29 November 2011

RR Dirty Bird 15k Trail Race, Code Name: A Finish Is a Win

A year ago, I signed up for my first trail race, more or less on a dare from Carl. Because he sucks. I grew up literally running around in the woods behind my house, and have often been accused of being part mountain goat, so it seemed like a good fit. Then I had that Epic Battle of Wills with my lower back. The day before last year's Dirty Bird, I called Carl from the ER. "Listen, dude, I don't think I'm going to be able to run tomorrow. I'm really sore. I'm just going to go have some x-rays, and I'll--"

At this point the ER nurse took my phone from me, held it to her ear, said matter of factly, "Dude, she's not running tomorrow," hit the disconnect button, and dropped the phone onto my stomach.

I spent the morning of Dirty Bird gorked out of my mind on narcotics, alternating between the two positions that felt least like being stabbed in the ass with a pitchfork, staring at the bedroom ceiling and texting pathetically back and forth with my friend Gunz, who can now apparently confirm that I'm very entertaining (and a very creative speller) when I'm on drugs. It was about four degrees out, though I don't think it was actually snowing, and my dad piled two extra comforters onto the bed--partly to stop me from shivering, because it hurt so goddamn much, and partly to help wedge me into position. I wasn't even in my own bed, because I couldn't get up and down the stairs to the bathroom. I was, in short, a sweet hot wreck.

This year I made extra special preparations for Revenge of the Dirty Bird. To start with, I was exceedingly careful putting on my underwear all weekend. On top of that, I actually ran after MCM this year. All of about three times. None of them were on trails. I don't know the woods around here well enough yet, I'm up to my kiester in a PhD, there are papers to grade that I've had so long I forget what the assignment was, etc. etc. and etc. So, yeah. I was totally prepared for this race. I figured I had about three things going for me: the fact that, as I said, I grew up running around in the woods pretending I was doing this exact thing; the fact that I have a very low center of gravity; and the fact that have I mentioned yet this week that my campus is on the side of a fucking mountain? So I do a lot of walking uphill. A lot.

This Sunday, I did even more.

It started Saturday night, when I proceeded to get a nasty shock via text message at a quarter to midnight, when I was on my way to bed. So I slept badly until the alarm went off at 6:30. Ate breakfast (I really did, I swear. I watched myself do it.), had tea, wrangled myself into compression tights, packed dry shoes and socks and a clean shirt for after, stuffed myself in my car, and pointed it towards Birdsboro.

Let me address something here. The location of this race left something to be desired. My ex-husband and I almost bought a house in Birdsboro, right before he left me. In fact, while we were falling in love with the house, he was already talking about leaving me. The park where the race was held is one of the last happy memories I have from our life together in PA, before we moved to Putnamistan and things went more or less to hell in a happy meal. I also pretty much had to drive past his parents' house to get to the start line. Add that to my late-night conversation Saturday and I was in a swell mood.

On checking in, my mood was much improved by the fact that Carl is oblivious and couldn't see me standing right in front of him in a parking lot with two dozen cars in it. I hadn't seen him in (gasp!) a whole month, so hugs and rude hand gestures were in order. Actually, we hadn't gotten to hang out much at MCM, so it was extra good to see him (except the part where he took off his shirt and asked me if his nipples were still properly taped. There's an image I never want again.)

Then it occurred to me that I was about to run ten miles. And I was hungry again. Fuck. Who signed me up for this? Oh right. Carl.

I peed no fewer than three times before we lined up at the start. I use the phrase "line up" very, very loosely. It was more like we assembled in a gaggle-fuck at the start banner while RD Ron gave us last minute instructions. They mostly consisted of useful tidbits like, "There should be an orange ribbon every half mile at least. If you go more than a half mile without an orange ribbon, you're screwed. What you then need to do is turn around and go back to a place where you aren't screwed and proceed from there." And my personal favourite, "The first rule of trail racing is, if the sign doesn't say to turn, don't turn."

The first quarter mile was on asphalt, and I actually kept up with Carl for a bit, before it dawned on me that I am not a sprinter, and I am not warmed up. So I tucked in behind him. He very thoughtfully waited for me at the part we veered off onto the trail, and we trundled up the hill together for a little bit before I let him do his mountain goat thing. I have little stubby legs. I was also a little overwhelmed, wondering what (the hell) he had gotten me into.

