WASHINGTON, D.C. — “You got this. You got this. You, you, you got this,” said a enthusiastic woman in Georgetown like a grown-up cheerleader.
“You have run 24 miles. Today, you are the heroes,” a muscle-bound Marine said as we entered Crystal City.
“Who said you can walk? I see walkers in my running course,” another Marine barked like a drill sergeant at mile 24ish water stop.
Theses are just a few of the enthusiast comments that echo in my head as I recall running the Marine Corps Marathon. In this post, I plan to focus on my experience. You can find a lot about the course of “The People’s Marathon” on the Internet.
The easy post would be to let my inner teen speak: “That marathon was so epic! OMG, OMG, OMG!”
But I’m a Mountain Mama. While the marathon was epic, I know I could have done things differently.
Right now, 72 hours after the race, I feel blah. Maybe it’s the rainy day or the fact I’m no longer training. My goal has been accomplished.
Before the starting ceremony
The night before the race, I probably had one of the best night’s sleep in a while. I packed everything earlier that night and had my prerace meal planned out.
The challenge came in riding the Metro down to the Pentagon. Luckily the train was only filed with runners, including my husband who did the 10K.
It was quiet and you could feel the nervousness in the air. As I rode, I wrote my list of names on my arms. Since I last posted the list, I double-checked it and found some people I had left off.
Getting off the Metro, the long lines had already started. I was in a sea of runners heading to the start. There were porta potties before security, but I knew there were even more after the metal detectors so I followed everyone else to the security lines. And waited… And waited …
I was among the luck ones who got in with time to spare. It took me a good 20 minutes or so to get through security. I heard from some people who arrived later that they waited an hour, and by then the volunteers just let runners go through so they could make the start on time.
(I later learned that the marathon extended the start 40 minutes to accommodate people due to issues at the security checkpoint.)
There were enough distractions to keep my nervousness at bay until the start. I had to fend off rain while taking photos, load my drop off bag onto the UPS truck, and find my pace group.
Finding my pace group wasn’t hard, sticking with it was. Even before the race started, we had to move from one part of the road to another. I had to find the balloons a few times I order to make sure I stayed with people who were my pace.
And now we run
We waited for what seemed like an eternity. Sure there was a cool opening ceremony, but once the howitzer went off, we were at a standstill. It took me 20 minutes to get to the actual starting line due to the crowd of 27,000 runners. That’s like having my entire city’s population converge at one spot for a parade.
I had already lost my pace group which was in front of me. So, I caught up with them. And lost them again at the first water stop. This cat and mouse game when on for the first 13 miles until I lost them for good when I stood in line for a porta potty.
Alone in a crowd
Someone who ran the Marine Corps Marathon before told me that you’re never alone. And this is very true. I spent more time staring at the backs of people and looking for openings to squeeze through than I did taking in the monuments and other sights of Washington, D.C.
I looked for red shirts, the shirts of my group, Team RWB. There were a lot of red shirts, a lot of organizations used the color and many people wore their red race shirt due to the cold and rain.
In Georgetown, I started to pay more attention to the crowds. Some servers at a restaurant banged pots and pans while cheering us on. A band played near the waterfront. The crowds can help carry you through most of the race.
But there are times when you feel alone. It’s just you out there running and five-plus hours of running can take a toll mentally and physically.
Luckily the marathon had distractions, like when you run under U.S. flags for a good quarter mile or so after the blue mile. The blue mile has signs with photos and descriptions of Marines who were killed in action. For me it as hard to look at, especially when I saw someone holding his or her kids.
But around this time, we heard a Marine tell us we were halfway done and one of the runners started belting out the choruse to Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.”
“Oh, we’re half way there. …” And the rest of us joined in.
It was times like these that made the soreness and chaffing I felt tolerable. And theses moments happened almost every mile.
While it felt like I was part of the crowd, this was my race to run. I had to put in the effort.
Team RWB helped me a lot during the race. Every so often, I’d see a member and start running next to him or her. We’d exchange pleasantries and keep going.
At one point, near the dreaded bridge (you have to cross the bridge before a certain time or they pick you up) a group of women passed me as I walked and said, “Come on Eagle” and waved for me to join them.
It was a group from D.C. and two of them were helping a first-timer. It was nice to run with them for a while as they devised a strategy to get their friend safely to the finish. Like many runners, she was having issues, so they encouraged her and slowed down when needed.
I really felt Eagle pride as we passed an RWB member who was running with a member of the Sempre Fi fund. His friend was at “the wall,” a term used to describe when your body and/or mind doesn’t want to push forward. For most runners, the wall happens around mile 20.
“I’m not giving up on you,” the Team RWB member said. “We’ll make it across the finish line together, even if I have to carry you.”
At mile 22, he encouraged more than just his friend get to the finish line.
I ran. I saw. My mission was accomplished. I didn’t hit “the wall.” I had an amazing time and accomplished my goals of finishing, having fun and beating my husband’s first marathon time.
I would like to do MCM again. I’m no longer a first-time marathon runner, so I can focus on the race differently.
I also feel a bit let down by what I did. I feel like I could/can do more.
And I have been granted that chance on the fundraising front. We are allowed to fundraise until the end of the year.
I will do another marathon. Steve Prefontaine said, “The best pace is a suicide pace.”
I plan on getting over my fears of dehydration, getting yucky, etc., and going that pace. I have a little less than a year to get there.
I got this. After all, I’ve crossed the finish line before. I am a marathoner!
Congratulations on your first marathon, AND for actually making it to the start on time :). I ended up stuck in security for quite a while. It ended up not being a big deal, but threw me off for a bit to not run out with everyone else in the timing groups. Anyway, congratulations again, and all the best with the NEXT marathon!!