My first 26.2: The Marine Corps Marathon
The hotel bed was incredibly comfortable – much more comfortable than our bed at home – and yet, I could not sleep. I lay awake listening to the sounds of peaceful slumber around me: my husband and two daughters asleep and blissfully unaware of my insomnia.
The nerves rolled through me like a low voltage electric current. I closed my eyes and willed myself to sleep, sleep, please sleep. You need your energy. Because tomorrow you are running a marathon.
A marathon . . . me? Get. Out.
A part of me still refused to believe it.
But it was true. My running attire was folded neatly on top of my suitcase. My royal blue American Cancer Society Determination bag was packed with everything from Vaseline to band-aids to water bottles to a set of comfy clothes to throw on post-race. My runner’s belt was loaded up with Nuun, my long-distance drink of choice, pretzels, gels, Tums and, of course, my iPhone so that I could snap a photo or two along the way. I had trained for months. I was ready. So why won’t my body relax and accept the rest it needs?
I did manage to drift off, but it was restless, unsatisfying sleep. I was awake again before my 5:15 alarm went off and staggered to the hotel bathroom. Stripping down, I slathered most of my upper body and both feet with Vaseline, pulled on my clothes and tied back my hair.
My race number—31199—was secured to my blue Determination singlet with the only safety pin I brought, along with a small gold one from the complimentary hotel sewing kit. I figured I could grab a couple more at the American Cancer Society tent (I ran the race to raise money for them in memory of my Grandmother, who died of lung cancer when I was in high school).
I didn’t count on the fact that my brain would be so consumed by pre-race jitters that I’d lose my ability to remember basic information. More on this later.
I left the room at 5:40 am, kissing Mark good bye. It was 31 degrees outside, and I was dressed in my purchased-the-day-before-and-never-run-a-step-in running tights (because you know? Who expects it to freaking SNOW in October?!?), old sweatpants (to toss), long-sleeved running shirt under my royal blue American Cancer Society singlet, lightweight Saucony running jacket and blue fleece (also purchased from Target the day before – planning to toss that away). I also had gloves and a baseball hat.
I followed the ACS team to the Union Station metro and boarded a train. It seemed everyone had a buddy to talk with but me, and I was feeling a little sorry for myself, sitting on the Metro eating a Cliff bar all by myself. But upon exiting the train at Rosslyn, I started chatting with a couple of other runners and that made me feel better.
At the ACS tent, the ground was a muddy, mushy, soaking, sloppy mess from the snow, rain and sleet the day before. Some runners tied plastic bags around their sneakers to keep their feet dry. I opted to just stick to the perimeter of the tent as much as possible where the ground was still sort of solid.
I drank some chocolate milk and ate a banana at the ACS tent. I tried eating a bagel, but simply couldn’t get it down. My stomach didn’t feel full, but I kept chewing the bagel – it was like glue—and when I tried to swallow it, I gagged. I ended up spitting most of it out, but I didn’t want to toss it. I was terrified that I hadn’t eaten enough. I usually have oatmeal or a bowl of cereal before a run. I was afraid of bonking later in the race.
I must have looked like someone about to face the firing squad, because one of the ACS mentors came over and sat next to me, took my hand and gave me a pep talk.
“Waiting to start is the worst part,” she said.
At that, I gave her the stinkeye, because if waiting to start is the worst part, what was all that stupid training for? If all I had to do was wait to start, I could have spent a lot more time this summer sitting my ass on the couch.
She must have read my mind, because she laughed and added, “OK, maybe not the WORST part.” At that we both laughed and I felt a little better. I don’t remember her name, but she helped me feel so much better, so thank you unknown ACS mentor.
We took our team picture and then walked down to the start. It was about 7:30 and the pastor was doing the invocation. Then there was a 21-gun salute and flyover the starting line, which was just awesome! Very inspiring.
