Sunday, November 1, 2009

Another one bites the dust

October has come and gone in what seems like the blink of an eye. Also gone...another personal best, this time for my 10K.

While friends were showing incredible strength and determination last weekend in the Marine Corps Marathon, I took part in the 10K. I had not run a 10K since May, and this was only my 6th ever, so I wasn't really sure what to do with it. Unlike a 5K, you've got to find a happy balance between giving as much as you can while still keeping stuff in the tank for later. Just figured I'd go out and see what happens. A PR would be cool, but hey, whatever happens, happens.

One thing became quickly apparent, this was going to be a FAST race. We started out next to the National Mall, by the Smithsonian Metro stop, and wound our way to the 395 bridge - the same bridge the marathoners would be seeing at mile 20 and trying to beat the pace requirement for. I ended up stuck smack in the middle of the pack and couldn't easily navigate to the side in order to get out of the way and do my intervals, so ended up running the first half mile nonstop. I was at a comfortable pace though and felt good. I just hoped I hadn't gone out too fast and would fall apart at the end.

I was able to start my intervals once we got to the bridge. All I could think is, wow, this is a really long, boring bridge, and began to think of my friends who would be getting to it in 4+ hours. If I felt this way and I was only 2 miles into a race, what must it be like after 20? I suddenly began to struggle, and worry if I was already losing the mental game, how was I going to make it through the second half of this race!?

As I trudged along, suddenly out of the quiet were two people standing on the jersey wall and cheering everyone. I was like "wow, people are out here already." Then I had the wonderful realization that it was my rooomie S and my training partner M. They were my people!!! I was so excited, as I had not expected them to make it out onto the course in time for the 10Kers to come through. I navigated to the side so I could say Hi as I ran by. I got my head back together and was back into it! :)

We kept going, winding our way around Crystal City and towards the Pentagon. I looked at my watch...5 miles in 58 minutes. I was in disbelief. Surely this can't be right...I've never done 5 minutes in under an hour!!! Then "math on the run" took over in my head, trying to figure out when I might finish. 1:16 maybe? I've never been good at math, thus why I'm an historian. If I kept this pace up, I would not only be breaking my 10K PR, I'd be obliterating it!

With the Pentagon to our left, we passed through a water stop, Marines and volunteers cheering everyone along the way and a DJ playing music. We were in the home stretch! As I kept going, Marines were lining the road, generously giving and receiving high 5's. I turned the corner, and then I saw it...the UPHILL finish line. Seriously!?!? And again, I thought of my friends reaching that final hurdle at mile 26, and how they'd feel.

I charged up, convinced I could conquer it with all of the momentum I had. Bad idea. 2/3's of the way up, I burnt out. Then all of a sudden I worried I wouldn't even be able to muster enough energy for the last 500 feet! I picked up my pace and crossed the finish line, wondering how much time I lost thanks to that stupid hill and trying to push too hard. My final time, a surprising 1:14:53. I broke 1:15!!!! My 10K PR, just set in May, had been 1:20 and change...I'd beaten it by OVER 5 minutes!

I collected my medal from the waiting Marines (what a great job they had that day!), and met up with the rest of the Loopers doing the 10K. We made our way to the Metro, and found S&M up on the bridge. They had positioned themselves in the last quarter mile or so of the bridge, about mile 21.5 of the course. With them was a wagon and cooler filled with goodies for all of our friends, Loopers and folks from

Yes, we were there to support a specific group of people, but in reality, we were there for everyone. Our cheers for them were no less heartfelt than for those of our friends. It was amazing to see people's faces light up, and paces even pick up as they heard our cheers. We shared our goodies with those who were really struggling, hoping that would help them get to the next water stop.

It was truly an inspirational and emotional day. I watched people of all shapes, sizes, and ages go past. What got to me most were the soldiers...amputees in handcrank wheelchairs, the one walking on crutches with a support crew of friends around him, including one with a wheelchair in case he needed a break, and ones running in fatigues with full packs on their backs. Lots of people were also running with the names and pictures of fallen soldiers, many family members, on their shirts. I was on the verge of tears many times.

As we cheered we waited in anticipation for our friends to come through. Whenever they did, we erupted in huge cheers, and hugs were abounding. We knew if they'd made it that far, then they would definitely make it to the finish. The pain on some faces were clear, and we did our best to pump them up and encourage them to get through those last miles.

As the time clocked down to the bridge cut off, we were on a constant look out for the last of our friends. We knew they'd be cutting it close, but we knew they could do it, and tried to telepathically send them as much energy as we could. Finally, my training partner K, the last of the Loopers, was coming down from the crest of the bridge. I jumped up and down, and Margaret and I ran up to her, gave her hugs. Everyone beat the bridge!

With everyone well on their way to the finish line, we stayed at our post, cheering for the rest of the Back of the Pack, not leaving til the last runner came through. They were certainly no less deserving of cheers and support than those who came through first.

Yes, I will be running the Marine Corps Marathon next October. As emotional as the day was for me primarily as a spectator, I cannot even imagine what it will be like as a participant.

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