Seriously. What the fuck am I doing this for? I am walking up the side of a mountain. In the mud and leaves. For a mile and a half. No joke. From this point on, I was mostly alone. Which is fine, whatever. I train alone, when I'm hiking in the woods I'm alone, and I like it that way. Also, this way no one can see how slow I am. I did actually pass two people by the second mile, which was impressive because they'd caught up to me on the uphill. Go mountain goat ninja skills.

So I toddled along for a couple of miles, wondering exactly where the hell I was going, taking it all in, blowing my nose a lot, and just generally being a FireCat in her natural habitat. Rocks, twigs, dead leaves, nose-blowing, mud. After the first water stop there was a perfectly lovely stretch of pine forest, which always makes me homesick.

Frankly, this race is a big blur to me, not like MCM because I was in pain, but because one boulder hiding in the mud under a clot of dead leaves pretty much looks like another boulder hiding in the mud under a clot of dead leaves. And there was a lot of that. One of which I caught a shoe on, resulting in Epic Face Planet Numero Dos of my trail running career (which leads me to Infinite Mystery Numero Uno: why when I land on my face is it always my ankle that hurts the next day?) Got up, took a quick inventory. No blood, no bones poking through, ok, keep going.

When I hit the dam crossing, I noticed that more and more people were coming back at me. I was being lapped by people as old as my dad. Dude. This was demoralizing. What was even more demoralizing, in a weird way, was how gamely everyone encouraged me. Not more than one or two people went by without a genuine, "Good job," "Good run," or one guy, who is my new favourite person on the planet, "Looks good, baby." Looks good, yeah. Can't run for shit, though.

And then, there were more hills. All of which were up. And more mud, and fallen trees to vault over (or climb under) (or both, on more than one occasion) and oh yes, the water feature.

You may or may not be aware of this, but Pennsylvania has shattered all rainfall totals this year, thanks to the world's wettest August. And September. And most of October, too. Add that to the snowstorm on Halloween weekend, and the trails were, um, festively technical. Translation: one section of the trail was now a stream. With a waterfall. And fish. Yeehaw. Somehow, I managed to not fall all the way down in the mud, though I did lose my footing a couple of times. I also came down hard a couple of times on the downhills, jarring my back in a worrisome sort of jar.

Then there was one last hill. Except it wasn't the last hill. I only thought it was the last hill. My victory was short-lived. Because there was the last hill, still ahead of me. I felt like the Bear Who Went Over the Mountain. And the two people I'd passed caught up with me. (uphill is apparently not my strength.) I was hungry. I was tired. My calves were starting to be distinctly unpleased with the state of the up-ness. Whine bitch nag moan. I was pretty sure there were people still behind me (considering I had just passed one of them) but I was still feeling pretty slow. And cranky.

And then I met Charlie Horse, official Wasatch 100 pacer. Also traffic director at the last road crossing of Dirty Bird 15k. Boy that old man can run. "Hi! I remember you--I parked you this morning. Just follow me," and he took off like a gazelle. I didn't have a whole lot of choice. I followed him. Seriously, I think I ran that last half-mile at a 9:00 pace. He pointed my way back into the woods, and I crashed through the shrubbery and back onto the path past the dock, past the restrooms with which I'd become so familiar, past the cars filing out after changing their clothes and finishing their soup and hanging out with their friends ("Finish strong! You look great!" someone yelled out the window. This might be the same guy who called me baby earlier. I would advise him to get his prescription checked), towards the finish clock, and holy shit there's Carl. The asshole who got me into this.

"Dude, you waited for me."

He gave me That Look. The one that only running-family can give other members of running-family. (Not the "you're not a cheeseburger" look, or the "did you just finish my beer?" look. The other look.) "Of course I waited."

Well, yeah. The field was less than 400 deep, and I just found out today I only finished 20 minutes and 8 places behind him, so it's not like he was out there waiting for hours, but still. "No, I mean, you waited for me."

He continued to look at me like I had three heads and go, "Yeah, of course I waited," so eventually I dropped it.

I don't think he gets it. No one's ever waited for me at the finish before, and I've expressed much consternation about that here, though not nearly as much as I feel. People have sworn up and down that they'll run me in at the last half-mile, or they'll come back for me after they make their way through whatever finish festival, but I'm almost always hoofing it on my own back to the hotel to shower and meet up with them. I'm that slow. I'm not left behind, exactly, these guys would never abandon me (and some of you will probably kick my ass for ever even having thought that, and yes I'm looking at you Nita and Gunz) but simply because of my pace, I'm left to fend for myself for the hardest part of the race and its aftermath, which is why running those first fifteen miles with Len last month was so special, why getting to run Philly with Mags in September was so awesome (beyond the fact that I hadn't seen her in well over a year). I started distance running as a way to deal with the upheaval of my divorce, and it's true what they say about the loneliness of the long-distance runner (not that 15k is actually all that long. Unless you're in the woods on the side of a mountain.) But Sunday morning Carl taught me something I never imagined: I still have family, at least for a couple of hours last Sunday, in Berks County.

