So, where were we?
Ah, yes. The Howitzer blast. And the race begins…though not really for me, since there are hordes (and hordes, and hordes) of people ahead of me, so my group doesn’t even start walking yet.
But eventually we do, and I cross the starting line. Of my first marathon. Yahoo!!!! OO-RAH!
It’s a tad anticlimactic, though, because we’re all kind of walking. And then sloooowly jogging. Umm, it’s a very crowded start. I have never started a race of 30,000 people before. That’s a lot of people. And apparently, a lot of people ahead of me like to start off slow, because the course is actually pretty wide at this point, and people could spread out if they moved it along. But many don’t. Such is life. I’m still excited. I’m running my first freaking marathon! Or at least jogging it.
The whole first mile to mile and a half is pretty crowded and slow. I’m surprised by the number of people who start walking before hitting the first mile marker (more than a handful). I started with the 4-hour finish times, so I would think most in that group would plan on running the entire marathon, with only some walking, if at all, toward the end. I wouldn’t care except that it causes a bit of a backup on the course. I get nervous in these types of packs, because I’m afraid of being knocked down and hurt. I’m extremely capable of knocking myself down without any help, so the last thing I need is someone careening into me.
We finally pass mile 1 and the crowds are huge and great. We’re in Rosslyn, and there are lots of spectators, signs and energy. I’m glad that I have the first mile down, since I hate the first mile of pretty much any race I run. I’ll take the last mile over the first mile any day. Yes, even in a marathon.
The next 3 miles are great – I’m starting to pick up speed, I feel good and the area is full of life. I settle in and get to take in a lot of what is around me. I check out every sign & read every t-shirt I can. Great signs everywhere. If I can remember enough, I’ll do a separate post on them. I see a group from Team Hoyt and give them a shout-out. I am a huge fan of the Hoyts (who isn’t?). There are tons of military runners and wheelchair participants, and I am inspired by them all. The weather is perfect and life is good.
Between miles 4 & 5, we head over the Key Bridge into Georgetown and life is even better. I LOVE Georgetown. I am glad that it is early in the race so I am not tempted to stop running and wander around one of my favorite neighborhoods. Fashionably dressed, Lululemon-clad spectators line the course, Starbucks cups in hand and smiles on their faces. Legs feel good, lungs feel good.
After we leave Georgetown, we enter a stretch of the course that is one huge “out and back.” I see some of the ultra-fast runners coming back from the turnaround and am awed by how fast they are going, probably 10+ miles into the course. Such an inspiration and it puts a little spring in my step. Now, I’m not exactly sure where the hell I was during this part of the course, but I do know that it was my favorite part. I felt like I was surrounded by inspiration on all sides. Elite runners flying past. Wounded warriors riding handcycles or being pushed in wheelchairs. Military groups running in formation carrying huge flags. People bearing the names of those in active service or those who died in service on their shirts. A runner’s high of massive proportions kicked in and I felt like I could run forever. It was awesome. Damn, I wish I could bottle it. I remember thinking that it would barely matter if I fell apart later on the course, because that one stretch of total bliss was worth it.
Between miles 10 & 11, we can see the Lincoln Memorial and I know that we are heading back into “town.” Kind of. First we run a peninsula called “Hains Point.” A lot of people don’t like this stretch. It is quiet with few to no spectators. There are, however, along the left side of the course, many (far, far, too many) signs with pictures and stats of marines who have died in service. It is sobering and it is quiet. And I’m glad for it. It’s a reminder that the marathon, although an incredible event, is probably the least important thing that the marines do during the course of the year. And it makes me that much more humbled by the multitude of military members I encounter on the course.
I start to feel crummy between miles 11 & 12. Time for a snack. I clumsily open a pouch of sports beans and dig in (and manage not to have an epic wipeout. Phew). Voila, my energy is back. Wash it down with some water and keep on trucking.
The next stretch is kind of a blur. I cross the half, thrilled and waving arms in the air, and then we enter a stretch that is packed with spectators & monuments. Jam-packed and a great distraction. I remember dragging a bit between miles 16-17 – remedied with more sports beans and water – but start to see signs for “the Gauntlet” at mile 17.5 and know I’m getting somewhere.
We pass The Gauntlet and then down a portion of the National Mall. It ain’t every day that I get to run with views of the Smithsonian Museums and the Capitol Building, and I soak it all in. We’re winding down the portion of the race that takes place in DC, and I don’t want to miss a thing.
Around mile 19, we pass an all-female kick-ass drum band and I wish I could stop to watch. Freaking amazing. And up ahead…the 14th street bridge.
I had heard of the 14th street bridge. It spans miles 20-21 of the course. You know, just when “the wall” is scheduled to hit. And when you least want to be running on a closed highway bridge, even if it does has views of the Potomac. And marines stationed along the way to cheer you on.
Maybe because I had heard about it and knew to dread it, maybe because I was on such a high, or maybe because I still felt so good, I just didn’t care. I figured that every mile of that race was just me putting one step in front of the other, whether I had cool diversions or not. And I think it helped that I always run alone – when you have knocked out 20 mile runs by yourself with no real human interaction for the entire run, a mile long boring bridge doesn’t seem so daunting.
Over the bridge we pass, back into Virginia for the final leg. At this point, my legs started feeling the burn – especially in my calves & quads. I never really “hurt” when I run. Tired, yes. But achy and sore during a run? No. Sometimes afterward, sometimes never, even on long runs. It felt strange to feel achy legs and know that I wasn’t stopping for another 5+ miles. Nothing hurt in a scary way, though, so onward and upward.
We pass through Crystal City, which had awesome crowds, great bands, an unexpected hill, munchkins at the water stop and probably the most beat-up roads on the course. The course route in Crystal City was a big loop, and when I entered, I noticed the runners who were on their way back were coming down a hill. Which of course, could only mean one thing – there was an uphill tucked in there somewhere. Ugh. The road had lots of bumps and ruts, though, and I had to keep a close eye on the pavement to make sure I didn’t fall or trip. So, fortunately, I was too focused on the condition of the pavement to notice the grade changes, and before I knew it, I was cruising downhill toward the munchkins and Mile 24.
I remember passing Mile 24 and encountering a particularly loud & supportive group of marines. Hearing them was like mainlining a Red Bull. And it was Mile 24! I was over the moon. Only 2.2 between me and the finish line. Unbelievable. Then 25…then 26 and The Big Hill. I did not even care when I saw The Big Hill. I could hear the announcer calling out finishers. I could see people throwing their arms up in the air as they approached the finish line. I could see (and hear!!) the marines lined up along the end of the route. I gave it everything I had and cranked up that hill like it was my job. Time on the clock said 3:52:11. I was freaking thrilled. I was hoping to break 4 hours and I did. Due to the lack of Garmin, I wasn’t really sure until I saw that finishers’ clock. OO-RAH! A handsome marine salutes me (ME! Yeesh, I should be saluting him) and puts a kick-ass medal around my neck. I look up and see the Marine Corps War Memorial. I’m teary. I’m overwhelmed. And I’m ecstatic.
After finishing, somewhere, in the dark recesses of my mind, I had a recollection that to qualify for registration for Boston 2015, I would need a time of 3:55. To be honest, my running of late has been so slow I didn’t even look into the info before the marathon, so I was operating off of a very fuzzy memory. Once I reunited with my family (and my phone), I learned that my actual time was 3:47:14, and the BQ time I needed was indeed 3:55 (assuming they don’t change something before next year – I’m way too superstitious to count any chickens yet).
Cloud 9? Doesn’t even begin to describe…