Thursday, November 07, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon

Sunday was the day. We had traveled to Washington DC with one goal in mind - to complete the Marine Corps Marathon.

Jen and I woke up around 5. We had breakfast and put on our race outfits before heading to the Metro at 6. We boarded the train to see it filled with other race participants. More got on at each proceeding stop. When the train reached the Pentagon, there was a mass exodus.

 We followed people in front of us up the Metro's stairs, through the exit fare turnstile and up onto the street. It was still dark out as we walked along a road and eventually into a parking lot. The parking lot set up looked similar to other race staging areas, but instead of volunteers, there were Marines. 

We met up with Carl and Jeff before dropping our bags off at designated UPS trucks. From there, we followed the crowd onto a highway which was the race's start corral.

At first glimpse of the field, I could see this race would have a different feel from Chicago. Many participants wore red, white and blue shirts for military and veterans charities. Some had laminated photos safety pinned to the backs of their shirts. Photos of fallen heros. 

The National Athem was sung in a way I've never heard before. It was the perfect accompaniment to the spectacle before our eyes - military veteran skydrivers with large Ameican flags. We were in awe.

Shortly thereafter, the race started. We crossed the start line under the large Marine Corps marathon arches and headed into Roslyn. The course quickly began it's hilly climb in the first few miles. As we headed up the second incline, we saw the first struggling hand cycle participant. The wheelchair and hand cycle participants has started a few minutes ahead of the runners, but the hills proved challenging for many. A few people ran around the hand cyclist helping to clear the way for him as we all continued up the hill. Other participants yelled ahead "make a hole" to which the field parted to make way. As the hand cyclist passed participants, people clapped, cheered and yelled encouraging Marine sayings. 

The participant camaraderie was like nothing I'd ever experienced during this race. It reminded me that the meaning of this race went beyond the 30,000 individuals participating that day. Each aide station was staffed with Marines handing out Fluids and Marine medical staff at first aide. As we continued out of Roslyn and into Georgetown, we saw individuals and small groups of men in Marine fatigues. Some wore full gear. As they passed, other participants gave them words of encouragement or thanks. Once again we were reminded. 

The steep hills in the first few miles lead to smaller hills, and eventually to semi flat land. That is, until there was a bridge to cross. Some areas were heavy with spectators and some were desolate. I remember wondering if the lower level of crowd support might be a downer, but is enjoyed the section through the tree lined streets around the National Zoo. 

We headed back in to Arlington and reached mile 15. Signage appeared on the left side of the road for a charity called "Wear Blue Run to Remember." For a solid mile, signs were placed about every five feet. Each sign stood for a soldier lost in combat. The sign contained a photo, name, home town, unit/base. As we approached the signs, I heard a runner behind me say she was fighting back tears, and soon, so was I. We found a way to run a bit faster that mile. 

We crossed over a bridge and eventually onto the National Mall. We headed towards the Capitol building, rounded a corner, and then headed away from it. We cross the 20 mile mark and kept chugging along. 

Along the way, I saw a few runners who had pinned signs to their shirts about running the Chicago Marathon two weeks ago. I tried to talk with them a bit. Crazy can only seem normal if it finds another crazy, right?

In the last few miles of the race, we crossed over what the race refers to as "Beat the Bridge." Keeping in mind that even moderate hills can seem monstrous as this point in the race, this bridge was a might one indeed. 

We headed into Crystal City, then down the highway we had started on. I prepared myself for the hill I had heard so much about. I had heard it was huge. A half mile, oh no, a mile straight up. And so steep...I'd probably never seen anything like it. As we moved down the highway, barricades and signage appeared. It can't be long now. We turned off the highway and I saw the hill. It was steep, but it wasn't long. And if I was thinking about walking, well, there were Marines, of course. 

As I ran up that final stretch, I tried to look at each and every face in uniform lining the curb. I wondered where they're form. Are they stationed in DC right now? Did they travel far to get here? How did they decide they wanted to be a Marine?  

Then there was a finish arch and the memorial. I was congratulated by several Marines, then presented with my race medal. I was thanked for my support, had the medal placed around my head and then saluted. Again, I teared up. Wow, this is just an incredible day. 

I finished about 12 minutes behind my time in Chicago two weeks earlier. Overall, the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon was my median marathon time of seven. As I walked up to the memorial, I wondered if I could have pushed myself a bit harder. Inspiration was everywhere.

What a great birthday. 

More on Wear Blue Run to Remember 

Thank you to Jeff Reardon for the great photos.

1 comment:

Declan Xavier said...

Great recap and sounds like a great time. I really liked the part- Crazy can only seem normal if it finds another crazy, right? So true!

And I may use the "Make a hole" for busy days on the lakefront!

Happy Friday!