I feared my unfortunate karma with the marathon weather gods was going to continue this past week-end with the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington. One would think after the monsoon in Boston `07, heat wave in Chicago ’07 and volcanic ash in London `10, that they would cut me some slack. Yet there was no stopping Frankenstorm; it was just a matter of when it would hit Washington.
As some of you know, I ran MCM in 2008. It was the year after my dad, a 30-year Army veteran, had died. He did two tours of duty at the Pentagon, where the running village is based. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, where the race starts. For me, MCM is a hometown course that takes one through and past Roslyn, Spout Run, GW Parkway, Key Bridge, Georgetown, Kennedy Center, the Lincoln Memorial and Jefferson Memorials, Washington Monument, White House, National Mall, Capitol Hill and back across 14th Street Bridge to Crystal City, the Pentagon and cruel uphill finish at Iwo Jima. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to run the MCM with my dad, nor with him in any of the other 29 marathons he completed.
My son was not about to make that mistake. Tyler wanted to see what this 26.2 stuff was all about, so he signed us both up for MCM XXXVII. Why not? He is lean and fit, now beats his dad in 5k and 8k’s, had several months to train and could just roll out of bed at GW, where he goes to school. Yet time flies quickly and the distractions are many when one is a 20-year old student. Fortunately, we did two 18+ mile training runs together, which hopefully supplemented what I am sure was an otherwise rigorous training schedule for a college kid enjoying the fraternity life. It brought back memories of my dad commenting when I was in high school that “running around the block the night before a race” was not the optimal training regime.
The realization set in on Saturday as we found several of my dad’s momentos from previous MCM’s. As I had done previously, I made a copy of him crossing the finish line in the 1990 race to take with me, but it was touching to see Tyler tape grandpa to his bib as well. That confirmed that this was not going to be a race about time, but about being wingman for our MCM rookie.
That afternoon as we prepped, I tried to impart every bit of wisdom a father could to his son running his first marathon – the true meaning of garbage bags, Gatorade, Vaseline, disposable clothes, proper weight balance of bars and gels, pre-race pit stopping, baggies over running shoes – and any tidbit to prepare for the downpour. It wasn’t helping that the weather pundits were projecting a nearly 100% chance of rain by the start.
The next morning we awoke to cool temperatures and heavy cloud cover, but no rain. We made a race time decision to jettison our rain gear as two Marine Osprey aircraft buzzed over and the 105mm Howitzer went off, which was the right call. As wingman, I needed to pace the young grasshopper, but realized that I was the one who needed slowing down with my adrenaline rushing. Eventually, we figured out a pace that worked for both of us, which allowed me to take in the sights more than usual. The fall foliage was peaking. My 87-year mom was in her usual spot at the top of Spout Run, down the street from where we grew up and where she will be manning a polling place in a few days. This being an election year and DC, many signs had political undertones, such as “Beat George Bush 3:44:52,” “Beat Al Gore 4:58:25,” or “Paul Ryan is finished by now.” There were nearly 100 hand cycles and wheelchairs, which included over 40 patients in rehab from Walter Reed. We passed a group of veterans wearing Wounded Warriors shirts pushing an amputee in a wheelchair. There were many runners in uniform and a handful running with prosthetics. The most moving part was around Hains Point, the quietest and most isolated part of the course, where there were dozens of posters with the names and pictures of Marines killed in action, followed by their families holding American flags that we ran through as part of a gauntlet.
The young lad and I “Beat the Bridge” with two hours to spare. Our cheering squad of Donna, Lauren, Tyler’s friend Jen (sign included) and Lisa, a friend from Montclair who had recently moved to DC, was a huge help. They met up with us five times that included full escort by Donna and Lauren the last 4 miles. We felt so good that we all indulged in the Dunkin Donut holes at mile 24. With Tyler’s youthful fast-twitch muscle instincts kicking in, we surged in the last ½ mile, passing probably 50 people, primarily in that last cruel upward climb toward the Iwo Jima finish. Donna and Lauren followed us to the finish and recorded both of us getting our medals, as those of you on FB may have seen.
For race intelligence purists, the finish climb chute was too narrow, warm-up jackets nice but took too long to get (45 minutes), shuffle to the trucks too slow (30 minutes) and Roslyn Metro stop lines horrendous (90 minutes). Instead, we walked across Key Bridge to our hotel to regroup and catch one of the last trains back to NYC before the Northeast Corridor was shut down.
CONCLUSION: We made it through the race before Sandy unleashed its fury – staying dry throughout. We have another generation of marathoners in the family. Tyler not only survived his first 26.2 mile race, but together, we posted a 4:28:31, in the top 40% overall among 23,500 finishers. He was in the top half of all men in the fourth largest marathon in the country. He was recognized by his Sigma Chi brethren, who later that evening voted him “athlete of the week,” narrowly edging out the intramural whiffle ball team. I completed my eighth marathon, which was not a PR, but a personal best. For the only thing better than having a Marine hang a medal around your neck and giving you a full salute is being able to share that experience with your son.
PS – In the spirit of full weather karma disclosure, I had originally also signed up for New York, so apologize to those running that Central Park is now closed, NYRR has disassembled part of the finish line tent and the subway flooding could take a week to clear out. Fingers crossed for you all on Sunday.