I woke up race morning feeling nervous. Not for this marathon … but for what was to come after it.
I felt totally confident that I’d complete the immediate task in front of me — the Marine Corps Marathon. The anxiety was more focused around whether I’d be able to complete it and then recover fast enough to toe the line again 7 days later at the New York City Marathon. I’ve completed two marathons 2 and 3 weeks apart before many times, but a week apart is a whole other animal.
Race morning began at 4:45AM. I quickly packed my crap and drove to my client/friend Gina‘s house in Arlington since Metro wasn’t gonna open early this year to get me to the start line in time. A quick bathroom stop at Gina’s place and we were in her car on the way to the Pentagon. She dropped me off at 6:45AM and from there was on my own, walking the mile to the start line with my gear bag, a cinnamon roll and a cup of coffee.
I reached the start line around 7:25AM and waited in eager anticipation of the long journey that was ahead of me. So many questions and so many miles.
Every year, the V-22 Osprey flyover as the howitzer blasts to signal the start of the race gives me chills. This year, I was able capture it on film. The Marines certainly know how to kick off a marathon! Seriously, watch this and tell me that it doesn’t make you want run this race.
And just like that, we were off. With so many runners hitting the course at one time, it’s tough to get rolling at a nice speed, so you just do the best you can and try to settle in.
Even though the race-directing powers that be saved the worst hill (it feels like the worst anyway) for the final .2 miles of the course, it’s in the first 5 miles of this course that you see the highest concentration of hilly terrain.
But I actually settled in nicely, preparing to be in it for the long haul. I was sort of in a meditative trance for the first 8.5 miles. Yeah, I really don’t remember anything about those miles at all. I just ran and breathed – that’s about it. Then, just before Mile 9 near the Arlington Memorial Bridge, something happened to break my trance just long enough for me to look up and see a familiar face … my friend, Angelo, who I wasn’t expecting to see until somewhere around Mile 18 was standing on the sidewalk looking for me. I grabbed his arm and before I knew it, he was running along beside me offering me Twizzlers with a side of his trademark smile — probably my favorite marathon moment ever.
After a few steps and a quick check-in, I continued on alone but looking forward to seeing him again in 10 or so miles.
Along Hains Point, between Miles 10 and 11, we entered the wear blue Mile. Of all the 26 miles in this race, this mile – hands down – goes by the fastest. In this Mile, the course is lined with photos of service members who have died serving this great country in Afghanistan and Iraq followed by volunteers, each holding an American flag to honor the fallen in one hand and using the other hand to high-five you as you pass. If you weren’t feeling inspired prior to this point in the race, you certainly are now.
I cruised along nicely for the next 8-9 miles, holding a pace that felt pretty comfortable but was still about 20 seconds per mile faster than I wanted to go. I was gunning for a finish time that was about 50-60 minutes slower than my PR but not much longer because that would keep me out on the course and on my feet longer and I feared that would make my recovery harder. Yes, I was looking to finish in a Goldilocks Zone for sure. So I realized that I needed to slow the pace.
When I hit the bridge close to Mile 19, I still hadn’t seen Angelo yet. I decided to stop to re-tie my right shoe and re-position my hair knot back onto the top of my head (instead of letting it flop around on my shoulder where it had ended up). After this short adjustment break, I started running again. A few moment later, Angelo was running beside me again, appearing out of nowhere, smiling away and offering me a selection of goodies from his backpack — “Whatcha need? You want salty or sweet?” What a cutie 🙂
I slowed up to walk and munch and talk. I was feeling great but this just made it all even better. He also told me to expect to see Gina again between Miles 22-23. Seriously, I was in heaven with all this on-course support. In all my years of racing, I’ve never had support like it (or even close for that matter).
This is the point in the race where I started to notice how incredibly HOT it was out there. I was sipping from my Camelbak frequently and lingering a bit longer in Water Stations to grab and extra cup or two of Gatorade. As I marched on, the cloud cover really began to peel away and I began to find myself in the full sun for long stretches.
Once we hit Crystal City, I was on a mission to find Gina for a hug and the giant sprinkler (fire hose) to cool off. As luck would have it, Gina was only about ¼ mile from the sprinkler. She was bouncing up and down on the side of the course and I made a beeline in her direction. I got a big hug and she handed me a bag of Sour Patch Watermelons … aaaaaaaah yeaaaah! Quick chat and a selfie (natch) and I was on my way to run through the sprinkler — which felt AMAZEBALLS!
All I can tell you about the final 4ish miles of this race is that they were H-O-T. My typical run-thru water grab became a walk with about 4 cups worth of hydration on the way through each water station. My Camelbak was feeling very light and I knew that I’d run out of water before this race was done, even with all the on-course supplementation. At Mile 24.5, the were handing out ice and I was overjoyed. In all my life, I’ve never been so happy to get my hands on an ice cube.
I don’t remember seeing Mile Marker 26 but I knew that I was there because that’s when you turn the corner to the left and start the uphill finish. Everything goes slow-mo. You can hear the race announcer. You’re surrounded by screaming spectators and the course is lined with Marines. Despite the steep incline, it’s my favorite part of this course as you approach the finish right a the base of the Marine Corps War Memorial.
As the Marines placed the medal around my neck and shook my hand, I was fighting back emotions. I was overcome with gratitude. It is such an incredible honor to be able to run this race.
The heart of this marathon is what sets it apart. So many wounded warriors, so many first timers, 10,000 inspiring stories and more volunteer Marines than you can count all cheering you on and supporting you. It never gets old or ceases to make me get all emotional. Every time I swear off road-racing in favor of trails, this is the race that brings me back time and time again. This race represents the heart and soul of why we run.
Aside from a little tightness in my legs, a mildly-suburned face and a fair amount of chaffing from my sports bra, the day ended with me feeling pretty good. Let’s see what this week of recovery holds for me … stay tuned.
I’ll end this report with a HUGE, MASSIVE, GINORMOUS shout-out to the best damn marathon support crew in the history of the world ever! This race would not have been nearly as awesome for me if it wasn’t for Angelo, Gina and my husband Chris. BEST. CREW. EVER. Sometimes, it takes a village and once again I’m reminded that I’ve got (hands down) the best freaking village imaginable. You guys rock and I’m lucky to have you on my team!