If you missed it be sure to check out my Marine Corp Marathon Recap – Part 1.
Sunday/Marathon Day –
The alarm went off at 5:00 and we gathered our stuff together, checked about a million times to make sure we weren’t forgetting anything, okay maybe two million, wrapped up in our throw away gear/clothing since it was only 40 something degrees outside, and left the hotel at 5:45 for the five minute walk to the Metro. We heard that you need to make it to the Metro before 6:00 or that it turns into a madhouse. Luckily we made it just in time. When we showed up the Metro wasn’t too busy. However, as we waited around the 10 minutes or so for the next train it got crazy. Luckily since we were at the front we were able to smoosh on and take the very crowded Metro two stops to the race start, thank heavens it was close. Getting off the Metro was a process in itself. An entire train packed full of people trying to go up the one single escalator, yikes! It probably took us close to 20 or 30 minutes just to make it above ground.
Once we made it out we followed the swarm of people and embarked on the walk to the start line. By the time we walked the mile or more it was about 7:00, just an hour until race start. We found port-a-potties for a last minute bathroom break, ate our granola bars (a Quest bar in my case) for some breakfast/last minute fuel, and made our way to the corrals. Corrals were not assigned, so we choose to line up with the 4:30-5:00 expected finish time group.
It was amazing to stand in the corral and see the paratroopers jump down holding American flags; I could tell this race was going to mean a lot to me. How could it not when everywhere you look you see Marines in uniform there to help you? Plus I was extremely excited about running a large marathon (Nashville was mostly a half and it was hard to see everyone turn off to finish when I still had so far to go) in a city I had never been to before, what a great way to play tourist. When the Howitzer went off releasing the first corrals we got very excited. The marathon jitters really started to hit as I got my Garmin set and threw my toss clothes (actually an old beach towel I had wrapped myself in) to the side. I glanced down at the Marine Corp pin I was wearing. A pin my grandpa bought for his mother when he was a young Marine himself. A pin he gave to her in 1944 right before he left for World War II, not knowing if he would return. I prayed that I would do him proud and that he would give me the strength I needed to make it through.
About 15 minutes after the first gun our corral was off and moving. The first few miles of the course are the hilliest, but I was really enjoying it. The weather was amazing, almost 50 degrees by then, and the course was really pretty. Plus the number of Marines lining the course amazed me. They kept cheering for us all, telling us good job, and thanking us for running. How amazing that they were thanking us when what they do is so much more amazing than running a marathon! The entire thing was overwhelming. I could tell as soon as I started that is would be my favorite marathon course so far and maybe ever.
I had done a lot of thinking leading up to the marathon on what my goals were and what I wanted to do. With my injuries I wasn’t sure how I would feel that day. I knew I would finish, that was my biggest goal, but would I feel good enough to go for a PR? The truth is I wasn’t sure that would be in the cards for me. I had convinced Sarah to run this race, her first ever marathon, and her training had been riddled with injuries. I worried about how she would do both mentally and physically after such a long, rough training cycle. I thought about it in the days leading up to the race and knew that making sure she finished was my top priority, hopefully I could pull her with me to a sub 5 PR.
I stuck with Sarah the first few miles and tried to motivate/talk to her to get her excited. Our pace was just over what we would need for a 5 hour finish, but I knew this was the hilliest section of the race and hoped we could pick up some time on the flatter stretches. While I was sticking to Sarah’s side like glue I was a complete jerk to T. See I don’t worry about her at all on runs – she is the most determined, bordering on stubborn, person I have ever met and she is fast! Way faster than me, in fact I worry that training with me really holds her back. I had talked to T a lot on our runs before the race about going for it, leaving me and seeing what she could really do. However, I knew she would try to stick with Sarah and I for 5 or 10 miles, because she would feel bad leaving, and I knew those extra slow miles would kill her time. So in true jerk running buddy fashion – I ignored her. I stuck to Sarah’s side and whenever T tried to talk to me I pretended to be listening to my music (my headphones were in, but my music was not on). Finally, just before mile two T took off all on her own. Don’t worry – I truthfully told T all this and she, and her brand new marathon PR, understand why I did it and forgave me. I explained I thought it was the only way to get her away from Sarah and me and onto her own speedy race.
