Originally written November 9, 2010
I survived. It was great but it was TOUGH!
I already knew from the course map and elevation chart, miles 1-3 and 6-8 were pretty much constant inclines, so I was determined to pace myself and keep my pace slow. I did just that. I worked hard to keep a consistent easy pace and felt good. I took pictures along the way. I couldn’t resist!
I look terrified, don’t I?
Just past the start line was the Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard, how could I resist taking a picture. I mean, Marines in Dress Blues on horses. What a sight!
USMC Mounted Color Guard
Within mile one, we were in a downtown area with high rise apartment buildings. One apartment had their entire windows covered with a HUGE sign that said, “BEAT THE BRIDGE!” I looked up because I heard people yelling. They were all on the balcony cheering. It was pretty cool.
I love awesome spectators!
“Miles” the Marine Corps Marathon Mascot was at Mile 1. I thought about getting a picture, but settled for a high five instead. I was getting hot, so I stripped my “throwaway” sweatshirt, and dumped it on a street corner.
At one point, I fell in with the Clif 5:30 pace group and was happy to see they were doing intervals, too. But I quickly fell back because their pace was just too ambitious for the hills this early in the race.
First glimpse of Georgetown.
I survived the first hill and about half way through mile 3, I got a glimpse of Georgetown. Beautiful! I had to take a picture. Then I looked ahead and saw an incline at mile 4 that wasn’t reflected on the elevation map. WTH?!!?!
Surprise! A bonus hill!
About this time I “met” another runner who was as attached to her phone as I was to mine. It turns out she was updating Twitter and was being followed by the Washington Post for the race. Too cool. About the same time I met two larger men and they were talking about the food on the course. One of them said he had a friend bringing fried chicken to him at mile 10. I wanted to stay with him, but we separated pretty quickly.
As we crossed Key Bridge into Georgetown, we saw the mass of SPEEDY runners coming down the hill from Mile 8. They were elbow to elbow and FLYING. Some runners near me started saying how they can’t be having any fun because none of them are smiling and they all look so serious. We’re all laughing and joking and having a great time. My philosophy is that running races is like a mullet: all business in the front, all party in the rear. My fashionably late compatriots all seemed to fulfill that philosophy. We were having fun.
About this same time, I met a runner named Robbie from Houston. From this point on, we were pretty much together. We might separate for a short while, but we’d somehow find each other again. She was funny and easy to pick out. She wore a pink stocking cap most of the race. Robbie became an important part of my finish in the race, but that will come later.
I just have to take a little detour when thinking about this portion of the race. All I kept thinking is how disgusting runners are. As soon as we hit a park type area, men were peeling off constantly and running to the bushes. Some weren’t even taking the time to find cover. ACK! Not exactly what I want to see! As we progressed further and ended up in a rural area along the river outside of Georgetown, women started peeling off and doing the same thing. Some took care and didn’t expose themselves, but others… well, DOUBLE ACK!!! I was especially disturbed by the “minimalist runners” that didn’t carry anything (water, SPI belt, nothing) and didn’t have anything to even wipe their hands on afterwards. UGH! ……………but I digress.
Mile 6 was straight up hill again, all the way to mile 8. It was a long tough hill. I chose to walk it. Robbie was with me here. It’s where we first started “bonding” on the race. She was just one of those chipper runners you just enjoy being around. Having someone to talk to helps the miles go by, that’s for sure. She was just going on and on about how great the sights were, although, I quickly learned she was talking about the Marines on the course. I guess I’m kind of “immune” to those sights since I spent every day for four years around them and dressed like them. LOL
So I’m somewhere between miles 6 and 8, everyone along the course are yelling, “Just one more mile and the hill is done! Just one more mile!” There are a few flat spots in residential areas. I’m focusing on the environment around me. I really wanted to remember every moment, savor every bit. The streets, the houses, apartments, lofts, the trees… This isn’t an every day run. I’m trying to focus on the external, not what my body is saying to me. I’m past my “achy warmup miles (miles 1-3)” and I really feel good. (Have I ever mentioned I HATE 5k’s? It’s because it take 3 miles for me just to feel good.) I sail down the steep incline that I passed 3-4 miles earlier, but this time, there is no one on the other side. Me and my “friends” are bringing up the rear. I see the sweep vehicle on the way out at about mile 4.75. I’m a little over mile 8. I’m happy to see no one struggling to stay in front of the vehicle and no one in the sweep vehicle. I’m also happy there’s a pretty good space between me and the sweep vehicle…. Well, for now anyway.
