Jenny arrived late into DC Wednesday and even though it was the wee hours of the morning, there was nothing but pure joy to see my dear friend. It was the thought of the happy reunion that often pushed me through the past few weeks, and in some ways, I had hung onto that. Hugs were there, and even though we were exhausted, talked until almost sunrise. Tried to spend the next morning lounging – even if we couldn’t sleep in, we could at least rest. Thursday we ran part of the course (around the National Mall), and she was able to meet some of my DC friends and gain insight to my life as a medievalist.
Even though the schedule was busy, we were all about having fun as we palled around the city. On Friday we had lunch with a few of our friends from the summer job – it was good to catch up after 3 months. Then headed to the expo to pick up our numbers. We were interviewed for CSN Washington’s website, so there are now short videos of us talking about the marathon. We also went to the First Timers’ Dinner – a chance for new marathoners to meet one another, hear tips from experts, and learn more about the marathon.Met some great people, and the excitement continued to build as the big day drew closer. That evening, her family (parents, husband, and 3 kids) came in, and to say we were giddy at that point was an understatement. There we were, carefree, skipping across Crystal City (where we stayed) to meet up with them. Now that the family was there, the reality set in. And the excitement just grew and grew.
Saturday morning we did a small “shake out” run in Crystal City. I think this is a great way to get ready and loosen up. It was hard to stay slow when we were so excited. We then went to the Museum of Natural History (3 kids, including 5 year old dinosaur fanatic Henry), which was awesome. The kids really loved it, and while it was crowded due to the rallies, totally worth it. However, by the early afternoon, fatigue had set in – as if our bodies wererealizing what was in store for the next day. Naps were in order, and we were very grateful to be able to sleep. We then had our pre-race dinner with her entire family: kids, husband, parents, and aunt. Jenny’s family is absolutely wonderful, and it was a treat to be included in the family dinner. After that, we headed back to our hotel room (all of the kids went with Sam, and we had a room to ourselves). This was fabulous – I never get to relax beforehand with someone else running the marathon. We talked about all of the training and all of the positive outcomes that have emerged from deciding to go through with this pact. Beyond health, it has brought us a lot closer, and we were closeto begin with. It was a great way to wrap-up our pre-marathon routine, and reflect on our friendship. So, we got ready for bed and just talked until it was time to go to sleep.
I beat the alarm by a couple of minutes, and set my iPod to play the “Chariots of Fire” theme to wake her up. All pumped up, we headed to a 7-11 for breakfast, and then took a shuttle to the start.
The line was long, but it was great having a bus drive us there: we were very excited to be on our way.
Took care of all of the logistics, and got ready to head to the start. Jenny was excited to see all of these people come together, and I was thrilled to have someone next to me, and at that point, the butterflies did set in for me. We hugged, and then the cannon went off!
What a rush to go under the arch and begin the 26.2 mile journey. The first few miles we just tried to find our pace amongst the mass of humanity. We settled in a rhythm quickly, and found our stride. Weather was perfect – sunny and high 40s (maybe a little cold for my Florida friend), and we were able to just watch the leaves change – the MCM course is gorgeous. We stayed right on 8:46 pace for the next few miles as we headed toward Georgetown. Still smiles abound, and we even exchanged a few stories. There is a point where you turn and suddenly bagpipes are playing – so beautiful, and definitely helped to push us forward. The hill in Georgetown was hard, but Jenny had some practice with hills in NY this summer, and took to it very well - I was very impressed. At this point, my Sherpa duties kicked in – I held her fuel and started to pass her stuff along the way. The hardest hill was over, I told her, as we descended downhill and out of Georgetown.
