I absolutely despise wearing a hat when I run but I have sucked it up and placed a lid on my dome in light of the dire forecast. A hat and $6 jacket are my Hurricane Sandy armor. The girl in front of us said it all...
From the hotel we had to walk past the start line and then filter back father to find our corrals. We timely it brilliantly, and found ourselves standing just feet away from the Marines as they performed the Color Guard, the singing of the National Anthem and the flyover of the two Ospreys. I cried. I always do. I love America.
The faster runners in our group lined up around the 4:00 corral and Mark, Poonam and I kept on walkin' until we reached the 4:29 corral. We were packed in like sardines but the crowd was happy and not a drop of rain had fallen. So many people telling everyone to have a good race. People yelling OORAH in honor of the Marines. The announcer telling us 1 minute, 45 seconds, 30 seconds, 10 seconds... KABOOM! The Howitzer cannon was fired and just like that, The People's Marathon was in full effect!
The first 10K clocked in at 1:05. If I could keep that pace, I'd come in around 4:32. Feeling good, haven't broken a sweat yet. THIS is the beautiful part of training in Barbados and then running in the fall stateside. No sweat, heat fatigue, cars buzzing by or potholes - except for Crystal City. You feel so good and fresh, it's scary.
In Georgetown a couple came up behind me and the husband said "Hey, I guess we just cancel each other out! All I eat is meat!" I should note that I was wearing my No Meat Athlete tech shirt during the race. Most people that comment say "Hey, me too!" or "Great Shirt!" or "Go NO MEAT!" I had never been blessed with the carnivore narrative. I laughed and said "Yea, I guess we're a net zero!"
I thought we could leave it there but then his wife pipes up behind me with "You should come down to our marathon in Carolina. We have bacon-wrapped pork as the post-race snack at the finish. You should eat more pork!" I said "No thanks, I'm all set!" When I wanted to say "You should call me from your hospital bed after your angioplasty!" or "I can hear your arteries screaming from here."
They moved in front of us but we all kept the same pace. I could feel Mark's eyes boring into the side of my head so I finally turned to look at him. He said "Proud of you. You could've unleashed. They don't mean any harm". I agreed and kept on running but just then, the guy jetted hard right to a water station and yelled for his wife to come over. Instead of merging right, she stopped dead right in front of me. I fell into her pretty hard (out of my control) and then gave her a "gentle" push to the right. It felt kinda good.
The second 10K clocked in at another 1:05. So far, so good. I started eating my food and drinking water even when I wasn't thirsty. It's hard to gauge thirst in the cool weather but I know that dehydration is the worst case scenario so I keep drinking. The energy beans are a good sugar hit and I kicked back a Clif Builder Bar 1/4 at a time over a few miles.
Still running together, still not a drop of rain. The third 10K clocks in at about 1:08 (I think). We're losing a little time but I'm more concerned about coming up to "The Bridge". Miles 20 - 22. Slow, steady uphill with no race support and no spectators. It's the killer of the race.
Just before the bridge we went through the water stop and I did my shuffle but it took me a few minutes to realize that Mark did not materialize as usual. When I turned around to look, he was nowhere to be found. I panicked for a second and then just took off. I knew he would want me to run my own race because we'd talked about it 100 times. Last year he came and found me on the course as I was slowing down to find my girls and shook some sense into me. Reminding me that I put in all those hours and my race was not about anyone else and to GO. So I didn't wait. Over half of the runners were walking on the bridge and although my left ankle was killing me, I made a vow to myself not to walk a single step on that bridge.
Mile 22 heading into Crystal City, I started walking through the water stations to roll my ankle and stretch my back. Crystal City is the biggest party on the course. Bars are open, people have stereos blaring on the sidewalks, lots of spectators, a beer station and a Dunkin Donuts Munchkin station. Nothing adds more levity to mile 24 than a camo-wearing Marine saying with a straight face "Chocolate Munchkin Ma'am?" Based upon my donut admission in Part I, you can surmise that I partook of the Munchkin. Sugar Explosion!
Out of Crystal City and onto the highway past the Pentagon for the finish. There were a lot more spectators on this section last year but I think Sandy got the best of people. The thousands of spectators around the finish were up in the distance and all that was left was the vertical climb off the highway to the Iwo Jima Memorial and the finish line. The crowds pack in so close up that hill that they create a lane only about 2-3 runners wide as you're trying to get.up.the.hill. It's inspiring and maddening all at once but there is no shortage of support! Screaming, screaming, screaming... GO GO GO!!! Take IWO!
And I did. In 4:44:05. A 17 minute improvement over my first marathon time last year. I finished in a time I can live with for another year (or less, I might do Sedona in February!) and more importantly, I finished happy, healthy and smiling.
I teared up as I came through the receiving line of 50 Marines who are there to shake your hand and thank you after you cross the line. Thank ME? YOU are the miracle. That you would voluntarily serve our country with your very lives. I am humbled by your bravery and sacrifice. Semper Fidelis.