Marine Corps Marathon- October 27th, 2013
Expo/Evening Before Race: My husband and I arrived in D.C. on Saturday afternoon after making the 6 hour drive from Ohio. Eager to hit the expo and get back to our hotel, we dropped our bags at the hotel, bought Metro tickets and made our way to the Armory. Our hotel was steps away from the Metro on King Street in Old Town Alexandria, a decision I am still happy with in spite of the ridiculous fee to park a car in their garage. Phil commented that our car could have had its own room at a Red Roof Inn for the same cost, and I reminded him that this was a once-in-a-lifetime race. I may have shouted “YOLO” just to get him to laugh it off.
Arriving at the Armory for bib pickup was horrifying. Lines seemed to wrap in circles for miles and I began to dread my decision to arrive Saturday afternoon. We did wait in line for nearly 2 hours; however, it was the most organized line I’ve ever been in. This was not the chaos of Black Friday at Wal-Mart, this was insanely well-organized waiting. Some would say “military-like.” Wink-wink. After getting my bib, Phil and I got in to the expo, grabbed my amazing tech shirt and shopped for arm warmers. I decided to break my “nothing new on race day” rule and buy some sleeves to wear, fearing that my tank top would not cut it in 40 degree temps. And we snapped some great expo pics!
We headed back out to the Metro, took it home and settled in for an early dinner at 5pm at a pizza shop we had visited on a previous trip. We were done and back at the hotel with plenty of time for me to unpack and prep for race morning. Lessons learned: I had a screaming headache by the time we made it back to the hotel. Traveling, standing outside in the wind for 2 hours and commuting on the Metro did me in. Future destination races may need to include a full day in the city I’m running in. Nailed it: Breaking the rules and buying those sleeves. They were worth the $25.00 and might be my new favorite running accessory.
Morning Of: Marine Corps did an excellent job explaining how to get to the starting line and strongly encouraged runners to be there early to get through security and in to the runner’s area at the start. I set my alarm for 4:30, got up and made coffee and toast in my hotel room. Yes, I brought my own toaster to the hotel. Yes, I am that crazy.
I ate breakfast, dressed and talked through post-race meet up plans with Phil. I headed out the door with my cell phone and my pre-purchased Metro card and my race supplies. I was ready to get on the train when my Metro card failed at the gate. I had tried to load it the night before, but must have failed. The bad news- I had no credit card with me to add $ to the fare card. The good news- my hotel was 2 seconds away and I headed back to the room to grab my Discover and head back to the train. Loaded my card, got on the next Metro and settled in for the ride to the start. I arrived to the starting area, enjoyed a breathtaking walk in the dark past the Pentagon with a horizon view of the Washington Monument and began to accept the unbelievable reality of where I was and what I was about to do. Lessons learned: Put the damn credit card in my pocket to begin with. Nailed it: Bringing my own food for breakfast. I didn’t have to rely on room service, the hotel cafe or any other unknowns. Traveling with my own toaster was pure genius.
First Half: The Marines put on a ceremony at the starting line that is simply breathtaking. During the singing of the national anthem, skydivers fell from the sky, trailing giant American flags. I’m a national anthem crier to begin with, but this was the most amazing singing I’ve ever participated in. It was breathtaking. I lined up with the 4:30-5:00 corral, kept my throw away sweat shirt on and anxiously waited for the start. I kept the sweatshirt on ’til the last possible minute, tossed it aside and began the race with my watch programmed for my ideal pace. This race was crowded. I have never run with a crowd for so long in a race. I struggled during the first half to keep a straight line going, struggled to find my own pace and struggled with the hills that shouldn’t have surprised me, but did. I got an amazing hug and kiss from my husband near mile 4-5, surprised to find him in the crowd at all. I got a wave and a shout back when I spotted my running hero Bart Yasso near mile 9-10.
I kept trying to look up, look around me and enjoy the incredible views. I was warm enough, I was feeling well-fueled and I was thrilled to be where I was. Unfortunately, I started to notice that in some parts of the course I was running on road that was slightly sloped one way or another-a sure way to aggravate my sensitive IT bands. Near mile 10, I was starting to hurt and starting to get scared about hurting. I wasted precious minutes near mile 11 to try to use a restroom, but ended up getting back on course because of the line. I found a better line at mile 13ish and felt better after taking the time to (a-hem) relieve myself. I came in to the half way point at 2:18, on track to hit my dream goal time of 4:35ish. Lessons learned: Commit or not to a potty line. Wasting minutes waiting cost me time in the end. Nailed it: This one goes to Phil. I have no idea how he ever ended up in the right place at the right time, but seeing his face in the crowd was like my very own chick flick moment.
Second half: Miles 13-16ish of the race were beautiful. My pace was slowed by the visit to the bathroom, but I was still feeling strong enough to keep running. I also knew the “gauntlet” was coming up, with a view of some of my favorite buildings in the city during miles 17ish through 20. Here we passed the Smithsonian, the Capitol, the National Art Gallery. The views were spectacular, being in the heart of the city was a joy. I also saw Phil again in the crowd (cue chick flick music, round 2) and hugged him gratefully again. But pain was becoming a constant state. I just kept telling myself I could push through, try to Beat the Bridge. I started walk-running, giving myself a tenth of a mile for every ninth tenths I ran. I got to the bridge in tears. I actually stopped to walk on the bridge, called Phil and told him that the wheels were coming off and that he should move my estimated time back. He told me he would head to the finish and see me there soon. I began to (and pardon my lack of faith) “bargain with a god I didn’t believe in,” a sure sign that I was hitting the mental wall. I would quit running. Give up this sport. Take up boxing. Donate a kidney. Whatever the hell it took to get me to the damn finish line. As I came off the bridge and saw the runners heading in the opposite direction toward the finish, I thought “I want to be them right now. I want to be where they are.” I checked my watch, saw that I had roughly 4 miles left and decided I would take them the only way I possibly could-one step at a time. I ran when I could. I walked. I ran again. I came past the loudest, rowdiest, happiest crowd of college kids I have ever seen on a race course, cheering like I was an elite. I wanted to kiss everyone of them. And then, just like I wanted, I was where those runners were that I had seen earlier. On my way to the last mile. Lessons learned: If I’m ever doing this again, and I surely am, I need to get my head in check. My 20 milers are going to have to be harder, I might have to do two or three of them just to get my mind in shape. Nailed it: I didn’t quit.
Finish: There was a man at the one mile marker that I’d like to find and thank personally. He was screaming, a one man cheerleading crew/drill sergeant, “You need to be a ONE MILE MARINE right now. A ONE MILE MARINE!” I could have kissed him. I needed one mile. One mile to finish this journey. And I did the best I could. I ran. I smiled. I enjoyed the amazing crowd lining the highway. I came in to the final hill and decided that I would run it. Every step. Marines lined either side of the road, cheering the runners on. I crossed the finish at 4:55:40. 20 minutes off my dream time, but 26 minutes faster than the Cleveland Marathon in May. I bent my head to have my medal placed around my neck, looked up in awe as a Marine saluted me and then shook my hand. And promptly burst in to tears.
I reunited with Phil at the medical tent, got some much-needed band-aids for some blisters on my feet and accepted the most glorious tasting watermelon I have ever eaten.
Nearly 6 months of training and it was worth every minute. I shaved a minute per mile off of my time in a summer’s worth of work. Despite my personal bargaining, I’m not quitting this sport. I’m not giving up. Thank you to everyone of my family, friends and fellow runners who took the time to wish me luck, encourage me along the way and celebrate with me post-race. I am lucky to have you all in my corner, lifting me up, pushing me to see farther than I can for myself.