This is probably going to be an epic post, so kudos in advance to anyone who makes it through. When I was thinking about writing this I didn't anticipate being able to recall enough as some of you can to do a mile by mile play by play. After looking at pictures, more came back to me, so this could go on for a while. It is, after all, a marathon, right?
Saturday was a nervous blur, what I remember most is that I couldn't keep still. I ran a few errands in the morning with my family and then was on my feet doing laundry or pacing around the apartment randomly throwing things into a pile for my race day bag. The weather was terrible, rain that turned into sleet and snow. Despite the forecast for clear skies on Sunday, I was still fairly worried that I'd be running in cold wet muck. We watched a lot of college football on tv and tried to play board games to keep me distracted. Watching my shaking hands try to win at Jenga was entertaining for sure.
Race day started at 4:30 am, when the alarm went off for the first time. I knew it was earlier than necessary but I am also a snooze junkie and would need that extra time to doze and talk myself into getting up. I don't recall getting a lot of sleep but I wasn't expecting to either. I'd made an effort earlier in the week to get to bed early each night so I'd banked a decent amount of rest. The next hour was a combination of re-packing flurry and 5 bleary-eyed people stumbling around a tiny apartment trying to get dressed and out the door. I was actually ready a little early and decided we might as well get the show on the road.
Good thing, since the car needed a serious ice scraping before we could go anywhere and that took up about 10 minutes. Then we got in my car to drive over to the Pentagon and realized the gas tank was on E. My bad. Another 5 minutes at the gas station while we all tried to stay warm and awake. It seemed like the dead of night out as we drove to the drop off point. As we got closer we began to see the shadows of other runners shuffling towards Runners Village and it slowly started to sink in that today was the day. My parents dropped me off as close as they could and headed off to find a place to park near the start/finish in Rosslyn. I had a bit of a walk around the Pentagon, through security and bag check before reaching the beginning of the corrals for runners.
The original plan was to meet up with my training group and running partner but once I arrived at Runners Village it was immediately clear that it wasn't going to happen. I was a little frazzled but decided that it was out of my control and the best thing I could do was head for my corral and try to stay warm through the opening ceremonies. Thankfully the time seemed to go by quickly and soon enough the firing pistol sounded and MCM 2011 was underway. It only took ten minutes for my corral to reach the start line and from then on it was just me and 26.2. I was never alone on the course but I never felt too bunched in either. The course definitely narrows unexpectedly in certain places but I don't feel like it impacted my pace in a significant way.
The first mile was a blur and I was happy to see that I was right on target for my A goal finish. I hadn't gone out too easy or too fast, so it seemed. I enjoyed all the spectators that lined the streets, saw my family right away at the mile marker, and laughed out loud when I saw some friends from my group on the sidelines with a giant poster that said "Worst Parade Ever." Since it was about 30 degrees out I was bundled up with a hoodie, gloves, and headband over my usual long run gear. From the look of the pictures my sister took, I was all smiles. Hopefully that would be the theme for the duration of the race.
The next three miles went by just as smoothly. A moderate uphill with a great downhill afterwards, coasting down onto the GW parkway before heading up the ramp to the Key Bridge. My family was right there at mile 4, cheering me on into Georgetown. I got a quick shout out from Amy as she womaned a water station and it was a boost to hear people call out my name and tell me I looked good. Putting my name on my shirt was the best thing I did and I'll do it again for every future marathon I run. I heard so many people calling out to me and cheering me on, it kept me alert and smiling and waving. As someone who has spectated her share of marathons, I always made a point to call out to as many specific runners as I could so they would know they had support on the course. Being on the other side of it, I'm really grateful.
Miles 5-8 were uneventful and a little quiet because that section of the course isn't a big spectating spot. The one significant hill wasn't bad at all, and despite the sun blazing right into my eyes I charged up it and just kept on pushing for Georgetown. Once I got there I knew I'd be fine. At some point over the course of my training I had literally run every inch of the course and reminded myself of that fact. I knew this course. I had it. It was mine. The next hurdle was going to be the road leading up to Haines Point. Anyone who knows me at all knows how much I dislike running Haines Point. I used miles 10 and 11 to tell myself that I wasn't going to let it get me this time. There might have been an f-bomb or two in the mix as I got myself pumped to conquer those three miles of mental torture.
