Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Oohrah! Running the Marine Corps Marathon for Team Lemon

Sometimes in life something that inspires you in a way that you can't describe. The inspiration grabs your heart and takes hold allowing you to believe you can do anything.  That's how I felt when I first learned about Alex's Lemonade Stand and its founder, the inspirational Alexandra Scott. It was Abraham Lincoln who said, "It's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years."  Alex Scott was only eight years old when she died in 2004. I did not know her, and yet she's touched my life and so many others in a way she probably never could have imagined.

When I heard about Alex's Lemonade Stand I wanted to be part of it. I wanted to contribute to this incredible charity that was helping children and families deal with the horror of childhood cancer.  The mission of this organization touched my heart.  Did I really want to run another marathon? Honestly I did not. But I wanted to be part of Team Lemon, and this past weekend I ran the 38th Marine Corps Marathon as part of the Team.

We headed to Washington, DC on Thursday evening for the MCM weekend. We were staying with my best friend and her family, so we were getting lots of quality time with our extended family.  On Friday afternoon on the way to the race expo we stumbled upon Zest, a cute bistro in Capitol Hill. It was a great way to kick off the race weekend. Of course I started solidly carbo-loading with a Pancetta and Asiago cheese sandwich. Delicious.

The race expo was kind of a cluster. Packet pick-up took place in a tent outside the expo, and it was extremely fast and easy. I am convinced it was to make people happy before entering the actual expo. We headed across the street to the DC Armory to get in line for the expo. Yes - to get in line to get into the expo building. They were checking bags and using hand held devices to wand people down.  Once in the expo I got that familiar race buzz.  We grabbed my awesome race shirt (#rockthemock) and set off to the Brooks store for some gear.

Hamming it up at the expo
The good news is that I ended up with a fabulous pink Brooks MCM jacket. The bad news is that my best friend and husband had to take turns standing in line for AN HOUR AND A HALF to buy race gear while I checked out the rest of the expo. The expo itself was fine, but if I had been there alone I wouldn't have had time to buy official gear and check out the booths. I can think of no good reason why it takes an hour and a half to check out. Ridiculous.

After the expo we joined our friends for an amazing bluegrass concert at the renowned Birchmere in Alexandria. The music was fantastic and the company even better. It was a lovely evening.

Saturday turned into a relaxing day just hanging out and watching football. We won't discuss my Mountaineer's abysmal loss. It's turning into a long football season. I was a bit of a mess on Saturday. I wasn't feeling great, and my nerves were out of control. I can't remember ever feeling this anxious for a race. I'm not sure why. On Saturday evening we went to Maggiano's for excessive carbo-loading.  After dinner my nerves were slightly (really only slightly) less frazzled, and we headed to bed early.

Race day is always intense, and this was no different. We left the house around 5:45 and boarded the metro at the Franconia-Springfield station, the last station on the blue line. We sat and sat, and finally the conductor announced there was a "circuit out" so we were waiting. Meanwhile the car continued to fill with runners, and I tried to calm my Type A self with the knowledge that if I ended up being late, I certainly wasn't the only one.

Waiting impatiently for the Metro to start
I needn't have worried because the Metro finally left, and we got to the Pentagon station in plenty of time for me to walk to the start (probably a mile) with 30,000 of my closest friends. During the opening ceremonies soldiers parachuted from the sky waving giant American flags. It was an amazing sight. The energy at the start was electric. I joined my fellow runners starting to finally feel slightly more calm.

Opening ceremonies

Ready to go

A howitzer blast signaled the start, and we were off. It took about 18 minutes for me to cross the finish line, and the crowd was tight. I knew it would be a crowded race, but I was essentially running in a tight pack for about nine miles. The course had gorgeous scenery - Rock Creek Parkway, the monuments and National Mall, the Capitol Building. The crowd support was phenomenal. Other than the somewhat dead spots on Hains Point (between the Potomac River and Washington Channel), the crowd rocked it out. They were loud, and they were fantastic.

Howitzer blast signaling the start

And I'm off

I was able to see my fantastic cheering section repeatedly during the race - at miles 4, 9, 14, 15, 17, 19 and 23. It kept me going for sure. I had a goal to not walk until mile 20, and despite the tightness in my IT band that began around the halfway point, I met that goal. My time goal was under five hours (and to beat my PR of 5:20). Just before mile 19 I needed a bathroom break, and the lines for the bathrooms were about 10 people deep. I needed to stop so I just sucked it up. While I was waiting in line I watched the five hour pacer run by and knew that I wouldn't be able to catch her. 

Mile 4
Mile 14
Mile 15 - talking trash

Mile 17

Mile 19
The last five miles were brutal. I vaguely remember running through Crystal City where the crowds were fantastic. I had friends there, and their cheering helped motivate me to keep running. We ran around the Pentagon where there were more spectators and a band playing.  There were more people walking around me than running in those final miles, and I could feel us all digging deep to pull it out. 

Rocking Crystal City at Mile 23
When I saw the marker for mile 26 I knew had to gut it out and finish strong. It was only a quarter mile, and my run felt like barely more than a shuffle at that point. The crowds lining the street were getting thicker, and the atmosphere was, like all race finish lines, magical. I wanted nothing more than to walk, and at that moment I thought of Alex Scott. I thought of this little girl who wanted to help others, a little girl who will never know what an impact she has had on the lives of so many. I was in pain, and I wanted to quit. As I neared the finish I saw there was one last hill. After swearing under my breath I thought there's no way I'm walking up this hill. I would finish strong for Team Lemon. I was at a near sprint as I ran past all the other runners walking up the hill and pushed hard to the finish. As I crossed the mat I felt a sob well up in my chest and had to use all of my self control to contain it. There's no way I'd let a bunch of Marines see me cry. But I had finished 26.2, and I'd finished it for a reason.


I gladly took my medal from one of the Marines and began the long walk to meet my cheering section at the family reunion area. A 40 minute wait for the Metro and I was back at the house for a shower and a little relaxation. We ended our trip with dinner with friends at Hank's Oyster Bar in Old Town Alexandria. There may be no better way to celebrate running a marathon than with great friends, good wine, fried oysters and mac 'n cheese.

Overall I enjoyed the race, but there were a few issues. It was a crowded race, which is fine, but they need to ban headphones. There were multiple times when hand cyclists were trying to pass on a very crowded course, and people couldn't hear them. It was a really great course people. Take our your headphones and enjoy your surroundings. (On a separate note I am on a mission to ban headphones from races. It is making me crazy). I think there also should've been a guideline for hand cyclists in general with the crowded course. They were passing on different sides, and runners weren't always aware of them. A few times I actually worried about the safety of both runners' and hand cyclists' safety. 

In the end I may not have reached my personal goal in the marathon, but I did something far greater - I raised nearly $2,000 for an incredible charity. Alex's Lemonade Stand is working in myriad ways to help find a cure for childhood cancers. I am so, so proud to have run the Marine Corps Marathon for this cause. Oohrah, Alex. Oohrah.