Let's fast forward to the race.
Meet pace group at 7 a.m. at Metro stop. Marathon is starting in two waves: first wave at 8:15, second at 8:45. It's chilly. We take a short walk to the Pentagon, where there are seven zillion people milling around. Denise Austin (of exercise video fame) is supposed to do a warm up with us. No sign of her. I am the only one in my group with a bag to store, so everyone unloads their junk into my bag, which goes into one of 30 or so UPS trucks. (P.S. This was not such a good idea for after the race. When I couldn't find anyone from my group, and thus had to carry the bag. Which I ended up not carrying. But still.) We all decide on a 2:2 ratio to begin with (run two minutes/walk two minutes) but also decide everyone has to run their own race, so no worries if we break away from each other.
Use the portapotties (there are several million of these, so no waiting!). This is one organized race. The crowd swells and moves as one up a hill, walking along some highway, all of us wondering what the hell is happening.
Oh. We're starting.
Mile 1: 14:39 Groovy. Right on track.
Mile 2: 13:41 Nice! Except
Mile 3: 2:14---hello?? Jeanne has screwed up watch again.
Mile 2 redux: Probably 15:51 So this was the big-ass hill. It actually wasn't so bad. What was bad was watching the guy in the wheelchair try to negotiate it backwards. Then forwards. It took everything I had to not help him.
Mile 3: 13:27 Turning down Spout Run Parkway, a connector to the GW Parkway. This, this is what I live for, what I love!! It's a beautiful morning, people have already been cheering us along all the way, and now we're on this glorious tree-line parkway overlooking the Potomac. It was exhilerating! Our pace group was still kind of together at this point. We take turns making fun of the guys jumping off into the woods to do, um, something.
Mile 4: 13:21 I turn to cross Key Bridge into the District and there are my friends, R & K, jumping and screaming my name! I run over to hug them, telling them "Because I just hugged you, now I'll probably lose the race." Har-de-har-har. What a card! I remember (is it Dianna's advice?) to smile for every camera, so at the first video camera I'm sprinting and smiling my head off. I do this throughout the race, no matter how I feel. I am now running with W., and all is well.
Mile 5: 13:35 Right on pace! There's a high school band playing at the end of the bridge. I start singing along to "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" because? It would be so cool if they were playing that. Which they are not. Running down M Street in Georgetown, I see Noames and a friend, all decked out like ... well like some Halloween something. I can't stop again, we're getting ready to run downhill to the waterfront. I scream something to Naomi like "26.2 blah blah blah!"
Mile 6: 20 seconds. Stupid #!@$ watch!!!
Mile 6: 13:34 This is a loop around by the Watergate and up through Rock Creek Park. Familiar tramping grounds, and the beautiful park. So far, there have been hundreds and hundreds of people cheering us, and marching bands playing, and Marines lined up offering water and gatorade, and it's all been extremely humbling.
Mile 7: 20:26 We're still sort of running as a group, so for the first—and last—time ever, we all stop together for a potty break. Which turned out to be stupid, because we all ended up splitting up later. But even though it was stupid, it was still nice.
Mile 8: 12:43 Woo-hoo, we are doing fantastic!! We're right on schedule for a six-hour finish. Very very conservative. I am of course thinking about our pretend marathon, four weeks earlier, when I finished with energy to spare. Secretly I am hoping for 5:50, dare I think 5:45?? We are now looping back now out of Rock Creek Park. Someone spots buses behind us. "Are those the sweeper buses?" Meaning, are those are the buses that will throw out their tendrils and sweep you off the course if you are not at mile 20 by 1:45 p.m.? I say no, of course not! But I notice there are not so many people behind us now. Now, it's just me and W. running together. The rest of the group has gone ahead. My friends R. and K. appear again, and I practically knock K. over giving her a hug as she's trying to take my picture. I have so much energy!!
