As I mentioned earlier, 2012 was a big year for me! One of my biggest 2012 accomplishments was running my first marathon. I say first, because today it is registration day again for the Marine Corps Marathon and I’ve got my work calendar blocked off to register again. Registration closed in 2.5 hours last year, so I’m not sure what will happen this year. And this year, I’m not just registering myself, but my dad as well! (Go Dad!)
Now, the experience of my first marathon is something that I never want to forget, so I’ve taken the time to write down every memory that I have from my experience (LONG POST WARNING!) and posted it here to live on forever… ok, that’s a little dramatic… but here’s what I remember…
Marathon day began at 4:30am with a couple phone alarms and a hotel wake-up call. I’d gotten a pretty good sleep after putting myself in bed at 7:30 (going to bed before the “late” college football game starts is very disorienting). My clothes, both those for running and those for keeping warm and discarding at the start line, were all laid out along with all of my “nutrition” – a Cliff Bar and Gatorade breakfast and ~6 GUs for during the race.
The hubs and I got dressed and ate our breakfasts, then headed out for the Metro around 5am. It was a relatively warm morning with temps in the 50s and thankfully it was dry. Later that day and into the next, Hurricane Sandy would come ashore devastating much of coastal New England and closing the city of DC for two days. Our metro station was not too crowded so we had hopes of getting a seat, but we must have been dreaming. By the time we pulled into Pentagon Station there was barely any standing room left.
We were among some of the first to arrive in the Pentagon parking lot (relatively speaking, with 30,000 people just being in the first 5000 makes you “one of the first”). After we were frisked by some not so unattractive Marines, we were on to the first missing of the day – bathroom break! The port-a-johns were still clean when we used them – thank goodness. We then made our way to the well-labeled UPS trucks where we would drop of our bags for after the race. My bag contained a dry long-sleeved shirt, socks, shoes, face wipes, and some snacks.
At that point, we realized that we probably did not need to get up so early as there was nothing left to do… except wait. We sat quietly in the parking lot listening to music and stretching. I finally got restless and wanted to figure out how to get to the start line – hello information tent, manned with more Marines. We followed their directions and headed to the start line just as many others were getting the same idea.
We easily found the corral I wanted to stand in 4:45-5 hour finish time – my hope was to break 5 hours (though in hindsight, I set pretty low goals for myself). We hung out there for a bit before hubs got antsy enough to want to make his was to his corral (a sub-4 hour finish time was his goal). Just then, my parents somehow found us. They wished us good luck and showed us the signs they’d made with our dogs’ heads on them. They soon realized that at least one of us needed some space (yes, that’s me!). The ‘rents went to hang out with the other spectators and the hubs headed for his corral. For the first time all morning I was alone… and I was OK. I turned on my music and started preparing for the journey ahead – and by prepare I mean completely block out.
I decided to convince myself that I was just going for “a run” with 30,000 of my closest friends. The distance was yet to be determined but it was just to be a simple run. As more people gathered around me at the start line, I turned off my music to hear their stories. There was another girl nearby also doing her first marathon, a couple marathon vets, and several people wearing shirts honoring loved ones fighting wars or disease. In listening to the conversations around me, I got emotional for the first time – “Oh my God! Am I really about the run a marathon?” I thought. “No, you are just going for a run,” I told myself and the moment passed.
Soon the music was blaring, the gun (I mean Howlitzer) had gone off, and the group was slowing walking towards the official start. I picked up a jog as the crowd thinned slightly and the start was in sight. Before I knew it, I was off on my run. I knew the hilliest part of the course was up first and would be over in the first 8 miles, so I stayed relaxed and calm running at the fastest, comfortable pace I felt I could maintain. I heard several pace estimates around me, anywhere between 9:30-10:30min/mi – right where I wanted to be.
Somehow, I missed the first mile marker – I’m pretty thankful of that, seeing Mile 1 when there are 25.2 left to go can be a little discouraging. The guys at the First Timers Pep Rally had warned us not to think of it that way, just keep counting UP, thinking “Wow, one more mile!” and not focusing on how many more were left was the advise they gave, and I tried to follow it. When I saw Mile 2, I was pleasantly surprised and realized that the hill I was currently climbing was the steepest I’d be on all day “this is totally manageable,” I thought – definitely not as bad as I’d feared. By this point all of my layers were gone and I was down to running in a white racerback and black tri-shorts. I’d clipped my ear warmer onto my race belt, stuffed my gloves in one of my pockets, and pulled my long sleeved shirt up though the back of my sports bra so it was like a cape behind me (thank you to the girl I ran behind for most of the Salem Lake 30k who showed me this shirt technique – it’s quite comfy and stylish).
