This is the first, but hopefully not the last, marathon that I’ve done without a time goal. After seven duels with 26.2 miles, pushing myself to the point of nearly breaking—but never actually breaking—I guess the eighth seemed like a good time to step back. But I should’ve known that it wouldn’t be just a marathon day.
Molly put it best: “…if every run was easy, and if every race was a PR, it would be boring as fuck.” This day was not boring.
Most things about race week were abnormal for me, which cemented my no-time-goal approach. (See: new pup!) I didn’t think about the marathon too much. I just wanted to let the day come. I wanted to show myself that it doesn’t always have to be about paces, times, PRs or BQs. I relished the feeling of not obsessing over my schedule every day that week, or whether or not gelato after dinner on Friday was a bad call (probably not the best call, though). But, I did watch the forecast bounce all over the place—rainy, sunny, rainy again, back to summer!
On the last Sunday in October, we ran through a warm, humid morning, with a high of nearly 80 degrees. “We” is the key word. All of us.
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Molly and I followed a training plan that I outlined every month, starting in July. Neither of us ever anticipated this being an A-race, but we weren’t interested in risking injury, either. A few people asked us if we planned on running the race together; we did not. It’s hard to finish a marathon—I assume it’s even harder to try and match your 26.2 to someone else’s, on purpose. But then, while I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago I convinced her to run with me for three hours. I wanted company; I wanted to run some trails; I wanted to end along the lovely Sausalito waterfront, and then find a way back to the city (ferry, Uber, whatever). She joined. We ran some trails. We ended in Sausalito for an afternoon on the Bar Bocce beach. It was a damn good day.
Kate and I finally got back in our running groove this year. Despite many trips between San Francisco and DC, I made sure that we got our miles in. After more than two years of solo heart-rate training and living in California, I was in a big run-buddy deficit. We had some hours to make up for. And while I accept my current status as an Arlington resident, I am a DC runner through-and-through. I took any and every chance to meet her in Woodley Park, Dupont Circle, on the Mall, or in Rock Creek Park. I wanted my feet back on those familiar sidewalks and trails. That’s where they train best.
Sam and I met by chance, I guess. Birds fly stronger together. We were both relatively new to Arlington running (her much more so than me)—we both had some life things to figure out, and that’s where running really shines. I wanted to show her all the running options from our launch pad; she reminded me that running a little too fast won’t kill me. There’s a solid chance I’ve almost lost her to the Blue Ridge trails, but that just means the trails will lure me right back in.
Anne and I were both pretty pumped to know that we had a long-run buddy locked in. Our race training schedules almost never completely align, but this time they did. Her mornings are almost as flexible as mine, which means that every time I decided to bump my long run up to Friday, I knew I’d have some company. And vice versa.
Mike and I don’t run together very often. We do put in miles side-by-side while traveling, and once every few weeks when he wants to take it easy. He’s fast—like, 3:10-marathoner-fast—and I usually feel self-conscious because we run at my pace. He never says a word about it. He’s been on the ultra-running train this year, so his miles are a little longer and slower, which means our strides are a little more in sync. (For now.) If I had asked, and it weren’t a little shady, he would have run at least 25 of those 26.2 miles with me. (He did run almost 13.) But, like me, he had no interest in racing them.
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We got to the starting line with about an hour to spare (thanks, Sokphal, for the bag drop!), went straight into a long bathroom line, and still had plenty of time for pictures and nervous energy. It was a beautiful morning; no one was too chilly and the sky was clear. Everything was organized AF, per the MCM standard, and the gun went off right at 7:55 am.
Here we go!
Molly decided to pace herself—instead of sprinting off the starting line, as she truly does best—and stuck with me for a while. Mike decided to hop in early, and met us at Mile 2. Anne was nearby, never too far ahead or behind. Kate did her thing and met me at the Smithsonian Metro stop (mile 18). She reliably and very energetically gets me through the hardest parts. I am forever indebted to her for pulling me along when running is the last thing I want to keep doing, mile after mile.
As it appropriately turned out, I only ran somewhere between three to four miles by myself. Although, in a race like this, you’re never alone. It wasn’t fully planned, but I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to experience this one any other way.
Photo by Jared Andersen Photography.
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By mile 16 I realized the fatigue wasn’t going to succumb to a “second wind” any more than I could magically start to feel SUPER PUMPED about running another ten miles. It was so damn hot. I wasn’t chasing a time, so I didn’t feel motivated to do anything other than simply finish.
When Kate hopped in I gave her a fair warning that this wouldn’t be a quick seven miles. She might be late for her lunch date (or she could hop out earlier!). We might just have a lot of walking up ahead. As per usual, she was all in. No matter what.
We did walk a lot. We walked at every water (and Gatorade) stop, I walked for a minute after hitting every mile marker; I walked after she hopped out at mile 24-point-something because I just decided to. I begged her to remind me that I do not want to do another marathon, so don’t let me sign up for one! I looked around Crystal City and saw some of the 10K finishers, medal-on-neck, already back to spectate. I said, “Let’s do that next year!” and we walked, then ran, some more.
But there was never any part of me who would quit on this race. Sure, I missed my pup. (OMG all the dogs out spectating! How have I never noticed this before?!) Sure, I was tired of walk-run-walking. Sure, I knew this would be the slowest marathon of all my marathons. I wanted brunch nachos. I wanted to shower. I wanted to stop feeling nauseous from heat and exhaustion and dehydration (even though I was hydrating as much as possible). But I could still move forward. That means that not finishing wasn’t an option.
The only reason I fully ran the final stretch (25.5-26.2, to be exact) is because you simply can’t stop in front of that crowd! The highway is lined with rows of cheering people and Marines who are far more confident than you are that you will make it. I ran the devilish little hill, barely, and I kept running through to the finish line.
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2016 Marine Corps Marathon – 4:12
This race has given me some of my favorite running memories, my PRs, and my first Boston qualifying time. It has given me a glimpse at what I’m capable of on my best days, and has always left me hungry for another one. It takes me through my favorite city, brings out the best of its people, and has given me some of my best training miles. It always reminds me how lucky I am to be there, still moving, still experiencing it all. The least I can do in return is come back to it faithfully, every chance I get, and see it through.