I was trying to hook up with my friend Betsy, but our timing was off and in a crowd of 20,000, it’s just not easy to find someone, so I took a spot near the 4:30 time banner (which I knew was NOT going to happen but I thought it was as good a place as any). I shed my sweatpants and waited.
The wheelchair race went off at 7:50 am and 10 minutes later the gun for the runners. I crossed the start at about 8:10. Within 3 miles, I tossed the fleece away and about a mile later I tied my running jacket around my waist. I was regretting the running tights and wishing I’d worn my shorts. Yeah, I would have frozen my tookus off for a few minutes, but I could already tell the tights were going to be too warm for the day.
Around mile 5, the small gold safety pin snapped and flew off. Now, I had only one safety pin holding my bib to my shirt. I moved it to the middle of the bib, but it was windy and the bib (and timing chip!) kept flopping around and bending. I was terrified of losing it. “No effing way am I going to run this thing without being timed. I worked too hard to fall off the map,” I thought.
I ran along wishing I had a safety pin, which is ridiculous, because safety pins do not appear out of nowhere. Safety pins must be purchased in stores or taken from large bowls at THE TENTS BACK AT THE STARTING LINE, YOU MORON. So quit your stupid wishing because a safety pin is not just going to . . .
. . . and then I looked down and RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME was a big ‘ole safety pin!! Not some wimpy one either – a great big silver one with an extra strong clasp.
It’s corny, but I know my grandmother (whose name was on the back of my singlet) sent me that pin. She always was looking out for us grandkids like that. Thanks, Grandma. You’re the best!
During training, the emails from coaches always pointed out the hills in the first 8 miles and I was stressed, but I live and trained in a very hilly area and found them generally no big deal. There was one at mile 7 that was long and steep. I ran about half of it, then thought, “Hello?? 19 miles to go. Save your energy!” so I walked the second half.
The downhill around mile 8-8.5 into Georgetown was a bit steep and again, I wisely held back. Lots of people were flying by me on that hill . . . I’ll get back to them later.
Around this time, I also started feeling both hungry and nauseous, which seems to be sort of humanly impossible like being both short and tall. I ate my mini pretzels and felt a bit better. A few miles later, I took a mini-bagel from a spectator and took the teeniest bites of it. Like before, I kept gagging on it, but I knew I had to get as much down as possible because my stomach was growling. I was swallowing these teeny bites whole—like pills—just to get something into my stomach.
I also took two orange slices from a volunteer and they tasted SO good. The sugar/fluid really helped.
To settle my stomach, I also periodically sucked on Tums.
I kept going, one foot in front of the other – trying to stay positive. Instead of focusing on “17 miles to go,” I’d think, “9 miles down!” and that worked really well for me.
Around mile 11, I had to pee and I simply couldn’t wait, so I ran over to a block of port-o-potties on the side. There were only about 6 people in line, but they were the freaking slowest six people EVER! To this day, I have no idea WTF they were doing in there. Hair? Makeup? I half expected to get to the damn potty and find a masseuse or manicurist in there. It was unreal. I waited at that port-o-potty for over THIRTEEN minutes. Seriously! I was ridiculously pissed off.
When I entered the port-o-potty line, I was running on pace with the 5:30 group. When I left the port-o-potty, EVERYONE was walking. EVERYONE.
I could not believe it. “Where did all the runners go?” I wondered. And then, “Oh.My. God. I’m at the end of the line. I’m last.” (Which was totally not true, but my mind was sure of it).
Completely panicked, I started running as fast as I thought was sensible and kept that up for the next few miles.
But around mile 14, guess what? The stomach issues got A LOT worse. A lot. As in, like it or not, you need to stop and use the potty again. Which? Crap. (Almost) literally.
This time, we were in a park of sorts and I saw a real ladies room with REAL toilets. And—thank you Lord—there were only a couple of women in line. I ran up to the circular restroom and as I got closer saw that the line curved with the building – around the side I couldn’t see upon approach. The short line was in fact about 12 deep.
