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!