I’ll see if I can be any briefer today than I was yesterday, and perhaps that way we’ll make it to the finish line – perhaps even to bed that night!! (But it was a really long day, so we’ll see…)
I was pretty far back at this point, having stayed behind to pump some milk (on a sidewalk near a highway entrance ramp, starting to cry as I felt sorry for myself for needing to pump while the wind whipped at my nursing cover and I hunched over trying to keep myself covered…then the two Marine Corps Ospreys flew over, and I remembered again while I was there, was thankful that I had my healthy baby, that I could nurse him, that I was able to pump, and that I have a husband happy be a father to his children) before handing my bag over to Brent, our friend from the USS Pasadena, who turned in my bag and his wife Carole’s bag over at the bag check. I meandered up to the crowd which wasn’t even shuffling forward (a few minutes after the start we were all standing still — big crowd!) and happily found a place in the dense crowd to shed my trashbag and pants while staying warm in the mass of human bodies. Here’s a picture of the start, taken by MarathonFoto:
Obviously it was crowded at the start, but for about the first 12 miles it was still pretty packed! It’s funny to me how when you watch people running a marathon, for the most part it looks like a river of people out for a casual jog, lots of them walking. I’ll tell you what – when I walked here and there or was jogging super slow – every step hurt, and that was just about all I could manage. In the past I’d always assumed people were just “taking it easy” when the appeared to be moving so slowly, but really, a lot of us were working as hard as we could! 🙂
I thoroughly enjoyed the first ten miles – and I mean smiling-ear-to-ear-feeling-like-a-jackrabbit type of enjoyment – because of the crowds of cheering onlookers, the gorgeous scenery, the camaraderie of the runners, and the pleasant weather. It had been threatening rain all morning, but the clouds began to thin around 8am, and it was just a grey, cool day with bits of sunshine sprinkled throughout — perfect for running.
I was careful to keep a slow and steady pace for the first 1-2 miles, about 12 minutes per mile so I could warm up a bit. For the next 8-10 miles I ran between 9:30 and 10:30 min/mile, just comfortably pushing myself when I felt really good and relaxing here and there. I figured that no matter what, the last miles were going to be really rough since I had only gone 16 miles previously, and my body had really started hurting around 14 miles. So I might as well run the first half of it having as much fun as possible! There was even a small pipe band to cheer me on as we entered Georgetown. The leaves in Arlington would have astonished me with their beauty had we not driven that road the night before on our way to the Run to Honor dinner. It was seriously the most lovely day.
A couple ran up to me at one point and said, “We went to Bellefonte!” I had no idea about what they were talking…it was my shirt! I had pinned the names of my two friends killed at the Pentagon on 9/11 onto the back of my shirt — LT Jonas Panik and LT Darin Pontell. Turns out these two had gone to High School with Jonas. They thanked me for running to honor him, and I felt ready to run 20 more miles. I must admit to feeling a little guilty around mile 8 thinking about how much fun I was having while John and Christine may have been struggling back at the hotel. John called around 8:15am while I was still waiting to move over the starting line looking for Daniel’s diapers. They packed up the kids (of course in their matching clothes), Greer’s Pack ‘n Play, Daniel’s Moses bed, the stroller, the signs, and the other bags for the day into the van and drove out to the New Carrolton Metro Station. Onto the train they went, arriving a bit later at the Smithsonian stop on the Mall in DC.
A few people called me just after mile 11 — my brother’s wife Robin, John’s sister Alisa, and my parents – and that helped spur me on, but I was starting to hurt! Mostly it was just my feet at this point. Then I ran through something I will not soon forget. The group “Run to Remember” was standing along the road, dozens of people about 2 feet apart, stretching for perhaps half a mile. Each person held an American flag up, pointing it out towards the road a bit. In the ground were placed signs every few feet as well, and on each sign was a picture of someone in uniform. And under each picture was the date that person was killed in action, along with the person’s age. It was a powerful moment for everyone who ran past.
Finally, around mile 15, I ran into John, Christine, and the children. By this time I had walked through one of the water stops in order to eat my last “Chocolate #9” gel, and I had even needed to stretch for a few minutes on the grass because of tightness in my legs. I was slowing down a lot, and only seeing them soon (we had talked on the phone, so I knew where to expect them) kept me running.
