Sunday morning started off a little confusing because I woke up about 10 minutes before my 5:00 am alarm. The clock on the night stand in the hotel read 3:50 am and I thought I had another hour of sleep. But then when the boy’s phone alarm went off, again, I asked why he had it going off so early. He said it was almost 5 am. I immediately got up and looked at my phone and it read the same time. We thought maybe daylight savings time had ended, but I knew it wasn’t until the following weekend. Plus, we will fall back, not forward. So after we confirmed it was indeed the time our phones read, I began getting dressed and ready for my EPIC day!
We met my friend Jenine who was also running the race and her cousin in the hotel lobby at 5:30 am to take a taxi to the metro station. After we rode the metro to our stop in Crystal City we walked underground for what seemed like forever until we popped up on ground level right near our friend’s hotel who had a shuttle to drop us of near the start. The plan here was to eat breakfast and then take the shuttle. Since we arrived later than planned because we sat on the metro for about 10 minutes before it took off, there wasn’t much left for breakfast options. I munched on a half a plain bagel and found a banana while I used a real bathroom one last time before the shuttle arrived. I wasn’t too happy about the lack of breakfast I was eating, but didn’t really have much choice since I didn’t bring any other food with me.
We hop on the shuttle a little after 7 am and take a short ride to some sort of military housing near Arlington Cemetery. It was kind of crazy at this point because both runners and spectators were going the same way and the Marines were shouting for IDs to access beyond this point. I’d given the boy my ID, but a Marine said the runners could just show their bib, so I flashed my bib from under my throwaway shirt. After that, we made our way down a long road towards the start area. The sun was just beginning to rise over the horizon at this point. I looked to my right and saw this beautiful and bone-chilling site.
We had not made it to Arlington Cemetery before this, so I was trying to take in my surroundings while trying to remember where I was at and what I was doing. We hit a point where spectators and runners had to part ways, we said our goodbyes, and then Jenine, Jeff and I made our way to the port-o-potties for one last pitstop before the start. The port-o-potties were located on this slope of a hill that was just a mud pit since it rained all day the day before. As we descended down the hill, we were greeted with this gorgeous view of where we would be headed during our 26.2 mile journey through the Nation’s capital.
After we made our final pitstops, we followed the crowd about a half mile towards the start line. Opening ceremonies had already started including posting of the colors by the Marines and a fly over.
It took us quite a while to navigate to our designated corral since the crowd of runners was so thick! Jeff and I said good-bye to Jenine as we past the 4:00 hour corral. Jeff and I headed down the highway farther to find a place for us to start. After chatting with two Marathon Maniac runners for a couple minutes, then the announcer came on to introduce Drew Carey to officially start the race and shoot off the starting pistol. 13 minutes later after passing the boy Jeff and I were crossing the starting line mats and heading down the highway towards Rosslyn (the first of many cities) on our route. Holy heck! This is real, I’m starting the marathon.
Jeff and I planned to run together as long as possible since he is injured and planned on run/walking with an anticipated finish time of 6 hours. (Yeah, this plan went straight out the window after the first few miles)
I knew the first part of the course would have its share of hills, but I did not expect the slow and constant uphill that took use from mile 1 to mile 2.
Mile 1: 10:16/mile – a little faster than I needed to be, but I was feeling strong
Mile 2: 10:45/mile – surprising since there was a point where a little speed-walking was involved to propel me up the hill
Mile 3: 11:14/mile -hill recovery? who knows, knee pain started to kick in
Mile 4: 9:51/mile- woah speedy gonzalez! SLOOOOW DOWN!
Between miles 4-7 I was trying too hard to pace with Jeff at this point which would later lead to my running on empty feeling.
