It’s hard to know where to start with this post because I held off posting about it for so long. I didn’t want to say much in the weeks leading up to it, and I wasn’t feeling particularly wordy, so I wasn’t posting at all.
That said, get yaself a drink and make yaself comfy because this is gonna be a long one.
In previous posts, I talked about my injuries and dealing with those, but I don’t really think I imparted to you how soul-crushing they were. There were days that I worried I wouldn’t even be able to walk normally ever again, let alone run this marathon. Every time it started getting better, the next day would be 3 steps back. I was on a treadmill that I couldn’t get off and it took it’s toll on my mood, my psyche, my family – basically everything around me. I felt like I was being punished, but I couldn’t ever figure out what I’d done that I deserved what I was getting.
And then, almost as quickly as it came on, I was better. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it took 10 weeks of pain, tears, therapy and sheer will to overcome, but when it decided to be done, it was done. Pardon the pun, but the injury to my ass was suddenly behind me.
I made it through my 18-miler, my 20-miler, my dropdown 12-miler (with a hangover, no less – I will never say “I’m only running 12 tomorrow” again, because you know what? 12 miles is still 12 miles!!). My second 20-miler was the first time I’d actually hit a wall and I had to stop at 16. I knew what I’d done wrong, so I knew how to fix it. I wasn’t upset that I didn’t finish because I knew I could, I just hadn’t prepared adequately. My next 12-miler was really good, and my last 8-miler was great. My weekday training had been lacking (a lot, actually), but I felt good about my long runs. What happened next was something I’d really only heard about and didn’t believe it. And then it hit.
What started eating me alive was after the second 20-miler, we began tapering. Anyone who has done distance running knows about the Taper. You run less often, your miles are fewer, but your hunger doesn’t change. You’re not clocking those miles anymore, but your stomach is screaming “FEED ME, SEYMOUR!” as loudly as it can – and often! You’ve been eating well while training? Well, guess what – you’re going to eat crap from here on out because that’s what the Taper wants, and you’ll do anything to quiet it. You know what happens when you DON’T quiet the Taper? It whispers. It tells you all sorts of horrible things – like your training wasn’t enough, you’re not tough enough, you’re not ready, you’re going to fail. It doesn’t let you sleep. It creeps in at all sorts of weird times and shakes your confidence. The only way to silence it is sneaking out for the run you aren’t supposed to do, or scarfing down Twinkies (not that I would know anything about that).
And then it was here. I packed for days to make sure I had anything I needed for the race. My outfit and shoes were in my carry-on 3 days before I started packing anything else. I didn’t care about the rest of my clothes, because all I really cared about was race day. I did eventually pack, although I didn’t pack well in the shoe department (you mean wearing tall boots after running 26.2 miles isn’t a good idea? No, no it was not). All my documents were printed out, my flight was checked in, my playlist complete with songs I requested my family suggest to remind me of them was updated, and despite a couple things I hadn’t been able to find, I was ready to go.
Rob dropped me off dark and early Friday morning at the airport, I got my bag checked, chatted with a handcyclist who was also participating in the marathon [sidebar: I was running it. He was USING HIS ARMS. Yes, I was humbled], and waited for Johanne, who promptly showed up 5 minutes later. We went through security without a hitch, got our coffee and sat down and waited to board. We were nervous, but excited, and just wanted to get there and see everyone. Although our flight to Atlanta took off about 30 minutes late, we still landed on time, and shockingly (really – if you’ve ever connected in the ATL, you’ll appreciate this), our gate was only 7 gates down from where we landed. THAT NEVER HAPPENS. We took our time and boarded our next flight and were finally DC bound.
We chatted with various people as there were many runners on our flight heading to DC for the same thing. One lady in the row behind us asked for my email address and sent me a very inspiring email about remembering why you’re running THIS marathon. By the time I’d finished it, my eyes were flooded with tears. I was even more excited to get this race started.