Mile 9: 13:01: Now we're really on home territory! We pass the Kennedy Center, right on our regular training route. I stop to have my photo taken with Austin Powers. No, really.
Mile 10: 14:37 Running up Constitution Ave., past the White House, the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian. It all feels normal! Except we're running in the street and the crowds are fantastic! W. is hanging with me. I notice I am having a bit of trouble keeping up with her.
Mile 11: 13:41 My friend S. is here, with a sports drink for me! She has a big poster and she's waving it like crazy! S. has bad feet and I feel sorry for her having to stand there and wait for me! I can't stop though, (yeah, like that would make a big difference!) but I'm thrilled to see her.
Mile 12: 14:34 Hmm. slowing down a bit. Looping in front of the Capitol Building, again, this is home territory. Any other training run we'd be on our way home by now. This thought does not encourage me.
Mile 13: 14:08 I see my friend A. from work and he runs with me for a few feet, tells me I'm looking good! I tell him, as though this has just occured to me, that I am, in fact, dying. A bit further along I see my friend S. is there again, this time with W., also screaming and yelling! I think I hugged them. Can't remember. This was near where the Falun Gong (sp?) were cheering for us. I do remember saying to W. "Isn't that the group that blew up a subway train in Japan?" Whatever, they were cheering us!
Mile 14: 13:27 Not quite sure where we are. Somewhere around some memorials. Yeah.
Mile 15: 32:30? Yep, Jeanne and the watch again. I'm guessing this is really miles 15 and 16. Still run/walking with W. We talk a little about LOST, which she has watched in preparation for today. I'm trying not to pay attention to mileage. Oh, but at mile 15, there's Naomi again!! Sans friend, sans bike! She jumps in, with her backpack on, and long pants, and starts running with me and W. "For a little bit," she says. She tells us about a Halloween party she went to the night before dressed as a geisha instead of as Punky Brewster, which someone suggested, because no one would get Punky Brewster, she would just look like Naomi with pigtails. So she wore a bathrobe and ate a lot of chocolate (see, I was listening! I just couldn't talk!). So here she is running with a stomach full of chocolate, on a warm day, with a backpack and long pants.
Mile 17:15:00 Haine's Point. Remember beautiful Haine's point, with that great statue of the awakening? I now hate and detest Haine's point. It's endless. There are no crowds. There are Marines, lovely Marines, but no crowds. There is no end to this Point, is there? Somewhere between mile 17 and 18, I notice Naomi and W. are running ahead of me, and I cannot keep up. Hmm. I stop for water, and notice that the ground is moving and swirling beneath me. That can't be a good sign. Am I over-hydrated? Under-hydrated?? All those warnings have me so confused!! But I feel like I've been drinking as much as I usually do, and gu-ing it up too.
Mile 18: 15:46 Still on this damn $#!^!#@ peninsula!! Will it never end?? A guy rides his bike by, blasting Motown for us. That's kind of fun. Our coaches are here, telling us that we "really have to pick it up now because we have to make the bridge by 1:45." I say a bad word. I so don't want to know about time. I am waiting for my second wind.
Mile 19: 14: 56 S***, I am having trouble even walking. I haven't bonked, haven't hit the "wall," and nothing hurts, thank God! Well, my feet ache, but my ITB is A-OK! I just have zero energy. Like a car just running out of gas. Naomi is still hanging in, long pants and backpack, and I am definitely holding this little trio back. Which is really making me mad, because right now is when I'm supposed to get my burst of energy and surprise everyone by passing them. Just like in the pretend marathon. We're almost at the bridge, going underneath it, when I hear my name screamed from up above! It's M. and M. from our pace group, cheering us on!! awwwww.