Once we crossed the bridge over into Georgetown, the energy from the crowd was AMAZING! This was the first time we could see the people running at a much faster pace as they were coming downhill towards us. We made a long stretch down a road that runs next to the Potomac River. It was really pretty and serene. But after a while it got pretty boring because it was just a big pack of runners and no spectators since there was no room. After about a mile, we turned right and shot straight up another hill. Ugh! I kept plugging away, but started to experience some pain in my left knee. Knowing I need to save my legs for the rest of the race, I power walked when I needed to keep up with Jeff’s pace and ran when I felt better. This part of the course was pretty tough, but when we came barreling back down the hill where we first saw the lead runners, I got such a rush of adrenaline from the crowd running through old Georgetown the next two miles flew by like nothing. By this time I had shed my throwaway long sleeved shirt and had taken some Advil to help alleviate some knee pain.
After we navigated the streets of old Georgetown, we began winding our way through West Potomac Park, which gave us beautiful sites of the city along the river. Around mile 11, I look to my right a little bit ahead of me and see Aaron with my camera up to his face snapping photos. Total surprise! I did not plan on seeing him until we reached the National Mall around mile 16. A hugh smile instantly covered my face and I ran up to him, gave him a kiss and said a quick “I love you.” Jeff and I kept on trucking and I see Aaron run ahead of us along the sidewalk so he could get some more photos a few yards down.
Once we hit the halfway point, I was feeling tired. I knew at that point I started out WAY too fast and knee pain and by now, foot pain were ailing me. I was doing a lot of running and walking by this point. We were still in the Potomac park running along the river on a multi-purpose trail. It was kind of narrow and people were being polite and saying excuse me if they needed to pass. Around mile 14 or 15 is when Jeff and I parted ways since he felt like if he walked his knee would cramp up.
Honestly, as much as I enjoyed having someone to run with for part of the race, after Jeff and I parted ways, I was able to tune into the whole race and truly put myself in the moment. And the timing was perfect right before the National Mall.
Once we turned and headed down the National Mall, we were hit with an over-whelming amount of spectators. It was truly the most support I have ever felt during a race, and was SO glad I put my name on the front of my shirt. I know I had a smile on my face the entire time because not only of the sites around I could see, but being greeted by so many amazing people. Before I knew it, I saw a familiar face with a camera pointing at me and was super thrilled to see Aaron!
After I gave him a quick hug and kiss, I moved on down the road. But I must have gotten caught up in the moment that I began to cry and slightly hyper-ventilate. I stopped to walk so I could catch my breath and get my breathing back on tracking. Aaron jogged up to catch up with me and make sure I was okay and told me that Jeff wasn’t too far ahead of me. I thanked him and then went back on my way.
I passed the World War II memorial and wished so badly that I could stop and really look around but knew I had a race to run.
Here are some of my sights that I saw while running along the Mall.
So by mile 17 I was STARVING! Remember I said I knew I didn’t have enough for breakfast that morning? Yeah, coming back to bite me in the butt. Luckily, a kind spectator was handing out these !
OMG! You have NO IDEA how good the first one tasted as I bit into it! I kept these around for about three miles, munching as I needed the energy.
We did some more “sight-seeing” before we made our way back towards Arlington getting an up-close view of the Capital.
After this, we looped back to “beat the bridge”, the 20-mile marker that you had to make by a certain time to guarantee to finish the course before it closed. On the way to beating the bridge, the fans again we’re unbelievable! Hearing my name over and over again. High-fiving spectators as I shuffled along. I even high-fived Steeler fans (eew!), but they were cheering me on so I forgave them for their poor choice in team loyalty. 😉 But let me tell you, nothing gives you more energy than running towards a little kid and giving them a high-five! Such a moral boost that you would not believe!
Once I hit mile 20, I knew it was all a mental battle from here. I’d run 20 miles twice before, so every mile after this would be a new milestone for me.
Miles 20-22 were the most boring on the whole course. We were running on one side of the highway. Small rolling hills along the way. No spectators. So I relied a lot on my music and positive attitude to keep me going. By this point, my feet were SCREAMING at me. No matter if I walked or ran, they hurt. But I knew I had come this far, all I had to do was survive a 10k.
