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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Chasing Equality

As always, the important thing is that I finished.

Yesterday was the 36th Annual Marine Corps Marathon in the Washington, DC area. For my purposes, this is my Virginia race, as both the start and finish lines were actually in VA. I’ll have my review of the race later this week, but today is all about the experience.

As I’ve mentioned, and you may have noticed from the distinct lack of posts in the month of October, I haven’t been running the last month. The stress of buying a house and the repeated screw-ups of the bank left me without much motivation or energy for such things. Obviously, this had an effect on me yesterday, but I decided to really go for it anyway. Why not, right?

It was incredibly cold at the start of the race. It actually snowed on Saturday, which was not a particularly comforting occurrence. I got off the Metro at the Pentagon stop, and after waiting a while to get through the stiles, eventually joined the flood of humanity making its way to the starting line. The checkpoints slowed everything down, and for a moment or two, I was worried about whether I’d make it to the start on time. After the checkpoint, however, I had almost exactly enough time. I dropped my gear off at the UPS trucks and (much colder now) took at quick pit stop before heading to the start line.

Our pacer was a little slow getting to the start, but I struck up some conversations with those around me, and eventually caught up with the 3:05 stick before Drew Carey fired off the starting gun.

At this point, my feet were freezing. I had bought a pair of gloves, so my hands were fine, and even though I only had shorts and a singlet, I really wasn’t too cold throughout the start. Except for my feet. It took over two miles to be able to feel my toes, at which point I just wanted them to go numb again. With most of the hills in the first 8 miles, I wanted to take it easy, and I would decide whether to push the pace later. But something strange happened.

As I stretched my pace on the first big downhill, I got in front of the pace group, and I felt really good. I settled into an even pace, expecting them to catch up any time. When I reached 5 miles and had a pretty good lead, I decided to start challenging myself. I picked out a jersey in front of me and slowly reeled it in. First the GE t-shirt, then the guys in orange, then the guy in yellow. One after another, I picked them off. Until I got the Human Rights Campaign guy.

The big equals sign on his shirt moved ahead of me, and I locked in on it. For about seven miles, I followed that sign, chasing down equality as best I could.  Unfortunately, at about mile 12, I got a killer stitch in the center of my chest that kept me from breathing fully. This slowed me down, and I watched equality slip away. The stitch faded by mile 13, and I turned in the fastest half marathon of my life. Unfortunately, the shift in pace was not good for my legs, and at mile 15, the cramping started. It got gradually worse over the course of the next mile, and by 17, I knew that my time goal was not going to happen. Today’s job was going to be finishing.

I largely ignored the scenery (as I’ve seen pretty much all of it before) as I got around the National Mall, and circled back toward the bridge at I-395. The 20-mile mark signifies the start of “Beat the Bridge,” an ungodly stretch of nothing as you run over the Potomac. From there, we circled down into Crystal City, where the crowds swelled. It was a tough out-and-back portion, but by the time I was done with it, we were within a 5K of the finish.

As I passed the final stretch into the corridor of spectators, I started smiling, as usual, because I knew I was going to finish, which is always the most important part. One of my “trademarks,” if you will, is that I like to get the crowd pumped up while I run. I raise my arms and cheer to make them get louder, which gives me the energy to continue. I decided to do this one last time at mile 26, and somehow managed to anger my hamstring like I’ve never felt. For a while, I thought I had pulled the muscle. I stopped and walked few steps, tried running again, hit the hill, and started to walk once more. Then one of the wheelchair competitors passed me, and I thought, if he can do this, so can I, and I ran across the finish line.

Now I’m on the plane headed home with incredible sore legs, but a rather badass medal around my neck. My running future remains slightly unclear, but I’m fairly sure the next race won’t be until April. Until then, I’m officially in the off-season.

I hope there’s not a lockout.

Marine Corps Marathon:
34-45 Degrees / Clear
26.2 Miles
3 Hours, 25 Minutes, 3 Seconds