Strong Showing for SEOR at the 41st Annual Marine Corps Marathon

Ricky Neary’s not a serious runner, but on the weekend of October 29th he and classmate Mumtahina Muahmud joined tens of thousands of runners, guests, and vendors at the Gaylord Hotel, National Harbor for the Marine Corps Marathon Expo. 

The grad students weren’t at the Expo to pick up racing bibs or purchase energy drinks. Neary and Muahmud battled the crowds to gather data for a capstone project in Systems Engineering and Operations Research. The project aims to generate a mathematical model for the Marathon organizers to use with future planning while they use the Gaylord to host the Expo for the next several years. 

The idea to study the logistics of the Expo was an option that professor Karla Hoffman suggested to the group. 

“I asked one of our PhD candidates, Paul Nicholas, if he had any military problems that would challenge our students. He suggested that I contact Matt Aylward, of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, who had been working on the logistics for this year’s Marathon. 

“When I asked the question to Paul, I thought I might get a more traditional military problem, but when he mentioned the Marathon, I thought, what a great idea.  It is a logistical problem that everyone can understand.”

In the past there has always been a Metro stop within walking distance of the Expo, but National Harbor’s closest Metro stop is in Oxon Hill, which is 55 minutes away on foot. How this new location might affect the expected number and time of arrivals to the event is not well specified. The data that the team’s model needs can only be estimated from data that differs from the current situation.

 “So far, the biggest challenge has been data collection,” said Neary. “While legacy data exists, the National Harbor is a new location for the packet pickup/Expo.”

Attempting to get better information based on other events at the National Harbor has been challenging. Most of the team’s email requests to others who have sponsored events at the venue have been ignored. The students hope first-hand observations during this year’s Expo might provide some of the needed inputs to the model.  

While Hoffman’s students prepared to study the logistics of the Expo, two other members of the Systems Engineering and Operations Research, family (faculty members John Shortle, and Rochelle Jones) trained to run the 26.2-mile race. Each has an individualized strategy/system for race preparation.

Shortle, who has been running races since 1997, describes himself as the opposite of ritualistic. He said he downloads a schedule and follows it for training, but he understands that life can get in the way.

“I try to run at a steady pace that I can maintain to the finish,” he said. “I tell people, with training you can go farther than you think.”

He says the hardest part is the last 10k. He said the first half of the race is mile 1-16 and the second “half” is mile 17-26. In other words the last part of the race feels longer than the first.

Associate Professor Rochelle Jones said for her, “The hardest part of a marathon is signing up. I was filling out the form for a half marathon, and thought, why am I signing up for another half marathon? That was when I took the plunge.”

Jones says, “I am a Systems Engineer in my work and I am systems engineer in my race preparation.”

She says, “Running and racing is the ultimate interdisciplinary experience, a lot goes into it. Diet, biomechanics, hydration, pacing. To have a successful race, I stick to the plan. I advise others to do the same. Don’t decide to change it up on race day.”