Who the hell knew?

10 November 2011

Open Letter to Happy Valley

As someone who grew up in the Northeast, I have a number of close friends who are Penn State alumni and alumnae. Some of them were in the Blue Band, some of them played for JoePa in the eighties and early nineties. Some of them were computer engineering majors. One of them was busy seeing Janis Joplin in coffeehouses in the sixties before joining the army, so I don't know what-all else he was doing there. He might not either.

I am not going to talk about scandal. There's been enough press about that. I am not going to talk about who should or should not have been responsible, who should or should not have called police, gotten fired, been arrested, or any of that. I'm not even going to talk about who should or should not have gone to the Paterno house last night, or to his statue outside Beaver Stadium, or tipped over a news van. Because that's not germane to my point.

So what is my point? My point is this.

For me, the reputation of Pennsylvania State University has not been tarnished.

What the hell? I can hear people asking. Even some of you to whom this letter is addressed. You are hurt, you are confused, you are betrayed, you are angry, you are grieving. I get that. I don't diminish that. And I want to let you know that for me--someone who has been to four universities and counting and has never had one iota of school spirit for any of them, because that's not how I roll--for me, Penn State hasn't been tarnished.

Why is that?

Because all that bullshit in the press is not Penn State for me. That asshole Sandusky is not, and never was, Penn State. The president is not Penn State. Football, while a pretty good expression of it and thus often confusing to outsiders, is not Penn State. Not even your beloved fallen JoePa is Penn State.


Penn State.

You who have gone to school there and loved it, lived it, embraced it, learned from it, and brought it with you into your lives. You who have raised wonderful families full of so many adorable children (my god, what's with the cuteness factor on your reproduction, people?), who have served our country in the military or on police forces, have built friendships and relationships and marriages, who are about to retire from the computing industry and are just getting going in your thirties, who write songs and love your dogs and your cats and your families, who drink beer with me and run marathons with me and dealt with me through four horrifically embarrassing years of high school and still love me twenty years later, who cried at my wedding and then again at my divorce, who are out there living the best lives you know how.

You are Penn State.

And I hope the world never fucking forgets that.

01 November 2011

RR Marine Corps Marathon Weekend, Code Name: Not Jimmy's Mama

This weekend was a long time coming, and frankly I wasn't sure how it would go, race-wise. I was trying not to care, but this race meant more to me than any other race ever has. More than my first 5k a year and three days after I was diagnosed with cancer. More than Bloomsday, my first distance race in 2003 on my five-year cancer-versary weekend. More than my first marathon, which I signed up for because I wanted to prove commitment to something after my short-lived marriage fell apart and went down in some spectacular flaming fireworks. All those races were to prove something to my psyche, that I was strong enough to do it. This race was different. There was no way I could gut through this on emotions. I needed a literal backbone to get through this one. And it needed to prove to me that it could still take 26.2 miles of pounding.

Needless to say, by Friday morning I was a sweet hot mess. After scaring the bejesus out of my advisor and a full classroom of first-year students, I hoofed it back across the hill to my apartment, hopped in my car, and headed south. Things went smoothly until I hit the District, whereupon traffic sucked, construction forced me to change lanes, I sneezed and missed an exit, and proceeded to get epically fucking lost. The only person not in transit yet was Nita, so I called her to ask her for GPS directions to my hotel. Let me remind you, Nita lives in Texas. Are you laughing at me? Good. Nita's internet was also routed through her cell phone, so she couldn't be online and on the phone at the same time. It was awesome. I deserve to be laughed at. I saw parts of DC that I hope to never see again, and crossed the Anacostia River about four times. What. The. Fuck.