I’m somewhere around mile 8 when I see the sweep vehicle around mile 4.5. Works for me!
As I come into the area of The Shoppes of Georgetown, I hear the crowds getting louder and louder. I see spectators spilling into the streets. There’s a water station right the beginning of the Shoppes. For the first time, I’m really paying attention to the Marines on the course. Almost all Marines working the water stations are brand new officers from The Basic School (TBS) or Officer Candidate School (OCS). It warms the heart of a former enlisted Marine to see young lieutenants on working parties, sweeping up the messes the runners left behind. Lord knows I did plenty of these kind of working parties as a young enlisted Marine myself… but I digress.
The Shoppes of Georgetown
As I head out of Georgetown, I pass mile marker 9. I check my Garmin. Wow! I’m making great time…. until I realize my Garmin is stopped. See, I wear my Garmin 205 upside down, on the underside of my wrist. When I have to fight with a particularly stubborn water bottle, I sometimes bump the start/stop button in the process. I did that here, but I don’t know how long it had been when I discovered the issue. UGH! From this point on in the race, I realize how “dependent” I am on my Garmin. I’m a numbers person so I want to know what my splits are, how my overall pace is, etc.
I try to shake my Garmin issue off and go on. I come to the first food stop. I was expecting Sport Beans on course, but I always carry my own anyway. Imagine my surprise when I started slip sliding on orange peels. Now I love oranges so I happily took a couple of wedges. Big mistake. I ended up with pulp and skin all in my teeth. I can’t stand stuff stuck in my teeth so I messed with that petty stuff for a while. I realize later I totally missed the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts because I was distracted. UGH!
Now we’re running along the Potomac River and the wind really starts to kick up. Of course, it couldn’t be a tail wind. No, it has to be a lovely mix of cross wind and head wind. I see the monuments and bridges in the distance so I keep going. Between mile 10 & 11, I see a runner juggling and take a picture. All I think is “sure, just make the rest of us look bad.” LOL
Juggling and running… because running JUST running a marathon isn’t hard enough.
We come up to the edge of the National Mall. The crowds are thick along the course… going the other way… they’re cheering for the runners that look serious and don’t smile or stop for pictures…. runners unlike me. LOL I pretend all the people with their backs to me are really yelling for us and I keep going. At this point, I know I’m coming to what is known as the most boring part of the course; the out and back through West and East Potomac Parks. A runner I met on the flight down was doing her 10th Marine Corps Marathon. She told me that used to be miles 18-20 for the race, and it was horrible because there wasn’t any crowd support out there. She was glad they had us do that early in the race and saved the National Mall for those miles when you needed the crowd support.
I meet up with my new friend, Robbie, again at mile 12 when she stopped to try to take of picture of her with the “cute” Marine manning the mile marker. She was having trouble with their self-portrait, so I ran up and offered to take it for her. We got their picture done and we took off again. We came up to the next food station and guess what? Clif Shots and they gave the last one to the runner in front of me. Again reassured of my decision to carry my own hydration and nutrition, I keep going.
Remember that wind I told you about? East Potomac Park is on a peninsula between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel. Wind is coming in every which direction but from behind. UGH! I crossed the half marathon point and kept going. Two ladies stopped on the course, said they were done and handed their shot bloks off to anyone who would take them. I ended up with CranRazz… one of my favorites.
Since I was “jonesin’” to know my actual time, I posted on facebook asking someone to look up my chip time. A friend obliged and I was happy to know I ran my slowest half ever, coming in at 3:00 and some seconds. Perfect. Right on track.
