Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Race Part 2

We saw many, many interesting fellow runners while on the course. There were a ton of charity runners (like ourselves) raising money for causes as varied as autism, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, and the Wounded Warrior Fund. We saw participants using handcycles (many racing for the Semper Fi Fund), and an amputee runner using a carbon-fiber blade just like Olympian Oscar Pistorius. We were also mightily impressed by the soldier wearing a full Explosive Ordnance Disposal suit as he completed the course---not only must he have been terribly hot, but those suits can weigh as much as 80 pounds!

Mile 10 took us by the Kennedy Center, and then we proceeded along the Potomac to what Chris had warned me was a long, boring section of the course (granted, when he ran previously the course was different, and Haines Point was more towards mile 18-20). Haines Point is a massive golf course on a piece of land shaped like a fang; what makes it difficult is the lack of crowds. Fortunately, there was a gel stop and a water station, and people had come out before the race started to put up A LOT of entertaining signs.

As we started on to the Point, we were met with the sight of about 20-30 Gold Star Moms lining the side of the road, all wearing blue shirts (part of the "Run to Remember" movement to never forget those military members who have died). Some were holding signs of support, and others were holding photos of loved ones no longer with us. I was struck again and again by the realization that so many didn't even see their 25th birthday.

It was also on this stretch of the course that we hit the halfway mark; our split was 2:34:34, right where we wanted to be as far as pacing (not too fast, and with plenty of cushion to Beat the Bridge). The wind really picked up on this section, especially as we made the turn back towards downtown. Everyone was slowing a bit, and we were hopeful that things would die down once we had city buildings around us again.

Miles 16-18 took us around the Tidal Basin, up and down Independence Avenue, and along the Mall in front of many of the Smithsonian Museums. This stretch brought back many memories of school field trips to see the Hope Diamond, the tattered American flag that once flew over Fort McHenry, Fonzie's jacket, and the Apollo Lunar Module. These museums are truly a national treasure! It was also along this stretch that we hit the first of our time-sensitive deadlines, Beat the Gauntlet (mile 17.5). We had to reach this point in less than 4 hours and 20 minutes; we made it in about 3:30.

We continued down Madison Drive, running right in front of the Capitol building before heading down the other side of the Mall. Then the turn onto 14th Street and mile marker 20---we did it! We Beat the Bridge, and with plenty of time to spare--you have to arrive in under 5 hours 5 minutes or they pick you up in a bus and your race is over :-(. We managed it in about 4 hours. Yay!

Of course, after the elation of "missing the bus", as it were, things got tough. We never ran more than 20 miles in training, so this was all uncharted territory. My right hip and hamstring had been bothering me off and on since about mile 15 and we'd already stopped to stretch twice. Chris seemed okay, but confessed he was starting to feel it in his knees and feet. We ran on to the 21 mile mark, and I finally told Chris I had to walk for a bit. I felt a little disappointed having to walk, but I really felt at that point if I didn't ease up, I might not make it to the finish.

We walked about a mile; this was another terribly boring part of the course with no crowd support, just the whoosh of speeding cars on the highway next to us (also making us feel extra extra slow). But we could not feel too badly for ourselves as while we were walking, we saw a woman struggling to push a handcycle over the bridge. The front wheel had a flat tire and a bent rim, and it was VERY slow going for her. Fortunately, two men on bicycles approached her and offered assistance; I do not know how her race ended, but I hope she was able to finish.

We started running again just before mile 22 (back in VA), and boy was it painful to start up again! But somehow, once we got back in the rhythm, running actually felt better than walking. At this point we could see the Pentagon, but before we made it there we had to run through Crystal City. I am still not sure why it is called this, but whatever. All I know is the crowds were incredible here, blasting loud, uplifting music and really cheering us on. We both felt reinvigorated at this point and full of energy.

