Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Marine Corps Marathon Redux - Part II

Read Part I.

Tethered to Rohan.
In all D.C. races, if you ask runners what sections of the city they fear the most, the majority would undoubtedly mention crossing the 14th Street Bridge and rounding Hains Point. In past Marine Corps Marathons, runners faced the two-plus mile section called Hains Point that comprised miles 18, 19, and 20 before heading over the 14th Street Bridge. Organizers have since altered this cruelest of cruel mapping by routing runners to Hains at the half way point during their Odyssey. 

This segment is not hard physically. In fact, it’s relatively flat and the headwind you fight on the way out is returned to you in a tailwind after you round the point. The trouble with Hains is that it’s fairly inaccessible to spectators, leaving runners alone with their thoughts of the pain-staking journey that remains. Evenly-spaced cherry blossom trees line the one way road, and while pretty, they give the perception that you're running in place. The landscape never changes and the elevation remains constant. It is torturous and maddening.

Already in dire straights, I dreaded Hains. Rohan and I started heading out around the point, running side by side. The absence of wind worried me because I knew then we’d have to face it as we made our way back into the city. The wet blanket fatigue wore on me and I tried desperately to distract myself. I read the signs on the course. I tried to sing the Counting Crows' "Rain King" in my head, a song I often got stuck in my head on training runs. I called back to previous workouts. Nothing helped, and yet, my watch still impossibly read 6:30. 

The cherry trees ticked by one after the other, never changing, never altering until finally I saw the halfway mark, which we went through in 1:25 flat.

Here, the road began a slight bend and my spirits lifted some knowing that the tip was near. We leaned into the curve and the wind took us head on. Rohan and I began taking turns leading so that the other person could draft. The pace dropped to 6:40 when I took the lead. Rohan slipped ahead of me and I had to quicken my turnover to hang with him. I threw an imaginary tether around him to keep myself locked on the back of his shirt. "Almost out, boys," a marine called to us as if he knew.

Mile 15 came and went and we were free from Hains Point. I still felt like garbage.

“You okay?” Rohan called back.
“Terrible,” I acknowledged. “Go if you want,” I said, while the Jefferson Memorial went by on our left.
“Ah, no,” he said. “I don’t know what’s coming ahead so I’m sticking with you.”

We ran that way around the Mall, Rohan  between five and 15 feet ahead of me as I kept a grip on the tether all the while rationalizing with myself. I've written before about how we romanticize suffering through runs. Yet, it's one thing to talk and write about emptying yourself and an entirely other demon to confront when you're in the middle of it.

Rounding the Capitol.
If you walk, it’s over, I kept telling myself, knowing full well that my legs would seize up and it would be an even bigger battle to find the finish. My mouth hung open and I blew fluffs of spit to the side of the road. I closed my eyes and pulled out my deck of "rolodex workouts," the ones I made it through somehow and vowed it would make me stronger physically and mentally on race day. I thought about running up and down Old Rag, the base miles in the summer heat, the 12 mile tempo runs....None of it seemed to help, until my eyes focused again and I looked up at where we were. I had spent so much time focusing on those workouts and keeping the tether on Rohan that two more miles had gone by.

The monuments continued to flash by and soon, we came to mile 20, the final marker before leaving the city. I checked my watch and saw 2:10. A sub-2:50 would be tough to make but I knew I could string together a sub-50 minute 10K to at least come in under three hours.

From there, I broke the course up into three sets of two miles: two miles over the bridge; two miles in Crystal City; two miles on the highway to the finish.

It could have been that that galvanized me or that the running gods felt that I had sufficiently proved my worth, but as we headed over the bridge, my stride opened up and the clouds in my head parted. I caught up to Rohan and we came off the bridge side by side for the first time since mile 10.

“You good?” He asked.
“Somehow. Yes.” I said.

And we began to ride.

Our strides fell in synch and the roar of the crowds in Crystal City spurred us on. I started looking for Vanessa, a fellow RW Loopster and D.C.-area resident. Somehow I missed her. But Rohan and I were locked in. 

We rounded the back side of the Crystal City portion and started to make our way out toward the Pentagon. Mile 23 came and went. I checked my watch. 
Hard to the finish.

“We just dropped back-to-back 6:15s,” I said to him. He huffed.

Morning miles, I said to myself, thinking of the easy 5Ks I would run each morning during my base building phase.

I could feel my left hip flexor start to tighten and the adjustment brought on a dangerous quivering in my hamstring. The elevation leveled out just in time that I could resume my normal stride and keep those cramps at bay.

We took 24 under an overpass and began our tour around the Pentagon. I started to put a bit of distance between Rohan at this point. I looked back at the five foot gap and tried to slow for him to catch up until the hamstring quivers returned. I pushed on coming up and over a ridge onto Washington Boulevard where I took the head wind full on. I leaned forward and tried to drive myself into the wind. 

It wasn't until the exit ramp that it subsided. I wound around the ramp and slingshotted onto the final stretch of highway where it had all began. 

My father-in-law stood on the side of the course and bellowed, “Come on, Brad!” as I smiled and charged by him. The crowd grew thicker and the cheers washed over me. I made the final turn and went up on my toes to take the final hill. The finish seemed to come out of nowhere and with it a tremendous sense of relief. 

I walked a few feet before turning to see Rohan finish. We staggered together, he a debut marathon of 2:55, and me, a shiny, new PR by three minutes with a 2:52:59.

I found my dad and promptly felt my face involuntarily contort as I tried to hold back the tears. I had wrung all of the physical and mental energy from myself.

At the finish.
“Great job,” he said, hugging me.
“Hardest one I’ve ever done,” I said.

Rohan and I found an open spot of grass where we crashed with our families. I waited for my wife and the rest of our friends to finish and we traded stories about the course as the wind picked up and the sky darkened.

We were the same people and same friends we were prior to the gun going off, yet somehow standing there in the pre-hurricane, post-race euphoria, we were all somehow different.

I guess completing a marathon will do that to you.


  1. I always love your race reports Brad!! I was telling Rachel today that I was SO MAD you split this one into two parts because I was reading part one, all engrossed in it, and then - HANGING IN SUSPENSE ALL DAY until you posted Part II. Solid job out there - I'm sorry I missed you! I was still bopping around my house when you were passing the halfway point :)

    1. Haha, thanks, Caroline! Biggest regret was missing the costume :) I saw it on FB and it looked amazing.

  2. I don't know you, but I saw your race report yesterday and HAD to come back today and see how you finished!! Love your writing, and congrats on the PR!


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