We landed (roughly!) at Reagan, got my suitcase, and walked to the next terminal to meet the rest of our friends who had flown in that day. We bought our Metro cards and boarded our trains. After a couple of incidents, we got off at the correct stop and tried to find our hotel. After a bad case of Google Maps, we had lunch and found our way to the Key Bridge Marriott. We checked in, which proved to be an endurance sport all it’s own, got to our rooms, unpacked and headed out to the expo. After a long and very scary cab ride (in a Prius, no less!), we arrived at the DC Armory, where we picked up our packets with our bibs.
Whoa. Bib. Number. This is REAL! This is actually going to happen!
We headed into the expo, got our shirts, wandered around, met my friend Debbie from Canada, found Yarisi and Alyssa (and Rich), took some pictures and then headed out. We chose the Metro on the way back to avoid any potential dismemberment by crazy DC cabbies, dropped our stuff at the hotel and went to the bar for a drink. Which turned into a snack. We headed to the First Timers Pep Rally, which after we got our pins turned out to be pretty lame, so we headed out again, this time in search of dinner and a grocery store. After all of that had been done, we eventually found our way back to the hotel where we immediately collapsed and fell asleep.
The next day proved to be a comedy of errors as Brandi and I couldn’t figure out where the bRUNch was being held – went all over and it turns out it was right by our hotel. Once we realized we were too late for pretty much any part of it, we got our own breakfast, met up with Johanne, went to a street flea market (I scored a silver bracelet!) and CVS, then headed back to our room to get ready for dinner. We dropped Jo off downstairs for her dinner and headed out to meet Alyssa, Yarisi, Tori, Nicole and Alaina at a kabob restaurant. The food was good, the company even better, but soon it was time to head back to the hotel to get ready for the next morning and get some sleep.
The sleep did not come easily, and it didn’t stay when it finally happened. It was a fitful night of tossing and turning, worrying I’d miss the 3 alarms we’d set, my mind too full to settle down worrying about the race, and having to get up from responsible hydration. When the alarm finally did go off, I wanted to sleep. But, sleep was not on the agenda – running this marathon was!
We dressed and got mostly ready before heading down to breakfast. We ate and got back upstairs to grab the rest of our gear and make our way to the Metro station. It was jam-packed, but through all of the people, Alaina managed to find us and the four of us crowded on to the train together. Because of the race, the Arlington stop was closed, so it was a straight shot from our stop to the start line. We exited and slowly made our way out of the station and into the cold morning air. Our excitement was building, as was the need to pee. Again, side effect of good hydration! We got bags dropped off, met up for a pic or two with some of our Run Tampa peeps, stood in the port-a-potty lines, then Brandi and I headed to the start.
We found Alyssa, Yarisi and Haley and stood together trying to stay warm. As the sun started coming up, it warmed a little and I was grateful that there wasn’t much wind. The amount of people in one place was staggering. I’d done the Disney half which was only a little smaller, but this just seemed huge. I looked up and noticed several parachutes descending, one carrying a huge American flag while the National Anthem played over the PA. It was really cool – and this was really happening. Right at 7:55am, the Howitzer went off and the race officially started. We walked slowly to the start line, taking in all of the crowd around us. There were so many spectators – yelling, waving, holding up signs, and our excitement grew. Finally, after about 25 minutes, we crossed the start line, started our watches, and it was on.
We’d been warned about the hills during our training, but I don’t think anything could have prepared us for how long that first hill was. It was almost 1.5 miles long, and elevation increased by 200 feet. For a girl who is used to training in flat Florida, that hill was a killer. Midway up that hill, I threw off my sweatshirt because I was not cold anymore! I never thought I’d have to walk so early into a very long run, but in an effort to save my legs, I slowed down and walked up the steepest parts. I looked around and there were a lot of people walking up parts of that hill, so I didn’t feel so bad. At one point, the hill leveled off and I looked at the sign for the cross street. It said Quinn. I smiled and turned to Brandi and Alyssa and pointed out the sign. I then kissed two fingers and pointed at the sign in tribute to my baby girl and I picked up running again. The first water stop was on the downward descent from the hill and I walked through it, found my girls again, and we took off. The next few miles were all downhill – in a good way. The elevation descended again and we were able to pick up speed. Miles were flying by and I was feeling really good. At the bottom of the hill, the Potomac was to our left and above it, Georgetown University. It was truly beautiful, and people slowed to take pictures. The next hill loomed in front of us, so we dug in and made our way up, regrouping at the top before we ran through Georgetown and down a very steep hill. Our time was good, the weather was perfect and all four of us were feeling great. So great that I took off with Yarisi up the next hill and kept going. I’d hit my stride and I didn’t want to waste it while I had it. The only problem was that I really had to pee. Really bad. Like so bad I was considering just doing it in my capris because the port-a-potty lines were so long. I stopped near a stone bridge to stretch my Achilles and noticed several girls behind it. I yelled “Is this the unofficial?” and they laughed and said yes, so I joined them. You lose all shame as a runner because everyone around you has done it, too, and no one is going to judge. I got back on the road and took off.