This good feeling lasted about two miles. We declined to eat the Dunkin' Donuts Munchkins offered at mile 24, though we certainly stepped on plenty of them. Right after this food station, I had to stop and stretch again. My hip was aching again and my right hamstring felt like it was about to cramp, which I wanted to avoid at all costs! I once again told Chris I needed to walk a little, and he supported me and stayed right with me. I'm sure it was difficult for him, especially as we were so close to the finish, but we had agreed to finish together no matter what and our team wasn't going to fall apart now.

We walked along the Pentagon, and truth be told at this point there were plenty of people with the same idea. Some seemed upset at the thought of missing time goals; a few were genuinely struggling and unsure if they could make it to the end. Everyone along the road was offering encouragement and reminding us how close we were to the finish. The sky was darkening, the wind was picking up, and it felt like the temperature had dropped 10 degrees; I was at the point where I either needed a jacket or to start running again just to warm up!

At this moment we could see the 25 mile sign, and that was definitely the inspiration we needed to pick up the pace. No way were we walking the last 1.2 miles---we had to run it in strong. The crowds were thick again, yelling and cheering and ringing cowbells all over the place. We were feeling excited and happy---we could do this! As we turned toward the Iwo Jima Monument for one last hill, we were joined by our Fisher House coach, Stacy. She congratulated us and directed us up the road to the FINISH LINE. Marines lined the way, clapping, whooping, and extending their hands for high-fives. Chris and I joined hands and crossed the finish line together, just as we'd imagined when we'd started training 30 weeks before.

Official finish time: 5:27:31 (almost exactly 1 hour slower than my time 10 years ago)

Place 18597/8 of 23515 finishers

Immediately after the finish, we received our medals, which have a cool spinny thing in the middle. They are also huge, like Flavor Flav's clock:
After picking up our warming jackets and a box of snacks, we headed back to the Fisher House tent. My legs were quite stiff and I wasn't sure if I should sit down, but my feet were so sore I gave in. Chris and I signed up for complimentary massages (heavenly) and had some Gatorade and snacks before walking back to our hotel. We packed, showered, and dressed in our MCM shirts, ready for the drive home.
Splits, for those who are interested:

5k: 00:37:5610k: 01:15:0515k: 01:51:21

20k: 02:26:46Half: 02:34:3425k: 03:02:59

30k: 03:43:0235k: 04:25:4440k: 05:09:49
Overall pace 12:30/mile


Thanks again to everyone who offered their support during our training and fundraising efforts. We thought of all of you often along the way, especially on race day.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Race! Part 1

After a decent night's sleep (I think Chris slept better than I did--I was nervous and it took me a while to settle down), we woke at 530am to get dressed. We'd laid everything out the night before, pinned on our bibs, stocked our backpacks with gels, gum, and lip balm. So we just had to eat a little snack, drink some water, and head down to the hotel lobby where our Fisher House escort would be waiting.

Even at 630am, the lobby was crowded and loud. The excitement in the room was palpable. People were discussing strategies, complaining about last-minute injuries, and admiring each other's shoes. Some of the runners were headed to the 10K race being held at the Pentagon, but most of us were marathoners. Finally our guide strapped a big yellow Fisher House flag to her back and announced it was time to go. First stop: the FH tent on Charity Hill, right next to the Carillon Tower near the Iwo Jima Memorial (where the race ends). Our group walked through the dark streets of Arlington and along the edge of the National Cemetery, where the rows of white graves stood in stark contrast to the pre-dawn sky. Marines were everywhere, setting up security and barriers or just offering a pre-race word of encouragement.

Upon our arrival at the tent, we were greeted by FH volunteers and tables full of food and drink. There were also rows of portable toilets in heavy use! Chris and I took a walk over to the war memorial and stood quietly for a few moments, taking it all in. Around us the medical tent was being supplied, Marines were talking quietly as they walked by, and finish line photographers were getting into position. As we turned back towards the FH tent, we knew the next time we saw Iwo Jima would be as we crossed the finish line. I felt incredibly inspired at that moment to run the best race I could and finish, no matter what.

