I’m not sure where to start.
So much has happened in the past three days that it’s hard to find a place to start this recap, so I’ll just tell it from the beginning.
I arrived in DC on Saturday afternoon to beautiful skies, warm temperatures and trees decorated in the full, colorful glory of fall. After meeting up with my friends at our hotel near the start line, we traveled for what felt like forever on the Blue Line to the MCM Expo at the DC Armory. Picking up our bibs in a tent across from the actual armory was a piece of cake, thanks to the efficient nature of U.S. Marines.
The expo turned out to be smaller than I thought it would be. There wasn’t much merchandise left, and what was being sold was only available in XL and XXL sizes, which brings me to this question: “How many XXL sizes did you need to stock for marathon runners?” After perusing the booths for awhile, I said goodbye to the group and headed back across the Potomac to Virginia to meet up with my siblings for dinner.
Both my beautiful sisters, Melissa and Donna, made the trip to DC to watch me run. Melissa had never stepped foot on a plane before, and neither of them had been to DC, so this was a weekend of firsts for all of us. We ate dinner at an Italian restaurant in Old Town Alexandria, where the streets were abuzz with people dressed in Halloween costumes.
I bid adieu to my sisters and made my way back to my room, where I was sure I wouldn’t get any sleep. I never sleep before races. I usually just lie there, occasionally drifting off and waking up terrified of missing the start time. This time was different. Three minutes after my head hit the pillow, I was out like a light.
I woke up at 5:00, and it took a few minutes for me to realize that THIS was the day I’d been working toward for a long time. I showered, went through my pre-race prep (I forgot to put on deodorant. Sorry, everyone who ran near me.), dressed and headed down to the lobby to meet up with my friends. We walked from our hotel in Crystal City to the MCM shuttle location, where a long line had already formed. Once again, the orderliness and efficiency of a military-driven event came through, and we were on the bus to the runners village in no time.
All week long, Hurricane Sandy threatened the race with heavy gusts and torrential downpours. I quickly checked the weather on my phone and saw a strong line of thunderstorms approaching Baltimore. I was convinced that this was going to be a cold, wet 26 miles and 385 yards.
We all went to our respective corrals (based on expected time of finish), and I found myself somehow alone with 30,000 other runners. I was determined to meet a pacing friend, and I found Lynn, a mother of two from Atlanta who was running her fifth marathon (third MCM). She had planned to finish in five hours, so I asked if she would pace me for the first few miles. I have a terrible tendency of running way too fast at the beginning of races and paying for it later. I knew that if I did that with a marathon, I would be a goner.
Confession: when the howitzer fired, I instantly had to poop.
It took about 20 minutes for Lynn and I to cross the start line, but when we did, there was an instant rush of adrenaline that washed over me. Fighting back the urge to run as fast as I could, I held back, checking the pace on a borrowed watch to make sure I was on track.
The course took us past throngs of supporters and into the streets of Rosslyn, where, somehow, there were even more supporters. I’m pretty sure I had a goofy smile on my face through these first couple miles. This was happening! I was running a marathon!
We climbed the inclines of northern Virginia and coasted on the downhills, all the while dodging the swarm of runners all around us. At mile four, we crossed the Key Bridge into Georgetown, and I made myself do something that was mentally very, very tough for me – I walked. I knew that I wasn’t going to run the entire marathon, and that I would need to conserve energy, I’d promised myself that I would walk through the water stops, and this was already the second one (I skipped the first…and a few others). So for 60 seconds, I walked, even though I still had a ton of adrenaline coursing through my veins.
When we picked back up again, we were coming off the end of the bridge, and out of nowhere (and I mean nowhere), I saw my friend, Matt, coming back toward me from the out-and-back loop. He was flying. I yelled out to him and continued on my way. I’d picked up the pace a bit, and Lynn stuck with me for awhile, but then, just like that, she was gone. Lynn, if you’re reading this, I hope you finished strong and made your family proud.
Climbing a hill at mile 7 in Georgetown, things got crazy congested. Supporters were crowding the sides of the street, which was narrow, anyway. I felt someone touch my back, and I whipped around to see my friend, Kyle, running beside me. I was now less than a third of the way into the race, and I’d somehow managed to see two of the five people I knew running. Kyle and I chatted for a minute, but she’s a run/walker, so our paces didn’t align enough for us to carry on a huge conversation, so we told each other good luck and went about our way.
As we entered the main thoroughfare of Georgetown, the crowds grew immensely. There was so much energy in the streets, and my smile was still beaming from ear to ear. One of the bands in this area was playing “Brown Eyed Girl,” and all the racers sang along with the chorus. I was having a blast.
Around mile 9, I passed a woman holding a sign cheering on The T-Rex Runner (read her recap), and I yelled out to her, “Hey, I follow that blog!” Her response: “She’s right behind you.” I turned around to see Danielle about 10 feet behind me. We hugged right there in the middle of the race and wished each other good luck. I found out later from runner extraordinaire Dan that she and I were within a few minutes of each other for pretty much the entire marathon.
