Running is the great equalizer, the great egalitarian sport. It can lift you up and smack you down. It brings people together and it drives some apart. It inspires hope and fear. It brings smiles to many and at times tears to many more.
I ran my 7th Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday and was very ready for this. Stood at the start line healthy and happy inspired by a student, a dead Marine, whose picture I wore.
Waiting at the start with Mary Lou we chat and wait. Time comes and the howitzer goes off and we start to move...I kiss my babe and wave goodbye for a bit.
The time has come in my life when I never go into a race anymore with a finish time in my head. After 52 races of Marathon distance or longer I know that no matter how much you prepare, how much you're spot on, it can all go wrong. I revel in the good races and accept the bad as part of the landscape.
Within a few miles of the start, I feel my left leg is tight with some pain in the lower left hip. It feels like sciatica...something I had on the right side years ago and haven't seen since. Never on my left side. I laugh to myself and think "You're not supposed to try anything new on race day."
I have THE bag of tricks when it comes to running. Reaching in I try to find some way to help ease the increasing pain.
Move across the road to where the camber is different.
Change my gait, then change back.
Pull out a little packet of Bio-Freeze and try that.
Loosen a shoe.
Shorten my stride.
Lengthen my stride.
Now, I have the pain threshold of a stone but by mile 16 it hurts and is only getting worse. At mile 17 on the Mall near the Natural History Museum, I hear my baby call my name (she walked over from the start) and she comes out to greet me...
It's bad I say and I'm falling apart...I think about a DNF and then touch the picture of Lance Corporal James pinned to my chest and burst into tears...I can't do it. I can't stop.
From then on it's a WOG. A cross between a walk and a jog. Walking is ok, running is quite painful But my attitude has spun around. At mile 19 I know I'll finish but I know it'll hurt. And the day is decided. My energy is good and I have no fatigue, the mechanics just aren't workin' right. While it would be nice to be under 4:30 I know that's all gone...
Good patches come and go. Rough patches come but never quite leave.
On the 14th street bridge I stop for a few minutes and squat, holding onto the Jersey wall hoping to stretch and get a little relief.
Up comes a young Marine in fatigues and boots and carrying a big ruck sack wearing a number...he's doing the race:
"Sir? Are you OK?"
"Yeah. I'm just a little fucked right now."
"Well, Sir...Un-fuck yourself! The only way to the finish is forward!"
It makes me laugh and he laughs and helps me up and off we go together for a bit, before I actually leave him behind with nod and a wink and a warm spot in my heart.
Through Crystal City I feel blah until I come past the local Hash House Harriers...it is amazing what pretzels and beer can do to raise one's mood and set the stomach right.
The last few miles to the finish aren't bad and I can actually run some.
Before long the Iwo hill arrives and I go up, head held high.
The finish and I burst into tears. Marines shake my hand. One reaches out and touches James picture.
My 53'rd race of Marathon distance or longer and my slowest, and physically my most painful marathon ever.
I couldn't be happier.