Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Marathon

March 17th, 2012

After training for most of the winter, my running the Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Marathon here in DC almost got derailed entirely thanks to an ill-timed sinus infection. I got the all-clear from my doctor to run it, though, even though I still had four days of antibiotics to go.

Rock ‘n’ Roll bought what used to be the National Marathon and Half Marathon, which had started back in 2006 (and replaced the short-lived, one-time-only DC Marathon). From 2006 through 2011, I ran all but one of the National’s half marathons, skipping 2010 only because some friends and I had gone down to Virginia Beach that same weekend to tackle the Shamrock Half Marathon. The National had been showing increasing signs of being in over their heads as the race grew, though, with outright incompetence on some aspects. So although it meant a much more expensive race when Rock ‘n’ Roll took it over, I looked forward to seeing how they’d handle the race administration. And, it seemed like a good a time as any to tackle a full marathon again, since my last had been in January 2010 as part of the Walt Disney World Goofy Marathon and a Half Challenge.

First, the actual putting on the race part? Excellent. Well marked mile points (unlike last year’s race, where the first marker was at mile 9), lots of race support, a much better starting line situation, easier packet pick up… you name it, they handled it quite well. Worth the extra money.

As for my running of the race? Well, there were some good parts and some not-so-good parts. I ran the first 21 miles with my good friend Ben, and doing that was a real joy. I’ve had a lot of marathons where I ran the majority or all of the race by myself, and I’d forgotten how nice it is to have someone else to keep you going. Charlie, Andy, Peter, and Joey all came out to cheer, and that was also greatly appreciated. I also got to see my co-worker Holly in our starting corral. So, all good stuff.

On the down side, the temperature spiked while I was out there from below 50 to over 70, and just like the Florence Marathon, that spells disaster for me. I end up slightly dehydrating no matter how well I’ve been hydrating before and during the event, and when you’re cramping and feeling lousy it’s not going to be a good race. For me, that started around the halfway point, but I put on a brave face and tried to push through. Around mile 19, though, I knew the back half of the race was going to be difficult, and told Ben that since he was feeling strong to please feel free to ditch me at any point. He decided that at mile 21 he was going to pick up his pace a bit, and did just that (and had a strong finish, hurrah!).

I actually ended up walking all the way to mile 23; I felt horrible, not just physically but mentally. My stomach was upset (a combo of forgetting to bring something solid to balance out the gels… hey, it’s been over 2 years since my last marathon… and the antibiotics), I was discouraged, and my “running” with a minute walk break at the mile markers was barely faster than my speed walking. I did focus on another guy walking in the distance that looked quite fit, and managed to get most of the way up to him by mile 23. From that point I shifted over to a “run 5 minutes, walk 1 minute” pace, and that was a huge improvement, getting me moving at a much better clip that I’d been for about five miles. Still, a huge relief to finish. None the less, not counting Disney (where we stopped for photos twenty times and had run a half marathon the day before) it was much, much slower than my previous two races. A little disappointing, although it was under some adverse circumstances that were ultimately out of my control.

I’d also been having some shin pain on my right leg leading up to the race; I’d figured it was just a shin splint but right now we’re doing some tests to make sure it’s not anything else. As it turns out? Stress fracture. Whoops. Well, now I can join that club of people who ran a marathon with a broken (or at least fractured) bone. Nicely played, Greg, nicely played.

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Potomac River Run Marathon 2009

May 3rd, 2009

What do you do when your race is cancelled halfway through the experience?

I suppose I should backtrack a bit. After scratching the Philadelphia Marathon in November 2008, followed up by gallbladder removal surgery in early December, I more or less had to start over when it came to training this January. I knew I would need about four months to really get the distance back up, so I signed up for the Potomac River Run Marathon scheduled for May 3rd. It’s a small marathon, in its sixth year, with less than 1000 people signed up.

I got up to 18 miles in early March, then ran the National Half Marathon with pretty good results. Since then, though, I’ve been having some slight issues between a strained tendon and just general free time. After the marathon I tried the run-two-12-milers (instead of one 20 miler) plan, and while I’d hoped to get one more long distance weekend in between it and the marathon, other problems kept it from happening.

So, I knew going into the marathon that I wouldn’t pick up a PR. It was a little disappointing because while 2007’s PR was a good finish time, I also knew I could’ve done better had it not been for the infamous "Greg almost gets hit by a car" incident and I was looking forward to break it. But it just wasn’t in the cards, and with feeling sick and run down the day before, it more or less cinched my feelings that I shouldn’t even try to do so.

Meanwhile, in what was a strange turn of events, seven days before the marathon, the race director sent out an e-mail about the start of the race. It was scheduled to start at 7am and run until 1pm. However, the National Park Service had issued them their permit and instead they had to be done by 11am. So, the start time of the race was changing; there was now an "open start" and you could head out any time between 5:30 and 7am. (The sun itself doesn’t rise until a little after 6am, I might add.) Now, I knew I wasn’t running a sub-4 hour marathon, it just wasn’t in the cards. So, I talked it over with Charlie, and we got to the race site (he was running the half marathon) a little after 5:30, and headed over the start line at 5:44am even as we were drizzled on.

The Potomac River Run Marathon is a slightly odd course; you run along the Mount Vernon Trail, and if you’re tackling the half marathon option you head out approximately 6.55 miles, turn around, and run back. If you’re running the full marathon, you do that twice. Once the rain stopped about two miles into the course, it was actually really pretty. Just a lot of beautiful scenery involving the Potomac River and wildlife. A lot of rolling hills, unfortunately, but oh well. Also, bizarrely, no mile markers aside from miles 1, 13, 14, 25, and 26. (And of course, me without my Garmin.) So, I just look my time, and enjoyed the experience.

I got back to the start and prepared to head out a second time, when Charlie ran up next to me and started jogging along side. "I need to let you know something," he said. "They cancelled the race."

I almost stopped dead in my tracks. "What?" I sputtered. Was my attempt to run my eighth marathon forever doomed to failure?

"The National Park Service shut them down and they turned off the clock," he said. "But the water stations and such are going to still be out there, so don’t turn off your watch."

I was flabbergasted. And for a split second, I seriously thought about quitting, I was so angry. Had I been going for a personal record with this race, I might have actually done so (and regretted it later). But instead I shook my head and kept going. But the wind was definitely out of my sails. The second half was a bit slower in spots for me, especially because I was worried about the mystery calf twinges that happen if I push too hard on hills—and this is one really hilly course.

So, I took it easy on the hills, taking short walk breaks sometime as necessary to make it up their inclines. I had a nice surprise around what may or may not have been mile 19, with Julie at one of the aid stations. I’d not told anyone to come out, because of the whole rain factor. I hit the turn around, got a salt packet from Julie on my way back through and then pushed on.

That’s when it started pouring rain. Between the rain and needing to take some walk breaks on the hills, it was an ugly return; it rained the entire way back, over six miles of it. But the one nice thing was that because I wasn’t pushing myself as hard as I might have otherwise, I wasn’t exhausted or beaten down. One knee was a tiny bit sore, but nothing that would’ve kept me from running. Mostly I was just trying to avoid injury, and heading through. I ended up running part of the last mile with Charlie who was waiting for me there; it was with maybe half a mile to go that I finally got my first "calf twinge" of the race, and all things considered that’s not too bad. I hit the finish line at 4:43:05. Not a PR, but also faster than my second-best race (4:46 in Florence, Italy), and that other race was one where it was pulling teeth to get that finish time.

