Saturday, November 7, 2009

Marathon Diaries, Part Two: 26.2 Lessons I learned while running my 1st marathon

With the Caskey crew at the Vienna Metro, dark and early. Mamma C & Joya did the 10K and then cheered us on at Mile 16.

Whose idea was this? That question did enter my mind in the weeks leading up to the marathon. I'm not sure who mentioned it first, my husband, or his dad, but last March we decided to embark on a family adventure and sign up for a marathon, together. It turned out to be one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Here are a few things that I learned along the way.

1. I wear my emotions in my running shoes

In the darkness of the early morning, I saw the lights of the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Capitol. I would run by all three in just a few hours. I was about to run my first marathon. I cried. (no surprise there really) And I was brought to tears during about 70% of the race by the people I saw, the pride that I felt in myself, and sometimes just from the pain.

2. Recognize the heroes around you.

In Part 1, I wrote about the wheelchair racer on the hill. What I didn’t tell you is that he was a wounded vet, and he was one of many. Throughout the race I saw several young marines running with their buddies names on their shirts. No doubt their lives were lost in Iraq or Afghanastan. And then there were the fathers, running for their sons. I ran behind Cpl Ward’s dad for about 6 miles. The back of his shirt “Cpl Ward. My Son. My Hero.” I read those words over and over for miles. The last time I saw him was in Crystal City. A female runner said – “you’re son was a hero” as she ran past him. He said “Yes. Thank you.” Of course, I cried. Again.

3. Be grateful. Say Thank you.

The Marine Corps Marathon is nothing short of inspiring. The course is beautiful, every last step of it is under the shade of brightly colored fall leaves or with a view of the monuments that make our Nation’s Capitol. There was rarely a moment that we weren’t being cheered on by crowds, large or small. It was incredible. And the Marines. Oh, the Marines. Their faces kept me moving. These men and women who have given their lives to serving our country. They may have thought I was saying thank-you for their cheer of encouragement or for the Powerade, but I was saying thank-you for so much more. As the daughter, sister, niece, daughter-in-law and granddaughter-in-law of Marines, these men and women hold a very special place in my heart. Seeing them in uniform throughout the course….well, I cried, and just said thank-you to any of them that I made eye contact with.

4. I love hill work

There were two significant hills in the first half of the race. There was a collective groan in the pack when we hit them, but I actually kind of smiled. Neither hill was as fierce or as long as “The Beast” in Griffith Park, so I felt good. My team’s Saturday can include the beastly hill up to three times in long training. So, two hills, not nearly as long or as steep, I owned them.

5. Funny signs of encouragement are better than a shot blok

They say that laughter is the best medicine. And it’s true. A funny sign held by someone in the crowd will make you laugh out loud and forget your pain for at least 90 seconds. You will swear to remember all of them, not knowing that you will forget most of them in your exhaustion. But here are a few I remember.

- Run Like You Stole Something – a classic, but made me laugh nonetheless; I also used it as the caption for the picture I took of Watergate.

- Free Mimosas if You Stop Now – tempting!

- Jack Bauer never ran a marathon, but you are. – hilarious

- The End is Near – held by someone dressed as the Grim Reaper at the end of the 14th St Bridge

- There are CUTE MARINES at the Finish Line! – enough said.

- And a group of girls dressed in full 80’s neon attire held 80’s Trivia signs and a boom box. It was a reminder that this is “fun.”

6. “Almost there” is a very cruel phrase

You came out to cheer on the marathoners, and for that I thank you. But calling out “almost there” at any mile prior to 24 is just cruel. This is also a mental race that I’m running.

7. A table of orange slices is prettier than a rainbow

Coming out of Georgetown and towards the Kennedy Center, I saw the most beautiful sight. A table of orange slices. I think I cried.

8. I like half marathons

Seeing the mile markers for 12, 13 & 14 on Haines Point, I realized that I like Half Marathons. You have to work for it, and you can still walk the next day. Thankfully my brother ran with me from mile 11 to mile 16 to help me not focus on that very fact.

9. Your ability to take self portraits significantly lessens in quality while running a marathon

me attempting to get a picture of myself with the Washington Monument

my brother's view of me attempting to get a picture of myself with the monument

my brother gets a much better picture of me and the monument

10. When in doubt, rock it out

Some of my favorite new additions to my playlist were:

o Us – Regina Spektor – on Spout Run Parkway

o Me and Bobby McGee- Janis Joplin – at Georgetown Reservoir

o Meet Me Halfway – Black Eyed Peas – on National Mall

o Halo (Club Remix) - Beyonce – on National Mall

o Get Right Back (Where We Started From) – Army Navy – on 14th Street Bridge

o Best Supporting Actor – One For the Team – in Crystal City

o Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes – at the Pentagon

Shortly after Seven Nation Army helped me get my game face back on for the finish, these fun songs led me in the final stretch. I was so happy that I put such fun songs at the end. Despite my pain, I smiled the whole way to the finish line.

o Come On Eileen – Dexy’s Midnight Runners

o Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond

o Don’t Stop Believin’ (Glee Cast Version) – Glee Cast

o Walkin’ on Sunshine – Katrina and The Waves

o I Gotta Feelin – Black Eyed Peas

11. A true friend will hug you when you are covered in powerade and smell like 18 miles of hard work

Getting a hug from my dear friend Jodie who I hadn't seen in nearly a year. She drove a long way to cheer me on and was in the perfect spot - Mile 18 - when I really needed some encouragment.