So here I am stuck to Sarah like glue happily knowing that T is off running for a PR. Sarah and I chugged along at an 11:30ish pace until about mile 6. She was complaining that her stomach was really bothering her and I convinced her to stop for a bathroom break. We still had a long way to go and I figured it was better to wait in line and lose a few minutes than for her to be miserable the whole race. I knew that this, plus the pace we were running, meant I had very little chance to PR, but I was truly enjoying the experience. I felt like I was doing some good helping Sarah through her first 26.2.
After the pit stop Sarah pulled it back together for a mile or two and then everything fell apart. She was in a lot of pain and just couldn’t keep going. I could tell she was extremely upset. To train for so long and then have your race fall apart is horrible (the same thing happened to me at Disney). I tried to convince her that she could still do this, but I wasn’t sure she believed me. I was terrified that if she kept going at the pace she was currently walking she would get swept off the course; she would not finish the marathon. I had a huge decision to make: should I leave Sarah to walk and continue to run the marathon I trained for, or stay with Sarah and try to get her across that finish line? It didn’t even take a second for me to choose. There will be many more marathons in my life, many more chances to PR; I needed to stay with Sarah to help her toward the finish. To help her become a marathoner – heck, I was the one who convinced her to do this in the first place. It was time for me to follow through.
At first she was not only very upset things were going so wrong, but she was terrified of getting swept, and feeling guilty that she was ruining my race (I could tell she was working to fight back tears at one point). She asked me to go on and leave her, to run my race. She worried that I was running this race in my Bobbin’s memory (my amazing grandfather) and that she was ruining that experience. Sarah was never lucky enough to meet Bobbin, but I am completely confident that he would have approved of my decision to stop my race and stay with Sarah. He was the kindest person and would have been happy that I was doing something to help someone else; he always put other above himself. What a wonderful way to honor him – to get Sarah through her first marathon. Every time we passed a Marine (which was pretty frequently) I touched my pin and happily thought about him and what a great man he was. It was a beautiful, emotional race even though things were not going as we had planned.
It was rough at first. I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it. I tried to encourage Sarah to run/walk, but our walk sections seemed so long and our run sections so short. Would we make it? Would we beat the bridge before they closed it down? I kept talking to Sarah – trying to convince her we could do this, trying to be supportive, trying to encourage her, and occasionally just trying to be bossy enough to keep her moving. I was able to get her to speed up a bit and we kept walking at a 14 minute-a-mile pace, exactly what we needed to stay in the race. Those miles started to tick away. We walked by nine and next thing you knew we were at thirteen. Sarah’s demeanor started to change. She went from doubting herself and being upset to being extremely determined. She suddenly realized that not finishing was not an option. She decided it was not if she would finish the marathon, but when. From that point on things started to improve. She was still in a lot of pain, but her spirits were lifted as we kept trudging forward. We were able to run small sections of the course and I could tell how happy she was when she was able to run further or faster than the time before. She began talking to people around her, taking in the sights, and thanking the Marines for their service.
We watched as the miles ticked away, always conscious to make sure we were running/walking below that 14 minute-a-mile pace so we could beat the bridge. The half marathon point disappeared and we enjoyed miles 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19 as we made our way past so many famous monuments and the gorgeous capital building. I loved this section of the race course. The crowd support was amazing and the area was beautiful. We hit that mile 17 sign and boom, less than double-digit miles left. Then we hit 19 and we could rejoice in the fact that 20 was just around the corner. I must admit than when we had to start walking so early in the race I worried that it would seem like it took forever to finish; however, the miles went by quickly. I loved seeing Sarah get closer and closer to her goal as she grew more confident in her ability to become a marathoner. Whenever she mentioned that she was sorry I didn’t get to run my race I just reminded her that she was giving me a great excuse to relax and enjoy the sights of DC and not to worry as I was having a fabulous race, and I truly was.