I saw the family again a few miles later, and they were having a rough time of it. Although the weather was perfect for running, it was a bit chilly for the kids, and they were tired of walking. They had stopped for hot dogs and chips, and they weren’t really having what could be described as a “fun” day. I told them just to head to the finish (still probably 8-9 miles for me, so probably another 90 minutes away) to hang out somewhere comfortable and not to worry about catching me anywhere else. I began to question myself for having signed up for this marathon. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to finish after all. Maybe the whole weekend with the family there had been a bad idea. Maybe, just maybe, I had made a mistake. I started to cry a bit as I contemplated my failures in planning and mothering and all the ways the weekend had already not gone according to plan (Why was I doing this again? Suddenly the joking signs that people held up like “Worst Parade Ever” and “This seemed like a good idea when you signed up” began to really resonate with me.) Around this point, two men ran up to talk to me saying, “We were Devora’s friends. We were so sad to hear about Darin.” It took me a second to register that they were speaking of LT Darin Pontell’s widow, Devora. Tears came again as I thanked them for stopping me to say hello, and I ran on. Here are a few pictures from MarathonFoto that are obviously at points when “the going got tough” while this one was struggling to be tough enough to “get going:”
Around mile 20.5 my iphone battery died, so I had to switch to my backup music – the ipod nano I had clipped on before the race along with plug-in headphones (I had been using my bluetooth headset with the iphone) that were stuffed into my skirt pocket. I was so thankful for my playlist at this point because it was rough-going. Any time I stopped to walk (through a food or water stop, or the time I needed to get a rock out of my shoe or when I used the porta potties), walking was painful. Getting back to a slow jog hurt as well, but once I was moving, the “running” form was more comfortable for me than walking. We crossed into Crystal City via a bridge at mile 21 or 22. There was a water stop right near the mile 24 Dunkin Donut Munchkin stop, but to my tired eyes, the two stops seemed to be one and the same. Alas, I was so disappointed that I was not to the Munchkins yet. For those next two miles through Crystal City, a place filled with happy spectators, I literally ran for donuts. I told myself I could walk again once I got to the Dunkin Donuts stop. That was a great stop, and my last one, and I ate 3 munchkins faster than I’ve ever eaten a Munchkin. I wolfed those things down like it was the last food I’d ever see. I was hungry, thirsty, tired from lack of sleep and running 24 miles, and mentally exhausted, and I’ll tell you what – a donut was just the thing for me. Someone was thinking when they contracted Dunkin Donuts for Mile 24. About half a mile later, another man ran up to me to say that he knew of both Darin and Jonas because he worked at the Pentagon. At this precise moment, we rounded a bend and were able to see the United States Air Force Memorial in the distance, and I kept on running.
Since my phone had died I had no way of contacting John to let him know how much my pace had slowed and that I was going to be much later than expected at the finish line. Thankfully, at around mile 25, I ran into a friend from the Naval Academy who was there to cheer me on, Heather Hess. She and John had been texting back and forth trying to find me (She had missed me at another spot), and she knew the course well from having run it twice while at the Naval Academy. Seeing her about a mile out from the finish was wonderful, and it kept me going. She ran alongside me even though she is seven months pregnant, and eventually she just walked since my “jog” was so slow by this point. 🙂
She sacrificed her vanity and wore that Naval Academy issued running suit jacket just so that I would be able to spot her (and it worked, too!) Heather told me the finish line was up a hill so we couldn’t see it, but that it was less than a mile away. She texted John to let him know where I was, and about 1/4 mile from the finish I saw John and Daniel (who was strapped to John’s chest.) John passed off his cellphone to me so that I would be able to contact him (via Christine’s phone) once I was through the finish area. The MarathonFoto people even got a picture of the phone handoff:
Immediately following this picture, I ran faster up the hill towards the finish, and “sprinted” (a relative term by this time) towards this:
I was indescribably happy and felt so blessed to be crossing the finish line at last. No one could get close enough in the crowd for me to see anyone cheering me on as I crossed, so it was just me and the Marine (who’s name happened to be Armstrong) putting the medal around my neck, in some sort of strange vacuum where it seemed like time had stopped. I guess that’s what happens when you’re pretty much in constant motion for 5 hours and 55 minutes and then suddenly come to a complete stop. Yes, you read that right. 5:55. I had hoped for 4:55, and it took me an entire hour past that time to complete the marathon. Going on my half marathon time for the day, I would have finished before the five hour mark, but my body was just not in shape enough to handle all 26 miles with the same strength as the first 13, so we just slowed it waaaaaaay down. 🙂
So that’s it. All that’s left to describe is the aftermath. 🙂 I think I will save that for another post, along with my contemplations on the marathon distance. 🙂