We just finished our first marathon!
As soon as we crossed the start line, a wave of giddiness washed over me. I was running a marathon! Energy levels were high, the air was brisk, adrenaline was pumping, people were cheering, it was hard NOT to be giddy and excited. Remembering our yoga lessons from the day before, Ben and I started slow, working to wake up our legs and get into a gentle, steady rhythm. Before we knew it, 4 miles had gone by, and we found ourselves running across Roslyn Bridge and into Georgetown. We hadn’t had too many spectators between miles 1 and 4, but Georgetown was awash with people cheering, playing music, etc. The only downside was that this was one of the sections where the course double-backed, so you could see the hard-core runners sprinting back on the other side, which served as a painful reminder that they were so much faster than you, and would finish so much earlier than you.The morning of our marathon we woke up bright and early for a 5:30 am breakfast of bagels and coffee, and then were quickly out the door for a warm-up jog to the metro. Luckily we had a straight shot to Pentagon City on the yellow line, which took us less than 15 minutes. However, we were not prepared for the mass of humanity waiting to exit the metro at our final destination, and it took us another 20 minutes just to get ourselves off the platform, up the escalators, through the exit turnstiles, and out the door of the metro station. We followed the throng of thousands for a mile walk to Runner’s Village, where we watched the Osprey flyover and tandem jump while waiting in a crowd to get through “security,” a half-assed and entirely unneccessary “bag search” that created an annoying traffic jam without really enhancing security in any meaningful way. By the time we got into the Runner’s Village, it was 7:30, only half an hour till the start of the race, and we still had to check bags and wait in the long port-o-potty lines to do some very important business before the race! We decided that two of us would save spots in the bathroom lines, while two ran to check our bags. Taking off our warm clothing was not so much fun, as it was a very nippy morning, but we did and dutifully waited in line while standing in a huddle to keep the wind off us. By the time all 4 of us had finished with the port-o-potty, it was 7:55, five minutes to start! We quickly jogged the 1/4 mile from Runner’s Village to the start line and found our pace corals just as the clock hit 8 and the first runners took off. It took Ben and I another 12 minutes to cross the start line, and then, we were off!!!!
It was between miles 5 and 8 that I began paying attention to other runners. There were certainly a good deal of people in costumes, being that the race was the day before Halloween. Some were dressed as superheros, which worked well with athletic clothing. Others wore costumes that looked tremendously bulky and uncomfortable, including one dressed as a rubber whoopy cushion, and one dressed as Uncle Sam, beard and hat and all. Other runners were carrying random objects, including an oar for rowing. I’m sure these objects held some symbolic significance, I just didn’t ask. And then you had the marines, running with their heavy boots (which I’ve heard are uncomfortable), and 35 pound packs on their backs. Andy said he even saw a marine running with another marine on his back. He didn’t know if they were alternating or if the runner had to carry the other for the whole 26.2 miles. If it was the latter, I’m sure it sucked for both the carrier AND the carryee. In any case, I’ll take a sidebar to note that all the marines present at the MCM, both the runners and volunteers, were super professional, friendly, and impressive people. It was a joy to experience, and I certainly wish everyone in the U.S. armed forces were such exemplar representatives of their country and service, but I know sadly that is not the case.
Between miles 8 and 9 we had finished our northern loop and were running back through Georgetown. Ben and I were still in high spirits and goofing off. At mile marker 9, I gave my phone to Ben to snap a picture of me cheesing in front of the sign with two marines behind so I could tweet it. As you can tell, we were absolutely totally serious hardcore runners. As I was cheesing with my peace signs, I heard someone shout my name. It turned out to be my colleague Patrick, who was also running and only noticed me because of my photo shenanigans. I mean really, who stops to take pictures in the middle of a race? We said hello, and then continued at our separate paces (Ben and I were a bit faster than my colleague). We continued our run south towards the Lincoln Memorial, and that’s when the mob of spectators quadrupled! As we were bending around Ohio Drive in front of the Lincoln Memorial, the space for runners narrowed as the crowd pressed in on the road to cheer us on. I could have stretched out my hands and given high-fives to the spectators on both sides of the path, that’s how close they were pressing in. If they hadn’t been cheering and waving and smiling, it would have been quite suffocating and ominous, but the mood was overwhelmingly exuberant so I don’t think any runners minded the crush.
We had just passed mile ten when I felt it… a sharp pain up my knee. An expletive immediately came to mind, but a few more strides and the pain subsided. However, it was a bad sign to have knee pain so early in the run. A short while later, Ben also admitted to having some ankle pains. We were not even half-way through the race… this was not good at all. Miles 11-13 Ben and I ran mostly in silence, listening to our joints, trying to assess what our bodies were telling us. Was that throb a warning that a muscle was about to tear? Those needle pricks a precursor to a sprain? Our fear was not that we’d injure ourselves, but that we would not be able to finish the race.
