I awake from a dead sleep at 4 AM on October 31st. The best, most restful night of sleep I have ever had the day before a race, a nice solid 6 hours. This is starting out to be a pretty good day. I start the complimentary coffee that I had prepped the night before and check the weather on my phone. Its 45 degrees, so it should be about 50 at the start; nearly perfect. I eat a granola bar and drink my coffee and take care of the morning necessities. I pack up my bag for the car and get my check bag ready. I’m traveling light this morning. I have my Gu, a few dollars, a fleece and my fare card for the Metro. I check out of the hotel, throw my clothes in the car and I head off to the Metro station, a short walk across Courthouse Plaza in Arlington. I wait about 4 minutes before the train arrives. Every rider has a race bag to check, including the four runners I sit across from. Two of the men and the one woman are dressed as ballerinas and the other man is The Flash. I think to myself, “The Flash is so fast, he’ll finish before I get to the start line.” I switch trains in Rosslyn and board the train bound for Pentagon, which is pretty full, even at 5:30 AM.
It’s cold and dark at the Pentagon this early on a Sunday morning. I fall in line behind everyone else as we start the half mile plus walk to the Runner’s Village. The Flash jokes that he hopes we are going the right way. He yells to the front of the pack “The guy you are following is going to work!” which causes a few chuckles, but not much else. I mean, it is kind of early. Turns out, we were heading in the right direction. I get to the village and the UPS drivers haven’t even arrived yet to take the bags, but the Marines are standing dutifully by to help them when they do arrive.
6:15 AM. Bag is checked. I pick out the most comfortable piece of asphalt I can find and lie down to wait. It’s cold, but not uncomfortable. I got just the right combination of used black sweats and Emily’s (whoever she is) oversized fleece. I snack on another granola bar and finish off my water. At around 7:00, I start to walk toward the starting area. It’s about a half mile walk to the 3rd corral. The sun is starting to cast a glow on the horizon and it’s starting to warm up a bit. The colors are presented by the only mounted color guard still in service. The National Anthem is punctuated by a fly over by some big ass choppers. I do some active stretching to get loosened up and then take my place in the corral. I ditch my sweatpants right after the wheelchair and hand-cycle start at 7:45. At 7:55, it’s warm enough to remove my fleece too, so I’m left with shorts, t-shirt, hat and gloves and it’s quite comfortable. I’m anxious at this point and I just want to get this thing started.
The firing of the Howitzer signifies the start of the 35 running of The Marine Corp Marathon. The shuffle starts, then the slow jog. I cross the line about a minute after the gun. It’s still rather slow going at this point, shuffling along. Things loosen up after a minute or so. I’m thinking to myself “Don’t go out too fast. Don’t go out too fast.” I settle into a nice 8:30ish pace and chat with a Marine who had flown in from California the day before to run the race. We talk about Halloween and how he is missing the chance to trick or treat with his 2 and 7 year old kids. The first part is uphill and we muse about how it should keep us from going out too fast. I run with him for about the first 1.5 miles before we get separated as he slow to chat with a fellow Marine that he hasn’t seen for a while. Through mile 2 at 8:39 pace.
The plan calls for me to dial it down to MP after mile two so I start to pick it up a bit. I settle into a comfortable pace as the course flattens out a bit before winding back down the hill. People are flying by going down the hill, but I put the brakes on to try to stay on pace. People are stopping off the side of the course to relieve themselves. At this point I really feel like I have to pee. I keep telling myself to hold off for the next mile. Miles 3 through 6 roll easily by with pace in the 7:50s and I still haven’t stopped to pee. Mile 7 is the last of the two big hills on the course so I back the pace down to keep the effort consistent as we climb into Georgetown. Mile 8 along M Street in Georgetown is magical. There are people everywhere cheering, ringing bells, blowing horns and just having a great time. I’m inspired by this as the course levels back off and I slide back into marathon pace. I try to find my Uncles old store, Orpheus Records (formerly Georgetown Record and Tape Exchange) which is known around the world for its extensive collection of Vinyl. The list of customers from the golden years reads like a Who’s Who of Rock, Country and R&B music. I’m sure I ran by it as he told me he has watched many a MCM from his store front window when he was there, but I can’t see it. I make the right turn back down the last hill and start along the river. I know that the course is going to be flat most of the way now.
Miles 10 through 15 are pretty boring as we run with the river on the right and the golf course on the left. Access to this area is limited to course volunteers so there are no spectators to cheer us on. At some point during this stretch, I lost the urge to urinate. It just went away, vanished. I see a guy ahead of me that has to be over 7 feet tall. I think about asking him if he is doing altitude training-like he has never heard that before. I never catch up with him, so the opportunity never presents itself. These miles go by between a 7:51 and 7:56 pace, right on plan.