One funny thing was when I hit the mile 25 sign, I looked down at my watch, and it said 4:29:06. In other words, my PR from a year and a half ago. If only there was some way to skip that last 1.2 miles.

After the race was over, Charlie had some additional information about the race closure. A Park Service employee told him that there were too many people compared to what their permit said, and that there were problems with some of the other technical aspects of using the trail. I haven’t heard the race’s version of what happened, and no doubt the reality is somewhere between the two. (For instance, the NPS employee told Charlie that the number of people was "600 more than allotted" but with all the threat of rain, and having actually been out there, if there were even 500 people actually running this morning I will be shocked and amazed.)

Apparently Charlie saw about five full marathoners come to the turn around and discover that it was officially cancelled (but that they could keep running), and three of them promptly quit. Which does, if nothing else, explain what happened to the two really fast runners I saw heading back while I was heading out the first time. (I’d figured they were just running the half marathon.) I can certainly understand, especially since the two I saw were both clearly professional runners. Why push yourself when you can save the effort for a different marathon in a week or two instead and try and pick up that cash prize?

Afterwards, I picked up my medal across the street from the hastily erected post-race tent, tried to warn people away from the nasty HEEP sports drink the race director kept pushing on people, and went home. If the Potomac River Run Marathon survives to next year, will I run it again? Absolutely not. It’s too bad, it’s a beautiful course if difficult. But honestly, just the lack of mile markers is reason enough to avoid it in my book. All the rest of the difficulties this year just flags it in my head as a race to skip, unfortunately. And for all I know, it won’t even exist next year. Time will tell, but it’ll do so without me.

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Outer Banks Marathon 2007

November 11th, 2007

I’ve joked in the past that with every marathon I learn something new, and that I’m really sick of having to keep learning things! But true to form, I learned an important lesson in this year’s marathon, even as I think I approached my race the smartest yet. The idea was to use the "10/10/10" approach; miles 1-10 at a 10min/mile, miles 11-20 at a 9min/mile, and then (if I was feeling it) the last 10k (miles 21-26.2) at an 8:30min/mile. This would have been absolutely perfect on a completely flat course. What I didn’t take into account, though, was the elevation profile for the Outer Banks Marathon.

The first ten miles were fantastic. I ran the first mile with Butch and Chris, which was a real joy, and I felt a tiny bit bad when I left them towards the end of that mile but they had a different pace plan (and were also doing a run/walk, which I wasn’t) so when they stopped to stretch I took it as a sign to keep going. Running through woods, along the water, and then around the Wright Brothers Monument? Fantastic. I felt bad for anyone who ran the half marathon if only because they missed all of this amazing scenery, the best part of the course by far.

Miles 11-13 run through the Nags Head Woods Nature Preserve; the first two miles on a packed dirt road, the third mile on a narrow off-road trail, and all three of these miles are extremely hilly. I should have shifted my planned paces around a bit to compensate for this; planning on not pushing here and expending the strength elsewhere. (As crazy as that section was, though, I must admit that I really liked it. It was gorgeous.) As it is, looking at my splits below, you can see a huge dip on speed for that off-road mile in particular. Additionally, miles 14-19 are at a slight uphill grade and along a highway, which is less than fun and also sapped my strength more than I’d have imagined.

Of course, some things you can’t compensate for. Around mile 14.5, a car tried to pull out onto the course and only stopped when I screamed at it—all of about a foot and a half from me. Shaken, I continued on, but a minute later my right calf seized up and never really let go. Now I’m not saying that me having tensed up from the near-miss from the car made the calf tense up, but I do think that it contributed. I stretched as best I could for a solid minute and then continued on. I must admit I was sad that my parents, Suzanne, and Charlie never saw me up until that point in the race because I was definitely not looking my best from that moment on!

I pushed on as best I could, stretching a tiny bit every mile or two, and starting at mile 20 taking little 30-second walk-breaks because my knees were starting to ache as well. When I started the 25th mile, I was aching so much that I just had to walk the vast majority of it. I couldn’t even face the "just 2.2 more miles!" that I kept telling myself, finally making a deal that when I finished mile 25, I would start running again and not stop until I was done. And sure enough, that’s what happened. I didn’t get the sub-4:22 finish I was hoping for (I’m fairly convinced if it hadn’t been for the calf problem I would’ve hit that), but I did the best I could, and this was the first marathon for which I didn’t enter it with a run/walk plan. And hey, a 4:29:06? I’ll take it.

Next year? I’m going to tackle my race the same way, but will pay more attention to the course map when doing so; if necessary I’ll shift some of the planned paces around to better compensate for what’s ahead. Little by little, I’m getting there.

Mileage Mile Times Time of Day Total Time Overall Pace Notes
0 7:22 AM 0:00:00
1 11:02.5 7:33 AM 0:11:02 0:11:02
2 09:51.3 7:43 AM 0:20:54 0:10:27
3 09:47.7 7:53 AM 0:30:42 0:10:14
4 10:02.7 8:03 AM 0:40:44 0:10:11
5 09:45.7 8:13 AM 0:50:30 0:10:06
6 09:37.3 8:22 AM 1:00:07 0:10:01
7 10:28.5 8:33 AM 1:10:36 0:10:05
8 09:43.0 8:42 AM 1:20:19 0:10:02
9 09:51.3 8:52 AM 1:30:10 0:10:01
10 09:40.3 9:02 AM 1:39:50 0:09:59
11 09:24.8 9:11 AM 1:49:15 0:09:56 The start of the very hilly, trail-running, nature park. Why did I not remember this was coming?
12 09:17.6 9:21 AM 1:58:33 0:09:53
13 10:35.6 9:31 AM 2:09:08 0:09:56 Finally! The hills (which were alive with the sound of runners cursing) ended just after we finished mile 13.
14 09:03.5 9:40 AM 2:18:12 0:09:52
15 09:42.7 9:50 AM 2:27:54 0:09:52 And then Greg’s right calf exploded. (Funny, in the past it was always lefty.)
16 09:33.1 10:00 AM 2:37:28 0:09:50
17 09:26.9 10:09 AM 2:46:55 0:09:49
18 09:33.2 10:19 AM 2:56:28 0:09:48
19 09:40.8 10:28 AM 3:06:09 0:09:48
20 10:12.6 10:39 AM 3:16:21 0:09:49
21 10:26.0 10:49 AM 3:26:47 0:09:51
22 10:24.2 10:59 AM 3:37:11 0:09:52
23 11:21.8 11:11 AM 3:48:33 0:09:56 The nasty part of the bridge to Manteo. Worse than MCM’s 14th St. Bridge in terms of going straight up and then down.
24 10:53.6 11:22 AM 3:59:27 0:09:59
25 16:34.2 11:38 AM 4:16:01 0:10:14 Walked a lot, just could not run anymore. (Or at least until the end of the mile.)
26 11:35.8 11:50 AM 4:27:37 0:10:18
26.2 01:29.4 11:51 AM 4:29:06 0:10:16 A 7:25min/mile pace! Ha! Gotta love that brief adrenaline burst.

(Lest you think I’m completely nuts, I should point out that I made an Excel spreadsheet where all I had to type in were individual mile times, and the starting time, and it filled in the rest.)

