Sunday, October 26, 2008

Marine Corps Marathon

Well, the Clif's notes of today's story is that things just didn't work out for me. Put simply, I had stomach problems. The entire time. Which is disappointing, because to an extent that wasn't something I could control. My legs actually felt pretty good running at or below goal pace, but unfortunately that wasn't enough to overcome my other issues.

Anyhow, let's go back to the beginning. Jordan, Jilane, Jeff, Aja and I awoke at the dark and early hour of 5am to loosen up, drink some coffee, take warm showers and otherwise prepare for the race. Jordan left around 6 to pick up Owen and get lost for a few minutes, but by just after 6:30 they had returned. Kelly had also arrived, so the seven of us set out for the Woodley Park metro stop to ride to the race. We joined the throng of other runners with the same idea and got out at the Pentagon. This may or may not have been the most expeditious route, as we ended up having to walk/jog a good two miles to the start from there, but nonetheless it helped us keep warm and shake out the legs. The race started beside Arlington National Cemetery and just past the Iwo Jima Memorial (which would be the finish location). The weather at the start was perfect: low 40s, calm winds, and the promise of sun. Jordan, Jilane, Owen and I snaked our way to the front of the pack, while Kelly and Aja hung back (Kelly was hoping to run 3:40 and Aja planned to accompany her through the first 16). Owen and Jordan's tentative plan was to run with us for 16 and then cut across the Arlington Memorial Bridge and wait for us at the finish.

From the start, Jilane and I both felt a bit sluggish. The first two miles were mostly uphill, and that combined with the chill of the morning had us starting off a bit slow (over 7:00 for both of those miles I believe--I didn't take any splits). After a few downhill miles through Georgetown that were substantially quicker, we settled into pace. The first 10-12k of the course is fairly rolling, which kept things a bit challenging, and I could already tell my stomach was unsettled by mile 4, which kept things even more challenging. After waiting as long as possible, I finally jumped in a port-a-potty just after mile 8. Jordan waited for me while Owen and Jilane kept going, and he and I resumed the pace as soon as possible. At this point I began to settle into a rhythm and felt pretty good (at least as far as my legs were concerned). I believe we went through the half in just over 1:28, which is a touch over 6:40 pace (although this includes the bathroom break, which probably cost me 45 seconds to a minute). At this point I knew I needed the bathroom again, so I made another quick stop. I was growing pretty frustrated but also felt utterly helpless, as I had no idea if my stomach would calm down or continue to plague me. Turns out it was the latter. I struggled to put down half a Gu around 14, but opted not to finish it because I knew my stomach wouldn't apprec. Jordan held a water bottle for me the entire time (I think he may have gotten it from Jeff when we saw him around mile 4?) and he was so helpful at keeping me focused and providing encouragement. He rejoined Owen at 16 near the Lincoln Memorial and they bid me adieu.

At this point, I had a lot going on in my head. On the one hand, I knew if I kept locked into the pace, I could still break 3 hours pretty comfortably despite the two bathroom breaks. On the other hand, I knew my stomach still didn't feel right. I ended up stopping again around 17, and at that point things looked pretty bleak. From then on, while I didn't feel as though I needed the bathroom again, the abdominal pain kept coming in waves and showed no signs of abating. Again, the frustrating part was that my legs still felt pretty good. All things considered, the first two hours of the race had gone by pretty quickly, and I knew that my legs would carry me to the finish at a strong pace if my stomach would only cooperate.

It didn't. Finally, as I started to head up the bridge that leads into Crystal City at mile 20, I gave up. Actually, "curled up in the fetal position on the side of the road and prayed for death" is a more accurate description. I sat there for a while before deciding to cut across the Mall and walk a shortcut to the finish in hopes of seeing Jilane. The "shortcut" ended up being about three miles and taking well over 45 minutes, so by the time I arrived at Iwo Jima the clock read 3:10 and I knew she was done. I found Brooke and Rich and then managed to find Jeff and then Jordan. I may or may not have cried on his shoulder for a hot second, but I dried my eyes once we found Jilane. I was thrilled to learn that she had run 2:58 and looked sassy while doing it, so for at least a few minutes that distracted me from my own disappointment. After that we were so involved with the process of avoiding the masses and getting home that I didn't have much time to reflect on the morning's events.

But, alas, now I am a few days removed and have had adequate time to rehash things. So, what's the take home message here? For starters, I seriously think there may be something medically wrong with me. It's no state secret that I have stomach problems pretty frequently while running (although this was definitely the most intense I've experienced), and I need to find out if I have a food intolerance or allergy or incurable disease or something. After several years of bitching about it I'm finally going to sack up and go to the doctor to get this figured out. Another take home message: my friends absolutely ROCK. I can't put into words how much it meant to me to have so many people supporting Team MJ at the marathon (and at the subsequent party...but that's another story for another post). Jeff, Jordan, Owen, Brooke, Aja and so many others gave selflessly and showed how much they cared in countless ways this weekend and in the months leading up to the event. Their thoughtfulness is such a blessing, even if I haven't always expressed it to them. And finally, like Jilane and I have said time and again, I take with me the message that this whole experience has been about so much more than one day. Sure, I'm disappointed. Yes, I cried. I wish things would've turned out differently. But to be honest, I wouldn't trade a single minute of the past four months, regardless of the outcome.

And finally: Team MJ for life. Love ya Jilane.