Me, Bill, and beer. Also, CJ's arm.
After that little 90-minute detour, I was in no mood for humour and came as close as I ever will to being angry at Charlotte (which is actually impossible, I love her too much) when she teased me for being late. Dropped my gear in a heap on the bed and headed out to the expo with her and our Snowman friend for a quick hit on our bibs, a couple of t-shirts, those damned ugly mocknecks, and some discount shoes before meeting Char's husband Bill for supper at an Ethiopian restaurant in the only neighbourhood I hadn't driven through that afternoon. Stuffed ourselves silly and then headed over to the Courtyard for a tear- and beer-filled reunion with our Jimmy Dale, home for the weekend from Iwakuni. After we pried ourselves off him, he introduced us to an old Marine buddy of his, CJ. We sat in the hotel lobby and watched the Rangers lose and a fine time was had by...well, all the Cards fans. But there was beer, and there was Jimmy, so we didn't mind much. CJ seemed to fit right in like a missing puzzle piece. Finally went to sleep sometime after midnight, I think.

Me and Len
Spent Saturday with Jimmy, his sister and her husband, and CJ. Caught up with the Blurs at Expo Two, The Search for Socks (get it? It's Star Trek humour), eatin' barbecue, and......gettin' snowed on. Excuse you? Finished lunch just in time to get ready for dinner in Clarendon, where I finally caught up with Len, Gunz, Flex and his wife, Flex's very warm armpits, a couple of FOGs (Friends of Gunz) and Holly and her new daughter Star. About bawled in my fettucine when during dinner fifteen-year-old Star got excited about something on her phone and elbowed Holly and squealed, "Mom!" and then launched into an explanation of something. Those two are a perfect match, and Holly's a wonderful mom. I couldn't be happier for them.

After dinner we headed up to Nita's room to greet her late-flying, 80-hours-a-week-working ass. And Jerry! Jerry was there! Which surprised many of us, since at dinner we'd gone through a round of, "Has anybody heard from Jerry lately? I'm kinda worried about him." Glad to discover it was his crappy work schedule and not his crappy luck this year that has been keeping him from us. So there was beer, and Maker's 46, and....more beer, and....yeah, it was a long night. Hey, I know! Let's tie one on the night before a marathon. It'll be great. I think I kicked off and went downstairs around 11, and unlike Jimmy actually got some sleep.

Gunz rocks the plaid.
And then it was 5:45 and the noise, the godawful noise, the--oh, yeah, that's the alarm. I have to run today. Right. Carl and CJ both called while I was brushing my teeth to make sure I was up (how well they know me; CJ, do I have a sign on my forehead that says Grumpy Morning Person, or did somebody warn you?) and sweet mother of cats it was COLD OUT. I don't mean, Oh it's before sunrise, there's a chill in the air, I mean, Oh Mother of Christ protect us I can't find my nuts cold out. I layered on every bit of running clothing I had with me and then some. Sports bra, racing singlet, arm warmers, throwaway shirt, other throwaway shirt swiped from Gunz's extra stash, throwaway windbreaker, gloves.....and I was still shivering. I didn't put on full-length tights because I knew I was going to be out there for six hours and the weather might actually get above 45 by midafternoon. It wasn't my legs I was worried about, it was the rest of me. In retrospect I could have probably gone with the tights, given how cramped my calves got--but that might have been from the pace Len was having me pull almost as much as the cold. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The point I'm making here is that it was cold.

Oh yeah. We're awake. Totally.

Two Gunnies walk into a bar...the third one ducks.
The original plan was to meet my favourite Groundpounder, Will Brown, at the Iwo Jima memorial, but that got totally jacked up with waiting for folks to arrive in the lobby, group photos, and my complete inability not to be a prick to Gunz before a race. Once I got my head out my own ass, it was 7:45 and we were almost at the starting line.

And then this happened.

If you are the enemy, this means only one thing.
This means you are screwed, because the Marines are here.
After helping Len rip his pants off (a moment for which I have been waiting since this day in 2007) we realised we needed to get into a corral, so we hopped into the nearest one, To Infinity And Beyond being nowhere near us. We ended up with the 4:20 group. Yeah yeah yeah. I know. The poetry is not lost on me. My plan was to keep up with Len as long as I could. At BOMF Midnight Madness in 2008, this turned out to be less than a half-mile, but Len just came off Wineglass Marathon the first weekend in October, which was a horrific, cold, rainy, and windy experience, so he was feeling pretty rough. We decided to go with a 5/1 strategy, which kept me occupied for the first four or five miles trying to do the math on it. Right around the time I figured it out, we both had to stop and visit European Trees (say it out loud, you'll get it) in Spout Run, and my watch lapped itself. This put Len in charge of the math, which was good, and doling out the walk breaks, which was bad. My right butt cheek had been sore since getting out of bed, and with each mile it was getting progressively more painful. I was not a happy girl, but I was damned if I was going to tell Len how much it hurt. Instead, I just focused on something happy, like Len's calves (the man has the best calves of any member of AARP I have ever met, seriously) and just kept swimming.