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Firenze Marathon 2006

November 26th, 2006

I joke with fellow marathoners that every year I learn something new about my chosen sport, and how I’m really getting sick and tired of always having to learn some big lesson on race day. Well, this year was no exception, and what I learned was "how not to run a travel marathon."

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. One final big round of thanks is necessary to everyone who donated; thanks to everyone’s generosity, Team Mangia Mangia (myself, Julie, and Tod) hit our group fundraising goal and even a little extra. A grand total of $8482 has gone to help the Whitman-Walker Clinic here in DC, and I can’t think of a better way to enter the winter holiday season.

As for the marathon… first the good stuff. Florence was absolutely gorgeous, just as beautiful as I remembered from visiting the city back in 1999. This meant that I ran on the most beautiful course I’ve ever experienced in a race, easily. The race starts at the Piazza de Michelangelo, high above the city and across the Arno River. This lets you really see just how far the city stretches around you, and it’s hard to keep your excitement level from rising. (Getting there we had to take a shuttle bus, which could only be described as a game of "how many people can we really fit into one of these?" But even pressed up against the doors so tightly that if one of them opened I’d have gone flying out of the vehicle, it was still pulse-poundingly fun.)

I started the race with four other people; Tod, Susan, Dana, and Sara. We unfortunately lost Sara pretty quickly due to a potty break, but the rest of us stuck together through almost 15 miles. (I say almost 15 miles because there were only mile markers every five miles. Otherwise it was kilometer markers, and performing all the multiplication of fractions while running a marathon? Not very easy.) It was a lovely first half and then some, running by people hanging out of their windows and cheering, winding through tiny alleys and streets, and moving along the Arno River itself for a while before finally crossing into the main part of Florence.

Eventually our group split in two, though. Tod and Dana were having a great marathon and started pulling ahead. Or perhaps it was that Susan and I were not having a great marathon and started falling behind? Susan and I stuck together until about mile 20, though. By that point, I was certainly not feeling well. I was really tired—having forgotten to bring Benadryl or some other sleep aid, thanks to jet lag I’d only gotten two hours of sleep the night before—and I could feel myself cramping up and dehydrating. We’d been all promised cloudy skies and cool temperatures of 50 degrees, which is perfect marathon weather. Instead it was in the 70s and a clear sunny sky waiting for us. Still, getting to run by things like the Duomo helped lift my spirits a bit, especially since AIDS Marathon had a big cheering station that actually got me a little choked up by that point. (Perhaps the best proof at all that I was really tired.)

Finally I told Susan to go on ahead, and began to try and push myself as best I could through the last six miles. It’s never easy for me to end up by myself in a marathon, but it was the right decision for both of us. I was starting to drag her back, and I knew if I took some walk breaks a little quicker I could rally a bit. That’s not to say that the end of the course was easy. By this point we were in a park that seemed to stretch on forever, and at one point just as I was thinking (as one occasionally does at the end of a marathon), "Maybe it’s time to just pack it in," the person right next to me began to repeatedly and noisily vomit. Ugh. Still, if that’s not inspiration to keep running, I don’t know what is.

Actually, I do know what good running inspiration is. The United States 1st Battalion (Airborne) 503rd Infantry had a lot of members running the marathon as well, and somewhere around mile 23 I was starting to think, "Maybe I should just walk the next mile." Right then I came across a large cheering section from the 503rd, who started going crazy at the site of another American, calling out my name and telling me how great I was doing. I sucked in my breath, bit my lip, and began running again to even more cheering from them. It’s funny, I occasionally get major self-defeating thoughts towards the end of a marathon, but every time they do something happens to keep me going. I must say that a well-placed cheering section is much better than a vomiting runner. (Interestingly enough, it was around this point that I actually caught up with Susan, and we played leapfrog for most of the rest of the marathon. She finally finished first, just under a minute ahead of me.)

Finally I could see the end of the marathon… or so I thought. There’s nothing like running as fast as one can to discover that no, you’re seeing a different part of the course and still have about half a mile to go. And then you see the real finish line… wait, no, that’s just some random arch over the course and the actual finish is an additional 500 feet ahead of you. Italians are tricky, what can I say? But the race was over, and while my bombing out in the last third of the marathon meant I didn’t get my hoped-for sub-4:30 finish time, I still got a new personal record of 4:46:48. It was a hard day, and that was a real victory for me.

That said, I now know how to run a travel marathon. Bring a sleep aid, get there a little earlier if there’s a time zone change, and perhaps bring a deck of cards and just play them all day Saturday to conserve every last ounce of strength for the race on Sunday because you will need it.

In some ways this was a tough season for me; having to sit the first month out due to injury, juggling both helping train other runners in addition to myself, participating in my first travel marathon, and my first year not training with Julie (whom I trained with for the past five years). All things considered, I think I beat the odds and learned a lot about what to do for next year. And as for next year? Well, wait and see!

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Marine Corps Marathon 2005

October 30th, 2005

26.2 Things About The Marine Corps Marathon 2005

1. You’re off to a bad start when there are hideously long Metro delays… due to someone committing suicide on the tracks. If that isn’t a portent of bad things to come, I’m not sure what else is required.

2. This year because it was the 30th Anniversary of the Marine Corps Marathon, 30,000 runners were admitted instead of the normal 22,000 limit. The result? Chaos. There were two "start waves" and once you add in everyone who took Metro in getting to the starting point late… well… yeah, not good.

3. We had a devil of a time finding people in our group. We would all be together, then we’d turn around and five people would be missing. It actually almost became a joke… "Well, we’ve found Laura, but now we’ve lost Carla."

4. I had never run a more claustrophobic race than the first four or so miles of the marathon this year. Arlington was utterly packed full of runners and I think I expended almost as much energy moving side to side as I did forward. Lots of dodging slower runners, or (even worse) inconsiderate walkers. I do not care if you walk; after all, I use walk breaks for my marathon routine. I do mind, however, if you walk six-abreast in a group and block the route. Or just suddenly stop running in the middle of the course and start walking. Stay to the right, how hard is that to figure out? You’re on a road, for pete’s sake.

5. The leaves hadn’t turned as much on Spout Run this year as they had in 2004, which was a pity because then it was easily the most beautiful part of the course. Instead this year you’d look off to the sides and see handfuls of runners peeing like mad. I think it was Susan who coined the phrase "Spout Run: The Marine Corps Marathon’s Toilet."

6. Spectators this year were… well, very clueless in a couple of places. On Key Bridge, for example, the spectators had lined up down the middle of the course. Because yes, we don’t mind sacrificing half of our area to run, really. Move over to one side, folks, before a runner accidentally knocks you over. (Which I did see happen.) Just blatantly rude.

7. Running down M Street in Georgetown was the first real area of the course where things began to feel a little better. We’d left a lot of runners behind us and there was room to spread out. And, of course, the obligatory joke of "This is the fastest I’ve ever moved down M Street in my life!" was made by many.

8. Rock Creek Park is always a lot of fun, because it’s one of the few places where the course doubles back on itself. As a result you get to see everyone that’s both two miles ahead and behind you. True to form I ran into friends in Rock Creek, which quickly lifted my spirits.

9. The one sad thing about Rock Creek Park is it was where I lost Julie. She’d broken her toe at the start of the month and while most of the healing was done (and her podiatrist cleared her to run the marathon), it was still causing her enough trouble (plus not being able to run for weeks) that we unfortunately parted ways there. (Don’t worry, she still did really well and even got a new PR!)