Coming back toward the National Mall, I ran by some men who were running a intervals and just chatting a way the whole time. I started watching. They were doing 1:1 intervals, nice and easy and soon they left me in the dust. They weren’t running much faster than I was, but they were well rested and were making good time. Hmmmm… maybe there is something to 1:1 intervals. I think I’m going to try that for the Goofy.
The Washington Monument
My pace stayed between 13:30-13:45/mile through the first half of the marathon. I kept my solid pace, I had to ‘beat the bridge’ at mile 20 by staying below 14min/miles until then.
I’m coming back towards the mall and the wind is really getting challenging. Cross winds, head winds… it just sucked. Never a tail wind. I’m trying to focus on the sights. To my right, across the Washington Channel is a harbor of sorts with all these HUGE yachts. David and I are getting married on a 100’ yacht in May. I thought “our yacht” was huge. “Our yacht” looks like a little john boat compared to these things. They are massive… impressive. It provides a nice distraction for a while.
Now this is a “respectable” marathon, but we have to remember, it is also Halloween. My costume for the day was to come dressed as a marathoner. Seriously, at this point it was feeling as just that… just a costume. All the “business” marathoners had left me in the dust a long time ago, but I was plugging along. While I chose to costume myself as a marathoner, some went a little further. Especially two ladies dressed in 80’s workout attire, complete with neon leotard, tights, leg warmers, hand bands, etc. They had their own course support dressed in their own form of costumes. I was with these ladies off and own through mile 19. They were quite the distraction. With the bright colors, it was hard to keep your eyes off of them. I’m sure men running behind them didn’t mind the distraction….
Lincoln Monument. Well, the backside of it, anyway.
About the time we got back to the Lincoln Memorial end of the National Mall, I was near a father and son running together. The father made a comment about not being a marathoner. I corrected him, reminding him that we get the same medal as the person that comes in 4th place. After some encouragement from me, his son, and other runners, he finally relented. He was a marathoner and he was going to finish this race. I didn’t see these two again, but I did notice on the finishers list, there was a father and son, about the age of these two, that finished at 7:23. I’m sure it was the two I talked to. He really was a marathoner.
After we rounded the Lincoln Memorial, we run what the Marines call “The Gauntlet.” It’s the length of the National Mall, the pedestrian area. At this point, I’m tired and I’m hungry. I’m craving something salty. There are food vendors all over the place. Remembering that I had stashed some cash in my belt, I was really tempted to get something salty. I really needed it. Mental note for the Goofy: carry pretzels or something salty. Or at a minimum, my Margarita Shot Bloks with triple the sodium. I had only packed one package that I shared with David before the race because it wasn’t hot. I didn’t think I would sweat as much as I did. The lines were long for the concessions, so I kept going.
David was texting me, telling me he’s cramping and slowing down. Duh! He was probably needing salt, too. Or it was his lack of training. I encouraged him on by text, telling him he had plenty of time to “beat the bridge” while realizing time was running out for me. Yikes. I need to get moving. I press on and somehow completely miss seeing the White House. Now, in my defense, it is a few blocks off of the National Mall, but I know there is an unobstructed view of the White House. I was realizing I was starting to cut it close when it came to beating the bridge to finish this race.
U. S. Capital
As I come in full view of the Capitol, I notice three things: first the two school buses being escorted by a police car, the strong odor of human excrement, and trash cans are overflowing onto the ground. WOW! I’m just stunned. I’m in front of our Nation’s Capitol and I smell s***… literally. Totally ruined the experience it should have been. I get around to the other side of the Mall and I’m still near the Capitol. I notice LOTS of race photographers on the course. They are positioned to get pictures of the runners with the Capitol in the background. (These poor people have been sitting here where it smells so bad…. UGH!) I jockey back and forth, in front of the line of photographers to make sure I get at least one good shot (I do!) and move on. Up ahead is mile 19, water, BEANS (finally!), and oh crap… BUSES!!!!
One of my favorite pics!
