On Saturday morning, Adam and I planned to head to the expo early to pick up my bib. We arrived at the convention center just as the expo was opening and found the crowds pretty manageable, with the exception of the official race merchandise area. Collecting my bib was simple and I was relieved that there was no issue with my name change (I had my correspondence and marriage certificate just in case...). Most of the official merchandise that interested me was gone by the time we arrived at the expo so I picked out a pint glass and miraculously found a magnet still available.
Our next stop was the Team Fisher House booth to collect my jacket and bag. I was delighted to chat with Cathy, one of the two race coordinators, with whom I had corresponded in advance of the race. I also received one of the official race jackets, arm sleeves, a neat authentic cowbell, and the Fisher House 25th anniversary book as fundraising prizes. I got wonderful info and support for meeting up with the team on race morning before and after the race. We also grabbed a cowbell and cow hat for Adam as part of our spectating quad. Sadly, the cow hat didn't get much wear.
Before I headed to bed, I did some light stretching and yoga, checked the weather for the one millionth time, and organized my race gear,one last time. I had a special addition to my race outfit. Earlier that afternoon, Adam gave me his name tape from his Army uniform that he wore while he was in Iraq. When he asked me to wear it, I promptly started crying, a pre-marathon emotional mess, and told him I would be honored. He told me it would keep me safe and I told him I hoped to make him proud. We decided it would best be pinned to the shoulder of my race jersey.
Race morning started like most...I didn't sleep great and woke up well before my alarm (3 AM on Sunday - woof!). I got ready and headed to the metro around 5:35 with a fellow runner who was also staying at our hotel. Hi Gabby! Instead of getting off the metro at Pentagon, I headed to Rosslyn to meet up with Danielle and go to our respective charity tents.
|Two looks: Race day chic and Hobo chic|
We walked back to the 4 hour marker in the start area and hung out before deciding to hit the port-a-potties one last time. I received a text message from a friend wishing me well and reminding me to think of the Fisher House families when the going got tough. I filed that away for later. Next, the starting festivities happened fast - the National Anthem, parachuters, and Osprey flyover. Neither of us ever heard the Howitzer or starting pistol. All of a sudden we were walking up and realized that this was it, we're about to cross the start. Lots of people started running well before the starting line but we opted to save our energy and walk until just before we crossed the timing mats. We joked with a guy standing next to us about "staying strong" and not running too early.
|Parachuters with huge American flags|
Miles 4-10, Georgetown, Rock Creek Parkway, Kennedy Center: I expected more course crowding but never really felt too much, unlike our first year. I enjoyed the bridge into Georgetown where the views are great and there were some funny spectators. There's one very steep downhill coming off M Street that really bugged my knees but I tried to put that out of mind quickly. As we turned to head out to Rock Creek, our families were there again to give us a boost.
|Seeing my family at mile 5-ish|
Miles 10-14, Jefferson Memorial, Hains Point: My legs really started to tighten up in here. I kept telling myself to relax and hang on. There were tons of spectators but I found the course to feel surprisingly quiet. This was definitely a big disappointment since Hains Point is known to be a quiet, lonely spot on the course and I was eager for crowd support as we headed that way. Danielle and I actually were yelling to them and throwing our arms in the air to get them to make noise! I knew to expect the emotional blue mile at mile 12. I stayed to the left side of the road and read every photo that I passed...well I usually read one piece of info because I couldn't take it all in. When I noticed a photo of a man in his West Point dress uniform, I got a little choked up. Adam is a West Point alum and showed me photos and told me stories of his classmates who died during their service. It hit close to home and reminded me that Sunday's race was bigger than me. It was truly a chance to honor our service members.
We crossed the half mats at 2:08 and change. I felt pretty good about this split, but could sense that I was in a bit more pain than I probably should have been at the halfway point. I kept telling myself that marathons aren't easy and I should be running at a comfortably hard pace to PR. From the halfway point to mile 14 or so, Danielle continued to pull away from me. I kept trying to catch up and simply couldn't. After a walk break, she was so far ahead that she was out of sight. She stepped off the road and onto the grass to look back for me. I motioned for her to go ahead and smiled as if to say, "it's ok, I'm ok." A few minutes later, she was completely gone from my sights. I was sad to have to say goodbye so early in the race but I started feeling relieved that I wasn't going to be chasing her anymore and could run my own race. I think at some point in these miles, the rain stopped.
Miles 14-17, Hains Point, Jefferson Memorial, DC War Memorial: These miles felt very, very long for me. I noticed that I was extremely thirsty and constantly anticipating the next water stop. I contemplated sending a text message to my family telling them I needed water but didn't want to mess with my phone. which was safely tucked inside a ziplock bag in the back pocket of my skirt. As we came off Hains Point, I looked off towards the mall and could see some of the notable DC tourist sites. I told myself to have an open heart, to be open to whatever came of this race. Don't get me wrong, I didn't throw in the towel with respect to time, but I made the conscious decision to shift my focus during the race. This stretch has huge crowds and I tried to feed off their energy. I knew I would see my family soon and just tried to focus on getting to them. My pace climbed in this section but I wasn't overly concerned.