10. One of the best feelings about running down the National Mall this year was knowing that due to "construction concerns" the Capitol Hill area was removed from the course. To that I have to say: Thank God. I’ve run the Marine Corps Marathon three times before this and I hated Capitol Hill every time.

11. Of course, the one downside is that you end up whipping around the Mall so fast that a lot of people who were on one side cheering for me didn’t make it over to the other side in time. Argh! Ah well, it’s the thought that counts.

12. The Mall area had a lot of attrition in my group this year. Mark had plotted out a pretty aggressive pace for us (which would’ve given us a 4:30 finishing time) and our group in just that short distance dropped from seven to four people including myself.

13. Leaving the Mall at Mile 14 is also where things started to unfortunately slip for the remaining four of us. Randy, Mark, Katie, and myself were all beginning to slow down; the heat and the crowds (which kept coming back) were really getting to us and while we’d planned for 10-minute miles for miles 11-20, starting with Mile 15 that began to get out of reach.

14. Last year I’d loved the Hains Point area; I’d found the quiet and solitude of the area refreshing, a chance to really refocus. This year it was a nightmare as I kept trying to buckle down and pick back up the pace and finding myself unable to do so. By this point we’d lost Mark and Katie as well, making the front of our pace group just myself and Randy.

15. I finally lost Randy at Mile 19, or rather, Randy lost me. I was on a "run five minutes, walk one minute" ratio and I knew that the fifth minute was starting to really wear me down so I said I was going to shift to just four minutes in the hope of being able to do those minutes stronger. Randy agreed, the first four minute cycle began, and I never saw Randy again as he zoomed off with some sort of adrenaline rush.

16. Sadly, looking at my times for the marathon, I’m not 100% sure it did me any good at all!

17. With seven miles to go, and suddenly being all alone, I then made the biggest mistake that one can make: I over-analyzed my progress. Suddenly I was mentally yelling at myself for one thing after another, second-guessing every decision I’d made.

18. Even worse, I was starting to get cramps in my legs. After all of these lectures about the dangers of over-hydration, I ended up failing to compensate for the bright sunny day (and its 68 degree temperatures, which was at least a little cooler than last year) and managed to dehydrate a bit… manifesting itself as the cramps. Of course, it’s easy to figure these things out after the fact, but at the time it was just one more horrible thing to happen.

19. About the only ray of sunshine I had at this point was getting onto the bridge, looking at my watch… and realizing that even with starting much later than last year, I had still managed to beat the 14th Street Bridge with an even larger lead time than ever. (If you aren’t on the 14th Street Bridge by 2pm, you’re out of the race.)

20. Mind you, the 14th Street Bridge stinks. Not literally, figuratively. It’s mostly uphill, you’re out over the water with no shade, and everyone is just baking as they struggle up the hills. My walk breaks became longer and more frequent as I struggled through each hill.

21. I got a brief respite when we went through Crystal City. There was a wonderful AIDS Marathon volunteer who ran up to me with a bag of pretzels and Starbursts and I would’ve hugged her for it if I didn’t fear that it would have made me stop entirely. The pretzels tasted like sawdust in my mouth but I licked the salt off of a couple, and ate some of the Starbursts for energy.

22. Crystal City is also the other place that the course doubles back, so I was able to see a handful of my fellow pace group members and how they were not too far behind me. That actually made me really happy; by this point I’d been running alone for 4.5 miles and just seeing a familiar face or two was exactly what I needed.

23. All through Crystal City I was getting more and more angry with myself, because I’d been trying (as best I could) to do all of the math and I’d come to the conclusion that a sub-5-hour marathon was out of my reach. More than anything else it’s what I had wanted and to feel it slipping away was just about killing me. Then with just 2.2 miles to go I suddenly realized that it was in reach provided I didn’t just stop entirely. (Terrifyingly, I was almost a math major.) I honestly think it’s all that kept me going.

24. The cramps came back big time in the last mile and a half and it was torture. I kept thinking that after being so close to under five hours that I was about to lose it again, and I just kept pushing forward as best I could. Finally I was up the final hill (I had to walk it entirely because I knew otherwise it would’ve been disaster) and about 75 feet from the finish line… and my right leg cramped up entirely and I had to sort of shuffle and hop my way across. I can’t wait to see the official pictures because I can only imagine that they must look hysterically funny.

25. My finishing time? 4:57:34. Not what I was hoping for, but a huge improvement over last year (57:48 faster to be exact) and a new PR to be very proud of. Despite my minor trip to hell and back I was still the second one to finish out of my group, which I think really says just what a hard course it was. I’ve run five marathons and while this was my best finishing time, it was by far the hardest one I’ve ever run. (Last year’s, with my old personal record, was probably the easiest.)

26. Huge thanks go out to (deep breath) my parents, Brian, Doug, Mike, Mikey, Steven, Tod, Sarah, Karon, Jeff, Laurel, Katina, Nancy, and Madelyn for being out there and cheering me on. You have no idea how much this helped me, and it really lifted my spirits. I owe you all big time.

26.2 Next marathon, 4:30, darn it.

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Marine Corps Marathon 2004

October 31st, 2004

26.2 things about the Marine Corps Marathon

1. I still can’t believe that in trying to switch metro train cars on the way to the race (to be able to ride in the same car with members of my pace group), I actually slipped and fell on the platform at East Falls Church… then jumped back up, ran into the car, and proceeded as if nothing had happened.

2. The day was hot. Really hot. On a day where I was hoping for good marathon weather of 55 degrees, we ended up with the heat climbing to 78 degrees. This meant that whatever performance everyone could have gotten, the reality would be a little slower. (According to Jeff Galloway, one minute per mile slower.)

3. This was the first marathon where I started with my entire pace group and we all managed to stick together for 8 miles. Even more impressive, it was the largest pace group I’d ever had: 13 people.

4. The new setup for how everyone lined up and started for the race worked wonderfully; we somehow ended up at the very end of the pack and it still only took us 12 minutes to get to the start line. (In 2002 we were closer in and it took us 20 minutes.)

5. One of the good things about starting at the end of the pack is that throughout the entire race I found myself passing people left and right. That’s such a great mental boost.

6. I really liked the addition of North Arlington into the course; yeah, the first two miles uphill aren’t ideal, but since you’re supposed to take those miles slowly anyway, why not force people to take it easy? Even better, once the hills are over you’re on Spout Run and the GW Parkway, both of which are gorgeous in autumn.

7. There was a huge contingent of runners from Canada participating this year; most of them had red baseball hats with the flag on the front and "Canada" stitched onto the back.

8. Walking up Capitol Hill instead of trying to run it was one of the smartest things Julie and I ever decided after wiping out all of our energy on it back in 2002. It felt good to have a brief break in the middle of the course, and thanks to speed walking we really only picked up an extra minute and a half in the process.

9. Running down Ohio Drive over the lip of the Tidal Basin was one of the more beautiful moments of the race; the course used to veer back up and away from the Potomac River, but this change was very much for the better. A very serene moment.

10. I don’t think everyone else in my group agreed with that assessment; in the course of that mile we dropped from nine runners to just four. (In the end you have to run your own race and I had no intention of slowing down to have others keep up, but I always hope that everyone can stick together for as long as possible.)

11. In 2002 and 2003 I was in the back half of my group for the entire second half of the marathon. Being in the lead group of runners from the pace group this year was a very nice, strong feeling.

