Saturday began very early for Rachel and I. I woke up at 4:45, and despite not sleeping great overnight, I felt refreshed and bright eyed, when the alarm went off. I started my day with a cup of coffee and a banana. I got dressed, and we left the house by about 5:15, and drove up to get on the Metro. The weather was cool (around 40 degrees), and overcast. So we were glad we let Max spend the night at his grandparents, so we didn’t have to drag him out into the cold.
Fortunately we got on the Metro in Springfield, which is the first stop on the blue line. We got a seat, so we got to relax for the long 45 minute ride into DC. As we got closer more and more racers got on. It was kind of intimidating, because it seemed like everyone getting on, was younger and much more in shape than I was. I’m not fat, but Im also not super lean and muscular, like all the folks who were getting on the train seemed to be.
Because we had a seat, the ride in was very relaxing. Rachel and I chatted, and I kept checking the weather on my phone. The forecast was for a 70% chance of rain. When we exited the Metro station, the first thing I did was put my hand out to feel for rain drops. And much to my delight, it was still dry. The sun hadn’t risen yet, so it was chilly and dark as we made our way down towards my starting corral. We found a quiet spot and I took off my jacket and sweats, and Rachel helped me pin on my race number. I snacked on a Clif bar, and then reached in the bag for a pack of sports beans. After frantically searching for the beans, I realized they were not in the bag I had packed. The only thing I had was a single Gu packet that I got in my race swag bag. I was in a panic, and feared that I would run out of gas half way through and not finish. I wanted to turn around and head home. But Rachel calmed me down, and convinced me to run the race anyway. So I found a spot in my corral, and hoped for the best.
I was in corral 30, I could hear the PA announcer counting down the corrals in front of me. We slowly made out way towards the starting line. As I looked around the corral I was in (predicted finish of 2:30), the folks seemed more like me. A few extra pounds, and closer to my age. So that made me feel a bit better. There was even a cute older man, who turned to me and shook my hand. He made me laugh when he said “Do me a favor, if you see me fall down out there, help me back up, then tell me how stupid I am for doing this”. I wish I would have taken notice of his bib number so I could see if he finished. His little joke relaxed me and took my mind off things.
As we progressed and moved closer to the starting line, I got a text from my friend Tom. We were supposed to start from the same corral. He decided to move up and run in an earlier corral with his wife. So I was out there solo, which I didn’t mind since I do all my training runs alone.
After about 45 minutes, we were finally at the front of the line. Rachel snapped a few pictures of me, and I was off and running. Because I was so nervous, I didn’t do any sort of warmup or stretching. It was pretty chilly at the start, so it took me a while to get moving in a nice rhythm. I felt like I was running in place for the first mile or two.
A friend of mine who ran the race the year before, told me to make sure I looked around me, and took in all the scenery. I’m glad he did, because the first few miles were awesome. The sun was just coming up as we ran under a huge 100 foot American flag. Off to the left was the Washington Monument, and to the right was the White House. One mile down, slower than I would have liked, but one mile down none the less.
I still didn’t feel great at this point. This woman in front of me caught my eye. She resembled a friend of mine, and she had a weird gait, so she stood out from the rest of the crowd. She seemed to be running at the same pace as me, so I tried to stay behind her. With 30,000 people in the race, the course was very crowded. There also seemed to be a number of people who were walking the course. Not sure why they picked corrals ahead of mine, since there is no way you could walk and still finish in two and a half hours. Race etiquette says walkers should stay off to the side, so they don’t slow down the other runners. Not everyone followed this etiquette, so I felt like everytime I hit my stride, I had to slowdown to make my way around a walker, or some person stopping to take or pose for pictures. The photos below show you just how crowded the streets were:
By the time we hit the Arlington Memorial Bridge, I was starting to warm up and felt pretty good. I made my way over to the sidewalk, which was relatively empty, and was able to run pretty freely without being slowed down by the walkers. Crossing the bridge was pretty awesome. The bridge itself is beautiful, and with the planes flying overhead landing at Reagan National, it was all very beautiful. There were also crew boats rowing in the water below, which was fun to look at.
