Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Well, I did it.
You know, I've done a lot. I mean, obviously I've traveled all over the world and have had amazing experiences, emotionally, mentally, professionally--but I don't think just looking at me, you'd guess the physical side of things-- paragliding, snowboarding, sword fighting, then summating Kilimanjaro and completing a marathon in the same year!

The Marine Corp Marathon. It ended up being a family affair, mostly because it fell on my grandmother's birthday. A perfect opportunity for a bunch of us to gather. John, my uncle Brandon, and cousins Jimmy and Alex, and lastly me would run, while Mother and Aunt Anne cheered and Uncle Tom followed along through the digital updates with Nanna. Unfortunately, my cousin Alex was diagnosed with a stress fracture just a little while ago, after one of his races, so he wasn't going to be able to run. He would have been the 2nd youngest out of the 35,000 racers. One little indian down, 4 to go.

We had to get up at 5am, to catch the subway to the Pentagon. Alex trouped out with us in the freezing cold dark for moral support. It took only about 2 subways stops for the feeling of complete ridiculous to set in. At each stop, we picked up more runners-there was no one else on the train- in their matching running outfits, their lithe, athletic bodies, braving the 40* weather in their little shorts, while they pinned on their numbers. Then there's me in my giant, tattered, paint strewn Duke sweatshirt and Maria's old hand-me-down biker shorts. Yes, when I realized I'd been staring at a man's incredibly defined calves, I knew things were going downhill fast.

At the Pentagon stop, we had to walk for a good 20 minutes along with the steadily growing crowd to the starting area. The sun began to rise just as we came to the beginning of the port-o-poties that stretched as far as the eye could see. We found some port-o-potty lines and waited our turn, before dropping off our belonging bags and heading for the start. I was lucky Brandon wanted to run the same slow pace as me, as James and John were going to speed through.

I'm not sure what I imagined the start to be, but I certainly did not have a grasp on what 35,000 people look like smooshed into a road. Now I really lost it. There was no excitement or adrenaline, just an overwhelming sense of wide-eyes hilarity, most closely akin perhaps to "Kilimanjaro despair" Stan promised would hit us climbing. For that, however, we had a distinct prescription: "have a little chocolate." Not so here.

When the canon shot at 8am, Brandon and I couldn't even see the starting line, there were so many people before us. We didn't even get to the starting line till about 8:15. I was quite thankful to have Brandon with me, keeping me on a slow run 6 minutes, walk 1 minute pace, so I didn't have to think about it. Our pace was slow enough that we could comfortably chat, though the girl vomiting at mile 3! for goodness sake, was not helpful. Nor was seeing men go dashing to the side to pee constantly. I don't think their was a single stretch till we hit the monuments where people weren't running into the trees. I was laughing at it, till Brandon took off to join them. The first time, I walked and waited for him to catch up, but the second time he dashed to the woods around mile 6, I had to leave him behind. I later learned he continued on till about mile 13, when his insides won out and he had to quit. 2 little indians down. For my part, the thought of peeing tormented me. I knew I'd be running for hours and hours and couldn't avoid drinking liquids whenever offered, but was convinced that if I stopped to wait for a port-o-potty and even if i ran to the trees myself, the stopping would be my downfall. Luckily, I sweated out all need to stop.

Since a good fourth of the people around me had headphones in despite the ban, I pulled my own out of hiding. For the next 15 miles Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows kept me distracted. Thank god. I'm not a very social runner, not inclined to make buddies with the people around me. Harry Potter was just fine. And yet, I didn't tune out the world. I enjoyed the fog off the Potomac, the monuments towering around me, the cheers of the people along the road. Though I didn't write my name on my chest, back, or calves as many had done, many people shouted out "Go Duke!" or "Alright, Blue Devils!" I think this was better than hearing strangers shout my name. I don't know them, why should they cheer me? But everyone should always cheer for the Blue Devils. When I heard them, I would throw my hands up and give a little "whoo" at varying degrees of enthusiasm depending on the mile. In fact, I kept passing one supporter in his own Duke shirt and crazy hat who was on his bike waiting for some one, then biking ahead to another spot. On the last really terrible section, around mile 24, a long stretch on the overpass, with the sun bouncing off the cement and the traffic running the other direction, I was walking for a few seconds, trying to massage out the awful cramp right under my rear, when he passed by on his bike. He slowed down and yelled at me to keep going and "Pick it up Duke!" And for some reason I said alright and took off again.

Sadly, around mile 17 disaster struck John as he felt a definite snap in his ankle. He had been running for around a 4:30 or 4:15, when he had to start walking, but his ankle could handle the slower stride even less. Rather than put himself into the hooplah of the medics, he hobbled to the metro, where he discovered he had left his metrocard with his checked belongings. The subway stations were a complete disaster zone. So many people, mother and Anne got trapped on one as they stopped letting people get off or get on! John is standing in wall to wall people, just barely keeping from vomiting and passing out from the pain. Only the revulsion of being trapped in DC medical services, kept him on his feet. 3 little indians down.

Jimmy was the ultimate success story of the day. He's on his cross country team, but has never run a marathon length. In fact his longest run was probably around 20 miles in Tanzania over 2 months ago. Yet, he never slowed down once! Faster than his goal, he ran the whole thing in 3:23, with just over a 7 minute mile! He was the fastest 16 year old and 11th in his division --14-19years old! Amazing. I actually saw him at one point, around my mile 5 and his mile 9 or 10, i guess. He was flying past, didn't even look winded. Brandon and I yelled out like crazy, but he was too fast to hear us. haha.

All in all, I ran at a pretty leisurely pace. Since I'm just tight and a bit sore, I imagine I could have gone faster. Normally, I run around 10 minute miles, but I ended up running about 12 minute miles, even though I stopped walking on the 6 run/1 walk schedule. I hit a wall at around mile 12, my usual stop length. I tried to bend over and stretch for a brief second and thought I'd never get upright again. The last time I did that. Then I paced myself with Kermit, literally--some crazy man in a head to toe Kermit outfit, who must have been boiling under there. I figured I had to run as fast as him. My feet were like bricks and I ached all over, but I found myself deciding Kili was still harder, at least at my pace. On Kili, I was slowly asphyxiating, the lack of oxygen feeling like an iron suit, weighing me down. All I could think was "one more step" and by the time I reached the highest point, I was babbling nonsense and trying to stay up there forever. Though it helped not to have a brain left to say "you can't do it," I simply lost any sense of self preservation. Here, I think the overwhelming "there's no way" from the beginning had a similar effect of holding off the specific "i can't go on." And yet, I never thought I would die, I just focused on good ol' Harry like a hamster in a wheel, that doesn't realize the effort to get somewhere will go on forever.

I sped up significantly around mile 20, more out of an intense need to stretch my legs and my hamstrings in particular. I had a brief vision of sprinting all the way to the finish, that ended quickly when I hit the wretched overpass stretch-- No water, only a handful of biked supporters, and many hobbling runners. The last 2 miles I went for good run-- well as good as I could manage, to make a nice photo finish!

And that was that.

The marines put water in my hands and a medal over my neck, congratulated me, and shepherded me along.
No big whoop.

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