12. Hains Point, missing from the course for several years but now back from the dead, is always been a badge of honor for surviving it, with veterans complaining about the wind, or the lack of crowds. Me? I thought it was fantastic. Very beautiful, and mentally I enjoyed the brief break from screaming people, just letting myself concentrate on moving forwards.

13. I’d never seen The Awakening statue down at the tip of Hains Point before and it was even better in real life than the pictures make it out to be.

14. Coach Tod’s words of encouragement at mile 19.5 as we were leaving Hains Point made me laugh for a good half-mile.

15. In 2002 and 2003 I made the 14th Street Bridge (which has a cut-off time limit) with no minutes to spare and it was a harrowing experience getting there. This year I stepped onto it with 50 minutes to spare, which was a really amazing feeling.

16. Miles 20-22 were the hardest part of the course for me. There was no relief from the sun up on the 14th Street Bridge, and it felt like a continual uphill climb.

17. The 14th Street Bridge was also the only point in the course where I was physically worried about finishing the course strongly. My left shin started to ache with each step and I had to wonder if it was time to slow down. Then we got off the bridge and its incline and all of the pain promptly went away. Apparently my left leg just hates that bridge even more than the rest of me.

18. Randy bought salt capsules at Metro Run & Walk and I must say that it’s much better than having to pour salt packets into your mouth. In retrospect with the heat and such I wish I’d brought all four capsules he’d given me instead of just two.

19. At mile 23 Randy was feeling strong and zoomed off into the distance, leaving just me and Julie to tough out the last three miles. I can honestly say that if Julie hadn’t been there I probably would have slowed down considerably, and I am really grateful for her being there for me.

20. Out of all of the friends and family that showed up to cheer (and hurrah for Mom & Dad, Suzanne, CJ, Karon, Jeff, Laura, Rob, Madelyn, Don, and Cecilia!), I’d say the biggest surprise was Laura’s dog Tisha, who was absolutely delighted to run along side us. Laura making sure that Tisha didn’t lick runners was pretty funny too.

21. The biggest surprise overall for me was that after losing her at mile 17, to have our friend Pam suddenly catch us at mile 25.5. I don’t know if she’d suddenly sped up or we’d slowed down (probably the two combined) but I was really impressed.

22. After being told for several months that the finish line was now "just at the top of the Iwo Jima Memorial Hill", I saw the hill, thought that statement was fact, and sprinted up the hill fast enough that my old AIDS Marathon Program Rep Carolyn said something along the lines of, "Oh my god!" as I ran by.

23. The finish line, of course, was not there and the sprint eventually had to turn into about 30 seconds of walking until I got far enough along the curve that I could see it for real. And then I sprinted it in, again. I do love my finish line adrenaline rushes.

24. I was seriously worried that with the heat I wouldn’t make my "under 6 hours" goal (I’d already thrown out the "under 5:45" goal before the race even began) so I was thrilled with my finishing time of 5:55:22, setting a Personal Record by 29 minutes and 40 seconds. With all of that heat and sun I am amazed and thrilled with that end result.

25. Most emotional moment of the race had to go to Gelareh, who we’d lost at mile 20 and who shot over the finish line in tears because she’d not only finished but also squeaked in under 6 hours by less than a minute. I gave her a huge hug while she sobbed with relief and I saw several marines frantically snapping pictures so who knows where that image might turn up.

26. Next year, under 5:30. Oh yeah.

26.2. Best Pace Group Ever.
Grete Waitz, East Falls Church, 2004

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Marine Corps Marathon 2003

October 26th, 2003

You know that feeling when it’s very obvious that everything is going to go either great or horrible and no in-betweens? Well, welcome to this year’s running of the Marine Corps Marathon for me.

The events leading up to the race all seemed to be warning me about something. I missed the first subway train by about ten seconds and had to wait fifteen minutes for the next. When Julie and I got to the Rosslyn Metro station (which has one of the tallest escalators in the world), we arrived just in time to see the escalators stop working, so we ended up walking up them. Then I discovered my camera battery was dead. Last but not least, it was about 15 degrees warmer than I’d wanted it to be, which meant that it was going to be tougher than it should’ve no matter what else happened.

Yep, it was one of those mornings.

I found the rest of my pace group, though, and before long the ten of us headed to the starting line. Rather than line up in the "6 hour finishing time" area, though, we’d decided to go incognito and push forward to around the "4 1/2 hour finishing time" area. The difference? It takes about ten minutes less to get over the starting line. As it turned out, ten much-needed minutes. We got over the starting line fairly quickly, along with 17000 of my closest friends, and we were off. Almost immediately our group of ten people dropped down to just six; some people (Dave and Beth) decided to go faster, others (Mary and Madelyn) decided to go slower.

The first six miles were easily the best ones for me. This section of the course winds all through Arlington (including a huge new hill added in when the Pentagon area got removed because of construction), but I felt really good and the six of us that were still running together (me, Julie, John, Lisa, Lindsay, Scott) were having a great time. Then, somewhere through my sixth mile, my legs suddenly decided they’d had enough and began to tighten up.

Occasionally, your body just doesn’t cooperate, and this was one of those times. If this had been a training run I’d have probably quit, but instead I pushed on, and I do mean pushed. For the rest of the race I had to play the game of, "I need to at least make it to there before I quit", where the "there" was a landmark about two miles away. It helped a lot that I knew my mother and some of my friends were going to be out on the course cheering; seeing people you know is incredible motivation. So I kept running with my group as we headed by my mom and my friend Martha cheering, onto Key Bridge, and into Washington DC.

It wasn’t until my group was almost all the way out of Rock Creek Park around mile 11 that I started to see half of the group (Julie, Lindsay, and Lisa) begin to pull away. Scott managed a valiant burst of energy to try and catch up with them, and suddenly John and I were apart from the rest of our group. It’s tough to find yourself dropping behind, but both of us were just struggling to keep moving, so at least we were at each other’s speed. We slowly made our way out of Rock Creek Park and onto one half of the National Mall. It was at the far end of the Mall, on Capitol Hill, that we ran into Sarah from our run site. She was without her group as well and it didn’t take much persuading on our part to have her jump on board with us. She was getting worried about making the 14th Street Bridge and its 2pm cutoff (after which point they re-open it to traffic), so we used each other as motivation to keep moving as we continued back along the other side of the Mall.

It was around this time (Mile 17) that we began to notice a very disconcerting thing. We’d see the next mile marker in the distance, but as we got closer… it was gone. Finally we’d get to the marker itself and discover that someone had knocked it over. An over-eager race official wanting to pack up early? A gung-ho runner who decided to knock each one down as they got to it? I’m not sure what was going on, but it did bad things to our moral. When you are thinking, "I should be at the next mile marker by now" and you can’t see it, you find yourself wondering if you’re even moving forward at that point, and giving up a lot of hope. If I ever find out who knocked those signs over, I promise to explain the misery we were feeling at great length.