Soon after, it was time for our escort to march us down to the starting line. As we approached the corrals, we saw four Marines in dress uniform marching down the road, and a line of Marines in camouflage all holding flags representing different countries. We paused to watch this presentation of colors, and also for the National Anthem. Then two massive military aircraft called Ospreys flew overhead--it was funny to see the whole 30000+ crowd looking up at the sky and taking pictures with their phones. When all of this was finished, the crowd pressed us forward and we hurried past the Howitzer that would signal the race's start.

Chris and I had a ways to go to find our corral---past the 2 hour crowd, and the 3 hour crowd (which was pretty big). We intended to get to the 5 hour grouping, but the mass of people was so thick we just gave up when we saw the 4 hour marker. Our only danger here was being pushed to go too fast; a 4 hour marathon is run at a pace of a little over 9 minutes per mile, a full two minutes per mile faster than we planned to run. I didn't think we'd be trampled, but we sure were going to get passed a lot!

The median strip was littered with water bottles, empty gel packets, and clothes; the clothes, at least are picked up and donated to local charities. Chris and I added a sweatshirt and some track pants to the pile as we were starting to feel warm enough to go without. The morning was dry, overcast, a little windy, and in the high 50s; not normally shorts and t-shirt weather, but when you run, you have to add 15-20 degrees and dress accordingly. So we were perfectly dressed for a lovely 75 degree day!

The announcer mumbled something incoherent; we heard cheering from the people way in front of us and then suddenly, a BOOM! We were all standing still, and I heard someone next to me ask, "Has the race started?" After a few moments our section finally started at a slow walk to the sounds of  "Hello" by Karmin, followed up by "Gangam Style" by Psy. It took us a few songs to cross the start line, especially since I was not running a single step until we officially started--why waste energy?

We started nice and slow, and were probably passed by a hundred people in less than five minutes. No worries; we agreed we would not start to worry about pace unless we were passed by the 5:30 pace group. For us, the race was broken into two goals. First, Beat the Bridge at mile 20 and avoid the straggler's bus; we had a little over 4 hours to accomplish that. Second, finish under our own power. Both were doable, but getting to mile 20 on time was uppermost on our minds for sure.

The first few miles were slightly uphill through VA, and the streets (already littered with racers' discarded gloves, hats and scarves) were lined with people cheering us on. Many were holding encouraging or funny signs. Some of the memorable signs:

Worst Parade Ever

Chuck Norris Never Ran A Marathon

Paul Ryan Finished 10 Minutes Ago (this one was at mile 3 or 4)

Run Faster, Sandy Is Chasing You  (alternately, Zombies Are Chasing You)

We've Got Binders Full Of Runners

Because 26.3 Would Just Be Crazy

Pain Now, Wine Later

Run, Random Stranger, Run

You Are All Kenyans

Marine Corps Marathon Today, Law and Order Marathon Tomorrow

Toenails Are For Sissies

I'll tell you within that first mile we were already pleased with our decision to bring our own water. We drank as we liked and got on a schedule of hitting every other water station to supplement. Toward the end of the route we were stopping at every water station, mostly so Chris could get some Gatorade (the gels were no longer appetizing to him).

After completing 4+ miles in Virginia, we ran over the Key Bridge into Georgetown. We could see runners ahead turning right on M Street, but quickly realized we had to finish a long loop to the left first. This part of the course wrapped around the Georgetown Reservoir; the crowds were thin but the scenery was pretty and we saw lots of beautiful homes. There was a monster hill at the end of this section but we conquered it!

Running through Georgetown (mile 9) was wonderful. There were a ton of people out in support, fun music playing, and lots of Fisher House cowbells ringing. The FH volunteers really kept us going throughout; I was definitely looking for their yellow shirts and cow hats along the sidelines, and when they spotted us, we'd get our own personal cheering section with screams, whoops, and lots of noise. There were even people not affiliated with FH, who, upon seeing our shirts and hats, would yell out "Go Fisher House!"

I'll stop here for now (don't want to bore anyone) and try to finish up the race with another post in a few days.

Thanks for reading!