Proud finisher of the 36th MCM!!!

It seems surreal at this point to think about how long I have been working for this… the chance to say that I ran a marathon. I am so proud and happy — the race high will be with me for a while. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget.

The days before the race are always a bit nerve-wracking for me. I am not sure why… it’s not like my life depends on winning the race. I am only doing this for myself for my own reward so I should not really be nervous. But, like everyone, I wanted everything to go smoothly and have a great experience. So on Saturday when it was very cold and rainy and threats of snow were in the forecast I was a bit worried. Déjà vu? Think back to last year at Myrtle Beach when the marathon was cancelled for a few flakes of snow. Certainly this could not happen again! Then reason set in — these are the MARINES – they would not cancel. I told this to myself and then also had confirmation when I read a news story where the race director said the same. The race would go on.

I decided to calm my nerves by embracing the snow. I had to do a couple of miles so instead of hiding in the hotel gym on the treadmill I bundled up and took a walk/run down to the Marine Corps Memorial. I was the only one out and it was so peaceful. It was a serene experience as I stood with the flakes falling gazing at the massive Memorial.

It was just what I needed to do. Get some exercise, fresh air and some motivation from thinking about those brave Marines!

More rest, water, dinner and sleep… yes, I slept perfectly all night. There was nothing to worry about. I was ready. I did not have to lay awake concerned about the weather or finishing. I knew I would.

4:15 wake up — coffee, water with electrolytes (thanks John)!, normal breakfast of eggs and sweet potatoes chased down with a green drink. Bathroom, clothes on, shoes on, head downstairs. I was meeting up with some other woman at the hotel and we were going to walk to the starting line together. It was almost a 2 mile walk, but it was cold and I needed time to adjust. It was about 33 degrees outside and it felt it. Occasional gusts of wind tore through my sweatshirt and arm warmers.

On the way down it was pitch dark, but we were following the crowd and chatting about random things. At some point all the talk went silent as the group realized we were walking right next to the graves of Arlington National Cemetery. In the darkness the white tombstones could be seen forever. Another thought provoking moment.

I looked up and on the horizon could see the glow of the Lincoln and Washington monuments. It was quite a sight! I wish now I had stopped to take a picture, but it was so cold and dark and I did not want to fall behind.

We finally made our way to the starting line. I used the porta-potty a few times. The lines were not long as they had plenty to go around. I did my dynamic stretching and did my best to keep warm. Finally the call from the announcer to get in the corrals. I was in the 5:00-5:30 corral. I was hoping their would be a lot of body heat to warm me up, but I think everyone was just as cold as I was.

I am somewhere way beyond that red arch!

Finally the cannon went off! We all cheered loudly as upbeat music played and we all prepared to run. Off went the warm sweatshirts — we were off! Well, not yet… we waited. It was well over 15 minutes before my corral even moved. We finally started a slow walk forward until we got to the red arch, then the official starting line. NOW we were off!

I was in this mass of people.

I was smiling and looking around when I spotted Katheryn right on the curb! It was so exciting to see her smiling face send me off. It was the perfect way to start the run.

At mile two there was a Marine shouting cadence. It was so cool.
Mile 3-4 uphill… nothing I couldn’t handle.
Pace steady, heart rate where it needed to be.

First bridge crossing at about 4.5 miles… over the Potomac and into Georgetown.

Mile 7 was CHAOS! A short uphill to a hairpin turn to another short steep uphill to a water stop. Narrow road. Tons of people. Thank goodness I carried my own water. I did my best to run right down the middle. An awesome downhill came shortly after where we then ran into our first port-potty line. I could not believe how many people were standing in line. I heard later that people waited 10-15 minutes in these lines! I could hold it!

Running into downtown Georgetown was so exciting. The crowds were out in full force swarming the streets. At some points the road was very narrow because of the crowds. It was like what I have seen on TV with the Tour de France coverage. It was like we were famous or something!

The next miles 9-15 were down the edge of the Potomac River and around Haines Point. It was a beautiful run as the sun was shining and glistening off the water. It was a perfect day. I do not think I have stopped smiling yet. At the half way point there was loud, booming music and dancers cheering us on. I took it all in and hand-slapped everyone that stuck a hand out.

