Ballston and Pentagon City, early on race morning.

Running clubs in the D.C. area are also considering alternative transportation plans. The Montgomery County Road Runners Club is offering members a shuttle bus from the Shady Grove Metro station in Rockville to the Key Bridge Marriott.

Heading into the spring, Schmidt’s biggest concern wasn’t even about the race — he was worried about facilitated the race expo’s move to National Harbor.

“When the SafeTrack plan came out, we felt fairly confident that our success the last few years — hitting the numbers for early opening — we would be alright,” he said. “But when the final plan was released and Metro said there weren’t going to be any exceptions, we knew there’d be a problem.”

Race Director Rick Nealis and Marine Brig. Gen. Thomas Weidley met with WMATA CEO Paul Wiedefeld in August to make a last-ditch plea for an exception, which wasn’t granted.  While Schmidt was disappointed, he understood.

“I don’t blame the CEO, he stuck to his guns and he’s dedicated to doing as much as he can to reversing years of neglect for the system,” he said. “Opening early for us would have been opening a Pandora’s Box, because it would mean opening early for the Army Ten-Miler (and) the Navy-Air Force.”

The Marine Corps Marathon will be the third race to be impacted by SafeTrack. The Navy-Air Force Half Marathon is scheduled to start at 7 a.m. Sept. 18 and has told participants not to rely on Metro, but will offer a bike valet, near the start at the Washington Monument, and a Lyft promotion.

Oct. 9’s Army Ten-Miler, starting from the Pentagon will publicize resources starting Sept. 13 and 16 to help runners reach the starting line — including personal trip planner reached via 1-800 number — in spite of the short window between the Metro system’s 7 a.m. opening and the 8 a.m. start for the first corral.

“This should really only impact runners in corrals 1-4,” said race spokeswoman Maida Johnson. Runners in the first corral start at 8 a.m and subsequent corrals begin every eight minutes. “There should be little impact on runners in corrals 5-8 and no impact on spectators or expo visitors. All runners should leave their homes at least a half hour early, and we encourage that across the board.”

Like Marine Corps, the Army Ten-Miler will encourage alternative transportation options beyond Metro. Johnson said the race would not be adding any shuttle buses to what is already offered, changing the starting time or adding any parking at the Pentagon, though it would designate a drop-off address for ride sharing services to use.


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