Monday, October 26, 2009

A 26.2-Mile Sibling Rivalry at the Marine Corps Marathon

I finished. Long ago, when I accepted that I wasn't going to keep pace with my sister after the first step, my goal was to finish and I reached that goal. 26.2 miles is a long way to go, no matter that my sister finished an hour ahead of me. Only in the last few hours have I started to understand the magnitude of this accomplishment.

A great bonus for completing this marathon was the full acquittal for all those things I quit when I was younger. Had I known I'd get a free pass for a marathon I would have ran one sooner! My father and mother told me I was forgiven for the following:
  • quitting karate in 3rd grade after two weeks because the Cosby show aired at the same time (yes, there was a time before Tivo);
  • quitting the trombone after three weeks because my buddy got a shiny new one;
  • after my dad asked me why I didn't tackle someone in a 5th grade football rec league game, I said, "well, I'll just wait for them to come to me";
  • overly dramatic tales of woe at three sleep away camps due to spectacular homesickness;
  • never playing a game of little league baseball because I always thought the ball was going to hit me and I have trouble following fast moving objects (even those going 40 MPH);
  • only raking Fall leaves when my dad was looking my way, otherwise laying low; and
  • quitting an etiquette class because I wasn't winning the "random" prizes.
Notice a quitting trend here? It ended on Sunday.

Pre-Race Morning
After three bananas, three egg whites, and 40 ounces of the water, I joined my sister and a friend we made the night before as we made our way to the Eisenhower Metro station. Everyone around me had run at least four marathons and were quite encouraging that the hardest part was done, meaning the training. Easy for them to say.

We made our way to the starting corrals in total darkness and waited in the cold for two hours until it was race time. Because we had arrived so early we got to enjoy unused porta-pottys that actually had toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Such a luxury! As the sun rose, so did our excitement as a member of the "Jersey Boys" show sang the national anthem. I took the NJ connection as a good sign. I was looking for all the positive earmarks I could find.

And We're Off!
With the blasting of a howitzer the race started; about 10 minutes later we finally crossed the start line. One step over the line I was tied with my sister, one step later she was gone in a flash; not to be seen until the family linkup after the finish. I was on my own. It was up to me to run this race, control my pace, and listen to my body. I kept telling myself, "you've trained for long runs so this is just another long run," albeit with water stations every two miles and closed roads for my route."

No turning back at the start!

Miles 0 - 2: Everyone, pee on the side of the road!
As I started my run, it felt like a roller coaster with the seat belt arm already down. I knew it was going to be a great ride despite my worries and I couldn't quit now. After leaving Rosslyn, we ran through some wooded areas which allowed several runners to turn them into their own bathrooms. Even a few female runners found some hidden places; I was certainly impressed with their ingenuity. 1.5 miles in I was ready to ditch my long sleeve shirt and conveniently found a charity collecting such clothes and tossed it their way.

Miles 3 - 4: I Flashed Women and They Laughed
These were the prettiest miles of the course because of the peak color changing in the trees. Is there a better drive in the DC area than the GW Parkway in the Fall? More wooded areas meant more pit stops for runners who thought nothing of leaving their marks. At mile 4 we would turn left onto the Key Bridge. 50 yards before I figured this was the last spectator-free wooded area and decided to become one of those runners.

I went off-road and took care of things with no runners around me. Only after I was finishing my business did I notice two female runners farther up the hillside doing the same and giggling. I thought it was in my direction and I wanted to yell, "It's shrinkage! It's 40 degrees in the morning!"

Shrinkage is not just for laundry.

Miles 5 - 9: Yep, Georgetown was Built on a Hill
A little after mile 5, I began my intervals of five minutes of running and one minute of walking that would carry me throughout the race. This Georgetown portion of the race went along Canal Road which only reminded me of how crazy it was for me to drive a 22' Penske moving truck along the way. Around mile 9 we were offered orange slices. I wanted no part of them as I wasn't about to mess with my racing diet at this point. Running through a road of orange peels left our shoes with super traction. I'm just happy I didn't have to worry about banana peels.

