As with every time we step up to a starting line to see what exactly this race day will bring, it’s over way too quickly. Anticipation fills months, weeks and days before the gun goes off. Thankfully I know every mile on this course; I needed that small dose of familiarity and comfort. Otherwise, I’ve never been so nervous to go out and test the systems…
I stayed with Anne & Matt on Saturday night so the trek to the starting line was very easy (pre-race pumpkin carving is one way to take your mind off the nerves!). We arrived to the Rosslyn metro around 6:35 a.m. and parted ways. They hopped on the train to the Smithsonian stop (10K start); I followed crowds of runners in sweats on their way toward these familiar arches.
Coach K and I worked out a very specific plan. I know from experience that you have to be careful in the beginning of this race, even more so than other marathons – I’ve never fully mastered the art of it. Even though I’d have to average out to 8:00 min/miles, the plan started with 8:30s. “There is more elevation gain in the first 2.5 miles of the MCM course than there is in the 5 mile stretch through Newton Hills on the Boston Marathon course.” Round 3, and I still forgot how rowdy that Lee Highway hill is! Going up OR down too quickly will wreak havoc; take it easy. Save it. (Had a brief conversation about this on the plane coming back to CA last night; a fellow racer complained about how quickly/hard he went out on those hills, and the detriment it caused later. I hear ya! I’ve been there.)
This year was different; stuck to the plan, even though it felt a little slow, and put faith in what my legs are well trained to do with fatigue.
Miles 1-8 were pretty unremarkable. We had beautiful fall views throughout Arlington and into Georgetown. It was warming up to the high of 65+ and everyone was happily in summer-style running gear.
A few things have changed since 2012, but the best upgrade was skipping MacArthur and turning right off the Key Bridge. We immediately headed into my stomping grounds: Rock Creek Park. You can’t have a bad run in RCP. The crowds were loud and dense, runners were happy!
Around mile 9 I needed my thoughts to calm down and the pace to feel a little easier. I needed mile 20 to be a little closer*, and I needed to zone out for a little while.
None of that really happened, but somehow I did manage to keep putting one foot in front of the other just fast enough to maintain an 8:00-8:15 pace. I managed to carefully barrel my mind behind the wall, keeping it with me, not against me.
Choose courage. Not comfort.
There’s no explaining needed here – I think those faces speak for themselves. I also think miles 10-17 of most marathons will always fall similarly along the spectrum of “uncomfortable”, no matter how the day is going.
In these moments: Your focus shifts from miles, paces, nutrition and frequency of aid stations to pour all the energy you can mightily muster to shut off the mind. It’s ready to quit long before your legs are trained to.
Right after we passed the Capital I briefly walked through the water station to dump blissfully chilled H2O on my head. That would be the last luxury of a ‘break’ my legs got.*Kate was waiting for me right where I expected her (mile 19.5), with all the energy she reliably carries on the run.
Kate’s mission would be to pull me through 7:30-45s during the last 10K. I refused to verbalize that those numbers weren’t in the cards (not that I had the energy or lung capacity to speak, anyway), or concede to any thought that it wouldn’t happen. Physically, I knew. But when you give up mentally, it’s a different kind of failure. She’s a smart cookie – I knew she would know, and we’d do what we could with what was left.
We’ve done this before, she knows the drill! BEAT. THE. BRIDGE.
That freaking bridge….
Miles 20-22 are too familiar; people are suffering to tackle the undulations of the 14th street bridge. If they’re in my head, they’re also trying to fathom HOW IT IS SO LONG and hoping with all hope that it ends soon.
As we came down and off the ramp, we were joined by two strangers. Jeff was wearing the same TAD visor and accompanied by his friend, as instructed by Katie. He immediately said “We’re here to pace you to Boston!!”. Oh, man. I WISH that’s what you were going to do, Jeff, but that math is not working in my favor at this point. This was the moment I realized there would be none of the usual mile 23-25 intermittent walk breaks – not a chance of letting down any guard, even though there was also not a chance I was hitting my goal. When two strangers and one kick-ass friend give up their morning to run with you? You put on your tough-girl pants and you run.
Those three. They should probably never know what was going through my head, but they SHOULD know that they did an incredible thing. The success of the day: there wasn’t a single point in the last 10K that we stopped, paused or mentally quit. Instead, we ran a pace that felt like walking but was actually, miraculously, pretty consistent.
And then there was the “Mile 26” sign. And the crowds couldn’t possibly have been any thicker, louder or more amped up for us! And there was the hill this race is famous for.
And then it was done.
I’ve had to let this one sit and sink in, and am still not completely done processing it. But a lot of strong people have been quick to remind me there is always something to pull from any race day, and this is no different. The about-to-puke finish feeling , some HR data and my barely-moving-today legs have plenty to say. I ran exactly what I could and I did it well enough to keep running through every mile. It’s not exactly what I wanted, but it’s how this day played out. I got to charge through my favorite city on one of my favorite days and with one of my favorite people. Success!