I took in my first hydration around Mile 4 (I opted to skip the stop near Mile 2 because it was crowded and I wanted to get the “lay of the land” and figure out how the water/Gatorade stops worked). Then, before I knew it, I was past mile 7 and the hilly parts of the course were behind me… AND I felt GREAT! I hadn’t been listening to my music at all because I wanted to truly experience my surroundings and I wanted to save my tunes for when I really needed them. The MCM had some musical entertainment along the course and as I headed out of Georgetown a little bluegrass group was cranking out “Wagon Wheel” – love it or hate it, I don’t care; that song makes me smile (and happens to be on my own running playlist).
Around mile 10/11 I saw my parents and my in-laws for the first time. I smiled and waved at each of them as they cheered. Smiling and waving was something new for me in my running – if you don’t already smile when you run, you ought to start. It makes it so much more enjoyable.
I hit the halfway point around 2:15 – GREAT PACE for me – 14 minutes faster than my half marathon time the year prior (granted I had a sinus infection from hell during that race, but still). That’s when the field really started to thin around me, there weren’t as many spectators, and various things started to hurt. I grabbed some extra gels from the Cliff Bar station. My pains shifted around, sometimes I could tell my left shoe was rubbing on the arch of my foot and I knew I’d have a bloody foot to deal with at the finish, sometimes my lower back would start to ache, and worst of all the back of my left leg got very tight and seemed to not want to take a full stride. None of it REALLY bothered me though, I was just thankful that each pain popped up on its own and when I got tired of dealing with one it seemed to go away and was replaced with a different one. This is where I turned my music on – around Mile 15. This is also when the wind got a little crazy and for a while I was convinced we’d be finishing in a torrential hurricane downpour.
Finally, Mile 17 brought us back to civilization and spectators… and the National Mall. This picked up my spirits as I realized I was running near some very attractive, very topless marines carrying flags. I figured if I was hanging with them, I must be doing pretty well. And that’s the second time I got emotional, by making that far, I’d let myself realize for a second that “I really was doing it!” However, still having 9.2 miles left, I again had to compose myself… and keep on running!
As I came around in front of the capitol building my music shuffle became “fatefully possessed” (in a good way – playing only the most appropriate music at the most appropriate times). I was listening to The Beatles “Let it Be” as I ran past Capitol Hill and felt it could be more fitting. On the backside of the mall I heard Taylor Swift – “We are Never Getting Back Together,” J Giles Band – “Angel is the Centerfold,” and Fall Out Boy – “Sugar, We’re Going Down.”
Then, it was time to leave the beautiful, historic DC scenery and head back to Virginia across a very long (and thankfully flat) bridge. That’s when “Enter Sandman” came on – Go Hokies and thank you Metallica for the pump up! Once off the bridge I was in Crystal City and the spectators were out in the full force – which was perfect because this is where they say you “hit the wall!”
My “wall” came near Mile 23. I’m not really sure why, but I was start to plan a “walk.” But a good friend and my music shuffle had other plans. First, my absolute favorite song to run to – Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” – came one and I instantly put my footsteps in line with the beat. Then, out of nowhere someone was running beside me, talking to me, encouraging me – my best friend Alex had somehow picked the most PERFECT place to spectate and ran with me for a few seconds. He told me that I was doing great, that I had this, that there was only a 5k left and that I could do it. I decided he was right and restarted the Eminem song to extend the encouragement.
“One mile left!” yelled a Marine near the Mile 25 sign. For some reason, that sounded like a really long way to me. Then, I heard someone say “just 10 more minutes” – I’m not sure why, but that sounded a lot better. “10 minutes I can handle that!” I thought.
Down an onramp and back onto the highway where I’d started and there was the Mile 26 marker. With Phillip Phillips “Home” blaring in my ear (seriously, you cannot script this stuff!), I saw my parents out of the corner of my eye, but couldn’t look – I knew I’d lose it. I was already loosing it a little “Oh my God! I’m actually doing this! I did this! I ran a marathon!” I’d always thought marathons were for “other people” not for me, so realizing what was about to finish was quite overwhelming. Yet again, I composed myself and sprinted up to the finish! I finished in 4:41 with an average 10:45min/mi pace and was ecstatic with that result.
Next, comes the really humbling part. You run through the finish and there are Marines lining the road… and they are clapping… for YOU. “Holy shit! They don’t need to clap for me,” I thought.
It gets worse; you line up to get your medal. A marine places it around your neck… then they salute… YOU. “Holy shit! This is too much!”
Shortly thereafter I reunited with the hubs who, let’s just say, did not have as much fun as I did. He actually only finished 7 minutes ahead of me… man if I’d only known…
No but seriously, I’m glad to have written this all down because it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and something I never want to forget. Training for and accomplishing the MCM gave me the confidence I needed to pursue something even bigger 🙂 Stay tuned for more on that!
My Marathon Finisher Page: http://community.marathonfoto.com/marine-corps-marathon/finisher-page?language=en&id=E97X06