Miles 17-20, National Mall: I saw my family just past mile 17. I happened to be at a walk break but the minute I saw them, I started running again and was so excited to see 5 friendly faces in the crowd. Adam handed me a banana and then ran with me for a moment. I think I told him I was hurting and was having trouble. He gave me some encouraging words. The spectators on the mall are so incredible so I focused on enjoying the various museums on the route and enjoying the crowds. I started hurting really badly in this stretch and kept thinking about how many miles were left...too many to be hurting so much already. I think it was during this time, that I started telling myself "don't quit" out loud when I was really having a tough time. As we turned past the Capitol, I noticed a woman with an Old English Sheepdog and I yelled that I loved her dog and have one too. After we turned to head back down the mall, I noticed a woman with a Team Fisher House jersey. I had been running close to her for a while and decided to ask her if she wanted to run with me. Her name was Leah and we chatted for a moment. It was nice to have a buddy and we ended up running together for about a mile and a half.
I saw my family again just before we headed over the 14th Street Bridge. At this point, I was struggling and when I saw Adam, I ran over and threw my arms around him for a hug, saying "10k to go, I can do this." I thanked my brother- and sister-in-law for being there, then hugged my Mom and high-fived my Dad. Apparently Adam said I looked really happy at this point...I was genuinely happy to see them but feeling pretty rough. I took off to conquer the bridge feeling joy in my heart.
Miles 20-22, 14th Street Bridge, Crystal City: Oh, the bridge. That bridge chewed me up and spit me out. I was hurting. It's lonely. I lost Leah at some point. About three quarters of the way over it, I contemplated walking the rest of the race. I took an unscheduled walk break to try to collect myself and get rid of the negative thoughts. In that moment, I thought of Lilly Scott who spoke to us at the Team Fisher House dinner. She and her husband Blaine didn't "walk it home" when Blaine was recovering from third degree burns and countless other injuries. Adam didn't "walk it home" when he was serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And countless other service members didn't "walk it home." I wasn't going to quit. My body hurt and I was feeling totally wrecked, but damnit I wasn't going to quit. It didn't matter how slow I ran, but I was running. As I came off the bridge, with tears running down my face, I saw a huge cheer squad and heard someone yelling my name. My friend Becca was there with the Oiselle team cheering. She gave me a huge hug and yelled "you got this" over and over to me. It was so huge for me. I fed off that hug and encouragement for at least a mile. In some respects, I feel like she might have helped me save my race. I was in a dark place coming off the bridge and that was just the encouragement I needed to make a push the final 5 miles.
Miles 22-24, Crystal City: I don't remember reading about a course change from 2013, but the Crystal City route was different from when I ran MCM previously. The crowds were on point in here and I really enjoyed the many Team Fisher House cheer stations. It one point a spectator yelled "Go Suter," clearly noticing my arm band. I touched it, and once again told myself to keep going and "do it for them" (words I told myself throughout the last half of this race). I gave many high fives and tried to spot friends. I noticed Danielle in this section and yelled her name. For some reason, I didn't think she saw me even though she yelled back to me. Chalk that up to mushy marathon brain in full effect! I could sense that the end was nearing and while I felt so exhausted, I tried to pick up the pace. My legs simply felt like they were churning in cement, but I kept working. I clicked through my shuffle to find my pump up songs and listened to them on repeat. I was desperate for another water station and was relieved to see one shortly after the munchkin stop, which once again, I skipped.
Miles 24-Finish, Pentagon, Marine Corps War Memorial: The mile from Crystal City to the Pentagon was long and boring. I think there were more Team Fisher House cheer squads but I can't remember for certain. Each time I saw someone wearing a Team Fisher House jersey, I cheered for them or gave them a thumbs up. After we passed the Pentagon, I started doing some mental math. I hadn't really contemplated my finish time for a while, knowing that a PR was way out of reach. I realized that I had a chance to beat my first MCM time (my C goal), but I had work to do. Remembering the advice of Jeff Galloway and the commentary about Deena Kastor in the Spirit of the Marathon movie, I started pumping my arms. My legs were dead but I worked my arms. And on the stretch to mile 26, I slowly picked people off. I desperately needed a distraction from my aching legs, so I started focusing on someone ahead of me and slowly attempted to pass them. It worked. I think I passed 3 people using this strategy. The beloved mile 26 marker was in view and I could see the turn for the finish. I figured my family would be in here somewhere so I kept my head up. I saw them on the left side of the hill yelling wildly, flashed them a smile and then moved as fast as my tired body could carry me across the finish line. I was so happy to raise my arms in triumph, click my watch, and stop running!
Official time: 4:36.36, about 80 seconds faster than 2013. C goal achieved!
|After missing a photo with the Marine Corps War|
Memorial in 2013, I made sure to get one this time!
|Marine Corps Marathon finisher and my #1 fan|
|The best MCM race buddy!|
I'll be sharing more thoughts in another post, but I am so pleased with this race. It wasn't my best time, but I'm totally at peace with that. I have never given so much of myself in preparation for and during a race. I left my heart and my guts on the course on Sunday.