Miles 15-20 were up and down the Mall past all the monuments and memorials. Marines everywhere shouting ooh-rah! to all the runners. Crowds were around every corner with inspiring and funny signs to read. People cheering endlessly for complete strangers. I rounded a corner at about mile 16 and saw the most beautiful and happy faces — my family!!! Katheryn, Mom, Dad and Brad all standing there cheering — it was a total surprise to see them there. I ran over and gave them all high-fives. I was beaming. I felt great.

Mile 20 is a cut-off point… you hand to maintain a certain pace to “Beat the Bridge”. No problem. Even at my slow pace I was over 2 minutes faster than the pace needed. Right before the bridge there was an amazing all-woman percussion group. They were amazing! They had this beat that was perfect for my pace. I immediately found the extra energy I needed to get up the bridge. Bridges are hillier than they appear in cars!

Marines lined the bridge… more ooh-rahs!

Caught some “free speed” down the other side of the bridge (thanks Katie) and was still feeling pretty good. So proud. So happy! Further than I have ever run before. Right on pace. Heart rate good.

Mile 22-25. Wow. Pain. All of a sudden I was aware of the pain in my feet. It is generally always there when I run. Despite the cortisone shot and the metatarsal pads it is always there. Up until these miles I wasn’t aware of it at all. The joy of the run over powered the pain. I could no longer ignore it. With each step it felt like nails were being driven through the balls of my feet. I had to run/walk up some of the ramps as we went over and under more bridges. Someone later described this section as the “concrete canyon”. So true. It seemed that all at once the crowds, the bands, the Marines, the signs, were all gone. It was just us. The whole crowd around me was slowing down. I had spent much of the day running with a lot of the same people and it was like we all felt it. We were slowing down. I tried to keep my hear rate up despite my slowing pace.

Soon we entered a road where there were people again. That helped some, but we were also running down a road in one direction where the faster runners were heading back in the opposite direction. There must have been a turn-around up ahead. Where was that stupid turn-around? We ran on and on and on facing these people. Mile 22 was the longest mile. I really just wanted that mile to end. It was the worst mile in the race for me. I had to get my mind in order. It wasn’t right that I was thinking about my poor foot when Marines and other Soldiers were running by me in their full gear with pictures on their backpacks of men killed in action. I certainly couldn’t feel sorry for myself and think about my pain.

But, the fact of the matter is that I was thinking about the pain and my body was getting tired. Coach Katie cues came in my head FORM – eyes ahead, hips forward, pick my feet up, lean forward, move my arms. I felt better.

Mile 25 and another on ramp. Those darn interstate on-ramps were the hardest part of the whole run. I walked. The mile 26 marker was in site.

Another ramp.

.2 miles to go… but I couldn’t see the finish line. I was tired and running as fast as I could (which was NOT fast at ALL at this point). One more uphill. I felt like I was sprinting up it… one more turn and I crossed the line!

I was so happy to be done. Many people talk of crying at the finish. I didn’t. I was relieved. I was immediately guided to the line of Marines giving out medals. I removed my hat and bowed my head. Now that was humbling. It was amazing to have a Marine put that medal around my neck. Ok, so maybe I got choked up at that point.

Now I just wanted to find my family. The finish line was a sea of runners. Spectators were not allowed anywhere near the finish area. I just wanted to see my family! Finally I got to them and it was so wonderful to get hugs from all of them. They are the greatest!

After months of training, money spent on shoes, gear, coaching (by the greatest coach ever)!, hotel and travel…. finally….. the medal – priceless!

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3 Comments

  1. Danielle Shepard

    Laura, this is so inspiring to me. I am so proud of you and I will accomplish this someday myself and will think of you when I cross that finish line.

  2. Now that’s a race report! Thank you so much for sharing it all — from the highs to the lows to the sights to the sounds to the inspiring moments to the exuberance that comes with completion. Take this experience and use it. Anytime you find yourself facing a physical or mental challenge, remember the day you ran 26.2 miles to the shouts of OOH-RAHS!

  3. Love the post Laura! Glad to have called this one my first marathon too!

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