Miles ticked off 8, 9, 10… I needed to stretch. My hamstrings were feeling tight and I knew it was because of the hills. It wasn’t remnants of my injury – it was just elevation messing with my legs. I pulled over and was stretching when The Song came on. I sighed, said “OK, Gerard” and took off again, picking people off at a 9:30 pace. Mile 10 was for my friend Lesa’s friend Brian Rogers who was a Clearwater police officer, a Marine, and had been in a shooting the day before. I was feeling great. And then… I wasn’t. I kept running, slower, but running and then realized I had hit mile 12.
Oh, mile 12. Mile 12 was not a problem for me as a runner. Mile 12 was difficult for me as an American. Mile 12 was known as the Avenue of the Fallen. Along the mile, there were posters of fallen service members. I moved to the left side of the path where the posters were and I touched every single one as I ran by. With every touch, my heart grew heavier. Some of them were children – no more than 18, 19 years old. Some of them HAD children – their pictures were with their children. All of them were loved by someone, and clearly, missed by someone. By the end of that mile, I was sobbing. That was it. That was why we were there. As I was looking at these faces, I noticed the song in my ears was My Chemical Romance’s “The End”. Though it’s a bit maudlin, it seemed appropriate right then.
I pulled it together and made it to the nutrition stop and grabbed a couple of gels. I needed ibuprofen – I was long overdue – but there was no water. I looked at the pills, then looked at the gel. I threw the pills in my mouth, squeezed a bunch of chocolate flavored gel into my mouth and swallowed hard. The pills went down. I finished that packet and opened another. I took most of that one, then picked up running again. Quinn’s song All Time Low’s “Love Like War” came on, and I smiled to myself. After the turn was the water stop, and I downed some Gatorade and some water. I was halfway.
Right about then, my stomach let me know that I needed to find a port-a-potty. Soon. Every one I saw had a line at least 10 people deep, so there was no way I was stopping for it. I was walking more than I had planned (or hoped), but my walk pace is actually pretty fast, so my time was still good. I was at Tristan’s mile (14), so I did the best I could. When my stomach would calm down, I’d take off again and run for as long as I could, sometimes a mile, sometimes not, but always kept going. Again, although more slowly, the miles ticked off …15, 16, 17. Mile 18 came up and I could see the Capitol. I’ve been there before, but with it towering in front of me on that beautiful October morning, it had never looked more incredible. One of the things I was constantly reminded of before I ran this race was to look up every so often and look around me. I made sure I did that, and felt a sense of pride as I looked around. This was the capitol of my country, and it’s pretty amazing.
I came down toward the Bridge – the infamous bridge which the term “Beat the Bridge” stems from, and started running across. I hit mile 20, and then realized that anything I did after that was more than I’d ever run before. For the first time since before the race started, I checked my phone. I had a couple of texts, but I only read the one from Rob which told me he was tracking me and I was killing it. I smiled and replied that I had just passed 20 and I was beating the bridge as I typed. Then in true Jenny fashion, finished with “fuck you, bridge!”. I wish I had known at that point that the bridge would be saying to ME in 2 more miles “fuck YOU, Jenny!”, because I might not have been so flippant. I had no idea the bridge was over 2 miles long, all concrete, had hills, and oh by the way, was a highway overpass. It seemed to go on forever. It finally ended at mile 22, and then it hit me. Mile 22? I’ve only got 4.2 miles to go!
