The Greek soldier Pheidippides, the first person to ever run a marathon, died. Only a runner would take this story and craft it into a full-fledged sport, enjoyed by hundreds of thousands across the globe every single year. This past weekend,my father and I conquered that tumultuous 26.2 miles at the 40th annual Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.
We heard warnings about mile 20 walls, black toenails, nipple chafing and the like. While our nipples survived, only a few of my dad’s toenails were sacrificed. And at mile 20, we didn’t hit he proverbial wall. We hit an infamous bridge, which served as a metaphorically unconquerable mountain. Except we did conquer it and crossed the finish line, running side by side from start to finish.
I’ve achieved a few things in my life, but nothing compares to the sense of accomplishment from finishing my first marathon. We got to support a great cause – my dad has been a marine for over twenty years – and run in a fabulous city, with my aunt and cousin I rarely get to see cheering us on. I’m immensely proud of my father, who at 52 years of age finished this race with gusto, back injury and all. I feel blessed and thankful to have this kick ass experience with my dad, the human that gave me my lifelong love for running, sports and travel.
When I look back and contemplate things I could have done differently, most are out of my control. If only both of us hadn’t gotten injured during training; If only we had time to warm up, hydrate and stretch before the race. We got to the start area two hours ahead of time, yet spent all of it jam-packed like sardines waiting to get through security. We made it to the start line with 45 seconds left on the countdown, which by that point had resorted to pure chaos.
The corrals were ignored, the crowd was thick, and it felt more like a start mob than a starting line. Even worse, the crowd bottlenecked up at several points throughout the course – all the way up to mile 10. It took away from the natural beauty of the course as it wound from old-town city streets and jazz bands to the quiet of breathtaking forests and rivers with nothing but our own footfalls as background noise. I fell in love with the falling leaves and multicolored trees and perfect, chilly weather. Yet it was frustrating when we found our groove but were physically unable to move past the crowd.
Our first objective was to “beat the bridge,” a timed close-off where stragglers would be pulled off the course. And we did, by over an hour, perfectly on pace for a 10:00/mile finish. Around mile 18 reality seriously started to set in. My feet throbbed, my supposedly-healed sprained ankle ached, and I felt a deep-rooted exhaustion incomparable to anything I’d ever experienced. It was a lot more painful than I expected; and it made sense, since that’s the farthest I’d ever ran during my months of training.
After we beat the bridge, spirits were high but my dad’s suffering was higher. He went from a smile to a grimace real quick. His back, which had ‘healed’ a few weeks prior, flared up angrily. It was s bad that I could actually see his muscle spasming. A normal person would have headed to the med tent, but my dad is both a runner and a marine. So, we walked and he painstakingly jogged along until the finish line, when we took off and ran the last hill. Because it’s the marines so they just had to put a hill at the finish line, right? Right.
Our official finish time was 5:59:32, only 3:43/mile off from our goal pace. Which means that, without his injury, we likely would have made our goal pace. But I feel even prouder that we still finished despite the horrible start and his injury. And we did it together, because no marine – or dad or daughter – ever gets left behind.
I loved being cheered on by an awesome crowd armed with hilarious signs,getting served water and Gatorade from hot young marines, and being part of such a unique event. Plus, we were barely sore the next day – aside from my dad’s back- and got to explore the city the day after the race. I’m so blessed to finally have that daunting 26.2 under my belt! And this experience is one I will remember for the rest of my life.