Mile 16 is where the course starts through the monuments and along The Mall. I’m uplifted by the return of the spectators to the course. Their enthusiastic cheering buoys me along. I start to listen for my name and to look for my wife and kids as it’s along here that I am expecting them to be. Things get a little tight as we enter The Mall area. On one dogleg to the left followed by a jaunt to the right, a brilliant spectator decides to cross in the narrowest part of the course, right in front of me, with a BABY STOLLER! I managed to get by without having to slow. Others behind and to my right weren’t as lucky. She was given a hearty “What the fuck!” by more than one runner. I make the right and come along the north side of the mall. At about mile 17.5 I see my wife and kids. I feel pride swelling up in my chest. My wife made an extraordinary effort to get herself and the kids down to DC so they could see me race and to be there for me at the finish. I’m extremely grateful to have them all in my life. I’m still on pace through 18 miles as I round the end of the Mall and start back toward the river. There are some sneaky little rolling hills through this area and I start to feel them a bit. I have to check myself a bit to make sure my breathing isn’t getting out of hand. A couple miles pass at just over 8:00 pace, nothing to be concerned about.
Then, at mile 20, I hit the bridge. The George Mason Memorial Bridge. It’s an uphill that I hadn’t counted on. It seems to go on forever and I am starting to really hurt a little. I see a sign on the bridge that says “Make this Bridge your BITCH!” which elicits a slight chuckle before I go back to feeling like…well, like I’ve run 20 miles. The bridge ends at around mile 22. 20, 21 and 22 go by in 8:08, 8:11 and 8:33. I’m starting to bonk. I have been drinking at the water stops, alternating PowerAde and water and taking my Gus as directed, but this late climb and the rising temperatures have really started to take their toll on my. At the water stop at around 22, I grab a PowerAde and walk to gulp down ever last drop before starting back up again. I trudge along. I have never experienced this level of fatigue before. My legs feel like deadwood as I have to will them to keep moving forward. This section is where the turn-around comes. There are runners ahead of me on the other side of the road. I contemplate just cutting across and joining them. I wonder how many, if any, runners do that. It seems like that turn around point will never come.
Mile 23 in 8:58. I have officially bonked. I want to die. Then comes the turn-around. Finally. I know that this pain will be over soon. I amuse myself when I think “This is where I was going to drop it to 7:40 pace.” The wind is now blowing in my face. Every ripple in the road feels like a 15% incline. Mile 24 in 9:10. Just over 2 miles to go. I don’t remember much from this point other than how terrible I felt, my lungs, my legs. I imagine my face looking pained, like from cutting off my own hand. I’m thirsty, hot and tired. I want to take my shirt off but the bib has my damn timing tag in it. Now I’m running along a highway. I recognize it as the starting point. Can’t be long now. Mile 25 in 9:27, progressively slower. I don’t think the human body is designed to do this. The sign hanging from the over pass says “Wave, you’re being filmed.” The only cognizant thought that I can conjure is “Fuck you” and I can’t even shout it in my mind because I’m so tired. Mile 26 in 9:36. I’m not completely dead, just mostly dead. Two tenths to go. I can do this. And then, one of the cruelest forms of punishment that can be levied by a race director, I make the sharp left hand turn toward the finish, a daunting hill that nearly has me crawling up to the finish. I run the entire way up the hill, if you could call it running. Then a sharp right hand turn and I can see the finish line and the clock ticking away. I have nothing that even resembles a kick so I just mosey across the finish line, completing my first marathon in 3:38:16.
Now I think “Drink” and I walk, and walk and walk and walk. I must have walked 500 yards before I had a Marine put a medal around my neck and then point me to the PowerAde and water. I guzzled down the PowerAde, not realizing before just how thirsty I had become. I had to walk a LONG way to get to the baggage claim and a LONG way to find my family. My kids saw me coming before I got all the way down to where my last name letter tower was in the reunion area. I don’t know that I have ever been happier to see their faces and to hug them tight. I got a little teary eyed at that reunion. Of course, my wife’s embrace took away, even if for a fleeting moment, all the pain I had endured that day. I’m blessed to have her. We jumped on the subway and went to retrieve my car, but not before having a bacon double cheeseburger at 5 Guys.
My take away from this is that 20 miles is easy. 6 miles is hard when you have to run it after the aforementioned 20. I’m not turned off to the marathon. I enjoyed the experience and the training and I have already decided that I will stay home for the marathon next year and run The Baltimore Marathon. Pasta dinner the night before at my house for anyone that wants to come run with me.