Mile 20 came and we made it to the bridge. We “beat the bridge” and there was no longer any chance of us being swept of the course. Sarah would finish her first marathon; we both breathed a sigh of relief. I reached down and pulled a card out of my pocket (a card now wrinkled and soaked in sweat). I had asked Sarah’s running blogger friends and her family to send letters, notes, and cards for me to give to her throughout the weekend in order to help make her first marathon more meaningful. I had given her many before the race and many after, but I was instructed to deliver this one to her at mile 20 of the race. I don’t know exactly what it sad, but the emotion of the race (the injury, the walking, the Marines, the letters, etc.) overwhelmed Sarah and she began to cry a bit. I am the queen of empathetic crying and tears began to well up in my eyes too. This was the first of our happy tears, but not the last.
Around this time I had turned my phone back on in my pocket. I had signed up to track T and Beka so we would know how they did. As we walked the few miles along the bridge (AKA highway overpass), by far the least attractive part of the course, we began to hope for our friends. To dream that maybe, just maybe, things had worked out and they had met their goals. Then I felt a vibration – I pulled my phone out and there it was – a text saying that Beka had finished underneath her 4:15 goal. We were so proud of her, the happy tears began to well up once more, and we began to shout and scream to everyone on the bridge, with tears in our eyes, “Beka met her goal!” (The random strangers may not have been as impressed with this and probably thought we were a bit crazy.) We continued along the bridge/highway and just 6 minutes later my phone buzzed again. T had decimated her 4:30 goal. Once again happy tears came rolling down (apparently we were a bit emotional) as we shouted and screamed with joy for her. The girls had done it – they had both met their race goals. Even though our race wasn’t going as planned we couldn’t help except be overjoyed for them – boy do I love that about the running community – we all cheer each other on – it is always about so much more than just you.
We made it off the bridge and bit by bit headed to the finish. Mile 21 turned into 22 and suddenly we were at 23, only a 5K left. At mile 24 we rejoiced, just two more miles, and then suddenly there it was mile 25. Neither Sarah, nor I, could hold back the joy. Sarah told me, “It wasn’t how I wanted to finish, but I will finish.” She mentioned she was upset at her slow time and a man next to us asked:
Man: “What do you call a slow finisher?”
Us: blank stares
Man: “A MARATHONER!”
I LOVE that. It is so true. Run, walk, or crawl 26.2 miles is still one heck of a long way and we were almost to the end. Sarah was about to do it. She was about to become a marathoner and I was so overjoyed that I got to share in that experience with her – to help, motivate, encourage, and annoy her all the way across that finish line.
When we hit mile 26 I told Sarah we had to finish it running. We jogged up the final hill and at the halfway point she began to slow. She was in a lot of pain, but I was bossy and forced her to continue running up that hill. I kept pointing at the finish line and yelling about how close we were, that she was right there, she could do this. Suddenly, it was all over, we crossed the finish line and it hit me – we had done it – Sarah was officially a marathoner. She didn’t give up, didn’t stop, and didn’t get swept off the course (even though I was very worried at one point that she would) she pushed through and made it to the finish. I was so proud of her. I gave her the biggest hug, and BOOM, more happy tears.
Sarah was a marathoner –
Me: 5:47:38 (My monster sized feet must have crossed the finish a bit ahead.)
Sarah: 5:47:40 WOOHOO!
We made our way through the crowds of finishers. Sarah kept asking where the medals were and we walked for a long time before we finally got to the rows and rows of Marines who were handing them out. I had planned on telling the Marine who handed me my medal all about my Bobbin. How it was thinking of him and remembering what a kind, selfless, strong man he was that got me through training even when the injuries seemed never ending and the race seemed next to impossible. How he was a brave man who chose to enlist in the Marines and served in World War II and Korea. How he had raised a Marine himself; my father also enlisted and served in Vietnam. How the thought of him had gotten me through this marathon. The Marine put the medal around my neck and I think one word made it out, “Bobbin” before I burst into tears and was unable to say all I wanted. I tried to explain my story, but instead walked away in tears. Luckily, the kind Marine walked back over to me and asked if I would like a picture. Something I had of course forgotten about in the midst of my tears.
