“13.1 is when the marathon really starts,” echoed the voice of my friend Daniel in my head as we dropped the half marathoners near RFK and headed back down North Carolina. I’d been here just a couple of hours before, at the start of the race. Keeping Daniel’s words in mind, I took a deep breath and mentally hunkered down. It was nice to get a second glance at one of the most scenic and “DC” parts of the course as we went back toward the Mall. The race had 24,000 runners–but only 5,000 of them were marathoners. So when the 1/2ers veered off, things got pretty thin. And not just with the runners, but of course with the crowd support as well. It was all to be expected, but things were definitely different this time down the course. There were still some folks out along E Street though, including one woman holding my very favorite sign of the race: “You are NOT almost there.” “Oh honey, you are so right,” I laughed to myself.
Just after I passed Union Station and the 14 mile mark, I saw a guy running toward me on the sidewalk with his head down, pushing two kids in an orange BOB. “That dude is in beast mode,” I thought. Then I realized: that’s Katie’s husband! “Jason!” I yelled, and pulled over to give him and the kids high fives. “How is she doing?” I asked him and he told me Katie was on track for a 3:50 or so finish. “Awesome!” I said and we parted ways. As great as it was to have planned sightings of Kristiana along the way, little surprises like that were bright spots too. It made a potentially lonely course and unfamiliar city seem just a little warmer.
So you can imagine my delight when, not a mile later, I heard “HEY! LINDSAY!” from the sidewalk. Kristiana! A totally unplanned sighting! I was in a zone at that point (hence the yelling she had to do to get my attention) so we just smiled and waved like big goobers and moved on; I knew I’d see her again in just a few miles.
Soon the course veered off and headed south; just past the 15 mile mark and now I was headed to parts of town I’d never been to. Miles 16-18 are a bit of a blur, and probably where it hit me just how slow my time was going to end up being. I knew I needed to shape up and run well the rest of the time to keep things from going even further down hill. I remember a tunnel. A big, long, dark tunnel with a man blaring music for us, despite the acoustics completely warping the sound. Coming out of the tunnel was probably about the time I realized just how warm it was, too. This was also around the time that, in an interview afterward, the race spokesman said the medical tent started to look like ‘a war zone.’ None of us, save anyone who may have come from Florida, would’ve trained in temperatures quite like this.
I do remember running along the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, which was beautiful though lonely. There were two race photographers out there, and since the runners were so spread out at this point, I got rid of my gum and prepared to FINALLY get a decent race pic. I always run with gum, but holding it on the side of my mouth when I smile makes my face look tense in pictures. I flipped my headphones out and smiled like crazy for the photographers.
And still, I hate the pictures. Which is why there are none here for you to look at. Forget training with sunscreen so you know you’ve got stuff that won’t sting your eyes when you sweat. Next time, I’m training with self-tanner, baby.
As we emptied into the industrial areas at 17 and 18, it got harder. The crowd support was virtually gone, the sun was beating overhead and, well, it was an industrial neighborhood. My pace definitely slowed here, but I knew Kristiana would be ahead between miles 18 and 19, so I headed towards that next sighting. She was to be in an out-and-back portion of the course by Nationals Park, but as I made the first pass, she wasn’t there. There were a lot of people though, and I picked up some steam from that. I also readied a GU, knowing she’d have water if I could just find her. As I came up the hill right by the baseball field, I saw her–and our friend Lane and a friend of hers. “How are you?” they asked? “Struggling,” I said. “Struggling.” They said all the right things, reminded me that I was so close to the end, and told me I was doing awesome. I told them “I love you all!” and headed out. My iPod knew just the right song to play, the GU kicked in, and I trucked on to the mile 19 marker.
At this point, the course goes across the Frederick Douglass Bridge and into Anacostia. The bridge was hard because, well, it’s a bridge: it goes up, up, up a good bit, then back down at the mid-point. But also, it’s got a good portion of metal grating which, no matter how cushy your shoes are, is hard on feet that have nearly 20 miles on them already.We got into Anacostia Park and it was honestly like things started to blow up for people. In this race, The Wall appeared to be a very large area called Anacostia Park. Everywhere I looked, I saw people walking, and not with the “I’m saving energy” thing that you get early on in a race, but with an air of defeat. It was hot. We were still a Peachtree Road Race from the finish line, and it FELT like the kind of weather you normally run the Peachtree in.
You could almost smell the despair.
It was actually pretty hard to watch, and it was a long straightaway, so I could see a lot. People I’d been going back and forth with went back… and I never saw them again. By mile 21, I wasn’t doing a lot better myself. Looking back, I should’ve eaten another GU. And I sort of knew that, but I just couldn’t stomach the thought of any more sugary stuff in my mouth. I wanted water, but I was also scared of hyponatremia, too. Clearly, the wheels were coming off. I knew I needed a plan. I told myself I could walk for 1 minute, run for 4. That seemed do-able. And it was, in fact, more than do-able… with a little help from Jon Bon Jovi, Axl Rose, and Eddie Van Halen. There comes a point in every race where I don’t want ANY of my music. So I just hit the fast forward button until I get what I like, even if it’s 20 times. And the only thing that would do were my recently acquired 80’s rock songs. Thanks, guys! My breaks actually turned into 1 minute walking, and 8-9 of running, through mile 24. The ‘running’ pace was pretty flimsy, but I just had to keep going. Just before mile 24 a couple of already-done runners were walking toward us, and they yelled “C’mon guys! One more hill and that’s IT!” While I’ve always given the side-eye to the fasties who double back to ‘encourage’ the sweepers, this was quite helpful–it was nice to know what I was looking at.
And then at mile 24… well, at mile 24 you can pretty much do anything. At mile 24, you’re way less than a 5K from home! At mile 24, you might decide it’s okay to listen to this on repeat for the next 2.2 miles (or not). At mile 24, there was nothing stopping me. Forget any disappointment about pace, I was about to DO THIS THING. I picked it up and decided to truck on in. And as we got closer, the crowds picked up again. I could feel the energy. People were looking for their runners, cheering on those of us that they didn’t know, and telling us, over and over again, “You GOT this! You are ALMOST there!”
As the finish neared, I pulled my headphones out entirely and swallowed my gum–(it was Finish Line picture time, riiiiight?) I saw Kristiana, Lane, and her friend again. People were yelling my name. The announcer called it over the loudspeaker. He gave me a heads up about where the finish line photographers were. Up went my hands, out came my grin, and across the Finish Line I went!
In the next post, answers to the burning questions you need to know:
Was there any chocolate mile left for me at the finish line?
Did I follow Hal Higdon’s advice on ‘The 27th mile?’
And, did I wear my medal to dinner that night?
All that, and more, still to come…