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Insider Tips for the Marine Corps Marathon

Arlington’s premier racing event of the year, the 44th Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) and its related events on Oct. 25-27 draw participants and spectators from all over the world. Named the “Best Marathon in the Mid-Atlantic,” the Marine Corps Marathon welcomes up to 30,000 runners from 50 states and more than 60 countries.

Arlington-based professional runner and ultramarathoner Mike Wardian adds, “They do a really good job with it, and it is all staffed by Marines so it is really dialed in.” Wardian has run races all over the world and says, “The Marine Corps Marathon is one of the coolest events that I have been to. I think I have done it 17 or 18 times.”

With large crowds, multiple events, and changes from year-to-year, the MCM can be daunting for first-timers and repeat participants alike. Here are some tips to help you sail through race weekend.

What makes the Marine Corps Marathon so different than other races?

Marc Goldman, Sponsorship/Marketing Manager for the marathon, says the experience at MCM is significantly different than other running events in a few ways:

  • The Scenery: The course has unparalleled scenery running through many national landmarks, starting with the Pentagon on your right and Arlington National Cemetery on your left. The race runs through the National Mall and ends at the Marine Corps War Memorial.
  • The Presence of the U.S. Marines Corps. This event is truly organized by the Marines, and it is hands-on from Marines and Sailors. They do everything from putting out cones to providing medical support.
  • No Prize Money. The MCM is the largest marathon that does not offer a prize. The race is built to reflect Marine Corps values: Honor, courage and commitment. It is about everything that was done to prepare you for the mission.
  • Green Certification: The MCM is in the process of undergoing its green certification by the Council for Responsible Sport.
Iwo Jima war memorial near Rosslyn
U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial


The MCM is a whole weekend of events, including the Health & Fitness Expo, multiple social events and several races. The Expo will be held across the Potomac River from Arlington at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on Oct. 25-26. It features Packet Pick-up, hundreds of vendor booths, , interactive displays, giveaways and a speaker series. Runners can fuel up for race day with the Carbo Dining In, a nod to the military tradition of “dining in,” on Oct. 26 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Gaylord.

The weekend also includes more than one race: participants can join the MCM10K, full marathon or the new MCM50K, and kids can join in on the fun for the MCM Kids Run. The day of high-adrenaline races ends with the Finish Festival in Arlington’s Rosslyn neighborhood, with food, music, giveaways and more just a short walk from the Marine Corps War Memorial, the MCM finish line.

Marine Corps Marathon start line
Marine Corps Marathon Start @JointBaseMyer-HendersonHall/Flickr

The Races and Courses

Nicknamed the “Marathon of the Monuments,” the MCM and its three additional races throughout the weekend feature the beautiful cityscapes and scenery of Arlington, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. This year the MCM introduced the MCM50K, which is the largest urban ultramarathon in the country. The 50K has 1,700 registered runners and it sold out in one hour. There are different courses for the MCM10K, marathon and 50K. The flagship marathon starts and ends in Arlington and crosses into Washington, D.C., and the other races take on a modified version of that. Find race maps here. The Marine Corps Marathon features a wide variety of musical entertainment throughout the course to keep runners and spectators entertained. There are also various aid, food and water stations throughout. Plan accordingly to stay safe.

Veteran MCM marathon runner Wardian offers these tips to first-time marathon participants:

  • It is a big race. There is lots of crowd support, so use that to your advantage.
  • The first couple miles can be a little bumpy, so be careful.
  • There is also a big climb up to Spout Run Parkway in the first half of the race and then you run into Georgetown. There will be lots of people cheering: Feed off of that energy, but temper yourself because you still have some time to go.
  • There might be a lull for a bit, but around mile 20, you’ll run through the Capitol grounds and National Mall, so take in the scenery.
  • Enjoy the energy and the crowds around miles 22-23.
  • Make sure to take advantage of the aid stations and the people cheering.
Marine Corps Marathon runners
Marine Corps Marathon @CommandantMarineCorps/Flickr

Getting There

With the large number of spectators and runners at this race, you will want to carefully plan your transportation for the day of. “There are huge crowds, and everyone is following the same timeline,” Goldman says. Often people don’t plan well for transportation, so take a page from the Marines’ book and come prepared. This year, the MCM is also adding a bike valet area onsite to minimize the dependence on cars. Participants can bike to the start line and grab their bikes after the run.

As a runner, allot yourself enough time to settle in and prepare for the race. Find more information about the start line and transportation on the MCM website. As a spectator, you will want to get into position to see your runner(s) based on their pace. There are plans on the website to see runners at different points. Goldman advises spectators near and far to download the MCM app to receive email or text alerts of their runner’s progress throughout the course. The app also has schedules, maps, and all of the details that everyone would want to have at their fingertips.

Marine Corps Marathon runners @JointBaseMyers-HendersonHall/Flickr

Before & After the Race

If you’re looking for your loved one after the race, head to the Family Link Up area in the heart of Arlington’s Rosslyn neighborhood. There will be big letters on display to help people meet up using the runner’s last name, so make plans to reunite there. The finish festival is open to everyone and features booths, vendors, music, and beer gardens. It’s the perfect way to celebrate the finish with 80,000 of your closest friends!

Other Tips

  • Weather: The weather tends to be cool in late October, so dress for the occasion. If you shed your clothes at the start, they will be donated to area shelters.
  • Bathrooms: The toilets at the Runner’s Village near the start line are usually really busy. There is a second set of port-a-johns at the start line, so head there if you need to use the facilities.
  • Finding Your Runners: There is an information tent in Rosslyn where spectators can find out about their loved one if he or she has received medical attention.
  • Share Your Experience: Share your race experience using the hashtags #RunWithTheMarines and #StayArlingtonFit.
bulldog mascot for Marine Corps
Marine Corps Bulldog

Not in town for the marathon? Check out our races happening throughout the year.

Author: Talia Salem