Finally we finished our circuit of the National Mall, ran through West Potomac Park, and along the Tidal Basin’s edge. Between my mother, Karon, and Jeff cheering me on, I’d managed to get this far. We had about a mile to go, and all that was left was East Potomac Park and then we could get onto the 14th Street Bridge. We also had about 15 minutes to go. Normally this would’ve been fine, but we were out of energy, and my legs were just begging to let me walk. I can barely remember most of that mile other than promising myself that once I got onto that bridge I’d let myself walk for a while. I remember looking ahead and seeing the final couple of turns up ahead, then looking at my watch and seeing it say "1:57pm". A sudden panic came over me and I started sprinting, full speed ahead. I could feel my feet pounding as I tore away from John and Sarah (unintentionally, I promise you!) and around the corner to where Mile Marker 21 and a crowd of people cheering (including my mother, and my friends Rachel and Jeff) were all standing. There’s nothing worse than wanting to stop for just a split second and thank people and know that you just don’t have the time. I gasped for breath, ran around one last corner, and shuffled onto the on-ramp. A minute later, John and Sarah scrambled on as well, and I looked at my watch. 1:59pm. Victory.

After all of that, the last five miles all sort of blur together. After walking for about half a mile, Sarah and I decided to start running again, but before long I had to slow down and gain some more energy. I finally ran into my friend Pam at mile 23 and we did the last three miles together. It felt great to finish, although I must admit that when I saw the finish line the adrenaline kicked in again and I zoomed by about five or six people to finish. Yeah, I know, it only knocked off about two seconds, but it just felt good.

So, to make a very long story short, a less than admirable finish. I am proud of the fact that I finished, because I wanted to stop far too often. It’s depressing to finish almost half an hour slower than your previous year’s time, but I’ll take a small victory over a big one. And most importantly, I raised over $2000 for the Whitman-Walker Clinic. That’s no small potatoes. Hopefully next time all that bad luck will be good luck instead. Right now, though, I’m just going to enjoy sleeping in on Saturday mornings… for at least a week or two.

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Marine Corps Marathon 2002

October 27th, 2002

Well, the Marine Corps Marathon has come and gone… and fortunately, I’ve survived to tell the experience! Since I knew what I was getting into this year, I thought it would be a pretty drama-free training season. Between twisting my ankle while walking through a parking lot (not even while training, I might add) and having to make up as much of a 23-mile run as I could by myself, though, there was still some excitement. Before I knew it, though, the training was over and it was time to do this crazy thing all over again.

One nice thing about the timing of the marathon is that Daylight Savings Time hits the night before… so you get an extra hour of sleep for the big day! (And if you forget to reset your clock, well, you’ll just get to the race an hour early!) Even then, I didn’t put anything to chance, laying out everything I needed the night before and using a checklist developed several weeks ago with the rest of my pace group. By 7am I was heading out the door, wondering if I’d still managed to forget something, and driving over to the Metro.

When Julie and I got on our train, it was already packed full of runners and their families; it was a fun sight to see all the people getting ready for the race. The one or two people on our train who weren’t going to the marathon must have been wondering what the heck was going on! When we got off at Rosslyn, the lines leading up and out of the Metro station were gigantic, and started giving me the first hint of just how big the Marine Corps Marathon really is. When I ran the Baltimore Marathon last year, there were 6000 participants. For the Marine Corps Marathon this year, the number I kept hearing tossed around was 18,000. By the time we got to the starting point (the Iwo Jima Memorial), the difference was staggering. There were a lot of runners in Baltimore, but this… this was something else.

My pace group quickly found each other (Julie, Madelyn, Leslie, Debbie, and Chris, although Chris was going to run with a slightly slower one to keep from burning out) and we all headed over to the starting line. The starting gun went off, and we… didn’t go anywhere. This was actually expected; with this many runners, and by lining up based on our projected finishing times, there were a lot of runners ahead of us that had to move first. So instead we listened to the various inspirational songs that the Marines kept playing (my favorite was Tom Petty’s "Runnin’ Down a Dream") until, about fifteen minutes in… we started moving! Hurrah! We crossed the starting line just over twenty minutes after the race began, and we were off!

It was tough for the first couple of miles to not race off as fast as we could, so we kept trying to pull back and reserve our strength… with not a terribly high amount of success! By the time we started rounding the Pentagon around mile 5, though, we had all settled into a pretty good groove. It was right around there that my parents first showed up, which was a nice boost to my spirits—it makes such a big difference to see people you know in what is often otherwise a huge sea of strange faces, and knowing that they really are cheering you on and not just shouting random names.

Before too long, we were heading up near Arlington National Cemetary and towards Key Bridge, which we’d cross to head out of Virginia and into Washington DC. It was around there that we seemed to have found a pretty good pattern for our group; Leslie and Debbie would be about 40 feet ahead of Julie and me, while Madelyn was about 40 feet behind us. Julie would shout out to the ladies in front of us when it was time to walk, since neither of them had a watch that had a timer function. My parents showed up again (and gave me a sandwich bag with much-needed pretzels), before heading home to pick up the video camera and come back later on in the course. It was soon after that where we began to approach the Key Bridge and I started getting extra-special excited; that’s where several of us last year cheered on friends running the Marine Corps Marathon, but this time the situation was reversed. My friend Jeff was there, and with his words of encouragement we ran over the Potomac River and into the city.

Julie and I caught up with Leslie and Debbie as we headed through a two-and-a-half mile stretch in Rock Creek Park. It was around then that clouds finally showed up, to our delight. A bright sunny day, which is what we’d been running in up until then, is not ideal weather for a marathon; overcast and cool is much better, since it keeps you from overheating. By the time we left the shade of Rock Creek Park, we’d been cheered on by my friend Marc and Julie’s mother, and with our good spirits we also finally had the weather we’d been praying for. As we did so, we also hit the halfway point; our time for the first half was looking really good, and everything seemed in place for a really good finishing time.

It was actually around then, though, that we lost our two speedy members; they’d been saying earlier that they were going to try and pick the pace up at the halfway point, and that’s exactly what they did. I wasn’t terribly surprised, and we wished them luck as the distance between us and them grew. It was also around this point, though, that we first began to pass people. Not many, but it was definitely happening. There was one person from another run site (who’d acted we ran too slow for him when he was visiting) that we zipped past near the Lincoln Memorial just past mile 14. It’s a little petty, but it was sort of nice to get the ego boost of passing by someone who kept saying how very slow we were. (Our entire group ended up finishing before this person, as it turned out.)

From there it was across the National Mall; the Marine Corps Marathon is sometimes called the Marathon of Monuments, and it’s easy to see why. Running down the Mall was a big thrill, passing all the different museums and monuments that I’ve grown up with. My parents showed up again in this stretch, as well as friends Karon and Andy who were taking pictures. Before long, though, they were just specks on the horizon as we headed towards Union Station, before getting ready for the big trek up Capitol Hill. I can’t remember who commented later that you never really think of Capitol Hill actually being a hill until you have to run up it, but that thought is very true! Julie and I were getting a little weary at this point, and the hill was just looking more and more daunting with every passing second. So, we decided to take a minute off of our run cycle and add it onto our walk cycle. We walked as quickly as we could, but that extra minute of walking made our run cycles a little stronger than they had been up until then.

It was at the 19-mile point right as we headed back onto the National Mall that our friend Laura showed up. She decided to head with us on our return trip across the Mall, and her good spirits really helped us keep going. We saw Marc and then Julie’s parents again as we zoomed across the Mall and down towards the Tidal Basin. By now we were definitely feeling a little beat, but we couldn’t give up because of our big nemesis, the 14th Street Bridge. You’re supposed to get across the 14th Street Bridge by 2:00pm, or get scooped up by the dreaded Slowpoke Bus. (At that point they’re supposed to open the bridge back up to traffic.) Now we knew that you can refuse to get on the bus and that there’s a pedestrian footpath you can take in case of emergency, but if that bus is bearing down on you, it can crush your spirit pretty well, and the idea of having to stick to the tiny footpath with traffic roaring by is not my idea of a good time.

