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The Few and the Proud


Ran the Marine Corps Marathon this  Sunday past.  I was not planning on running it, and had not registered. But three or so days before, I realized that I needed to put in a long run on that particular Sunday, and wanted to do 26 miles or longer (in training for the JFK 50 miler next month, I was supposed to put in a marathon about a month or so beforehand, and had missed the one I had registered for earlier in the month).

In addition, the weather forecast called for supreme conditions for a run–well, maybe a little on the warm side, and though I’m a big fan of running in terrible conditions,  heck, it did seem like the perfect day for a race.

As it turns out, the weather could not have been more perfect.  And the course is just spectacular–along the river, through parks and tree-lined drives of colourful foliage, around monuments, and over bridges, through picturesque portions of Virginia and DC, including down the main stretch through Georgetown.

The Friday before, I bought a bib from someone who had registerd, but couldn’t make it. The officials said it was too late to change the registration, but I could run on his bib.

It was an interesting experience. Because I was running on someone else’s bib, and because I viewed it as training for another race, I wasn’t so focused on my time. Also, not knowing until Friday that I would be running, I had not tapered, and had put in a solid 57 miles the week before–a lot for me. So I wanted to take it easy as I knew pushing it could be somewhat risky.

But it felt fine. And I took my time without slacking. I noticed a lot more for it, I think. I watched the passing scenery and the sky–listened to conversations, thought about why others were running. I felt more like an observer than a participant, much like I often do in life.  Strange, that observational quality; at times it felt like I had died and been given a second chance.

I watched the crowd: waving signs, and screaming for their runners, ringing cow bells emphatically, and the runners responding. There was no one there routing for me. My husband–always extremely supportive–was home working on schoolwork. I was voluntarily doing this alone. Really,  that’s how running is, eh? I knew a couple of  colleagues were running, and had looked for them, but in that vast sea of people, I knew better than to put forth too much effort. I didn’t tell too many people I would be there as I didn’t really know until a couple of days beforehand I’d be doing it, but also, I kind of liked being a complete stranger in an ocean of humanity.  Going to far off cities  for road races this is often the norm, and you do get used to it. I have discovered there is a strange comfort to the anonymity.

During the run, I found myself thinking a lot about my mother.  We did a lot of outdoor things together,  hiking mostly, round the same time of year, I suppose, and also some rather serious mountain climbs. But we never really ran together. She wasn’t a runner.

While she was still living, I ran, but never more than maybe 5 miles at a time.  She had never seen me run a road race, and I wondered what she would have thought about me running this one on someone else’s chip–for someone else’s time. A waste, perhaps? I watched the Marines handing out water, and thought again of her. She was a perfectionist, unemotional, with a keenly focused logic and efficiency that eventually made her a pilot and an engineer.  She was tough, but she was fair. And very hard to please. I just don’t know what she would have thought.

But it wasn’t like I was faking it. A marathon is a marathon, and parts were still tough. I still had to push. I ate the gels, I drank the water, and dug in and pressed up the hills. I ran full tilt down them knowing full well what it would do to my quads later. I petered out on the bridge–a notorious rough spot, and glanced down at my Garmin to see my pace wither. I made funny faces and thumbs up at the cameras knowing the pictures would be emailed to a kindly stranger, and thought he might get a kick out of it.

The last three miles still hurt, but I sprinted across the finish. I don’t know where that comes from, but despite feeling like I am ready to drop for a few miles, I always seem to find it in me to sprint the last few yards.  It’s fun in a sick sort of way.

Afterwards, I went through the rigamarole, handsome Marines bedecking me with a medal and congratulations, wrapping me in mylar, and handing me water; not so bad. I shuffled off for a massage, and walked 9 blocks to the closest Metro stop that wasn’t clogged with people, Metroed back to my neighborhood and walked the two miles to my flat.

All-in-all, it was a beautiful day to spend running and alone in thought, and in the company of the memory of a mother of whom I was quite proud to be called daughter. Afterwards, I thought maybe she would have been a little bit proud of me too.  Running as a 30-yr-old male, I placed 1,947th out of 12,656.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Dan permalink
    10/28/2009 13:47

    50 mile race?
    have you had your toenails removed?

    • 10/28/2009 16:33

      Ha! Well, not surgically, but they have sort of taken care of themselves in a way.
      I have had to cut the small ones way back to nothing, and I may lose of of the large ones now.
      That has never happened before.
      At first, they gave me a ton of trouble–blistering, bleeding, turning black and falling off.
      I thought several times about what a nuisance they are, and wished I could just evolve out of them quickly.
      Now they seem to have “adjusted,” and strangely, they don’t look as bad as you’d imagine. They seem to be healing in their own way.

  2. 10/30/2009 03:28

    This gave me shivers up my spine. What a moving piece. Mom-daughter relationships always seem to be so complex, somehow. Keep writing.

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