Around mile 2 or 3, the band playing at the mile marker was playing a punk version of 99 Red Balloons. It sounded great and got me fired up. My plan was to run about 5 miles before taking my one and only Gu packet. Sofar so good. As we made our way down past Rock Creek Park, the scenery and nature was very nice. Had it been a little warmer, the cherry blossoms would have been in full bloom, which would have been awesome. But even with the cool, overcast weather, it was still nice to look at.
When we hit mile 4, I started seeing a lot of people cramping up. They were either bent over at the waist on the side of the road, or on the ground trying to stretch their legs out. At this point I started to get nervous. The supplements in Gu, are supposed to help prevent things like cramping, so I considered taking the Gu early. But I felt pretty good, so I ran another mile before taking the glorious Gu. It was peanut butter flavor, which was kind of gross, but I felt much better after taking it. Probably more mental than anything.
I remembered a friend telling me that there was a big climb in Adams Morgan. So as we approached that “interesting” little DC neighborhood, I nervously anticipated the climb. My neighborhood where I do my training runs is relatively hilly, so I felt like I was pretty prepared. But I heard a lot of people run out of as really slow to a crawl after that big hill climb. When we hit mile 5, we made our way uphill. It was a nice little climb, but nothing terrible. So I was thinking, wow really? That’s it? So I picked up the pace a bit and thought the worst was behind me.
I continued to see people cramping up and a few who got sick and were throwing up. Then I looked up and saw “The Hill”. It looped around and seemed to go on forever. Yikes! At this point things really slowed down, as a lot of people stopped to walk. I slowed with the crowd and weaved my way around all the walkers. Right around the time I hit the 10k mark, I heard someone in the crowd call my name. I looked over and it was Rachel’s friend, who’s wife was also running in the race. I looked back at him and waved as he snapped a few pictures of me. It was nice to see a familiar face in the crowd.
Overall the crowds were great. It was entertaining to read the signs people were holding up. And it also helped pass the time and take my mind off of the miles that remained ahead. One of the best ones I saw was one that read “Due to the sequestration, there will be no water and no porta potties at this years race”. There was also a nice older gentleman, with a sign that read free fist bumps. It was a nice little motivation to fist bump him. Nice knowing that complete strangers can be so kind.
I remember looking at the course profile that after the huge climb, the rest of the course was relatively downhill. So I picked up the pace a bit at this point. At this point, I also started seeing some strange stuff. Like the people handing out mimosas to the runners from their porches. There was even one house that looked like it was occupied by college students that were handing out shots of vodka. Not sure if it really was vodka or they were just messing with people and giving them water. I never sampled the mimosas or vodka, so I guess I’ll never know for sure. It was also at this point that I saw a guy running who was dressed as the Pope, and another guy dressed as a Twinkie. Rachel said she saw a guy who was juggling 6 balls as he ran. I never did see him along the way.
After the hill climb and being passed the half way mark, I was starting to worry that I wouldn’t make it. I felt ok, but I knew I still had 5 miles to go. As I passed the next mile marker, I saw more people doubled over with cramps and breathing really hard. Even saw a girl laying in the arms of her friend as paramedics tried to force a sport chew into her mouth. She didn’t look good, so I hope she ended up being ok. Right after that, I could hear the sound of drums in the distance. As I got closer I could see it was an all female percussion group called Batala. The rhythm of the drums was awesome and really helped me stay motivated. I wanted to stop and listen to them, but I kept going. I was a little disappointed that it was St. Patrick’s Day weekend and there were no bagpipes, but I bet bagpipers were in demand all weekend, and hard to come by.
The scenery from this point wasn’t so great. We worked out way through some other neighborhoods in DC. Im not very familiar with DC, so not sure where we were exactly. But it was just lot of row houses and local retail shops. But then as we made the turn for home at around mile 11, I could see the Capital in the distance which was a pretty awesome site to see. There were a few more hills, but nothing like the monster in Adams Morgan.