Miles 10-11: Familiar Faces and Tears of Joy
I was really hitting my stride (haha!) at this point. The crowds were great and I was so very familiar with this part of the course.  I saw my parents just before hitting Hains Point. After running 50 feet from them I turned around and saw my dad hugging my mom with tears in his eyes. For the first time all race, at least one drop on my face wasn't from sweat.

Cue the inspirational music.

Miles 12 - 15: Like Pulling a Thorn From the Lion's Paw
I was warned that Hains Point would suck thanks to the lowest amount of spectators on the course and lots of wind. While there were few spectators, there was no wind. It was a tight fit along the road, but we managed. Just after mile 13 and the water station, I felt a pebble in my right shoe. I tried running with it, hoping that it would move out of the way, but it didn't. I briefly step aside and tried taking my shoe off, but figured it wasn't worth the trouble. A 1/4 mile later the pebble wasn't an issue. I saw my parents shortly thereafter.

Miles 16 - 18: What Happened to My Left Nip Guard?
I got nervous when I saw the mile 16 marker. It was at mile 16 in my last long run that I hit the wall, hard. I limped my way to reach 20 miles that time when my goal was actually 22. I busted through mile 16 with surprising ease. I did a nip guard check. Right one, yep. Left one, nope! Uh oh.

Somehow at some point somewhere my left one came off. Without any backups I had to move forward. Only later did I find out that it fell to my belly button, surely doing a better job of stopping any minor friction cuts down there. Thankfully I was wearing a blue shirt that hid any, umm, bloody evidence that I wasn't protected on my left side.

Miles 19 - 21: I Fought the Wall and I Won
After completing the route up and down the mall, that took the shape of a male body part definitely not suffering from shrinkage, I saw my parents and sister's boyfriend as I made way over 395. My quads were on fire. They weren't too bad when I ran, but my one-minute walks had me checking to see if my quads really were smoking.

At mile 21, my calves tightened or gave out, maybe that's one and the same. I tried walking only to stumble a bit as my calves didn't want me running anymore. If I ran a certain way I felt a shot of pain through my groin. Yep, my lower half wasn't having any fun this day. I pushed forward and made myself run. Mind over matter in the truest sense.

Miles 22 - 23: The Longest Mile
I reached Crystal City knowing my pain threshold would be tested all the way to the finish line. I turned onto Crystal Drive and began the longest mile of the race. With runners running on the other side of the road I knew the turnaround point had to be soon, but it never came. The street was lined with colored flags that were nice at the start, but an annoyance at the end.

I kept seeing a flag over a hill thinking that it had to be our U-turn only to be disappointed time and time again. It was tough not knowing how far I had to go before I could run on the other side of the road. Eventually I made the turn, through a driveway no less, and had two miles left to go.

Miles 24 - 26: I Won't Quit on Myself
I really wanted to walk for longer than one minute, but I kept telling myself I'd be wasting the great running I had done earlier in the race. And quit for what purpose? Because I'm mentally fatigued? This was no time to quit in what might be my only marathon. I dug deep and pushed forward, thinking of a few select folks who are in worse shape then me and could only dream of having "quads on fire" as their biggest issue.

Mile 26.2: A Goal Realized
I turned up the Iwo Jima Memorial hill, ran by the grandstand, and put my arms up at the finish line. It was awesome. Two blood blisters were well earned this day.

Post Race: Wobbling Like a Wobble Toy
I swayed a few times as I reached the finisher medal line. With the medal around my neck, I sought out water and any food within reach. Cheerios and more water gave me balance after 10 minutes of leaning on a pallet of boxes. I waited as the massive crowd made its way up and over to Wilson Boulevard. In what seemed like miles away, but was only a few blocks, I found my cheering section in the Family Linkup as planned.

Oh I know this feeling now. Walking downstairs backward helps.

Hugs and kisses were given, more great pictures were taken by my sister's boyfriend, and tears were shed. I ate a Chipotle burrito and we waited in a fast moving line to enter to the Rosslyn Metro station. My sister received a Marine Corps music CD, we got our finisher coins, and my face was covered in salt, glorious marathon salt.


Anonymous said...

You did it you are no longer a quiter
You are now a winner


sammygeerock said...

Way to go Rich!