Thank you everyone for the well-wishes before, during, and after the marathon. Have a cheering section makes such a big difference. Many special thanks to Coach for getting me ready for a marathon in only 8 weeks. Your program worked perfectly!
Pre-race logistics: To avoid trekking in and out of DC twice in one weekend, I booked a hotel in DC for Saturday night using Priceline. Got a great rate on a nice place across the street from the marathon's host hotel. This was a key location because I could join a steady stream of people early race day morning walking to the Metro on the dark and somewhat creepy streets of DC. Race Expo on Saturday afternoon was very efficient, but one problem with getting there late in the day: no more small shirts and the medium shirts (man sized) are huge. Oh well. It is still a cool shirt. After dinner with friends, I was back at the hotel and in bed by 8:30.
Race morning: up at 5:30. Breakfast was PBJ sandwich, banana, two Shot blocks (for the caffiene). Checked out of the hotel at 6AM; arrived via Metro at race site at 7:00AM. Used bag check for my overnight bag, which worked very well, and headed to the start line to find my starting corral based on my expected finish time. I was expecting to finish around 5:15, but a friend had warned me about getting stuck for the first few miles going much slower than desired because of the crowds. Heeding his advice, I started out in a faster corral -- 4:30-4:59. After the national anthem and a fly-over by some cool looking airplane/chopper thingees, it was time to start.
The race: The race started right at 8:00, but I didn't cross the start line for almost 20 minutes, then it was smooth sailing. There was plenty of room to run at my pace and I felt great. Time to cruise. The first funny mind game came 10 minutes into the race. I trained using a 10/1 run/walk program. In my head, I knew with absolute certainty that I needed to take these walk breaks in order to finish without incident or injury, but it felt terrible to stop and walk when I otherwise felt so good and it was frustating to watch people blow by me. Every ten minutes I was tempted to skip the walk break, but I stuck to the 10/1 plan and compensated for the walking by picking up my run pace, running faster than usual (fast, of course, being a relative term). Even with the forward pace, my breathing stayed quiet and even, my heart rate felt low, and my legs felt great (for the time being). I think I was experiencing for the first time what makes some people say that they like to run. I've always hated it, but yesterday it was exhilarating, and it stayed that way for about 3 hours. Then my knees started to feel stiff, probably because they were not used to moving my legs forward at the pace I was going. Around mile 17 when they were really starting to hurt, Chad found me and kept me company for the next few miles. Having someone to talk to kept my mind off the increasing discomfort in my knees. Thank you, Chad, for being so upbeat and keeping me on-pace through those miles! Around mile 20, my walk breaks were becoming increasingly difficult because my knees tightened up when I walked and the transition back into running was very painful. I decide to take my last walk break around mile 22 and opted to run the rest of the way at a slower run pace, hoping that my average pace overall wouldn't take too much of a hit. That seemed to work OK, but those last few miles felt like they took just as long as the first half of the marathon. I'd heard others say that you've gone halfway when you reach the 20 mile mark and it seemed to be true for me, too, but not in the way I expected. I wasn't feeling tired; I just hurt. The words I played in my head were "your knees will hold you" over and over again. And indeed they did. I crossed the finish line well under my expected time.
Post race logistics: After getting my medal from a Marine who called me ma'am (man did that make me feel old), I tried to head out to the festival area. It took a good 30 minutes to get through a bottle neck of tired runners and out into the open. There were so many people! I retrieved my bag from the bag check and then walked across the Key Bridge into Georgetown where I had booked a massage. The 1.5 mile walk helped unstiffen my legs and I was feeling pretty darn great by the time my massage was over. Walking into Georgetown also helped me avoid the throngs of runners headed for the Metro at Rosslyn. The day ended with a fabulous dinner in DC.
Today, my knees seek revenge. I landed in a heap trying to get out of bed. Walking downstairs is torture. Standing up from my chair here at work causes me to curse; hopefully my coworkers haven't heard my mutterings. But nothing feels injured and the glow of finishing is all around me. This was a great experience. God willing, my first marathon will not be my last.