Miles 15-18: We're now in the heart of commercial Prince George's County. And the good people of PG do not like the fact that we runners are taking up their roads. They stare at us balefully from their cars. Police hold up literally miles of traffic and the cars idle, sending carbon monoxide into the air, which we runners breathe it in in large gulps.
Pedestrians are few and far between, as in the rest of the course. As I and a few other runners pass one irate-looking man standing on a street corner, he shouts at us: "You've holding up traffic for an hour!"
We ignore him and keep running. We run into residential neighborhoods again, then past open fields. This marathon is endless. I still feel pretty good, although I don't know how fast or slow I'm going.
We're all spread out, and there are only about 4-5 other marathoners within 250 feet of me. A male runner in his late 40's or early 50's is a few feet ahead, and he keeps looking back at me. "Dude," I think. "We're not in the home stretch yet. Don't worry about me blasting by you."
He whips his head around every 15 seconds or so to check where I am. His breathing is becoming ragged. I position myself directly behind him, so he can't see me out of the corner of his eye. This goes on for five minutes.
He starts to groan intermittently. He's starting to fade but keeps his pace. "This is ridiculous," I thought. I pick up a little speed and cruise by him. I hear him spit, then groan again, and quicken his pace.
I pick up a little more speed, and his groans and heavy breathing fade away.
Miles 18-20: I break open another Gu and take a few sips of Gatorade. I drop the Gu packet on the ground, think better of it, and bend down to pick it up. My thighs and legs rebel, and lock up. I can't reach the ground. Okay, leave the packet there. Sorry, PG County. I don't mean to be a litterbug.
We're back on heavily-trafficked roads, and the long gradual hills undulate before me. I am starting to feel fatigued. A couple of motorists, tired of waiting in miles of backed-up traffic, make a U-turn about 20 feet in front of me and blast up the marathon course, then turn onto a side street before police can stop them.
I just keep chugging along. One woman keeps running quickly by me, then slowing to a walk, then running past me again. We're so spread out at this point that I only see one other runner ahead of me. He's walking, head down.
I pause next to him and ask, "You okay?" He looks up. "Oh yeah," he said. "Just tired." I run by and exclaim, "I hear ya!" And we both laugh.
Mile 20: I see my friend, P. waiting for me soon after the mile clock. I am doing the classic marathon shuffle at this point, around 10:15/mile. "Looking good," he says. I smile, but don't say anything. Too tired. We run another mile, and he ducks into a nearby McDonald's to use the bathroom quickly. I keep shuffling along.
Mile 21-23, or the fifth circle of hell: The day is heating up. It's only about 50 degrees now, but to me the weather is sweltering. The long lines of traffic are a constant presence. The sun and car pollution make the hills ahead shimmer. I feel lightheaded, and twice I close my eyes for about 5 seconds and run that way, just feeling the hot tarmac beneath my feet. I wipe my forehead and feel the salt that's crusted the sides of my face.
At the crest of yet another hill, I have to turn left across four lanes of impatiently idling traffic. As soon as I cross, the police will let a few cars through. I quicken my pace and groan with the effort. Everything hurts. And especially my knee. I'm starting to limp again.
A policeman looks at me and says, "Don't worry about them [the motorists]. You're doing the hard work!"
I thank him. And keep running. Up ahead, I see Mile 23, a water/Gatorade station, and E. pointing a videocamera at me ....