If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know I had a disastrous first marathon earlier this year.
Disastrous is even a nice way of putting it.
Part of me couldn’t even imagine running another marathon after that, but a little piece of me wanted some redemption for the horrible race I had run earlier.
Step in Marine Corps Marathon.
I have to preface this with the fact that I was NOT as regimented as I could have been. I was recovering from a badly sprained ankle from the Vermont Spartan Beast. I was trying to listen to my body, which was overtrained and under rested.
So that being said, I connected with some lovely ladies from One Run for Boston who had some room to share in their hotel room. And just like that, plans started to really fall into place.
With a bunch of miles behind me, and strong feeling legs, I was confident that I would do better than my last marathon. However, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that it would be a disaster.
I arrived in DC on Friday, and headed straight to the hotel with Jackie. We picked up one of our roommates and then beelined for the expo. Going on Friday was the best thing ever – it was a breeze to get in, pick up our bibs, and we walked the entire expo! Talking to vendors, trying on gear, and snapping photos everywhere! We heard horror stories about people going on Saturday. If you do run this in the future, plan ahead and get to the expo earlier rather than later.
Saturday, Jackie and I kicked off the morning by running a 5K around the National Mall with the one and only Bart Yasso!
Granted, we probably ran a little more. We ran to the metro from the hotel (just less than a mile), then after the yellow line took 20 minutes to arrive, we ended up having to run from the subway stop to see if we could catch up with the group. It was a PERFECT run from the War memorial, around the Washington Monument, to the Lincoln Memorial and back. I was PUMPED. For the first time, I actually started to believe that I was ready.
We headed back for some breakfast and decided that we would go and check out the Holocaust Museum. We had heard stories of people going all out and seeing all the museums and fatiging their legs. We just chose one, but failed to realize how LARGE and emotional the museum was going to be. After we spent 2 hours wandering through the main exhibit, we headed back to the hotel for some downtime. After a couple hours, we headed out to a big One Run For Boston carb loading delicious dinner.
After all the bread and pasta had been consumed, we all headed back to our hotel rooms for the last sleep. Anyone who says they sleep soundly the night before a marathon is a liar.
We all woke up bright and early at 5AM to start getting ready. We were close to the parking lot shuttles (loved staying in Crystal City), so we didn’t have to worry about crazy long metro lines. We headed out around 5:45AM, and the temp was hovering at 60 degrees already!
When I sat on the bus, the magic that is MCM was truly around all of us. I sat next to a woman, wearing a blue “Run to Remember” shirt, and she asked me if this was my first marathon. I told her no, and asked her the same question. She told me it was her first, and she was running to remember her husband and brother, who both had died in the field of duty in Afghanistan.
It really hit me then. I was going to run this. Everyone was going to run this. We all had our reasons for running it. Our mission was the same, and we were all going to get through this together.
After a hug, we parted ways and made our way to the starting area. We went through security, dropped our bags, went to the portopotty line and took some pictures. Bundled in our throwaway gear, we started to head to the start line around 7AM. MCM does NOT have corrals, so you kind of just line up where you think you’ll be. I ended up placing myself in the 4:50 group, and I found a WHOLE BUNCH of other One Run for Boston runners! Woot!
We watched the flyover, the veterans parachuting through the sky with American flags and a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem. And just like that the Howitzer went off and the race began.
It took about 20 minutes to cross the start line, and I tucked in with Alex and Silvia and two other runners who’s names I can’t remember, and started on what was to be an amazing run.
I wanted to enjoy the 26.2 miles. I wanted to see D.C. Alex and I joked that we were going to take the best tour of D.C. EVER. My ankle was bad, I didn’t want to push it. I wanted to run comfortably, and not worry or panic about anything. A marathon for time will come around another day. Because of that, I didn’t even start my Nike+ app. I started my play list, and we headed out!
It was a complete 180 of my last marathon. My nutrition was on point – and I KNOW they always say, don’t try anything new on marathon day, but I took an orange slice from a Marine around mile 13 or 14, and it was the best damn thing I ate all day.
The run was beautiful, emotional and exactly what I needed. I had been so bogged down with training, work, training, sleep, training, allergies. It was like a never ending cycle. My body was already tired, but this was the victory lap it was craving. The big finale to a season of hard work.
I had been told to prepare for the Blue Mile… or the Run to Remember mile. But nothing can prepare you when you see the faces of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. When you see their family members waving flags with their names on them. When you see runners crossing over and touching the pictures of those soldiers that they know. I was doing a pretty ugly dry sob right at that point… it was a little hot, and I’m pretty sure I had no more liquid in me to actually produce tears.
After coming out of Haines Point, you came back to civilization and the National Mall. The crowds were amazing. My first marathon, I ran by myself, in the dark, at night. The crowds do amazing things to your mind. I got a pep in my step at mile 16, as we ran past all the monuments, and a slight downhill. At mile 19, a spectator yelled out “Amanda, YOU KNOW YOU ARE GOING TO BEAT THE BRIDGE, RIGHT?!”
That is my reaction to that. I had NO idea where I was in terms of time. For the MCM, you need to cross the bridge at mile 20 – 21 by 1:15PM or be swept of the course. I was focusing on keeping my breathing steady, my pace consistent (in terms of effort) and taking everything in. As you can see… I was freaking excited!
That excitement wore off about half way across the bridge. It was hot. We were running on concrete. It hurt.
Then I remembered the woman on the bus. I thought about everyone who was running in memory of someone they loved. That this was only a little bit of discomfort compared to losing a family member in a war.
Then all of a sudden, the bridge was over and the roar of the crowd picked up. We passed mile 22, in Crystal City, and I knew that mile 23 was right by the #CyrstalWings. What are Crystal Wings? Well, this artist named Collette Miller paints wings in random places around the country. We had taken pictures of them before we ran, and I had been thinking about them the entire time… “When I pass the Crystal Wings, I’ll just have a 5K to go”.
That last 5K was basically a blur. It was on the highway for a bit, then I think at mile 25 we went back into the Pentagon area, where we had started. I swear, mile 25 to mile 26 was the LONGEST mile of the course. When I saw the 26 mile marker, it took everything not to just go up and hug and kiss someone. I was so emotional. I truly was going to finish.
We took a sharp left and then headed for the infamous steep hill at 26.1. The hill was lined with marines yelling “ALMOST THERE” “CHARGE THE HILL” and then at the top they yelled “WHAT HILL? GO FINISH”.
And just like that, the marathon was done.
I finished in 5:28:59, which is 1 hour and 17 minutes faster than my first marathon! It wasn’t the time that I trained for… but I still don’t care. I truly enjoyed every single second I spent on the course, from high fiving marines, hugging people on the Blue Mile and walking through water stops along the mall. I wouldn’t have done anything differently.
This is one run that I was honored to do. I finished, and even though my legs were cramping and lines were long, I was trying to figure out how I can make sure I run this marathon again.
This marathon, made me fall in love with running all over again.