Mile 11 (which somehow turned out to be my fastest mile at 9:08) took us toward Hains Point, a desolate area with few supporters and plenty of wind from the approaching frankenstorm. It was cold, and I started to get tired, but nothing hurt, so I kept pushing on. Mile 15 brought my favorite sign of the race: “If this was easy, it would be called your mom.” Fantastic.
At mile 16, I pulled out my phone and sent a text to my sisters to let them know where I was. Our meeting point was in front of the Smithsonian, just past the 30k mark, which was still three miles away. While I still felt fine, I was really starting to tire.
So much like I do on long training runs, I zoned out. Wherever the person in front of me was going, I was going.
Lost in my mind’s fogginess, all of a sudden, I heard someone yelling my name. And it was from familiar voices. I looked up to see my sisters jumping and screaming for me. All along, I figured I would cry when I saw them. I can admit that. But the fact that they were two miles ahead of where I expected to see them and that I was in a runner’s haze combined for the reaction you see below.
I hugged and gave them each a kiss and took off, rejuvenated from just seeing them there. It already meant a lot that they came, but the fact that they were here, cheering for me out of all these other runners, was enough to bring back the smile on my face and some fresh energy in my legs.
The course took us around the National Mall, past the Capitol and back down Jefferson Drive.
And that was when my calves locked up. Mile 19 was hard. Probably the hardest mile of the entire race for me. My sisters were there again, but this time I didn’t have the energy to run over and hug them. I tried to smile, but I think it came off as a grimace.
At the next aid station, I gulped down three cups of Gatorade, hoping the salinity of the drink would help with the tightening in my legs. I kept pushing toward the 14th Street Bridge, which would take us back into Virginia and ever closer to the finish line.
What mile 19 brought in physical distress, mile 20 brought in mental angst. That bridge looked 12 miles long. All uphill. With no one cheering us on. My mind started playing tricks on me. I couldn’t concentrate on any one thought for more than a few minutes, and I didn’t know if I was technically running anymore. I wasn’t alone, though. I think there were more walkers than runners at this point, but out of pride, I kept making the motions of running as much as possible. Fake it til you make it.
When we arrived back in Virginia, I told myself that I would walk at every mile marker for the rest of the race. It would be a little reward for getting through each of them. Miles 21-23 were, well, just difficult. The watch I was wearing had died, so I just guessed at how long my minute breaks were. Some of them were longer than others.
At mile 24, right in front of the Pentagon, I picked up my feet and found some fresh legs. I know this sounds crazy, but it actually felt better to run at that point than to walk. I bought into that idea and kept going at an 11:00/mile pace. Good enough for me.
For most of the race, the aid stations had been positioned about a hundred yards before the mile marker. We were about to descend a parkway off-ramp onto the Jefferson Davis Highway when I spotted the last water stop below. I perked up at the thought of making it to that station with just a mile to go. Call it a pleasant surprise when mile 25 appeared before the off-ramp! I took one last gulp of Gatorade and set out to finish this thing.
And once again, my sisters had found me. I don’t even know how they got to mile 25 and a half-ish (there is a story involving some barefoot running and payment to a guy driving a coach that I still don’t fully understand), but there they were, standing on the side of the road and cheering for me. I wanted to run over and hug them for a long time, but more than that, I wanted to show them that I could finish this race strong. They ran alongside me for awhile, and Donna snapped this pic a few hundred yards before the finish line.
I made the turn up the hill for that last .2 miles and couldn’t hold back my emotions. Only it wasn’t crying. It was elation. I involuntarily laughed and let out a sound that was somewhere between relief and euphoria. I charged up the hill, raised my hands in the air and crossed the finish line with a smile on my face.
Official chip time: 4:53:29
I know that’s not the fastest time in the world, but it was good enough for 13,613th place, and I couldn’t be prouder of it.
Somewhat delirious, I made my way through the finish line activities and found my sisters. I was so happy. I took advantage of the free massage and picked up a finisher’s shirt, where I witnessed three people pass out in line. I felt great, though, so I started to wonder if everything would hit me like a ton of bricks. I still feel fine, aside from aches and soreness in my legs and bruised feet.
Waiting in my hotel was an unexpected treat from my friends, Eileen and Scott. A whole platter of goodies that our group pretty much destroyed without delay.
I’ll spare you all the Hurricane Sandy mess that involved last-minute flight cancellations, car rentals and a seat on the next-to-last flight out of DC, but Divine intervention guided all day Sunday. We were never rained on in the race, my knee/foot didn’t hurt, we all finished (including Amie, Dawn, Matt, Kyle and her husband, Chris) and we all got home safely before the storm hit. For that, I’m humbly grateful.
I don’t know how to put into words what this accomplishment feels like. I’ve never been an athlete, and there were times I doubted that I could do this, but there is pure enjoyment in achieving something you work so hard for.
And if I can do this, anyone can.
Keep running, friends.