At mile 19, two school buses pulled up, one already loaded with people. The Marine at this mile marker wasn’t announcing clock times like they were at all the other ones. He was saying, “if you want to finish the race, you must be in front of these buses” over & over. I said a few choice words & ran a 10:51/mile to get to the bridge. Actually, I was saying quite a few choice words while huffing and puffing to the bridge. I was running right next to the door to the bus, as it was moving forward. ARGH! As I rounded the corner, I was expecting to the see the bridge.
Nope, couldn’t see the bridge, but I could see two more buses between me and the bridge. I still had one bus right beside me, and it was being followed closely by another empty bus. The bus right beside me was full. I glanced up at those already on the bus. For a split second, I thought that was it, I was done.
Then I came to my senses. In my head I heard people saying, “I knew she couldn’t do it.” I said and few more choice words and kept pushing.
There was NO WAY I was going to give up. I was already preparing to go down with a fight if I was told to get on the bus. If it came to it, they were going to have to physically put me on the bus.
I kept pushing. A small incline… lots of cheering spectators… I particularly remember a woman wearing Fleet Feet Baltimore gear running up to me and encouraging me. She was telling me over and over I got this. I push up the incline, a Marine on the course STOPS the bus I was “racing” next to the two buses already parked on the side. At the top of that little incline, I see the entrance to THE BRIDGE and mile marker 20. I was almost there.
With the buses stopped, I slowed a bit and made my way up the incline of the entrance ramp to the bridge. I glance at my watch: 1:07 p.m. The entrance to the bridge would be closed to runners at 1:15 p.m. I had made it.
As I passed mile 20, I asked the Marine there if I was safe. He looked at me, looked across the bridge, smirked, and said “get across the bridge.” I walked the incline to the flatter part of the bridge, curious what was left in my legs.
I saw a man wearing cammie trousers, jungle boots, and a red t-shirt leaning against the wall on the bridge; a full pack at his feet. He wasn’t the first I had seen today wearing such attire. I had passed 4 dressed similarly earlier by the Washington Monument. Two had their packs off and were sitting on the ground. One had a boot off and was trying to wrap some blisters.
I asked the man leaning on the wall if he was ok. He smiled and said, “I’m done for today, ma’am.” As I turned to continue moving forward, I started to turn back to him to ask him how heavy his pack was. I came very close to offering to carry his pack to get him across the bridge. He had made it to the bridge, where he was supposed to be safe, only to stop. Instead, I turned forward and made my way across the bridge. I knew David was waiting for me across the bridge, just past mile 21.
I walked most of the bridge, but my walking pace is pretty fast, even when I’m tired. I passed quite a few runners in the process. Overall, it was pretty quiet on the bridge. Those that were left on the bridge at this point were the last ones that would be crossing it by foot today. We’ve all worked HARD to get there and we were quiet.
I jumped every time I heard a diesel engine that sounded like a bus, even if it was on the other side of the bridge. Those buses had been WAY too close. There was a man named Ray on the bridge. Ray wasn’t wearing a race number but I saw him several times through the rest of the race. It seemed like he was there to encourage those at the end of the race. He was wearing a bright colored singlet with “RAY” handwritten across the front. I saw him talking to a various runners on the bridge, about halfway across. He was taking pictures for people with the DC skyline in the background. I thought about asking him to do the same, but the words from the Marine at mile 20 rang in my ears: “get across the bridge.”
At this point, David was calling me, wondering where I was. He was waiting for me just past mile 21. I was just trying to get across the bridge.
I was over half way across the bridge when they brought the 4 sweep buses and stopped just behind me. To my knowledge, they didn’t take anyone who was already on the bridge into the buses unless they gave up.
When I finally met up with him, I was in a FOUL mood. He was all bouncy and full of energy. He wouldn’t shut up. I was NOT happy. He had barely trained. His longest run was a half marathon the week before. He didn’t even train for that half marathon. Like the Marine Corps Marathon, he just showed up and ran it. I trained, I worked my @ss off, and I still had to race the d@mn buses. At mile 21, David was not my favorite person in the World. I didn’t speak to him in a full sentence for another two miles.
