MCM 2013 – Dad’s Thoughts

Last, but most certainly not least, here are my dad’s thoughts after completing the 2013 MCM, his first marathon (and beating not only Oprah, but both his daughter and son-in-law. Though, we have to say… we weren’t surprised!).

The morning was chilly but not cold. Having been a spectator last year I knew what to expect and was not looking forward to the long walk from the Metro, down the highway, through the enormous Pentagon parking lot to the starting line. The walk wasn’t quite as long as I remembered and the 250 plus porta-potties with lines of about 20 runners for about every three were a welcoming site in some strange way. We all got our “business” out of the way and proceeded up to the starting corrals with almost an hour to spare.

On the metro
On the metro

photo 5With the start approaching I finished a Clif Bar, a couple of Shot Blocks, and about half of my quart of Gatorade just to the point where the butterflies wouldn’t let me take in any more. Concentration was a little difficult and I fumbled with my iPhone a bit to take a couple of snapshots of the world’s largest American flag as the Marine paratroopers drifted down with the Star Spangled Banner being sung. They tell me that this was a very moving moment and being one that is typically easily moved, I think I must have missed something. I mean, I heard the anthem and saw the flag and all but my mind was desperately needing to get started. With the ceremony over, we walked Jenn over to 4:30 corral, we all hugged and wished each other well then Jason and I moved up to the 4 hour corral. There was a little delay to the race start and as I discarded my hoodie I started to get pretty cold and really needed to get moving. (Sidebar: When I say discarded, I mean discarded. Many runners wear something warm before the start that they feel they can dispose of. Discarded clothing are picked up and donated to local homeless shelters.) Finally, the howitzer rang out and the mass of bodies began walking to the official starting line. It was surprisingly sane and orderly. As Jason and I touched the timing mat, everyone started to move into a jog. It remained very orderly and, though it was very crowded, everyone seemed to try to give everyone else as much space as possible.

photo 3 photo 2 (1) photo 4

So here’s the part that I’m supposed to remember, the race… Well, it’s not that I don’t but it all seems kind of spotty. Let’s see how much I can put down… The first 2 miles have the only significant hills and as we crested the first one in Roslyn there were crowds gathered and we heard the first cheers welcoming us to the town. I kind of wanted to miss the first couple of mile markers to avoid the temptation to count each and every one. As we moved somewhat downhill and through some park like woods, I finally saw my first one. It was mile 3. Perfect, I thought, I’m already about 5k into this thing and I’m feeling pretty good. I knew that Eileen would be waiting around mile 6, so that would be my next goal. Eileen was in a spot near the out and back section of Foggy Bottom. I spotted her and saw her again after a longer than expected jaunt out to the turnaround were I also saw Jenn as she approached the turnaround that Jason and I just cleared. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t see Jenn again until after the finish. Jason and I hung together for about the first 9 miles, chatting a good bit of the time. He must have been feeling pretty good as began to move out ahead sometime around the first food station where they gave out orange slices.

I’m pretty sure I had two. 0004tI was feeling pretty good myself, it’s nice to have masses of people cheering you on, but it’s even better to have trained well and have a plan to carry out. The training was done and the plan was simple; relax, move at a pace that allows you to finish, and perhaps most important, have fun. As simple as this all sounds it’s not all that easy. You have to constantly remind yourself to relax especially given that you are almost always dealing with some level of pain, somewhere. The pace can tend to adjust itself depending on hills, the runners around you, the pavement, the crowd, how you are currently feeling, etc. The job is to remind yourself to stay within your parameters. Having fun is just something that surfaces either between periods of pain or maybe even because you make a conscious decision to have fun in spite of the pain. One thing that helped were the kids in the crowd. Sure, it’s fun to high five just about anyone as you run this event, but it’s more fun to high five the kids.

As I approached the Lincoln Memorial area I emerged from some tree cover to have four of the largest construction cranes imaginable appear against the slightly clouded blue sky. It was a little weird. The DC buildings are big and beautiful. Even the Washington Monument, currently shrouded in cubby holes of scaffolding, is pretty cool. But, these cranes were unexpected and completely surreal. Without stopping, I turned my head and looked at them as long as I could. Moving forward through that area I remember seeing Jason’s mom and dad (Linda and Gill) shortly after. It felt good to know that I could actually acknowledge someone calling from the crowd. I knew they’d be in the crowd somewhere but I had no idea where.

The next section of the course is the long stretch out to Haines Point. The second food station is out there with Clif Shots and so is the half way point, a significant milestone to say the least. However, there’s something much more significant on the way out to Haines Point. For nearly a mile, there are small poster size signs on the left side each about six feet apart. Each sign honors a fallen Marine with their name and photograph. As an occasional runner stops to pay respect to or even be photographed next to the poster of a loved one you realize that these are beautiful, strong, young men and women, some of them parents and all had the bulk of their lives yet to experience. Yeah, this is one of the things that set the MCM apart from other runs. For a little while, the pains of distance running just didn’t seem bad at all. The thought of how far was left to go was insignificant. My thoughts turned toward the lives that won’t get to do this or other life achievements. These people chose to serve their country and they, along with their families, have paid the ultimate price.

