For the second year in a row, I traveled to Washington, D.C. on the last weekend in October to run the Marine Corps Marathon.
This year was different from last because this year I ran the race with my hubby Bill, my friend Nancy (it was her 99th marathon), and another friend Dennis. Dennis had run the Marine Corps Marathon 30 times before but not since 2007. He wanted to attempt to run it one last time at age 78.
Bill and I went to the expo at National Harbor, picked up our bibs and shirts, and hightailed it out of the very crowded event as quickly as possible.
I really like the race shirt this year. It is a black quarter-zip with the phrase “Courage is Endurance for One Moment More” emblazoned on the back.
We went back to our hotel room to relax, then met our friends, along with Nancy’s daughter and two grandsons for dinner, where we dutifully carbo-loaded with pasta or pizza, then went to bed early.
Race day dawned gray and rainy, but we were prepared. We brought hats, throw-away shirts, and rain ponchos, which we donned before setting out for our 1-mile walk to the race start before sunrise.
Some of the pre-race festivities, such as the parachutes and fly-overs, were canceled due to the weather, but the national anthem was sung, the wheelchair racers were off, and finally, the gun sounded for the marathoners to begin.
I pitched my throw-away shirt before the start of the race but was going to try to stay as dry as possible and run with my poncho. I quickly decided I would rather be wet than run in the poncho and ditched the poncho too.
Because we were concerned about Dennis being able to meet the cutoff times, we had meticulously planned our race. We knew the pace we needed to maintain in order to avoid being swept from the race.
In the Marine Corps Marathon, there are three checkpoints – at miles 17, 20, and 22. In order to beat the gauntlet at mile 17, you must maintain approximately a 15 minutes per mile pace.
The first few miles were good. We ran-walked and maintained an acceptible pace. Then we turned into Rock Creek Park. The rain, which had been light up until then, became much heavier and Dennis’ knees started acting up. He began to have trouble sustaining the necessary speed.
Nancy, Bill and I took turns alternately running beside Dennis, talking to him to keep his spirits up and encourage him, and running ahead, clearing a path for him and giving him a “rabbit” to chase.
I should mention that I was smiling and laughing for most of the race. We were moving at a very comfortable pace. There were plenty of people to talk to, both my companions and other racers.
There was a woman wearing a bridal veil running with a man ahead of us. I got excited, thinking maybe they were going to get married at the finish line. I hoped we could see a wedding after the race, so I caught up to her and asked.
As it turned out, they were being married in six days, not the day of the race, but we had a nice little chat. I wished them good luck and told them that my hubby and I had just celebrated 41. The groom replied “41 what? Not 41 years!” “Yes,” I said. “No way! You’re not old enough.” He is going to make a great husband!
Bill muttered something about not letting his wife sign him up for races, which I ignored, and we were on our way.
Before we knew it, we were at the Blue Mile. At this point, all the normal runner chatter stops as we pass between posters of young servicemen and women killed in action.
When we ran through the posters, another runner asked me to take a photo of her with “her” poster. Tears streamed down my face as I took a picture of the woman beside the poster of her lost loved one.
After the posters, families of these brave soldiers and sailors wave flags and cheer on the runners with an incredible amount of enthusiasm. It is absolutely the most touching moment of any race I have ever run.
This year, just as we entered the Blue Mile the skies opened and a deluge ensued. I am not exaggerating when I say it was like running under a showerhead. It was raining for most of the morning; at mile 12, it began to pour. We were completely soaked, splashing through puddles with rain dripping off the brim of our hats.
Unfortunately, we realized that we were falling further and further behind the time needed to pass the first gauntlet. We had talked about this possibility before the race. Dennis told us that if it happened, he wanted the rest of us to finish.
With heavy hearts and much regret, Nancy, Bill and I picked up the pace in order to pass the mile 17 checkpoint in the required time.
We ran together for the rest of the race at a very easy pace. I felt great until the final mile when I began to get very tired and sore, but, hey, it’s the final mile of a marathon. You’re supposed to be tired, right?
We finished in just under six hours, collected our medals and gingerly trudged the mile back to our hotel.
Dennis did not make the mile 17 checkpoint by the required time, so he was picked up by a bus and was transported back to the race start. He met us at the hotel soon afterward, disappointed, but not dejected.
Once again, the Marine Corps Marathon did not disappoint. The organization, course, amenities, and enthusiasm of the Marines who volunteer is excellent. I broke my own rule of never doing the same marathon twice to run this race again this year.
During the final mile of the race, when I was struggling, I told my hubby “This is my last marathon. No more!” But now, I’m not sure. I have learned to never say never.