Note: This was originally posted on my blog so if some references don't make sense, that's why. FYI, this was my first marathon so bear with me .
I had a lot of support for this one. My wife and daughter, Cat and Julia, came, of course, as well as my mom and my father-in-law, JP, who flew down from Canada. We had quite a van-load full as we drove up Friday and stayed in Alexandria. I had been carbo loading since Thursday so I had bananas, plums, Gatorade, pretzels and other goodies the whole way up. We got in and I hopped on the Metro to get to the packet pickup. That was my first indication of the size of this thing. As I was walking in, there was a steady stream of people filing past me on the way out with their packets. The exhibition hall was packed with presenters and info, and the Marines were there in force handling the logistics. Without the wellness expo, I could have been in and out in 5 minutes: walk up to the lieutenant for my bib number range, sign something, get my bib, walk down and get my goodie bag, walk down and claim my participant shirt and that's it. But I walked through the expo anyway.
Saturday night I swapped rooms with my mom who slept with Cat and Julia in our room so that I could both sleep decently and get up at odd hours to eat. My pre-race meal plan had me up at 4:00 to eat a fairly carb laden meal and again at 6:00, so I didn't want to get the girls up if I could help it. Everything worked out fine and I was out the door at 6:30 after greeting my cheering squad -- who opened the door with the signs they had made for me to see them -- and giving hugs and thanking everyone for their support.
I had a short half mile walk to the Metro station and was at the starting area by 7:15. That was my next indication of the size of the race. Already plenty of people and starting corrals seemingly all the way to the horizon. I did a quick nature pee -- theme of the morning as you'll discover -- and headed off to the 4:00-4:09 corral. I meant it when I said I wasn't shooting for a 4:00 time, but I still wanted to start there. I wandered around trying to keep warm in the 47 degree weather. I had my long-sleeve tech shirt with my "special" shirt on top, but it was still chilly. Then it was hurry up and wait for 45 minutes to the start.
I felt anxious. I felt excited. I felt absurdly proud. Admittedly, standing there watching all these people line up and knowing I had 26.2 miles to run for the next 4 to 5 hours was daunting. But I knew I could finish. It might hurt, but pain doesn't last.
The cannon fired, everyone cheered and my pulse jumped up by 10 even though I didn't move for another 4 minutes. As we started to move I could see under the start banners and peek under the bridge where people were streaming through. Again I felt sharp anxiety. That was going to be me, real soon. Eventually everyone got up to a jogging pace and the jostling eased a bit. As I approached the start I kept my head up looking for my family in the sea of supporters. I didn't hold much hope given the absolutely unbelievable number of spectators but something caught my eye: Julia's sign. Being the crafty little thing she is, her sign had colored feathers along the sides and colored tissue pasted along the top and bottom. Nobody else had a sign even remotely like it. I raised my arms and waved like a madman and I saw JP's jaw drop. He grabbed Cat and pointed, Cat started screaming and grabbed Julia and lifted her up and when Julia's eyes found me she broke out in a huge grin and yelled. My mom was furiously waving her sign and waving at me. That's the way to start a race.
I made it under the bridge and a few hundred feet and saw more people peel off to a convenient copse of trees for a nature pee. I did too. Not even a quarter mile in and I had to go again. I must figure out how to hydrate but not fill my bladder so bad. I got back on the road and marveled at the number of people along the course. This wasn't even one of the main spectator areas, but there was no shortage of people. I rounded a bend and saw a sign along the side of the road. MILE 1. What? There's no way I've already run a mile. A quick check of my Garmin shows that it's true. Wow. I've never had a mile disappear so quickly. My nature break cost me in pace, but I felt great.
The Good Times
The first 5K was a blur. Hell, the first 10K was a blur. I finally shed my long-sleeve tech shirt around the 5K mark and again simply couldn't believe the amount of supporters while crossing the bridge at the 4 mile mark. I admit it, I fed off the people cheering. If they had a good sign, I told them. If they were cheering I'd thank them. It was awesome.