0030tWe move on… the halfway point comes and goes and before I know it I’m approaching the National Mall. Just before you run the mall proper, is a short down and back where the crowds are the thickest. In the middle of this I spot Eileen and Taylor and I pause a few seconds for hugs and ask “Where’s Kevin”, “He’s on the other side, ran with Jason a bit” shouts Eileen. I move on, round the bend and come back up the other side and spot Kevin and Taylor(again) for a hearty high five and proceed to the mall. This is the highlight of the course. The crowds, the Smithsonian, the Capitol, the Washington Monument, this section is as glorious as any marathon gets. I round the Capitol end and head back towards the monument where there are a series of photographers on stools in the middle of the course all catching individual runners with the Capitol as a backdrop. I make myself “available” to each one waving high and low then continue on and grab two small packages of Jelly Belly Sport Beans at the next “food” station. The sport beans are okay, taste a little more chemical than regular jelly beans, and it’s those chemicals that are going to help get me through.

0041tThe next thing of note is the mile 19 marker. This is substantial. I have now run farther than any single run during my training period. And… I feel good.

Now we begin the move out of DC and cross the bridge towards Crystal City. Coming into this thing I had a feeling that I would really hate the Crystal City section for several reasons. First, I’ve heard that the final 10k of a marathon is a real bitch and this was the beginning of that. Second, Jason seized up here last year. And third, you run this long boring rectangle when you are so close to heading on in to the final stretch. Out of nowhere, Jason popped up behind me. He had started to struggle with muscles cramping up. We ran together for a bit and as we got off the bridge he had another cramping surge. I urged him to keep moving but he couldn’t. I contemplated waiting up but something said, if you stop it will be far harder for you to finish this thing than it is already. I now started to feel things that weren’t good. My left knee felt like something was slicing into it. My right hamstring had developed an occasional funny twitch that feels like it could freeze up at any moment. Neither of these feelings was very painful at this point. But, neither of these feelings are something I have felt before on any training run. I was truly in uncharted territory and I was truly hating the Crystal City.

The last highlight of the trip around Crystal City was the fourth and final “food” station. This one was Dunkin Munchkins. I probably like Dunkin Munchkins more than the next guy (or at least more than the next guy will admit) and I was sure not going to pass up some free ones in probably the most unusual setting for eating them. So, I grabbed a paper cup from a volunteer containing two, one regular glazed and one chocolate glazed. The regular glazed went down fine in all of its pillowy goodness. The chocolate one however, being more dense and cake like, was not a good choice and I almost choked a bit as the dryness balled up in my throat. I slowed to a walk, cleared my throat, made sure that my airway was good and clear, swallowed it and grabbed a cup of the strategically placed water. Note to future MSMers, you might just want to skip the whole Munchkin station; it’s just not a good idea at mile 24. I suggest the Munchkins be moved to mile 26.3.

Finally out of the grips of the Crystal City I’m now on the highway that will lead me right to the finish line. I see mile marker 25. A welcome sight, but not good enough. Things are really starting to hurt. The left knee is now constantly being stabbed from the inside out and that hamstring twitch is becoming more pronounced, but I know I’m close. As a matter of fact, I don’t know exactly what my time is but I think I might be the only one of the three of us that still has a chance to beat Oprah! It’s somewhat embarrassing to say but this is the thing that keeps me from taking more than a single brief walk just after mile 25.

0002t25 to 26 is a pretty long mile but I thought back to my training and all of those miles behind me and stayed tough on some pretty spent legs. Then I saw it, 26, and just beyond it the final climb to the finish. Yes, the MCM has the finish line near the top of short hill just to make sure you get a sense for what it’s really like to be a Marine. Crossing the finish was not as emotional as I had pictured. But, upon doing so I put my head in my hands for a second, shed a quick tear, and softly said “I made it”. My legs were quite wobbly but now came one of the things I most looked forward to. Stretching from the finish up to the area where medals were given out is a line of marines. I shook every one of their hands and as each one congratulated me for finishing the marathon I thanked them for what they do every day.

photo 2

I want to thank my training partner, Jason, for getting me out to Salem Lake at 7:47 on all those Saturday and Sunday mornings. I especially need to thank my Ironman, Jenn for giving me a pair of running shoes almost three years ago and then providing the most amazing inspiration. You didn’t just get me off my bottom; you taught me how to want to something that seemed out of reach enough to make it happen.

It is kind of crazy to think that 3 Christmases ago, I gave my dad a pair of running shoes. The idea didn’t really take off. The next year, I got a little more aggressive with a pair of Merrell Barefoots and the book Born to Run. Now, here we are, less than 2 years later and I can say that I got to run a marathon with my dad!

Click here for my recap Click here for Jason’s recap
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