My first marathon came and went last week. I'm excited to say I completed it without injury, other than calves that felt like lava pools and feet that felt like cinder blocks. B was my one person support team and had a marathon of her own, trying to intercept me along the 26 mile route. But she did a great job and really helped keep me motivated. I don't think I would have felt the excitement as much if I'd done it by myself.
The weather was perfect for the race. The crowds cheered runners almost every foot of the way. It was only eerily silent on some stretches (bridges, hwy 110). But before long it was drowned out again by onlookers crowding the exit ramps.
The starting shot marked the start of the race, but for me it didn't begin until after 6 minutes of slow walking up to the starting line. There were 31,000 people running and I was in the middle somewhere looking for my pacer's flag showing 4:15. I gave up looking and watched for the 4:30 pacer flag instead. But I never saw that one either.
The first mile went by quickly and I thought 25.2 more miles to go. The second mile went by faster than the first as we poured through Rosslyn, VA. I told myself to ease up, but by the third mile I was still running under 10min/mile. It wasn't until mile 4, as we made our way through Georgetown, that I finally recognized I was going way to fast. As the crowd thinned I dropped down in speed. I missed meeting B at our first check point on the Key Bridge, so we called each other and agreeded to check in at mile 9. I still had on running pants and a wicking hat and needed to ditch them since the sun was coming up. By mile 5 I was starting to feel warm enough to lose them, but I would have to wait until I saw B. And that was going to be the first food station around 9mi.
After leaving Georgetown, the course took us into Rock Creek Parkway. I use to jog there when I lived in DC. I was looking forward to it again. The course did it's first and only loop back in the Parkway. So as runners ran into the Rock Creek we saw all the runners in front of us coming back on the opposite street. I was still feeling good as I came out of the Parkway. Even better when I got to see all the runners that were still behind me. I met up with B shortly before the orange stand and was able to drop off my extra clothes, grab a drink, give her an update/hug/kiss and take off again.
The course ran down the Potomac River after that. I started thinking about how much I had left to run when I hit the 10mi mark. I wasn't even halfway done yet and my mind was starting to act up. The scenic view of the waterfront reminded me that there was a long way to go before we reached Hain's Point and could loop back. By the half way mark, B was already in position for our next meet up at mile 17. I told her I was just at 14mi and she had some time to kill before I'd be there.
It was at this point, I started noticing some runners were not as chipper as others. One couple had to pull off the road suddenly when one of them made a mad dash for a tree. I lost sight of them shortly after that.
After Hain's Point, we ran around the National Mall and headed for the Capital. I vaguely remember some of the buildings but spent most my time looking at the crowds cheering everyone on. I met up with B again to recharge and grab some Chai seeds. I had half my power gels left and didn't want to carry more. I grabbed a couple Mocha flavored ones earlier, when runners hit the second food station near Hain's point.
After meeting with B at mile 17, I was off again to finish the circuit around the Capital. I was glad to put 17 behind me since traffic would reopen again at that marker after a certain time. If you don't make it by 4 hours or so, you're shuttled to somewhere else to continue the race. At that point, you're no longer considered an official finisher.
Our next meet up was only a few blocks for B, but I had to do 3 miles the long way round to mile 20. She picked a meeting spot next to what looked like an all female drum band. I remember rows of drums thundering us all on as we ran by. I gave her another quick hug/kiss before heading over the bridge. This is the point where the race had its second deadline for runners to "beat the bridge" or risk having to take a shuttle due to the bridge reopening to traffic. I was ahead of time but starting to loss my steam at this point.
Mile 21 was a blur of concrete bridge.
Mile 22 was more concrete and Crystal City, (yay, even more concrete). It was along this stretch I started to feel my calves start to twitch involuntarily. I had to slow my run down to a trot for fear of pulling something. Looking back, I was really lucky nothing gave out. I've done short runs before and had a calf muscle suddenly spasm and hurt like hell. After that, there's no way you can run for at least a couple days while you let it heal up again. (Looking back I know I should have been drinking and eating more.)
I ran into B again just as I was getting ready to head out of Crystal City. It was an unplanned meet up. But I'm glad she surprised me. She helped me load up on Gatorade and water along with some last minute bananas she found. I took another gel shot for good measure and headed out again after a kiss. She later told me I looked pretty bad at that point. I felt bad, but I didn't even considering stopping. Must. go. on.
Mile 23 was daunting, as we saw hwy 110 again. That was where the starting line had once been just 4 hours before. I jogged past the Pentagon parking lots once again and back on to hwy 110 to finish out the last few miles.
I remember Mile 24 having a massive water station and took several more cups to reload. I didn't want to mess up at this point.
Mile 25 felt like a mirage. I knew the finish was just up the road and around a bend but it was still over a mile from the finish. B caught up to me one more time before the finish, cheering me on and even running a bit with me for support.
Mile 26, I saw the mile marker and considered stopping to get my picture taken with the sign. But dismissed it quickly thinking I might not be able to keep my legs moving if I stop for too long.
.2 miles to go. All of it up hill. The race organizers thought it would be more fulfilling to put the last fifth of a mile up a hill. They were right. But it didn't make me feel any better at the time.
I remember trudging up that last hill, with my last reserves, towards the Iwo Jima Memorial and finish line. Crowds were cheering everyone on. The last 100 feet were stacked with fans on bleachers, waiting to celebrate all those who could now be called Marathoners.
Crossing the finish was surreal. I don't remember actually telling myself to stop. All the runners crossing the line, were immediately congratulated by Marines stacked curb-to-curb. A short walk later, and Finishers were met by more Marines and issued our finisher medals and a salute.
It was the end to an amazing journey. I felt like every run I had done earlier this year was just a small link in the chain of progress that made this race possible. Even though my legs felt like noodles and my feet could barely drag themselves off the ground, I knew I wanted to do this again.
I called B to tell her I had made it and we picked a spot in the runner's village to meet. Within minutes we were celebrating and swapping stories on what had happened to each throughout the day.