I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of spectators that were along the course at that point. It was such a welcome distraction as my legs were starting to ache. I was still on or within a minute of my goal pace and I had to remind myself that I still had another half left to go. My half time was comparable to other halves I've raced, which made me realize that I could probably hack some time off my half PR with a little extra work in the coming year. Miles 16-18 were another mass of spectators and I was focused on how much longer it was going to be until I saw my family again. I got to see them again at miles 18 and 19 along the mall, and it was a perfect boost. I could tell my Dad was getting really emotional and everyone kept telling me I looked great and was going to finish strong.
The last big hurdle of the course was going to be the 14th Street Bridge. Again, I told myself that I had run this numerous times before and that I had it. I've got this. It definitely lived up to the hype, as I got on the bridge area earlier than my previous runs and stayed on it longer as well. Runners were stopping left and right to walk, stretch, or just give up. My training group was on the bridge with their fantastic signs and I screamed, jumping up and down, when I saw them. At this point my legs were really feeling the miles and I was starting fall off my A goal pace. I kept telling myself that I've got this. I've come this far. I was also looking forward to the end of the bridge because that was where my friend Jen, marathoner extraordinaire, was waiting for me. Once I rounded the off ramp and came into Crystal City at mile 22, there she was.
Never mind how fresh faced and bouncy she was. It was a huge relief to see her and know that I was closing in on my goal. She lied and told me looked great, even though I was starting to experience some real pain in my hips and lower legs. The A goal pace was toast at this point and I had to just let it go. It was about maintaining now, and getting to 26 with a little left to charge the .2 hill to the finish. We talked to keep me distracted and she was constantly building me up and telling me how awesome I was doing. As a veteran of MCM, she also knew the course really well and laid out exactly what I had left so there were no surprises. I had my hydration and fueling down to a science, so I am grateful to say that I never hit the wall. The last 6 miles were as hard as marathon legend says they are, but I think I managed them pretty darn well.
Jen dropped off at the 26 mile marker with her final words of encouragement and off I went. The hill was crowded with finishers, some walking and some shuffling up as best they could. Having run it so many times in training, I just had to take it on full force. I flew as fast as I could, dodging bodies and digging deep. It wasn't about last minute passing, it was about a fierce finish and learning the meaning of strong. Across the red carpet, under the archway, and over the timemat. I was done. I, little miss anxiety, was a MARATHONER. As soon as I crossed the line the crowd came to a dead stop. Luckily I was able to cross the line before that happened, I have a feeling many runners behind me were not so lucky and had some unnecessary seconds added to their time. The hold was the distribution of the space blankets, but I have to say that was the only hitch in what was otherwise a flawless performance by the Marines Corp and everyone involved in the organization of the race.
We finishers waddled towards a line of Marines, medals at the ready. I made sure I stopped and really focused on that moment. The young Marine shook my hand, congratulated and thanked me, and draped the most beautiful medal in the world around my neck. My smile probably couldn't have been bigger. It was a long, slow, crowded walk from there on to where I was to meet up with my family. Due to crowds they weren't able to see me finish, but it was ok. They were waiting with huge hugs and congratulations, all the same. I made quick stop in the charity tent that my running group hooked up with, just to sit for a few minutes and get some food in me. I honestly wasn't really hungry or thirsty but people kept giving me things and telling me to eat or drink. It was a slightly painful walk uphill to where the car ended up being parked, but I didn't care. I was done!
The rest of the day was spent feeling a little lost. I didn't know what to do with myself. I was achy but restless. I didn't really want anything to eat and I wasn't tired enough to sleep. We did make it out for a celebratory dinner, after which I had a beer and crashed for the night. This was absolutely a very positive marathon experience for me. I know how lucky I am to be able to say that as well. I finished right between A goal and B goal, totally smoking my dreaded C goal. I can't help but wonder if I couldn't have pushed harder and done more, considering how not-tired and good everyone told me I looked. Next time, I guess. The only thing that really surprised me was my lack of emotional reaction to finishing.
I honestly expected to cry. Thinking about the finish in the weeks leading up to race day, I was pretty sure tears were inevitable. But in actuality, it was nothing like that. The first word in my head were "what's next." Having had time to reflect on this a bit, I realize that is pretty typical of me. Constantly downplaying events in my life and never really owning an accomplishment. I'm too scared to be proud of something I did for fear of seeming boastful or a braggard. I'm trying to own this one, and I've had a lot of support in that effort. I was so shocked at the number of friends that were tracking me online during the race, the kind comments and congrats that overwhelmed my facebook page. I guess I really did do something, huh?