We then took pictures of Sarah getting her very first marathon medal and begin to make our way through the crowds. The herd of marathoners moved quickly through the lines to get water, bananas, food, and finishers’ jackets – those Marines were efficient and organized and we were quickly out of the finishers’ area with bags full of goodies and into the village. We stopped so Sarah could buy some official MCM Finisher gear and then began to head back. About a block outside of the Finishers’ Village was our very own Rosslyn Metro Station. Apparently many of the 30,000 runners were planning to use the Metro to get home and the line filled the platforms, crept up the most horrible escalator ever, and snaked out into the street and through the Finishers’ Village. There must have been hundreds of tired, sore marathon runners in line. Boy we were glad we had spent the few extra dollars to stay at the Key Bridge Marriott – we happily bypassed the lines and walked the few extra blocks home arriving only a couple minutes later.
We had texted T after she finished and told her that instead of waiting for us at our designated meet up spot she should head back to the hotel since she was done much earlier. We made our way back and took turns showering. (Those of you out there who have experienced a post marathon shower know that it is the most glorious thing ever.) We sat in our beds and talked, and I happily nodded off for a bit, before it was time for our celebratory dinner. We took a cab to Liberty Tavern (no post-marathon walking) and enjoyed an amazing dinner. We started by splitting a cheese plate and then I ordered an amazing scallop dish for my main course. I also enjoyed a delicious ginger beer and grapefruit cocktail that tasted like a bit of heaven post race. I love grapefruit! In fact they were so delicious, and we were probably a bit dehydrated, that we stopped downstairs at the bar on the way out to the cab and ordered another round. I may have enjoyed it a bit too much.
At the bar we grabbed a table next to three ladies who were all wearing their MCM shirts and enjoying dinner and a bottle of wine together to celebrate. They told us about the places they’d been, the marathons they’d run, and family members they had tried to convert to marathon running. Then one lady mentioned that they were working on planning seven half marathons next year for her 70th birthday. Amazing! I think my goal when I grow up is just to be a bit as awesome as those ladies were, to still be enjoying these girls’ race weekends at 70 would be a dream come true.
We headed back toward the hotel and quickly met up with Beka and Mike at a little pool hall across the street before calling it a night. I curled up in bed just a little bit sore and a lot happy after a very successful day. It is hard to believe the weekend went by so fast. (If only I got more than 3 personal days a year…)
We woke up about 7:30 and tossed all our stuff in bags. Three girls in a little hotel room with normal clothes plus running gear seems to create and explosion of junk everywhere. Then we met Beka and Mike to take advantage of the free hotel breakfast before getting on the road. We said our final goodbyes to Sarah, grabbed our bags, and headed out on our over-eight-hour drive home. The ride there was filled with so much excited, nervous energy, while the ride home was much mellower. It was hard to wrap my head around the the fact that I had to go back to work the next morning after such an amazing weekend. Strange to imagine that I would no longer be training for the Marine Corp Marathon, after I had spent over a year planning for that race. However, it was a happy drive home. A drive where I could look back on a perfect weekend and smile.
Did things go exactly how I had planned with the marathon? No.
Would I change a single thing? Heck no!
I truly enjoyed being able to help Sarah cross the finish line of her first marathon and I will never regret stopping to walk with her instead of going for the PR I had dreamed of. Dreams change, plans don’t always work out the way we thought, but we adjust and do what we need to in the moment and I am 100% sure I made the best decision. I think my Bobbin would think so too, he’d be happy I stayed to help my friend instead of continuing on, it is exactly what he would have done.
The Marine Corp Marathon may be my slowest marathon time, but it was also by far my favorite race experience – from the beautiful course, to the amazing Marines, to seeing Sarah cross the finish line of her first marathon, this weekend was more than I could have ever dreamed of.
Thank you Mizuno for making this all possible.
What has been your favorite race ever and why?
Have you ever helped a friend to finish a race?
Please tell me someone else out there has cried at a race and it isn’t just Sarah and me!