I neglected to mention in my previous post that in the early miles, we ran smack dab right next to the Capitol and the House of Representatives buildings, down a small hill, and saw much of downtown laid out in front of us like a birthday present.
Carol, the woman from Pa. that I ran the early miles with, said one big reason for her to run this marathon was because of the scenery. "You probably take it for granted," she said. "But for me, running by the monuments and the Capitol and the White House is just incredible."
Point well taken. All right, moving on:
Mile 8: I've just lost Carol at this point. While I stuck by her at first when she said to run ahead, I knew that she was struggling, didn't want to talk to anybody, and just wanted to listen to her iPod (which was banned in this race, but people brought them anyway).
So I bounded ahead, and ran up the only real hill in the early miles of the course. I dropped my pink hat, which I'd stuffed behind the strap of my waist pack, and a kind male half-marathoner picked it up and handed it to me. We turned a corner, and saw several kids and their dad - the only spectators for at least a couple of miles. "Thank you for coming out," I said, and smiled. They cheered.
A little further on, a man on the balcony of a nearby building, saw us and shouted, "HOOAH! HOOOAH! Go runners!"
A Marine, obviously. "Go blue!" he said when he saw me. I waved my hat cheerfully.
Miles 9-11: Where are we? Somewhere in SE Washington. Two kind souls held out plastic bowls of candy. One was full of jelly beans. I only meant to get several, but in my haste I grabbed a handful, shouted, "Thank you!" and tried to stuff a few in my mouth. A number of them fell on the ground, but I managed to eat 4-5 of them. Mmmm. Strawberry and watermelon.
We ran over the Anacostia Bridge (I think), through residential neighborhoods with maybe a handful of spectators, and soon volunteers with signs were shouting that half-marathoners would go left and marathoners would go right.
Mile 11-13: I headed right, and immediately the chatter ceased and the crowd thinned. The marathoners weren't talking. I grabbed a cup of water - my first - at the aid station for marathoners, and ran into Fort Dupont Park, a lovely green enclave, but with lots and lots of hills.
After a few minutes, I came upon my first long (quarter-mile) hill. It seemed as if the race organizers who mapped the course said, "Okay, marathoners, here's your reward for running the full distance. Go nuts."
There were no spectators here. Zero. Zilch. Bupkiss. Just me and a bunch of sweaty, panting red-faced folks in lycra and waist-packs. We ran up the hill. It leveled out for a couple hundred feet. Then we ran up another, steeper hill. I'm slowing down, but I don't walk.
I told myself, "Even effort, even effort," to hold myself back from charging up the hills. I knew that if I did, I would bonk and not finish.
I slowed to a jog, drank some Gatorade from the bottle I'd carried with me, and ate another Gu. I ran by a thin man in his 50's.
"Looking strong," I said.
"You too," he replied. "But when do these hills stop?"
More hills: We turned left, and ran down a steep downhill. I know downhills can be dangerous for runners, but it felt so good to give my legs a break, relax, and just fly. We made a sharp turn to the right, next to a volunteer holding a sign with an arrow pointing us to run up the damn hill we just flew down.
I started ascending the hill, and I saw that when we turned right to run downhill just moments before, we had caught the hill near the bottom. Because when I looked up, that hill seemed endless.
We put our heads down and chugged steadily upward. I concentrated on using my glutes and hamstrings, not my calves, which tend to cramp up. My right knee throbbed with pain. After another 5-6 minutes, we crested the hill and turned left. We were finally out of the park.
And saw another, steeper hill. The kind that you fall down backwards if you stop. The kind that makes grown men and women weep. I know I almost did. A few folks started walking, their chests heaving.
My heart was hammering in my ears, and I could feel the blood rushing in my head. I paused, and took a deep breath. Then ran up that damn hill. Not fast, but steadily, my arms pumping rhythmically, my knee pulsing with pain in counterpoint to my heartbeat. I passed some folks.
Oh, Sainted Volunteers!: At the top of the hill stood plenty of volunteers with water, Gatorade, and Gu. One great thing about the race were all the Gu stations. "Strawberry!" they said, holding out the calorie packets. "Vanilla!"
I waved off the Gu but gratefully drank a cup of Gatorade and a cup of water in quick succession. I drank so fast some of the liquid ran down my neck and dripped on my shirt. But I didn't care.
Invigorated, I began running again, up a small hill. I turned a corner and a few spectators cheered us and one man said, "Doing great! Almost there!"
"The hell we are," I said after thanking and passing him. Another marathoner grunted in acknowledgement.
Mile Marker 13 lay just ahead with a clock. I ran by it and I heard a metallic bell sound as my chip (wrapped around my ankle) recorded my time: Just shy of 2:02.
Miles 13-15: Soon, we found ourselves running on a highway. A long empty stretch that glimmered in the mid-morning sun. To the right were long lines of cars at a standstill. We had half of the highway (two lanes) to ourselves, and the motorists did not look happy.
I waved. They did not wave back. I could see about a dozen marathoners in front of me. I'm sure the motorists were thinking, "They closed down the roads for just a few runners?! #$%&2*!!"
The road undulated in front of us, and we started running uphill again. It was only 40-45 degres at this point, but I was burning up. At mile marker 15, a volunteer looked at our red, sweaty faces. "Water stations up ahead," he said.
We crossed an intersection manned by policemen holding up traffic. "Thank you," I said to them. They nodded.
I looked around for water. No water. I saw another volunteer shouting, "Gu up ahead!"
"Water?" I croaked, forgetting momentarily that I had a half-bottle of Gatorade stashed in my waistpack.
She peered at me, smiled, and said, "Just around the corner."
We ran down a small hill and there they were: the friendly faces of more volunteers and agua fresca.
Yess! I picked up speed and stretched out my right hand. A long line of volunteers stretched out theirs with cups of water and Gatorade. Lovely, lovely people.
Again, I drank two cups in quick sucession, then wiped my mouth, and fixed my eyes on the intersection ahead, full of irate motorists, sanguine cops, and a man on a bike, shouting, "Yeah, baby!" at the women marathoners ....