Somewhere between 5 and 6 miles in my bladder got me again. Another stop for a nature pee. The big, fearsome hill at mile 8 according to the map wasn't so fearsome. I rounded through Georgetown and started along the Potomac toward the 10 mile marker where I expected to see everyone except my mom. Sure enough, I rounded a bend and there was Julia's sign. My wife had the best look on her face, just shining with enthusiasm. Julia snapped the only picture they took of me running.
I grabbed a banana -- I had been downing Powerade at every aid station and eating my chocolate Gu at the 4 and 7 mile marks -- and gave everyone hugs and kisses and started off... then turned back around and handed off my long-sleeve shirt that had been around my waist. Then it was back to it after getting the banana down. So many spectators were around the Lincoln Memorial I couldn't believe it. All the way up the steps, all around the curves. If the crowd was a bit quiet, I'd do my patented whistle and do a lifting motion with my arms to get them going. Feeding!
Down Hanes Point I made a tactical error when my bladder called again around 11 miles in. I didn't feel good about doing a nature break so I stopped at the porta potties and got in line. And waited. And waited. I have no idea how long I stood there in the line of around 10 people, but when only one person came out and we moved one place up I gave up and started out again. A short while later I saw someone who had been sidling up to a tree head back out so I ran off course and borrowed the tree. Damned bladder!
The half-way point came and went and I did a mental checkup. I could certainly tell I was running, but I felt good. The feet were starting to get sore, the legs were a bit fatigued, but I wasn't laboring. My wind was excellent pretty much the whole way. If only I didn't have the walnut-sized bladder. I made my way past the Lincoln Memorial again and was again struck by the sheer mass of people. Still whistling at folks, still thanking folks. "It's not sweat, it's your fat cells crying" got a nod from me as did a runner with a shirt that had "It's OK to stare" on the back. There were a lot of people who had "In memory of..." messages on their back and I'd always make an effort to give them some encouragement. That's what I should have done with my shirt, but now I know better I guess.
I lucked out and found my mom at around 18 miles in along The Mall. Our "spectator plan" had her being at the 20 mile mark on the other side of The Mall, but we got disconnected. I wasn't looking for her there but somehow spotted her behind the main line of spectators. Luck! She had a banana too and, though I fully expected to see the rest of the crew on the other side of the mall before mile 20, I took the banana and gave her a hug. This would be good given our bad luck technologically.
The Bad Times
The MCM has timing chips, of course. They also have a feature that allows you to configure text messages to cell phones whenever you cross the mat at each of the 5K points. That way you get "instantly" notified where the runner you're tracking is so you can plan accordingly. In theory. In practice my family got them only sporadically. It got so bad that I was sitting with them at Family Link Up an hour after I finished when the text message arrived to announce that I'd crossed the 30K mat. Unfortunately, they were using those notifications to plan where to be. Cat and company had no clue where I was -- aside from my vague pre-race predictions -- so when I turned the corner heading to the bridge and mile 20 I hadn't seen them. I found out later that they arrived after I had passed... because they didn't know where I was. A family friend had better internet access -- they missed me at mile 18, too, due to the networking weirdness -- and called Cat to say they'd missed me. So my family made their way to the finish area, saw the crowds and simply went to Family Link Up because by the time they got anywhere near the finish I would have been done.
I didn't know any of this. I thought nothing much of it, but I was immensely glad my mom had a banana and I didn't skip it. I had my own problems, though. The bridge. The Goddamned bridge. I don't know what it was, but I have various theories. I hadn't whizzed since mile 11 and I wasn't overly sweaty. My lips were dry. I have a feeling that my hydration finally departed. The relative lack of crowds on the bridge didn't help, nor did the grade. It wasn't steep, but it was noticeable. I was whooped. It wasn't as bad as my super-bonk on my last long run, but it didn't feel good. I walked. First time I had walked aside from my nature breaks and the aid stations. I downed a Gu with no liquid. I pulled out my iPod for the first time, just trying to find something. I ran some more and walked again, ran and walked. Made it to the aid station before Crystal City and grabbed about 4 cups of water and Powerade. Ran and walked, ran and walked. I was hoping to catch the girls and JP in Crystal City -- we had talked about it being an alternate since they had a ton of kids activities -- but I never caught a glimpse. They were heading to the Finish Festival due to the lack of info, but I didn't know. My brain started playing tricks on me. Did something happen to Julia? Did something happen to Cat? My mom? ****, I don't know.