It was a struggle, but I did manage to keep running when I was able. At mile 23, which I had dedicated to Quinn since her birthday is the 23rd, Tristan’s song, Katy Perry’s “Roar”, came on. I thought of them, and of my friend and training partner Stephanie who said it was her marathon song and started to cry. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to finish this. I still had about a 5K to go, but at this point, it didn’t seem like much.
The course rounded the Pentagon and out on to Jefferson Davis Highway. Less than 2 miles to go. I walked, I ran, I turned my music a little louder and I pressed on. As I exited the highway, I hit Mile 25. It was all downhill from there with the exception of the last hill to get to Iwo Jima. I shuffled through my list looking for Rob’s song, found another one I wanted to hear, and pushed on, picking people off right and left. I finally found Rob’s song, turned it on and ran as much as I could. I could see Mile 26. I was getting excited. More than anything, I just wanted to stop running, but it was so exciting that despite everything I’d been through, I managed to get to this point. The song ended and I wasn’t there yet. I backed up 2 songs and listened again. About 2 minutes from Mile 26, Rob’s song came back on. And I pushed as far as the hill. There was no way I could run that hill, but I walked it as quickly as I could. Marines were lining the hill, high-fiving and cheering on every single runner, offering that last bit of encouragement to get us through the end. The crowd was huge and it was just the adrenaline surge I needed to push me through the finish line. I picked it up and ran through the finish with Capital Cities “Safe and Sound” blaring in my ears. Rob had brought me in. And I had done it.
I had just finished a marathon.
I hadn’t even received my medal and I was already trying to FaceTime Rob and the kids because theirs were the only faces I wanted to see right then. It didn’t work, so I got my medal, was saluted by the young Marine officer who hung it on my neck, and took my picture with him. I then redialed and saw the faces of my darlings, and I got choked up. These people who had put up with my moods, my injuries, my hours of being useless after a long run were cheering for me, and it was the best feeling in the world. I talked for a few minutes, but then let them go so that I could go find people I knew. I didn’t see anyone so I took my finisher picture and checked Facebook to see who had finished. I saw a post from Johanne about wanting to give up at mile 12 because she was in pain, and I worried since I didn’t see her. Right as I started to leave, it popped up that Yarisi had just finished, so I ran back to find her. We hugged and cheered and cried, and then did her finisher photo (and one together, too). Right about then, Haley finished, then Alyssa and Connie finished, so we ran over to them and then we saw Brandi. We were all in, we had all finished. I couldn’t find Johanne, so I checked and she had finished just slightly after me, so I knew she was ok and had made it in.
We set off to find beer, Rich, the rest of our peeps, and rest. We were all spent, and many of us in need of a bathroom (especially me who had literally been clenching trying to not shit my pants for nearly 14 miles). I told Alyssa “let’s promise to never do this again”, and she laughed and agreed and we hugged. I told her and Brandi at mile 3 (which was their mile as they are my 3-way) that I couldn’t imagine doing this without them, and I truly couldn’t. Nor could I imagine doing this without Yarisi, and Mile 4 was for my Dream Team (Brandi, Alyssa, Yarisi and Stephanie) who kept me from going insane when I couldn’t run and wanted to quit. I wish I had taken more pictures, looked around a little more than I did, taken more of it in. I want so badly to remember every single detail of that day, because it was truly amazing. I achieved a goal I never thought I could and I did it with some of the best friends that I could never have imagined.
We finished out that incredible day with a fabulous dinner at a place suggested by Michele. The food was fantastic, but nothing could beat the feeling of being surrounded by a room full of the amazing people that I spent so much time with this summer. We had gone through hell (literally – do you know how hot it is here during the summer??) together, and had come out the other side together. Whether we were first timers, or whether our time wasn’t what we wanted, or whether we had achieved a PR, we had all finished and that alone is something to be proud of.
There’s a saying that the person who starts the marathon is not the same person who finishes. I could not agree more. Because I started that race as many things – a wife, a mom, a project manager, a daughter, a sister, etc, but when I finished, I was something I never dreamed was possible.
I was a marathoner.