TWELVE MINUTES LATER (ugh), I emerged and started running full on again.
Around mile 15, the hot spot/never-fully-healed blister/callus thing on my right foot started to really throb, so I stopped at a medical tent and slathered it with Vaseline. I was so stressed – I still had a LONG way to go and things were most definitely not going all that smoothly.
After the blister triage, I went back out running as fast as I could manage. Then, my right knee started aching. Nothing awful, but it was definitely unhappy. I was seriously stressed because I had to reach mile 20 (beat the bridge!) by 1:15 or I’d be out of the race. I had no idea what time it was and with all the time lost so far, wasn’t about to stop and pull out my phone to look. So, like Forrest Gump, I just kept running.
I had just passed mile 17 when I heard “KIMBERLY!” I turned and saw Peanut and Loaf running toward me and Mark right behind them. I ran a few steps back, gave them all the BIGGEST hugs and kisses. I was elated!! Thank you, Mark, for waiting over an hour to see me for all of 10 seconds!! You’re the best. That lift was enough to make me forget all my blister and knee woes for the rest of the race.
Well, that and the advice I got from my friend (and very experienced marathoner), Connie, to take two extra-strength Execedrins with caffeine at mile 18. I had them ready to go and popped those bad boys right after running by the mile 18 marker. Ah! Excellent tip.
Around this time, I started passing people who had flown by me on the downhill at mile 8something back in Georgetown. I think sometimes there is something to be said for slow and steady.
Before I knew it, I was at mile 20, where there was a HUGE pep rally for everyone who “Beat the Bridge!” WHOOO HOOOO!!
I ran onto the 14th Street Bridge with my arms in the air and so happy I could have cried, because now I knew without a doubt that I would finish. Nothing could stop me.
The night before, I had dinner with a friend and her husband who has done a few marathons and he told me that after mile 20, your glycogen is used up and that’s when people start hitting the dreaded “wall.” When that happens, your legs turn to lead. Every step is Herculean effort and you start hating life pretty badly.
He wisely told me, “The thing to remember is: you’re not going to die.” (Which, OK, that’s good – death wasn’t really one of my goals for this thing). Further, he advised me to push even harder and run through it.
So with that story in my mind, at mile 20, I pushed. And guess what? I felt pretty good! The people left at this point were the walking wounded, I think. It seemed like everyone was walking – some with heads hung very low. I ran by some guy lamenting to his buddy, “This just wasn’t our day.”
But I? Kept running. I ran and ran and people on the sidelines called my name over and over and each time they did I felt even stronger.
I can’t believe this, but the miles were going by fairly easily – 21, 22, 23, 24 . . . at 25, I will admit, my legs were starting to feel pretty exhausted. Despite that, with only 1.2 to go, I was 100% determined not to walk. Running by all the walkers, who let’s face it –were still about to finish a marathon and that’s awesome—but running by them gave me confidence and strength.
I passed mile 26 and then I could HEAR the finish line. The crowds on the sidelines were several people deep and they were roaring! There was some kind of music playing. There were marines lined up on the sides clapping.
At about 26.1, I hit the final hill going up to the Iowa Jima memorial. It was short but steep, and tons of people were walking up it, but I refused. I ran across the finish line, tears streaming down my face, arms in the air, and smiling!
I still cannot believe it! I RAN A MARATHON! It was incredible. When that marine shook my hand, said thank you and put that medal around my neck, I was in complete awe.
This will go down as one of my favorite days ever (right behind my wedding day and the days my children were born). It was absolutely incredible.
All through my training – the long runs in the heat, humidity, tropical storms, thunderstorms, the hours and hours spent away from my family on nights and weekends—through it all, I kept saying this marathon would be a “one and done” experience for me. Now? I don’t know. I can’t honestly say NO right now. Ask me again in the spring. ☺