So we were pushing forward as best as we could, and all around us were other people from the AIDS Marathon training program. Everyone kept saying, "Are we going to make it? Are we going to make it?" We could see the 22 mile marker, and we knew that we were almost there, since the bridge is just half a mile past that. It was right around then that Carolyn, one of the AIDS Marathon Program Reps, came running up to us. "Do you see that?" she said, pointing ahead to a side street… with three large school buses. "Those are the slowpoke buses! You’ve got to get in front of them before they start moving! Don’t stop running until you get to the bridge, you can walk then!"

And so we ran. And ran. And ran. Our friend Pam (who did the program with us last year) was there to cheer us but we couldn’t stop even for a second because after all of this, we were determined to beat the bridge! By the time we got onto the ramp leading up to the bridge (just about half of a mile since we started our panicked sprint), I was starting to wheeze and gasp out of exhaustion and terror and I felt like I couldn’t go any further. About fifteen feet ahead of me, I could see Laura urging Julie to keep going forward. One of the AIDS Marathon staffers ran up to me and said, "You’re almost there! Don’t give up!" She grabbed my arm and just going a couple of steps with her was all I needed—I pulled ahead (she promptly went back to help someone else in need) and we officially made it onto the 14th Street Bridge before the cut-off point. Victory!

Ok, victory was still over three miles away, but short of utter disaster we’d made it. We walked for a little bit on the bridge, and everyone else there seemed to have the same idea; that half-mile sprint had knocked the wind out of everyone’s sails. As we were on the bridge we ran into Thaphne and Angie (plus Thaphne’s adorable dog Kelly) who were there to give us some very badly needed cheering. Finally, though, I suggested that we start back up on our running. As tempting as it would be to walk the rest of the way in, that rest period had done a lot of good and I knew we still had enough energy for a strong finish.

As we went across the rest of the bridge, we started passing runners again—and then I noticed that we were quite possibly the only people in sight still running! It was a great feeling, even at our creaking pace, to be passing people again, and to hear a bunch of the other marathoners saying, "Good job! Keep going!" as we passed them. We finally dropped off Laura at the Pentagon—five miles after she first met up with us! Wow! (I think Laura secretly wants to run marathons as well.) She was such an amazing source of inspiration to keep moving as fast as we could during that stretch, and it made all the difference in the world.

Because the course doubles back on itself a bunch, we were actually on pretty familiar ground at this point. This was good, because before we’d been able to see the 25-mile marker when we were really only just past mile 7, but this time it was for real. As we approached it, we saw my friend Britt walking along the course. Britt and Steve were doing the program this year, but were in a slightly faster pace group. When we caught up with her she ran with us for almost half a mile before dropping back a bit to conserve her energy.

That energy would no doubt be needed for the final obstacle of the course—the infamous hill up towards the Iwo Jima Memorial. It’s short, but boy is it steep! We had one final surprise waiting for us there, though. Last week we’d gone up to Baltimore to cheer on fellow AIDS Marathoner Barbara, and she was on the hill giving us the support and encouragement we needed to head up it. It was great to see her there, and we pushed our way up that final distance and into the home stretch.

Before we knew it, the race was over. We’d run across the finish line, and I had a medal around my neck while a Marine untied my shoe to remove the timing chip that tracked my progress across the course. Leslie and Debbie had both already finished (with some wonderful finishing times), and Madelyn and Chris finished not too far after us. Before long I was ready take the Metro back home and take one of the best showers of my entire life.

I was absolutely delighted with my time this year; I’d said that I wanted to just be in the 6-hour zone somewhere, but I was really hoping to break the 6:30 barrier. My final time ended up being 6:25:02, so I managed to hit that goal and have trimmed 40 minutes off of last year’s time. I wish my second half of the marathon had been as strong as the first half, but overall I’m still very happy.

So, now what? Between now and next summer I’m going to keep running (taking a couple of weeks off first, though!) and maybe do some 5Ks and 10Ks races here and there. (In non-metric, 3.1 and 6.2 miles, respectively.) Then when summer rolls around, the plan is to train for the Virginia Beach Rock ‘N Roll Half Marathon for the end of August. It should be a lot of fun, and it’s only 13 miles instead of 26! Piece of cake, right? Julie and Britt have also signed up for it, and hopefully some other running buddies will do so as well. Depending on how I feel about it, I may also do the AIDS Marathon program one more time starting next September, in a program that would culminate in the Mardi Gras Marathon down in New Orleans.

Right now, though, I’m planning on just trying to get through this bad cold that I picked up yesterday. Bleah. Hopefully I’ll have kicked it by tomorrow! Oh well, at least I waited until after the marathon to get sick!

Last but not least, though, a huge thanks to everyone who was able to help with my fundraising efforts for the Whitman-Walker Clinic. In a time when their funds are lower than ever, it meant a great deal to raise just over $2000 for them. No matter how beaten down I may feel today, there are a lot of other people out there who feel a lot worse, every day, and it’s good to know that a little pain at my end is going to make their lives a lot better. Thanks again!

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Baltimore Marathon 2001

October 20th, 2001

My first year participating in the AIDS Marathon program was an exciting one. I’d never run more than what I was forced to do in gym class, and that was over a decade earlier. Each week I pushed through a little more distance, discovered the joys of shin splints and how to avoid them, and made some great friends in the process. Finally, twenty-four weeks later, my co-worker, running partner, and great friend Julie and I drove up to Baltimore to participate in the inaugural Baltimore Marathon. I’d planned on running it with her as well as with Emily, Madelyn, and Pam, three other women in my training group.

Julie and I headed up to Baltimore early the day before (we had hotel rooms so we didn’t have to drive up the morning of), so we could have lunch with her friend Andrea. I’d met Andrea before and like her a lot, so this sounded like a good idea to me. Andrea greeted us with helium balloons saying "Good Luck!" which was the perfect way to start the day. After getting horribly lost trying to find our hotel (it is very easy to get to driving from the south; very, very difficult to get to driving from the north) we finally checked in—and ran into Jeanie and Joanie, a pair of sisters who also ran in our pace group. We walked up to PSI Net Stadium and picked up our packets. The Baltimore Marathon had assigned the numbers alphabetically (except for the first 200, which were for the big-name runners), which meant that Julie got to look all snazzy and cool with #401. Meanwhile, I was a lowly #3950.

We also picked up and tested our ChampionChips that afternoon. A ChampionChip is a little device that you attach to your shoe. When you run across the starting line, it scans the ChampionChip and records what time you actually started the marathon. Since most people will have started the race after it began (in huge races like the Marine Corps Marathon, it can take fifteen or twenty minutes to get across the starting line!), this gives you a much more accurate time. At the Baltimore Marathon, your ChampionChip also got scanned at the halfway point (13.1 miles) as well as the finish; other marathons often have places like the 15K and 30K points scan the ChampionChip.

We hung around PSI Net Stadium for a bit to check out the big Running Expo set up there, decided we didn’t need anything, and headed back just in time for Emily and Pam to arrive. After they got all of their stuff, it was time for dinner, which meant carbohydrates. We ended up eating at the Uno’s at the Inner Harbor, sitting out on a patio overlooking the water. It was really pretty, and unfortunately, also really cold after about ten minutes. (The breeze coming directly off the water is quite cold!) We were really happy when our food arrived simply because it was warm.