Mile 20: 14:22 Finally!! There's an enormous crowd here practically willing us onto the ramp up to the bridge. It's a steep ramp but I manage it. My friend A. is there again, runs with me for a few feet and tells me I'm still "looking good." He later tells me this was a lie, that he was worried because it took me so long to get there, and I didn't look so great. Still, it was a good lie!! Up the ramp, and there are my friends S. and W., again!! S., with the bad feet, has somehow gotten from mile 13 to mile 20. God bless her!! She's taking photos and screaming and yelling! Plus, there's Bex!! She jumps in and now it's me and Bex and Naomi and W. all running together. We finally make it up the freakin' ramp. We are now on the 14th Street bridge. I think we are home free. But no. You have to actually get across the bridge by 1:45. We can see the cops holding back the traffic. Oh, I bet those people are in a good mood!
Yep, it's gone. Whatever I had left is gone. This bridge is endless. Later, at work, my pal R. describes it this way: "And yes, the 14th Street bridge looks much different when you hit it running after 15 miles. It feels like an asphalt Pike's Peak in the desert. Totally sucks."
That? Is an understatement. It is hot. It is concrete. There are no trees and no cheering people. Somehow, we have lost W. She is behind, which is impossible since I am going slower than she is. I take a few extra walk breaks. Naomi and Bex are now cajoling me and regaling me with stories to get me across this freakin' bridge. I say mean things to them. I have slightly lost my mind. I recall telling Naomi (who is trying to HELP me) to shut up, after she tells me that I have more in me than I know. But I am polite enough to add, "But I mean that in the nicest possible way." And I remember her words often. They take my hands during my walk breaks and help help me count strides of 10 to keep me going. Oh, they are awesome. How I abuse them.
Mile 21: 17:43 Over the bridge at last. I remember something about cookies being given out, and I am so mad that I can't eat a free cookie!! I now seriously have no idea where I am. We are in Crystal City, Virginia. But I have to ask my honor guard (Naomi and Bex). Bex warns me that she's going to try to push me to go faster at mile 24. I think I may have said a mean thing here.
Mile 22: 15:09 Well, these girls must be doing something right! I refuse to let myself think that the end is near, because it is so not near. Even though I know I can run 4 miles standing on my head!
Mile 23: 15:27 More of the same. Bex is now trying to get me to pour it on, but I tell her there's nothing left. I think of everything I've learned over the months, but it's not happening. I'm afraid if I go faster, I will end up crawling. Or collapsing. I'm just afraid again.
Mile 24: 29:36? Yeah, this is miles 24 and 25. During which I summon the strength to give a lecture to my entourage about how beginners should just NOT be running marathons, and the people on the coolrunning boards were right, and how I should have started with a 5K and then a 10K, and how no one should be running a marathon without having been running for at least a year first. Amazing what the mind can summon forth, isn't it?
Mile 26: 16:07 I am still run/walking and no amount of begging from Bex can get me to keep running.
Mile .2: 6:00 Mile .2 starts with a hill. Up a ramp. Where all my friends are now screaming at me to run run run. R. is there and she tells me if I don't run up this ramp I will be disqualified (liar) which makes me laugh, but at the same time, makes me scared, so I run. I think I run all the way up the ramp, which then turns into the chute, which looks like it lasts another 26.2 miles and I so want to cry. Bex is running alongside me now, I don't know what happened to Naomi, and i can't remember if I am still run/walking or just running. Bex is screaming at me not to let me beat her, and finally, finally, FINALLY, I turn it on just a little bit and sprint 20 feet over the finish line.
6:30:40. Which fact I don't know til Naomi checks for me later.
Where 20 Marines high-five me, someone grabs me and says something about the AIDS marathon tent, and another Marine solemnly puts the medal over my head, as though I just won this race, and I kiss him like he's going off to war. I can't let go of him, I just say "Thank you, thank you, thank you" over and over again. But I'm thanking everyone, really, they just can't hear me.
The Marine hugs me tight, then kneels in front of me to take off my timing chip. I almost cry, but I don't. It's all so big and humbling at the same time.
I mill around in a daze. I'm not sure what to do. Then all my friends are there, hugging and cheering me.
There's more to this story yet.