I’ve run a bunch of marathons and each one is different from the others. Anyone who’s ever run one can validate that the marathon is truly unlike any other race distance. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of room for error over that kinda distance.

However, one thing is absolutely certain in marathoning – you typically won’t have the race you want, but you’ll always have the race you need.

In the months leading up to this race, when I should have been training, I was not (read more about that here). So not expecting or hoping to break my 3:59 finish time record, I reached out to a friend to see if she’d be willing to let me tag along with her as she ran what would be her second marathon. She enthusiastically agreed.

IMG_1351I met Ally at the Pentagon Metro Station at 6:30AM and then we stood in a loooooooong security line, arriving at the start line only minutes before the howitzer went off at 7:55AM.

We set off with no time goal in mind except hoping to get Ally a new PR.

But – as they say – shit happens.

IMG_1355Ally was recovering from a sinus infection which caused a bit of fatigue and cramping in her diapraghm, followed by some lightheadedness near mile 11 (just in time for Hains Point – everybody’s favorite). A little coaching and fuel and we had her breathing and lightheadedness under control for the most part.

She continued to insist that I go on without her. I continued to remind her that we started together and we’ll finish together. So we trudged on, taking short walk breaks as necessary.

IMG_1361There were minimal issues then until mile 20 when my right hip began to tighten up. My lack of training beyond 3.5 hours had caught up with me but we’d already beat the bridge so we knew finishing was definitely in the cards. We walked a bit, chatted and laughed as we took pictures and read the super creative spectators’ signs (HA-larious!).

IMG_1364And by Mile 21, we’d settled back into a fairly steady pace.

IMG_1367Miles 24 to 26 zipped by – we were in the zone and cruising along. At Mile 26 – the point in this race when you start the uphill climb toward the finish line at the Iwo Jima Memorial (yep, thanks for that uphill finish Marines) – we rounded the corner and I told Ally “we’re charging this hill all the way to the finish”.

And that’s exactly what we did.

We powered up that hill looking and feeling like we hadn’t already completed 26 miles. We crossed the finish line together, side by side, exactly the way we’d started. All smiles and extremely proud of each other.

People ask me all the time how I can love something as punishing and unforgiving as the marathon. That’s easy for me to answer – it’s the same reason I hated this distance for many years – the marathon doesn’t let you hide anything.IMG_1368

Every time you hit the road, you’ve got to make peace with the fact that you’ll spend the next few hours learning new things about yourself, whether you want to or not. It’ll strip you down and force you to come to face to face with yourself. It will change your life.

Can anyone run a marathon? I believe that for the most part, yes, everyone is capable of training for and completing a marathon; however, if you’re not ready – I mean REALLY ready – to face your true self and accept what’s inside after you peel back every layer of the onion, then it’ll be a terrible experience for you.

I can say that with such certainty because I’ve been on both sides now. Looking back, every bad marathon experience I’ve had (and there have been more than a few) resulted from my unwillingness to accept what I found out about myself after dwelling in the deepest, darkest parts of me with only my own thoughts to keep me company FOR HOURS.

IMG_1358If you’ve never run one, I know that sounds awful but, for me, that’s the magic of the marathon – my favorite race distance – you can simultaneously have one of the toughest days be one of the best experiences of your life.

And yes, even after all these marathons, I still learned a lot about myself in that 26.2 mile trek…and picked up 36 Marine high-fives in the process – a new personal record for me 🙂

SIDE NOTE: The hip is fine and I had no trouble walking or doing stairs at all after the race – seriously, the easiest post-race recovery ever. The toenail on my second toe was the only casualty of the race, an acceptable sacrifice for all that I gained on that course.

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