Then it was back to the hotel (after many twists and turns—remember what I said about how difficult it is to drive to the hotel from a northern direction?) as Emily and Pam decorated their singlets for the marathon. Julie and I had put iron-on letters onto our singlets; our names were on the front, and on the back we put "Oh Baby!" on Julie’s and "Hot Damn!" on mine. We figured this might help the spectators find the right words to cheer us on. Susan, Julie’s sister, arrived soon afterwards and we all headed off to bed to toss and turn in anticipation of the morning.

Before we knew it, morning had arrived. We headed over to the stadium and hung around the AIDS Marathon hospitality tent trying to find our other friends. We finally headed to the starting line, wondering what had happened to Madelyn—she finally showed up maybe ten minutes before we started, having been caught in traffic. A group of friends (Karon, Jeff, Steve, and Britt) also appeared suddenly, each holding up a sign with a letter on it to spell out "GREG". It was a great sight to see, and it really cheered me up. Suddenly the crowd started moving forward… and we were off! Pretty soon, our group solidified into me, Julie, Emily, and Madelyn.

The first couple of miles went through the Inner Harbor and Fells Point areas, which I’m pretty familiar with. We really had to hold ourselves back at first to keep from running too fast and burn out. We paced ourselves pretty well, though, about halfway through the third mile our path suddenly headed north, away from the water, and into new territory… almost all of it uphill.

I’m not joking about the uphill part; we’d heard that the Baltimore Marathon was an extremely hilly course, but we had no idea just how bad it really was. It makes me feel better, several days later, to see a lot of comments from experienced runners about what a very hilly and difficult course the Baltimore Marathon was. All I knew at the time was that about 3 1/2 miles into the run, we started going up, and up, and up, and up. Our speed slowed down dramatically, and I know we were all feeling the strain. I shudder to think how the one guy we saw who was jump-roping the whole marathon was doing. It was also around mile 4 that I pulled a muscle or something in my lower left calf. It hurt more and more as we continued on; perhaps not the smartest thing to do, but I’d made it this far, I wasn’t going to give up now! My doctor has diagnosed it as tendonitis (guess what still hurts a lot, days later?) and has told me not to run up so many hills in the future.

The course brought us through a lot of residential neighborhoods that I’d never seen before. This was good in terms of crowd support—a lot of people used this as an opportunity to hang out and cheer on the runners. Unfortunately, it also meant that visually things got really boring, and quickly. As a result, it was the little things that stood out; at mile 7, for instance, there was a big arch of balloons over the street, which was a nice little touch. Voortman Cookies was the sponsor of mile 7 and was handing out sugar wafer cookies there, which was also one of the only places that the marathon had thought to put out food.

Food wasn’t the only thing in short supply on the run. They’d promised Gatorade throughout the course, but after mile 4 it vanished; all the faster runners drank it and left none for us slowpokes. The only water stop that seemed to be able to ration it out well was at mile 21, which was also manned by the Army. I’m sure there’s a connection there. Unfortunately for me, in an effort to reduce weight and the cramped conditions of my waist pack, I’d gotten rid of my little container of Gatorade so I could replenish electrolytes and sodium later on. Argh.

The other thing that kept us going early on were friends and family. Emily’s husband, family, and friends, as well as Julie’s sister Susan, showed up around the 5 1/2 mile mark to cheer us on (and to take my jacket, which I’d tied around my waist some 4 miles earlier and was contemplating just throwing away, since I’d only paid $9 for it). A couple of miles later, Julie’s parents showed up. Julie’s mother should rent herself out as a professional cheerer—I’ve never seen anyone else put so much energy into it! Madelyn’s family showed up before too long afterwards, which was fun to see.

Unfortunately, the hills got to Madelyn around mile 12, and she dropped back to a slightly slower pace. So, at this point it was just three of us. We kept climbing farther and farther up the mountain… oops, I mean, the hills of Baltimore. In retrospect, one really funny thing around this time period is that people kept swearing that the last hill was the one we were seeing. We’d hit the peak of the hill, turn a corner, and oops, there’s another hill. I guess they were trying to be encouraging, but we were nearing the point where we wanted to turn around and yell at people who kept telling us about these mythical "final hills" that never appeared.

Around mile 18, though, things did finally level off, aside from one final horrific hill a mile or two later. It was right after mile 21 that a couple of nice things happened, though. First, we finally found the lake in Druid Hill Park, which we’d all written up as being non-existent. (No one could remember where on the map it was located, but were all convinced we should have seen it by then.) Even better, my friend Cris showed up to cheer us on. He’d parked his car around mile 23 and then walked almost a mile and a half backwards along the trail to find us. Now that he was that far in, he ended up keeping up with us for that mile and a half back to his car. His company definitely helped keep us going, and we all really appreciated his good spirits.

Soon after he left, Emily needed to slow down; she’d hurt her back earlier in the week, and the sun beating down on us wasn’t helping matters. For a change, though, my aching calf/ankle wasn’t giving me many problems, so I decided I was going to keep going at the pace we’d been moving at. Julie initially stayed with Emily, but soon decided that she needed to keep trucking along as well, and caught up with me within half a mile.

Finally we found the downhill stretch—all three miles of it—and picked up our pace a bit in an effort to see if we could finish before the 7 hour mark. Our AIDS Marathon program rep, Yael, showed up about a mile later to cheer us on, as well as some other runners from our site who would be running the Marine Corps Marathon a week later. It really made a big difference, and with the emotional boost, we pushed on as hard as we could. We could see the stadium off in the distance, and got excited as it got closer, and closer, and closer…

…and then suddenly we had to run AWAY from the stadium. I don’t know who put that part into the course, but I’d like to have a little talk with them. Talk about discouraging! Suddenly all our steam vanished, and we limped along the last stretch. We finally circled the stadium itself, rounded a corner, and there it was. The finish line. Julie and I sprinted towards the finish line, all energy suddenly back. I grabbed Julie’s hand and we charged across the line with our hands triumphantly raised in the air. My final chip time was 6:65:16. Ok, it’s really 7:05:16. I’m sure if the course had been a bit flatter our speed would have easily been under seven hours, but now I have a good future goal.

Was it worth it? Definitely. Will I do this again? Well, not the Baltimore Marathon unless they seriously rethink the course. On the other hand, I hear the Myrtle Beach Marathon down in South Carolina is nice and flat. And there’s always the goal of getting fast enough to do the Marine Corps Marathon next year…

Thanks have to go out to all my great sponsors, as well as Yael and Jen, coaches extraordinaire. A couple people, though, deserve extra-special thanks. Once they finally got used to the idea ("I promise I won’t exert myself so hard I have a heart attack and die"), my family has been incredibly supportive. My friends Steve and Britt Conley have been lifelines throughout this whole process, keeping my spirits up when I found myself wondering why I had ever agreed to do this. Finally, Chad Jones (whose progress I watched last year when he did this) has been my unofficial coach and mentor, looking out for me ever step of the way. There’s no way I could have done this without any of these people. Believe me when I say thank you from the bottom of my heart, all of you.

Me, I’m going to enjoy being able to sleep in on Saturday mornings for the first time in quite a while.

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