12. The Rocky Theme Song never gets old

At the Capitol steps, a high school band started to play the Rocky Theme Song. As a pack, we instantly regained some determination in that moment.

me trying to take a picture of myself with the Capitol. see lesson #9

13. As terrible as you look and feel, you will smile for every official race photog you see on the course.

taken by my an unofficial race photog, my brother. me & my nephew (and #1 cheerleader) at mile 11

14. I am stronger than I think but I cry like a girl.

But I think we've established that.

15. The 14th Street Bridge is the longest bridge known to man

I addressed this in Marathon Diaries, Part 1, and have since discovered that I was not the only one that felt this way. It truly felt longer than the entire first 6 miles.

16. With enough determination, I can push through more pain than I have ever known. Not finishing, isn’t an option.

Left leg calf cramping began at Mile 3. Right foot pain started at Mile 14. Pain everywhere, mile 18-24.

In the days after the race, I was on crutches. It seems the pain in my right foot was real and I couldn’t put any weight on it. I saw a running friend of my sister-in-laws the day after the race. Seeing my crutches, she asked what happened. She said, “oh, so you didn’t finish.” I blinked in confusion of the statement. Not finish? “Oh, no. I finished.”

17. Never take food, or pills, from strangers – unless you’re running a marathon

Regular rules of life don’t apply during a marathon. Pee on the side of the road in full view of others? Fine. Unwashed hands? Acceptable. Taking food, electrolyte pills, or painkillers from strangers? Whatever helps. Thank you to the kind woman in Crystal City with the large bag of pretzels. To be able to get the taste of gu, mixed with shot blok and blue powerade out of my mouth was a gift that I can’t thank you enough for.

18. The smell of cheap, warm beer at mile 23 may activate your gag reflex

Speaking from experience.

19. A Marine saying “Congratulations Ma'am” and putting a Marathon Medal around your neck = tears

Finishing a marathon is emotional. A young man in uniform, who has dedicated his life to serving our country (who has endured more hardship in his service than I have in the last 6 hours) putting the medal around your neck for running 26.2 miles will make you cry. Again.

20. I have no idea what those silver blanket things do, but I’ll wrap it around myself because it’s shiny like my medal.

with my father-in-law & my husband after we finished. Dad C - congrats on your first finish and the inspiration to do this as as a family adventure!

21. Your mom will be so happy that you finished the race alive and standing, that she will take off your dirty shoes and sweaty socks and put the crocs on your feet that you’ve been thinking about for the last 12 miles.

Thanks Mom. I loved the excitement on your face as I charged the hill to the finish. And of course, I loved the Whoopie Pies.

22. If you look like you are about to make a serious mess in the middle of the floor, a security guard of an office building will unlock a bathroom for you.

Him: Is she going to be sick? My Mother-in-Law: Yes. Him: Come this way. Beautiful secret corridor to a bathroom without a line. Me: Relief.

23. Few people will massage your feet on the metro, after nearly 6 hours of running. But your dad will.

Thanks Dad (pictured below running alongside me from Miles 9 to 11) Not just for the foot massage, but for running to different mile markers to cheer me on. It meant the world to me to have you cheering me on in this same race that you’ve rocked three times.

24. An Ice Bath will change your life

I live in a smallish 1930’s apartment that doesn’t have a bathtub. I had never experienced an ice bath after a long run. Back at the hotel, desperate to try anything to make the pain go away, I filled up the tub with cold water and ice and got in. Holy. Cold. Pause. Smile. I can’t feel my legs. And that’s a very, very good thing.

25. Running for dessert only works if your system will accept food after 26.2 miles of brutality. But we stopped for a cone and a shake anyway. And enjoyed my mom's traditional marathon whoopie pie.

26. Pain is temporary. Glory is forever.

So many people had this saying on their shirts or on signs in the crowd. I didn't understand it until I saw the finish line. In those moments I felt no pain. Exhilaration. Euphoria. Mild disbelief. Pride. Relief. Joy. Overwhelming sense of accomplishment. Look how far I've come.

.2 I want to do this again with a stronger finish and better time


  1. What a fabulous post-race post! I felt all of these emotions, and so many others, during my own Marine Corps Marathon! From the blink of incomprehension at a friend who assumes "I had severe gastrointestinal distress" meant "so I did not finish," to the finish-line tears, I felt it all.

  2. Erica! I'm all misty-eyed and so proud of you :)

    When you're ready to have kids I bet you'll have no problem with natural birth!

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