Once a runner ‘beats the bridge,’ you are pretty much safe as long as you can continue on your own. So I relaxed a bit and slowed down. I was trying to get over being ticked off. David is still all bouncy and driving me nuts.
We work our way through Crystal City. Course support through here was pretty good. They had a block party or something going on for kids and there was Elmo and Cookie Monster on the street.
It’s a little out and back in Crystal City so we could see those still trudging forward. I see a dozen or so people in a little two column formation dressed like the man that was left on the bridge. Yeah, probably a good thing I didn’t offer to carry his pack. I’m sure it was tough enough for him to stop, but to have a middle aged mom of three carry his pack probably wouldn’t have looked good to his buddies.
David is still with me and I haven’t killed him yet. When we walk, he complains that I walk too fast and it hurts. When we run, I can’t keep up. ARGH!
On the way back, we see a man who ran the marathon in a ghillie suit. For those that don’t know, it’s basically a camouflaged head to toe suit that snipers use. He’s stopping, taking pictures with people and scaring kids along the course. It was kind of funny to watch him, but it had to be hot in that suit.
Marathoner in a ghillie suit
Also on the way back, I see two of the four men with packs I had passed on the National Mall. I remembered them because they had UK flags on their packs. They were still in front of the sweep vehicles, but not by much. They were moving slow, but still moving forward.
As we rounded the corner to mile 24, we saw the sweep vehicles at a little over mile 22. Right in front of the car, there was a man… an eighty-something year old man… still making his way. He was still running… barely. He stopped and bent over in front of the vehicle. Then he straightened up and kept going. He “ran” with a limping stride. It was obvious it took everything in this man to keep going. David told me he had passed this man early on in the race. Even early on, this man ran with that jagged stride… but he still ran.
Swallowing hard the lump forming in my throat, we pushed on. At mile 24, I grabbed water for David (he didn’t carry any), and Tylenol for myself. I think David took Tylenol, too. At least there is a red handwritten “T” on his bib indicating he did.
We pushed on. I was smiling a little more, but still irritated with his complaints that my walking was too fast. Then we’d try to run and he’d take off and leave me.
At some point along this way, I was back with my new friend, Robbie. We talked about our training, who we trained with, how we did it. It was a nice distraction.
Eventually, we were back near the Pentagon, where the runner’s pre-race village had been. In this parking lot there had been HUNDREDS of port-a-potties. The signs by them said “More of Jon Stewart’s Port-a-Potties.” It was funny. Leave it to the Marines.
If you hadn’t heard, in the weeks leading up to the Marine Corps Marathon, there had been several shootings at military buildings; specifically the National Museum of the Marine Corps, the Pentagon, and a Marine Recruiting Station. There had been concern about the safety of runners during the Marine Corps Marathon, so security was HIGH!
David and I started talking about all the security that had been along the course. Helicopters were constantly flying over. David said he saw more helicopters during the race than he saw in two combat tours in Iraq. It was unreal. SWAT teams and police officers had been everywhere along the course.
Mile 26 is at the bottom of a little hill, just past the start line. To make the turn to the finish, it is a little hill. Not bad, but tough after 26 miles. When we got to it, I looked at David and said, “are you ready?” Without responding he was gone. He took off up the hill and left me behind! WTH?!?!?!?
I pushed myself, made myself run up the hill between the Marines lining the course shouting encouragement.
I get to the stop of the hill and there’s David standing there asking me where I’ve been. GRRRRRRRRR!!!!
He grabs my hand and pulls me toward the finish. Now he may have had my hand, but my legs were moving on my own. We ran through another group of Marines lining the course.
By the time we reached the finish, I was right beside him, matching him stride for stride. Our feet landed on the finish line pad at the same time.
In a little bit of sweet justice, my chip time was 8 seconds faster than David’s.
I’ve calculated my 5k splits through the race and I was slooooooow after the bridge. BUT, I did what I needed to BEAT THE BRIDGE!
I did it and I learned A LOT in the process.
I’m ready to do it again.