These two miles gave me plenty of time to people watch. There were a group of 6-7 military men dressed in camo pants, maroon shirts, their boots and backpacks that probably weighed 70 lbs each at my guess. I had seen them earlier during the first part of the course. They stuck together, motivating each other and taking turns leading the pack. I shuffled past a Marine Staff Sergant wearing camo pants and his boots. He was running by himself. I totally respected these men running in what would seem like uncomfortable apparel to sport runners, but the norm to those in the military.
It was during these two miles that I really wished I had carried a hand-held water bottle because I felt like I was dying of thirst! Once we approached mile 22 we ran down an off-ramp and onto the streets of Crystal City. I knew this meant we were getting closer.
I totally missed the water stop at mile 22. At each water stop along the course they had Gatorade at the beginning and water at the end of the stop. I really think it should have been flip-flopped because it was just so congested. Or at least have water on one side and gatorade on the other. But, I missed the dividing spot for water and it was too late to turn back once I missed it. But up ahead there was a food stop, the third on the course. Dunkin’ Donut munchkins! A cake chocolate donut never tasted so good. It just sucked because I had nothing to wash it down with. But at this point I knew I just had to make it to mile 24 where the next water stop would be.
Crystal City was basically a loop so I saw the runners ahead of me heading back. I hate this parts of courses because you can never judge where the turn around point is and its very discouraging. But the supporters lining the streets were amazing and cheering us runners on. Again, people were handing out snacks and a group of spectators were handing out beer. Though I was parched, I was not that desperate to take Natural Light (eeck!). Finally, I saw the loop through a small park that would send us back the other way out of Crystal City and towards the finish. As I ran through the park, a Marine was standing there cheering us on and telling us only 3 miles to go. I high-fived him and kept shuffling along.
Finally I made it to Mile 24 and water was ahead. Marines were still handing out munckins and I took two-a glazed one and a chocolate one. Ate the glazed one with ease, but waited to eat the chocolate one until I had water. At this water stop, I took both Gatorade and water. I mixed the two, hoping between the electrolytes and the sugar, it would help me get the last second wind I needed to push on to the finish.
During Mile 24 we ran by the Pentagon. From the ground, it looks like any normal building. But as I ran along by it, I reflected on the tragedy that struck this location 10 years ago, and all those who lost their lives.
Mile 25. 1.2 miles to go. By this time I was walking a bunch and running when I gained enough strength to do so. As we made our way down an off-ramp and back on the highway towards Arlington Cememtery, my lower back on my left side began to hurt. So a lot more walking between 25-26, but I tried and tried to push hard when I ran.
Mile 26…SO CLOSE. I’m frantically looking around for the finish line. .2 to go and I’m a marathoner!
As I’m pushing along I notice the course turns left and then I though, WTF!?
WHO PUTS A HILL AT THE END OF A MARATHON?!
I began to run and wanted to push my hardest, but about halfway up the hill I knew this bastard would get the best of me. All the hills in Akron’s half had NOTHING on this hill. I pumped my arms and power walked up that bitch.
Once I reached the top and turned right, my legs were dead and it felt nearly impossible to sprint towards the finish line. I passed Aaron as I was approaching the finish line, still smiling and excited for what I was about to accomplish.
5:31 later, I crossed the finish line with my hands above my head.
I had become a MARATHONER! I had finished what I started.
After we finished, we walked a ways into these shutes where several Marines stood with medals hung around their arms. A very handsome Marine put a medal around my neck. I graciously said “Thank you, sir” and moved on. When I looked up, I was in awe of what was in front of me.
After getting some finisher photos taken and navigating the “get post-race food” line, I was finally able to meet up with Aaron. Exhaustion is what I felt. My feet ached, my back hurt and I wasn’t able to move fast.
Treking through mud post race was not fun, but the only way we could get back up to the street and head towards the finisher’s festival.
