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.