I rounded Crystal City and got back to the aid station and had another Gu. Turned up the iPod a bit and started around the Pentagon. Somewhere in there I found some energy. I wouldn't walk any more. I had a bit of a scare taking the offramp near mile 25 as my right hamstring acted like it wanted to seize up on me, but after giving me some twinges and complaining it settled down and didn't progress into something unmanageable.
Once I could see the last stretch things improved. At around the 25 mile mark I put away the iPod. I wanted to hear everything and I didn't need the crutch anymore. Passing the place where I had stood over 4 hours previously felt amazing. After all this time and preparation, after the early mornings and painful lessons, after the incredible journey... the end was just under the bridge and up a hill. I made it under the bridge and could finally see the turn to the hill. I knew I could do that hill. It looked daunting as I ran past at the start, but I could now see the giant red finishing arch. Nothing in recent memory looked so welcoming. I made the left onto the final hill and had my head on a swivel for my family. I didn't really hear anything. The announcer was chattering, the people weren't cheering a ton, but there was some. After the steepest part it leveled off and then it was a quick dash to the finish mat where I remembered to smile.
4 hours, 30 minutes, 16 seconds officially. I'm very glad I chose to do it the way I did this year after my training. While I think I did what was required to finish, I don't think I was ready for much more than that. I know I have faster marathons in me, but I wouldn't change anything about this one unless you count the numerous pit-stops.
The mass of people was incredible again going through the finish. Marines handed me a mylar blanket and I made my way to the chutes for the finisher's medal. It might seem silly but I was quite moved at receiving my medal from this young first lieutenant. Truly a great moment. Had my picture taken in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial and then moved off to try to get to family link up. I still hadn't seen hide nor hair of my family and, yes, my worries grew. I knew Crystal City was optional, but I also knew that they were all insisting that they wanted to see the finish. I couldn't imagine a scenario where they weren't there.
I admit, I was pretty beat at the end. My legs were sore, my back was sore, my feet were little balls of ache. I wanted to lay down and sleep. Instead I made my way through the throng, eating and drinking everything in the care bag the Marines had given me as I worked my way first up the hill then down toward the finish festival. I really didn't know what to do aside from go to family link up as we'd agreed. I had no phone, I had no way to contact them. I just had to hope they would find me. I finally reached the right place... and there's Cat. I wrapped her in a big hug, sobbing a bit at the enormity and relief. Where's everyone else? Around the corner. They all told me of their individual plights and I told them the gritty details.
A stop along the way home
I've mentioned before that my father was a Marine. My mother got him a memorial brick to be laid down at the Marine Corps Heritage Center, which is right on the way home from DC. What more fitting ending to the trip than to stop off and visit? The last time Mom was there his brick hadn't been laid down yet. I didn't hold out much hope that they'd put it down. I went to the computer used to find a brick and was flabbergasted when it told me where to go. I printed out the map and led the procession up to the chapel.
What glorious country surrounds this amazing museum. Just lovely. We walked through the well-tended grounds up the hill and made our way to the indicated area... and there he was. It couldn't have been more perfect. This trip all started 8 months ago on a whim. Now I've finished the Marine Corps Marathon in memory of my father, the Marine. On the way home we finally got to see his memorial brick. I couldn't be happier or more proud.
We all survived. I survived. It was truly an enriching experience. I believe the MCM has spoiled me. I considered doing a new local marathon next year, but I don't know that I can. It can't compare to the Marine Corps Marathon in any respect. So, I may very well run another marathon... it'll just have to be the MCM again. I'll do smaller local races -- I'll likely do the Raleigh Rocks Half Marathon next spring -- but my heart belongs to the MCM for marathon distance. At least right now.
2009 Marine Corps Marathon Finisher
2010 Shamrock Marathon Finisher