Monday, March 27, 2006

Miles 1-8: National Marathon

I meant to post this race report yesterday, but I had Internet connectivity problems. Then I spent half the afternoon copying and editing portions of the digital video E. shot of the end of my race.

I tried to post the finish line clip here, but alas, YouTube has failed me. The personal video publishing Web site failed to capture my clip. So that will have to wait for another day. I'm going to have to give this race report in chunks, folks, lest this post be waay too long:

Pre-race: I woke up at 4:45 a.m. with a mixture of anticipation and dread. While eating a breakfast of chocolate-chip waffles, a sunny-side up egg, and a half-cup of coffee, E. joined me at the dining room table, pointing a videcamera at my face.

"What's your goal for this marathon?" he asked me, channeling Edward R. Murrow.

"To finish in one piece," I replied.

I left an hour later, a banana and a bag of post-race clothes in one hand, the car keys, a bottle of Gatorade, and a map to RFK Stadium in another. E., who had a bad chest cold, would join me later at mile 23.

I arrived at RFK Stadium in Southeast D.C., at 6:15 a.m., on a cool gray morning of 37 degrees. Cars streamed into the parking lot, and after pinning my bib to my top and strapping a water bottle holder/pouch filled with Gu over my mid-section, I hoofed it the 1/4 mile or so to the stadium.

The lines were, as always, long at the port-a-johns, and after waiting 35 minutes, I was no closer to the front.

One frustrated woman in line said, "I don't know why there are so many men in line for these port-a-potties."

The guy behind me replied, "I don't think you want me to crap in the bushes in front of hundreds of people."

Eeeww. I turned to him and joked, "Well, I'm glad I'm ahead of you."

After waiting another minute, I followed a bunch of other women to some trees and bushes and peed behind them. Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.

With five minutes to go until race start (6:58 a.m.), I lined up in the middle of the pack, near the 9:09/mile pacer. I had a friend running the half-marathon, but I couldn't find her in the sea of lycra and knit caps. We sang the national anthem off-key, and D.C. Mayor Tony Williams shouted, "Runners, on your marks!"

We're off!: Then he sounded the horn sounded and all 1,656 of us (731 marathoners and the rest half-marathoners) surged forward. The first mile was a crowded shuffle around RFK Stadium. And in the first half-mile, I fell hard on my right knee while trying to hop a curb (see earlier post for photo of bloody knee). I skinned the palms of my hands through my gloves trying to break my fall, but my patella took the brunt of it.

Runners around me gasped and a couple jumped over me so they wouldn't trample me. Adrenaline coursed through my body, and I jumped up immediately and started running again, albeit with a bad limp for the next half-mile. The knee throbbed painfully, and was to bother me to for the rest of the race, sometimes only a little. Other times, a whole hell of a lot.

Besides the knee, though, I felt pretty good, and chatted with a blonde woman from Pennsylvania, who was trying to run this marathon in 4:00 or less, just like me. "We should stick together," I said.

The woman, Carol, nodded and replied that she had run five other marathons, but was never able to run any of them in under 4:15 despite 6-8 months of training. "We can do it today," I said. (Notice the optimism!) "We'll see," Carol replied, rather grimly.

We ran through empty Capitol Hill streets. Spectators were few and far between - almost non-existent. However, at mile 2, black-clad priests of a Catholic church stood outside and clapped heartily for us. "Thank you!" we yelled to them. Several runners crossed themselves.

Because of the slow start, she and I quickly lost the 9:09/mile pacer. We caught up to him, though, by mile 3.

Mile 4: We were heading down the wide streets of downtown D.C., now, and the monuments and the Smithsonian musuems were to our left. Enthusiastic volunteers handed out water to runners, though I opted not to take any this early in the race.

My running buddy, P., jumped in and ran with us a half-mile, even though he was going to join me later at mile 20. He was down there to see some friends at another race, a local 5K. Washington is a running-friendly town. Besides that 5K, several miles away was another 5K near the waterfront, in Old Town Alexandria.

Mile 6: I stopped for a few seconds and ate my first pack of Gu, then kept running. Carol and I were just ahead of the 9:09/mile pacer, running about 9:05/mile. Soon we ran by the D.C. waterfront, and saw the revitalization and construction going on there. A few runners used the port-a-johns there meant for construction workers.

There were so many half-marathoners - they wore yellow bibs on both their front and back (marathoners only had white front bibs). I felt like I was in a sea of yellow bibs and looked around for my fellow masochists, er, marathoners.

Unlike the half-marathoners, they were usually alone, not chatting with other runners, and had an air of quiet determination. Or desperation. Take your pick.

By Mile 8, Carol had faded, and told me she was going to have to run slower. She waved me on ahead, and I ran on alone. I was still feeling pretty good, and my right knee had settled into a dull roar of bearable discomfort.

But I knew that hills lay ahead ....


  1. Sorry to hear about your spill so early in the race. I can't even imagine how I would have done if it were me.

    I got the feeling of being isolated in a sea of half-marathoners. Lots of yellow bibs, not many white ones.

    And the hills...ugh. Look forward to your recapping of those lovely hills.

  2. A real cliff-hanger! I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one to forego the porta-potties! So odd to not have any spectators. I guess there wasn't enough publicity about this first race.

  3. Nice so far, Bex, except for the crunched knee. I don't know why but it always gives me goosebumps when you read about leaving a runner behind as you move on ahead faster. Weird feeling.

    Can't wait till the next installment...

  4. Good cliff hanger! You are really brave to hop up and just start running on that knee.

  5. Ohhh, it's like who shot JR. Oh man am I showing my age:) Ok, next!!!!

  6. Looking forward to the rest of the report. Way to guy it out.

    I'm also curious to hear whether you'd recommend this marathon as one that was well organized, etc.

  7. I love DC. I am picturing your route out of RFK down towards the mall and water. No hills yet. I'm waiting for more. Too bad for Carol.

  8. Eeeww. I turned to him and joked, "Well, I'm glad I'm ahead of you."

    I wonder what the person behind him was thinking when you said that!

  9. Awesome! (except for the fall!) It sounds like the course is really pretty with all the great sights.