Luckily, I had extra-strength advil in my pocket, one for me, one for Ben. As soon as we crossed mile 13, we popped them in, and hoped for the best as we continued along. The trouble with my knee pain was that it hurt the most if I stopped or slowed, and then re-started. So from mile 13 on, I couldn’t slow down for water or snack breaks. Ben, being the good big brother he is, would go off to the side and grab water and snacks for two while I trotted on ahead steadily, and then he would pick up the pace to catch up with me and hand me a cup and food, which I would down while still maintaining a steady pace. He did that for every water and food break for most of the remainder of the race, which of course put him at a disadvantage in terms of maintaining his strength and energy. Thanks Ben!
Andy found us at mile 15, and mostly stayed with us on his bike as we ran around the mall, past the museums, toward the Capitol. He had his camera, and was snapping away, until mile 19, when we were just doubling back from the Capitol, he tried to take a video and discovered there was no memory card in his camera! All this time he had been taking photos, none of the photos had been saved. A pity, but there were of course photos available to purchase. from mile 15 to 20, things went fairly steadily for Ben and I, although Ben had to exert more energy and speed for all the snacks and water he was bringing to me. All that extra effort finally took a toll on Ben between mile 20 and 21, just as we made it onto the Bridge back over to Virginia. His ankle and calves were hurting, and he had to stop and stretch. Unfortunately, I knew if I stopped, I wouldn’t be able to restart with my bum knee, and very apologetically abandoned Ben on the bridge. The bridge was the worst part of the run for me, not just because I was separated from my running partner. Mentally, you are rejoicing at the fact that you only have a 10k left to run, but also cursing the fact that you still have a 10k to run. Plus, you are on a long concrete slab of a bridge, with only the concrete city of Roslyn looming ahead of you, not very emotionally inspiring. Plus, there were no spectators on the bridge, they’d been routed to a pedestrian path, which meant no cheering for motivation, and also meant I didn’t have Andy pedaling within sight to give some comfort. That was the longest mile of the run.
I finally got to the other side, but couldn’t find Andy. All I could do was steel myself and run the last five miles through Crystal City and back toward Roslyn by myself. I spent miles 21 through 23 reciting a mantra in my head to the rhythm of my feet slapping the pavement, “smooth and steady….smooth and steady.”
At mile 22 my stomach began gurgling. It didn’t feel so great. For a mile I debated whether I should stop and use a port-0-potty, or steel myself and finish the race. At mile 23 I noticed a band of port-o-potties with no one standing in line for them, and took it as a sign I should use the restroom now. I thanked the MCM gods that I had paid attention at the First Timers Pep Rally and brought along a “poopy pack” (extra tissues), because there was indeed no toilet paper left in the stall. My knee was not happy at having to start up again after that break, but I pushed through the initial pain and got back into rhythm for the last 3.2 miles. “smooth and steady….smooth and steady.” Finally, after what seemed like ages, I got to mile 25, the point of no return. As I was passing under a bridge, I heard someone yell my name from the other side of the road. Andy had found me! He had been looking for me since he was detoured at the bridge. The last full mile was a straight long road, which allowed Andy to bike beside me on the other side of the grassy meridian. I had mixed feelings about his presence, glad that he was there, self-conscious about my running speed. I wasn’t about to slow down to a walk, but his presence ensured that I’d keep my pace as fast as I could. Finally, mile 26 arrived, .2 more!! I pushed up a final hill, a bend, surrounded by swarms of people, lost Andy, and finally, the finish line! I jumped across the finish line, too elated to even look at the time on the clock.
And then I was stuck. The finishing pen was PACKED. I couldn’t move. I was shoulder to shoulder with others who had spent the last 4.5 hours running, only to find themselves at a stand still in a crowd with no space to cool down or stretch. Everyone at least was in good spirits after finishing, but I felt bewildered and lost. Another crowd again. How would I find Ben? I was the only one who had a phone. How long till I could see Andy? He had disappeared in the crowd outside the finishers coral. The reason for the logjam was that a row of marines were personally putting medals around the necks of every finisher and shaking his/her hand. A very nice touch, but slow-going when there are 30,000 runners. I got past the initial logjam, and found a cinder block to stand on as I waited and scanned for Ben inside the finishers coral. Every passing minute made me worry whether Ben’s injuries had been so bad that he couldn’t finish, but in less than ten minutes I had found him coming up through the throng of finishers. We took some victory photos, got our gatorade and bananas, and finally found Andy.
And then we tried to get home. Andy had his bike, so he left us on that. Our initial plan was to take the metro, but it was too packed to even get inside the station. Then we saw a line for the bus, which we decided was also too long. The taxi line was longer. Our only course of action was to walk to a point where we could get on some sort of transportation. So, after having run 26.2 miles (on top of the 2 miles that it took for us to get to the start line), we walked another 1.5 miles over Roslyn Bridge and through Georgetown, where Mom and Dad came to get us. Thanks parents!
All in all, Ben and I covered about 30 miles on foot that day. Here’s to our next marathon in Las Vegas in December!