Around mile 11, I heard someone call my name. I looked over and it was my friend Tom. I knew he had started in an earlier group, so that fact that I caught him was a good indication that I was making good time. I chatted with my for a bit, then we both put our earbuds back in and I picked up the pace and I broke away from him.
When I hit mile 12, I texted Rachel and told her I had one mile to go. At that point I started to feel tired. I think it may have been the fact that I knew the end was so close. Because I ran the last mile in under 10 minutes, one of my fastest miles of the day, I guess I still had a lot left in the tank, so to speak. The distance on my Garmin and Nike+ app were off, so I was already past 13.1 miles, and didn’t see the finish line. I was scanning the crowd to see if I could spot Rachel in case she was trying to snap pictures. Then I saw another hill up ahead. I knew the end had to be near, and then as I got closer to the top of the hill, I could hear the cheering of the crowd getting louder. Then I saw the finish line banner up ahead. I slowed up a bit to try to get in a clearing so that there would be a good finishing photo of me. Then I raised my fist as I crossed the finish line. Turns out the race photographers didn’t get my fist pump, but oh well. (update…Late on Monday, I got an e-mail from the race photographers with thumbnails of all the photos of me. And they did indeed get me pumping my fist as I crossed the finish line).
After crossing the finish, I felt awesome. Like a huge weight had been lifted. I was handed my finishers medal and proceeded to follow the crowd. There were race photographers snapping pictures. I made sure to do multiple ones posing with my medal just in case I was blinking or something. Those came out pretty great. Then I worked my way down the line to where they had tables with bottles of water, Gatorade, and chocolate milk. And I have to say, it was the best tasting Gatorade I’ve ever had. Luckily I had my phone, so I could call Rachel and find out where she was. There was a family reunion area, but with all the post race confusion, I couldn’t find where that reunion section was. So luckily after a brief phone call, Rachel was able to locate me. I gave her a big hug and kiss, and felt like I had come in 1st place hehe.
There were huge lines at the beer tents, and as much as I wanted a beer, I also was anxious to get home to get Max. So we made our way back to the Metro. At that point my legs felt ok. But after sitting on the Metro for 45 minutes, they stiffened up on me. It was funny seeing all the runners hobble off the train. I guess we were all in the same boat.
The next day, I still felt pretty good. I took a couple of Advil before bed, and didn’t really hurt much. I wore compression socks, so my calves and achilles felt really good. The only thing that bothered me were my thighs. They were a bit tender, but nothing terrible. The day after my mud run last April, I felt like I had been tossed around in a clothes dryer for 3 hours. My whole body ached for days. I felt much better after Saturdays race and was even able to take Max to park to ride his bike for a bit and play outside with him for a bit.
Of course now the question everyone is asking me is, when are you doing a full marathon? And that is something I can answer right now. Two years ago when I started Couch to 5k, I couldn’t run a block without feeling like I was going to die. So I never imagined running 13.1 miles. So at this point, I really don’t have any desire to do a full 26.2. But who knows. Maybe after a few more half marathons, I’ll feel confident enough to take the next step. I think 10 milers and half marathons are the perfect distance for weekend warriors like myself. Full marathons take a whole other level of commitment and dedication and Im not sure I have that in me.
But all in all the experience was great. I hope some day when Max is a little older, that I can continue to run half marathons, and show him that with hard work and dedication, we really can do anything we set our minds to. I guess the it’s not nice to gloat, but I felt pretty good knowing that I ran faster than my friends who ran the race. One of my friends was a former football player, who’s younger and a lot taller than me. So the fact that I was able to beat his time by around 15 minutes really made me feel good. Will this be a personal best for me? Or will I be able to get my times down around the 2 hour mark? Only time will tell. I started out 3 months ago with a goal to finish in under two and a half hours. I ended up finishing the race in 2:15:48, so I was very pleased.