Post race I snagged a finisher’s shirt and met up with Jeff at the TAPS tent to retrieve my bag and take some photos.
Wow. I REALLY did it. Thinking back on it Sunday evening and even Monday, it felt like it was almost a dream, a surreal dream. I DID it! 8 months of marathon craze, 18 weeks of training. Lots of weeks and runs of doubt whether or not I could actually complete a marathon.
But I did it. I completed 26.2 miles with a smile on my face and without a doubt or negative thought in my mind. It may have taken me five and a half hours to do so, but that is not what matters. The thing I am most proud of myself is that I never mentally gave up during those 26.2 miles. I did not allow a single negative thought to even begin to form nor did I beat myself up about not being fast enough or not at a smaller weight. I absorbed every single minute of every single mile and truly lived my marathon. That is the sweetest victory of all!
Now, the journey here was not done alone. There were many people a part of it that need to be mentioned and thanked.
First, Jenine. Thank you so much for signing up for this race with me and sticking with me through the entire training and making it to DC with me. Your wisdom, encouragement and friendship during this whole process helped keep me focused on the fact that I CAN and WILL complete a marathon. Thank you for running at my pace on our longer runs. I know I’m not a speed demon like you, but your company was definitely enjoyed and appreciated during our training.
Second, my dirty runners circle. It has been such a great pleasure exchanging stories, jokes and advice over Facebook and Twitter, and during meet ups at races and other outings. I’m glad many of the first time marathoners went before me so I could relive their special days via their blogs(TheHeldawg, KimiK, HungryinCle, MojaMala2, Justin_McI). Your daily support means so much and was definitely thought of during my 26.2 miles. I’m so stoaked to be part of club now! Keep runnin’ dirty!
Next, my friends and family in the Midwest! You guys have been there for me always and when I decided to take on this challenge, you did not discourage me but were my biggest cheerleaders! I love you guys so much and don’t know what I’d do without you!
All of you who donated to help me out Run MS. I ran the Akron half marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon in honor of my Aunt Anita who is currently living with MS. She is a strong woman who keeps going with her head held high while facing daily struggles this awful disease challenges her with. I am proud to say that I raised $400 for the National MS Society. All of you who gave to this wonderful cause, you are angels and I thank you from the bottom of my heart!
Lastly, and certainly the most important person I need to thank: my wonderful and amazing boyfriend, Aaron.
Aaron, you were there with me every step of the way. From the beginning of our relationship, you wanted to be there with me during this amazing time in DC after only knowing me a week. Since then, you have been there to listen to me moan and groan about aches and pains, being woken up early on the days I had long runs as I crawled over you out of bed. You were my motivator during the week when I didn’t want to get up that extra hour early to get my run in before I had to get ready and go to work. You made it to as many races as possible to cheer me on in the training leading up to the marathon. You even popped your race cherry and ran a 5k with me on a cold March morning. You survived my many mood swings and emotional roller-coasters this training sent me on and still encouraged me, even though we both couldn’t wait until it was all over. And you made the 300+ mile trip with me to Washington D.C. and endured four-days with me and we didn’t die (either by plane or killing each other. hehehe 🙂 ). And on race day, you shocked me most when you walked the distance of a half marathon around D.C. to make sure you got photos of me and my friends along different spots of the course. If there was an award for the best boyfriend, you would receive it hands down! You are my rock and believed that I could complete this challenge when I felt at times I couldn’t. I couldn’t ask for a better guy to have as my boyfriend. I hope the next marathon I decide to do, you can run it with me in your own unique style. Thank you, Aaron. I love you.
What’s next? As of now, there are no marathons planned in the immediate future. I am going to focus on getting fit and healthy again as the end of marathon training left me with crappy eating habits and some pounds gained. I want to slim down, tone up and work on getting faster.
I said before this race that this would be my marathon swan song. Now, I don’t think it will be my ONLY one, but it won’t be within the next six months. We’ll see what the future brings.
I finished what I started.
I AM a marathoner!