The alarms (we set three, just in case) shrilled to life at 5:45 a.m., waking Nell and I from our slumber. While she jumped in the shower, I secured ChampionChips to our shoes and filled my pack with extra gels, Metro passes, and few dollars. Flicking on the TV, I learned that it would be a nice day to run a marathon--55 or so degrees and sunny with some cool winds.
We met Shana in the lobby of the hotel and began walking toward the McPherson station, stopping at Starbucks so Shana could get her caffeine fix. Along the way, we ran into more and more marathoners.
The Metro wasn't too crowded yet and we were able to grab seats on the train. We rode to the Pentagon, where we were supposed to meet Nell's training partner, Elizabeth, at 7:15 a.m. Unfortunately, Elizabeth was running late.
Around 7:30 a.m., Shana and I bid Nell farewell and caught the Metro back to the starting line near Arlington National Cemetery. We didn't want to leave Nell, but my race began earlier than hers. (The Marine Corps Marathon has two wave starts.)
The starting area was pretty crowded. After a quick restroom break, we sang the national anthem as jets flew over head. I made my way into my assigned starting corral and awaited the starting announcement.
I always have butterflies just before a race and this was no different. I was happy to be running another marathon. Standing amongst thousands of runners, you just can't help but get a little excited. For me, however, that excitement was kept in check by an alarming stiffness in my right hip. I tried to stretch it out, but it was still tight. Oh well, I thought, let's just hope it's pre-race jitters and will work itself out on the run.
The gun fired and about two minutes later the surge got to my corral and I was off and running. At least, for about 300 yards until I had to duck into the bushes to relieve myself. Too much water before the race!
We ran down the highway and I was at Mile 1 in about 11 minutes. The hilliest part of the course was the beginning, as we ran up down the streets of Arlington before crossing over into D.C. Before I knew it I was in Georgetown. My hip was still sore, and I kept rubbing it as I ran.
I saw my parents near Mile 5. My mom was standing at the front of a crowd of people, and my dad was checking his cell phone a few steps behind her. I hollered at them and got their attention, but didn't stop.
The next bit of the course took me out-and-back along Rock Creek parkway. I had settled into a nice pace and was running near two former Marines. One was carrying an American flag and the other was carrying a Marine Corps flag. These were not little flags. They were big and heavy. I couldn't imagine running 26.2 miles with one of those resting on my shoulder, not to mention the extra wind resistance they generate. These dudes were hardcore.
After Rock Creek came my favorite part of the race as the course made its way onto Constitution Avenue and around the Washington Mall. I passed several museums, the Washington Monument, the Capitol building, the Lincoln Memorial, the reflecting pool, and many other sights I can't recall. They were bands playing and people cheering.
Around this time, I crossed the halfway point. According to the Marine calling out race times, it had been 2 hours and 1 minute since the starting gun had sounded. I realized that I was probably on pace for a 4 hour marathon and maybe--just maybe--I could finish in under 4 hours. I recall being excited at the prospect, but telling myself not to speed up. To keep my pace steady and to just see what happened. My hip was no longer hurting and I felt great, but I still had 13.1 miles to go. A lot can happen.
The next several miles took me along the Potomac River, past the Kennedy Center and around the East Potomac golf course. The crowds thinned out a bit and the wind was pretty brutal as it rocketed off the water. I hadn't noticed it until then. I rounded the golf course and starting running back towards the Jefferson Memorial with the Washington Channel to my right.
The course circled around Maine Avenue and up a bridge onto Interstate 395. I crossed the Mile 20 marker at 3 hours, 3 minutes. So I had 57 minutes to run a 10K. No problem. The reality of running sub-4 hours was sinking in. I could do this. It wasn't that far. I was feeling good. But as I entered Crystal City, my quads and calves were getting tight. I took a few extra walk breaks and chowed down on some Sports Beans.
At Mile 23, a Marine told me I was at 3 hours, 31 minutes. 29 minutes to run a 5K. I could do this. The course left Crystal City and took me onto a highway towards the Pentagon. Damn, the Pentagon is big! It seemed to take forever to get around it. Finally, we were running down an exit ramp back towards Arlington National Cemetery. I ran past the starting area and then the course turned left. Suddenly, people were everywhere. There was the Mile 26 marker. I turned right and the last .2 miles were uphill. There were grandstands and spectators hollering words of encouragement. I began pumping my arms to get my legs to move faster. I knew it was going to be close. There was the finish line. Across.
Did I make it in under 4 hours? I had no idea. The official race clock had said more than 4 hours. It would depend on what time I crossed the starting mat. I walked through a corral and a Marine placed a medal around my neck and a tinfoil blanket on my shoulders. I pulled out my cell phone and noticed I had received several text messages. They were from family and friends who had been following my progress on the Internet. I had made it--3 hours, 59 minutes, 49 seconds! Later, I would learn my official time was 3 hours, 59 minutes, 51 seconds. Wow. That was close.
After finishing, I called my parents to find out how Nell and Shana were doing. My dad told me they would probably be at the finish line in about an hour. So I walked toward the Metro Station and bought two hot dogs and a Coca Cola. Then I walked back and found a spot at the front of the crowd about 200 yards from the finish line to wait and cheer. It was fun yelling for the runners as they made their way to the end. Some looked great, some were barely making it.
Nell and Elizabeth came by first. I yelled and yelled and got Nell's attention. She raised her arms in the air triumphantly as she jogged by.
About five minutes later, Shana came up the hill. She had her headphones on, so I had to holler pretty loudly for her to hear me. But she saw me and half-smiled/nodded as she pushed through to the end.
Oh, and White Rock is in 6 weeks. I.I.T.S.