I really didn't know what to expect coming into the marathon. I've been doing mostly tri's this year, so while I knew my running had improved, I didn't know how it would translate into a standalone running event. All I had to go on was last year's time (5:17). I decided to start with the 4:15 pace group, see how it felt, and go from there. The first two miles felt fine, and actually with the crowds around the pacers it was a little frustrating. So, just before heading back down to the river, I passed the pace group, and started clicking off 9 - 9:15 minute miles.
I stayed remarkably consistent through 25K, with each 5k time somewhere between 29 and 30 minutes. Some highlights along the way included the "Free mimosas if you quit now" sign in Georgetown, and, a great moment for me, when I passed the point I hit the wall last year and literally gave the course the finger.
I was able to appreciate the crowds and the scenery a lot more than last year, and the crowds around the mall are just fantastic. Then, just after mile 17, the wheels fell off. Well, not really, but one wheel did start to wobble pretty badly. My left IT band, which has been bugging me for the last month.
It would have felt sooo good to walk. Lots of people were walking. Lots of people were stopping and stretching. I've found this to be a huge problem for me during events, seeing others stopping "legitimizes" me stopping. But, I didn't want to regret anything about this day. And so, I kept running. Coming off the ramp from the 14th Street bridge I was re-passed by the 4:15 group, which was a little demoralizing. I knew finishing an hour faster than last year was slipping away, but I also knew that if I kept at it I could still have (for me at least), a really great finish, so I told myself to try and finish under 4:22, which would keep my average under 10 min/mile.
It was going to be close, but that did not stop me from getting my cup of beer at the stand in Rosslyn. The keep it so cold, and it tastes so good, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't the beer that made my right leg start to cramp shortly afterwards. Still, I just took myself back to all of the longer runs I did this year, recongnizing that I had a lot less than that to go.
Things actually loosened up over the last two miles, and coming up 110 I knew that unless things really fell apart I was going to break 4:22. The only hitch was that as soon as I hit the final hill, both my legs said "Hey, this sucks, and you can go 'f' yourself", in the form of massive cramps.
But I wasn't going to stop, and finished with a nice kick to the finish, 57 minutes faster than last year!