The starting line was awesome; ahead of me a sea of jittery, colorful dots as far as the eye could see--and I was only in the first 2,000 of 30,000+ runners! After a jump-in from some airborne Marines, the gun went off and all of those moments of training, laughing, and stretching manifested themselves in this single 26.2-mile course in front of me.
And what a course! From the Pentagon alongside the Potomac, down to the Lincoln Memorial and up to my old neighborhood in Adams Morgan, back down to the Memorials, along the National Mall, around the Capitol, down around East Potomac Park and Haines Point, across the 14th Street Bridge, into Virginia around Crystal City and finishing up Arlington National Cemetary...
It's weird how one can form a relationship with the ground so quickly.
I mean, it's just a set path made up by some committee, supported by thousands of water/food station volunteers and lined with even more thousands of spectators. These are landmarks that mean different things to different people; built by ancestors, forebears, and historical societies; and seen by millions each year.
But on that Sunday they were ours. Us runners'.
The miles flew by at first. I looked down at my watch and it had already been and hour and a half...Mile 10.
My group--some similar-aged TNTers--and I were still in a relatively close group. We weren't completely together, but it was fun to keep running into each other here and there. Not really running into each other, but, you know. Har?
I swerved around the Mall, my chest pounding with patriotic excitement (I'm a sucker for American civics, people!) as I passed every major landmark of public education, information, and history we grow up learning about. Smithsonian. National Gallery. The Statue of Freedom which tops the Capitol's dome and peers down from her apex as we dilly about our policies and ideologies. I couldn't believe that I was running on Constitution Avenue for godsakes! How f-ing sweet is that??
My civic daydream was interrupted when I heard some cheers coming my way and I looked up to see a group of my friends on the sidelines, and who aptly prepared me for the dreaded and isolated Haines Point. This is a peninsula that sticks downward into the Potomac River...basically 2 miles down and 2 miles back up. It was also to be the site of an immense and debilitating pain: My 'good' knee decided to start hurting. I'm not sure why; perhaps years of being the default work horse took its toll. This must be it because I hadn't had any prior problems and I wasn't running any differently this day.
This meant that starting at mile 18 I had to jog/stretch/sometimes walk at least once per mile. This was OK, though, because the slight walk breaks refreshed certain leg muscles for the next segment of running; I think I would have had a slower time if I had tried to run straight through the next 8 miles, actually.
Miles 20-23 were the weirdest. We crossed the huge 14th Street Bridge, which was bright, dry, and sort of eerie. The finish felt like eons away, so it was a weird feeling to know we had already run 20 miles. While there was no "worst part," this was the toughest mentally. Not that I wanted to stop running the race, but there were times in this portion where I doubted my ability to finish. It was also weird to run under the big, huge highway signs. We fly by them so quickly in our cars, and it was taking forever to reach the next one in my line of vision. And I mean forever. I finally knew what that whole "wall-hitting" was referring to, and I came pretty damn close on that isolated stretch spanning the Potomac between the District and the Commonwealth.
But once that was all behind me, things definitely peaked up. I was almost at the finish line and it was kind of hard to fathom. I mean, I had been running for 3 and a half hours and in that time I experienced the same amount of emotions I do in a week--or sometimes month--and much more exaggerated for that matter. To think it was going to be over within another half hour was a unique feeling. It was at this point when another friend joined me in the run for a few minutes...definitely a nice and motivational gesture, especially her sign that read "Emilie smells really bad right now." She had expressed concern the day prior that she wasn't going to be able to keep up with me; I'm sure she was surprised to find me merely shuffling along!
And I should mention here that, yes, the "marathon shuffle" is a real thing. Some people actually train that way...I was simply reduced to a shuffle by the end, which was totally OK since that was literally the fastest I could run. It wasn't like I was pissed or frustrated to be going this slow, I was actually very accepting of the fact that I could only go this fast.
And, for the most part, it was at this pace that I made my way up the end hill and crossed the finish line at the Iwo Jima Marine Memorial Monument . My final time was 3:56 and I later found out that I was the 641st woman to finish (out of about 15,000). I didn't make Boston (sub 3:40) but that is OK. I couldn't have made Boston...like I said, I was truly at the point of running exhaustion.
First marathon aside, it is this point that is truly a "first" for me. In all my years of running, I've always had the feeling that I could have gone a little faster, a little harder. Years of competitive running will do that to you every time, and seconds can always be shaved. But it was here that for the first time I walked away knowing that I left it all out there on the course.
It's a nice feeling, and I was proud to honor my late uncle Ed -- a career Marine and leukemia victim -- with all that I could for Team in Training, his legacy, and myself.