Running alongside Jenny meant checking in, making her smile, and doing everything I could to make her first marathon enjoyable. We then hit the middle miles, ran by the Lincoln Monument and then departed for Haines Point. This was a quiet part of the race, but hit the half in 1:54:23. At this point, I read Jenny a letter from her sister Mary-Beth, who had sent it to me a few days prior. I figured Jenny had worked hard enough at this point that she deserved some words of encouragement. Needless to say, it was a bit emotional, but gave strength to keep pushing. Wrapped around the Lincoln Memorial, and then headed through the Mall. Tons of people at this point, which was good as some fatigue set in. Turning around the Capitol was cold – the wind started to blow across. But at the Smithsonian Castle we saw Jenny’s parents, which not only was a lift, but meant I could drop off her jacket and my arm warmers with them. We continued on – single digits to go. The next big challenge was to“Beat the Bridge” at mile 20 – passing it means you are on track to finishing (if you don’t cross it in 5 hours, you get rerouted). Heading towards the bridge means we bade farewell to DC for the last time and headed back to Virginia. The crowds were growing louder as we approached the bridge – big cheers at this point. Then Jenny said, “Now this is the furthest I’ve ever run,” and that continued to be the thought – each new step was a distance PR. My friend Bettina saw us (she was running too) on the bridge and gave us a cheer –we needed a lift at this point. She was looking strong, and then was off again like a flash. All of a sudden, some cramps set in for Jenny, and so we walked about 100 feet, just in order to get things moving. But she was determined and unstoppable and suddenly we were running again. Whoever decides to yell “Only a 10k left!” is crazy – that is still a long way to go. But we broke it down, mile by mile, we would get to the finish. I bumped into one of my old RAs, Kyle, who was running (and it was his birthday) – yelled happy birthday, and then continued onward. We arrived at Crystal City, which was absolutely crazy (it was interesting to see that where we were staying all weekend suddenly became so crowded). And then just a 5k to go.
By this time, I was doing my damndest to do whatever I could to keep Jenny going and put one foot in front of the other: singing, cheering, yelling words of encouragement. I had been carrying my cell phone on me, and suddenly, I realized it was ringing. What? Her family called to see where we were, and I gave them the update, and said that we would see them soon.
Didn’t expect to take a phone call at mile 24, but that’s what the Sherpa did. Jenny and I even started to sing “Relax, go to it” as we were preparing to leave Crystal City – a good sign that she had regained her stride. We saw her family at mile 25, and pushed on. Her time goal was well within reach, and we just started yelling “Come on, come on!” as we plowed onward. Finally, mile 26 came up. There is a hill at mile 26 (which I couldn’t remember from my first MCM experience), but I’ll certainly remember it after this year. We pushed upward, closer and closer to the finish, less than 385 yards away. Finally, the finish arch was in sight.
We grabbed hands, ran and ran, and then finally, victory! 3:57:38
A sub four marathon on her first try, just over a year after starting to run. Absolutely amazing. We just hugged and hugged at this point – it was a very emotional finish.
I was so proud of her and so honored to be a part of this experience (still welling up as I think about it). How many friends can say they’ve run a marathon together? To be side by side the whole time, to share in the experience, the challenges, the victories, and the ultimate triumph, is a rare and treasured experience.Legs were so stiff at this point – we sat on the ground waiting in line, and only scooted up the curb, rather than standing up.
Eventually, we met up with her family – a joyous occasion. It took a while, but eventually got a massage.
I was fortunate to bump into one of my MCM friends, Freddy, and his son, both who did a tremendous job. A one in a million chance that I saw him, and glad that I did.
After a lot of navigating, finally got back to the hotel and got cleaned up. Sleep did not happen, but at least we could rest our tired bodies. Lots of phone calls came in, wishing Jenny congratulations. Went out for a celebratory dinner at Ted’s Montana in Crystal City – burgers always taste so good after a victory like that. Jenny and I were so wiped, but we could smile and enjoy the moment.
Then it was back to the hotel, and I think we were asleep by 9 – the whole day caught up with us.
Monday morning was quiet – no one wanted to get out of bed. We checked out of the hotel and took the kids to the Air and Space museum for a last fun DC excursion.
The Mall was the quietest it had been all weekend – the city was finally deserted. We hobbled around as the kids looked at the shuttles and planes, and enjoyed our final hours together. With a lump in our throats, we hugged goodbye at the airport. It was the perfect weekend – wouldn’t have changed a thing.
There are photographs that show us running toward the finish line, hand in hand, shots of us after the finish, but none of it will ever truly describe the beautiful moments between two friends. It was an emotional, powerful, beautiful marathon – we were moved and humbled by the whole thing. A promise was made and fulfilled. In the end, it culminated in triumph over adversity, joy over fear, a journey and celebration of friendship at its finest.