There are huge chunks of this race I don't remember, which is sort of unusual for me, but I do remember being cold enough to run with my throwaway shirt for almost the first 5k. I remember ice on Key Bridge and thinking how incredibly pissed I would be if I survived eight months of rehab on my spine only to fracture it falling on my head because bridge freezes before road surface. I remember running into the same man with the same Princeton Tiger Tail in the same place on the hill before Mile 6 as I do every year. I remember Len and I asking each other if we were ok a lot. I remember taking my gloves off and putting them on about six times, and I remember my nose running almost constantly. I also remember looking up at the sound of my boss, heading to work for the morning in one of three identical helos.

In case you don't recognise this, it's Marine One. Maybe.
I also remember being very grateful for the energy and downhills of Georgetown, not to mention the sunlight. We kept an eye out along the river for Folks With Yellow Pom-Poms, but Charlotte was running the 10k this year, so Bill was on the Mall somewhere waiting for her. 

Hains Point was very goddamn long. Last year I had a lot of fun there, meeting Pokey's mom and Jen and just generally loving life. This year Hains Point was a pain in my ass. Literally. I was dogging Len for all I was worth, but it felt like I could only keep up with him during the walk breaks. Each 5-minute run I saw the gap between us getting a little bigger until we could walk and he slowed for me. I found out later he was intentionally pushing me, to see how I'd do. If the day had been right, we were on pace for 5:45, unheard of for me. Had this been last year, we'd have pulled it off, but neither of us was feeling it, so we just hung on together, past The Awakening, past Glenn Geelhoed, former Groundpounder (he missed a year a while back) and then we were off Hains Point, past the golden horses that mark the bridge where we enter the Mall, and......yeah, I don't got it. Go Len go. I didn't call out to him, because we got separated by the crowd, and at that point I thought he was doing ok, so I didn't want to hold him back. (Turns out all I did was make him worry that something had happened to me when he turned around three minutes later and there I wasn't.)

Holly and Snowman. They're cold too.
The Mall, again, was longer than it was last year, because a lot of it was in the shade, and have I mentioned it was cold? I played tag with the lovely and inspiring Kristen, in her racing stroller, and her team from Inheritance of Hope. Kristen has terminal cancer, and her beauty and serenity kicked my ego to the curb and got me to run for a few minutes every time I saw them when I didn't think I had anything left in the tank. I also played tag with Glenn, who took me to task much more overtly than Kristen did. The first time, it was to encourage me to try a slow shuffle, nothing extreme, just a survivor's gait that wouldn't aggravate what I was starting to think was a sciatic nerve (which scared the hell out of me almost as much as it pissed me off). "See? That's it." The second time it was with a gentle fist to the small of my back and a "Go kick butt." Yes sir. Half a mile later, when he caught up again, it was to tell me, "There's a ferocious dog behind you, and he's coming to get you." Considering I'd just seen a chihuahua in a Halloween costume, this did not have the desired effect.

Turns out the dog he had in mind was a Devil Dog. Coming off the bend after passing the Capitol, I heard a low, very determined voice so close it could have been in my own head. But it wasn't. It was Glenn, and he was right behind me again. "I keep catching up with you, because you're walking. You can't....just.....relax!" he growled. Yes, sir. 

Glenn, you saved my race. Without you, I would have finished, but I would have finished walking, in pain, angry at myself, and devastated with my results. Because of you, I finished stronger than I've ever finished. I got it back together and ran it in. Not entirely, there was still a ragged pattern of walk breaks, but there was more running than I would have thought I still had in me. At the Bridge, running with Navy Dave and his flag, I saw the sign left for us by Tuan. I wish Tuan had been there himself, because then I could have told him I know what happens when a man's nut freezes. Instead, there were IsaacandShell! And hugs! And pink balloons! 

And the long-ass never-ending, concrete, soul-deadening, ass-kicking Bridge. I was there, I had beaten the Bridge once again, but this time there was no victory. This time, there was Len. Walking. Looking more forlorn than I had ever seen him. No way should I have caught up with Len. Len was invincible. Len was faster than me. Len was....he was Len. 

He was pooped. He was also smart enough to know that today was not his day, and that he had enough time to walk it in and still beat the sweep bus and live to fight another day. We walked together to the end of the bridge, and when we hit the water stop right at the off-ramp, I took off, feeling awful to leave him, guilty as hell that I was going to beat Len in a race only because he was hurting so bad, not because I had run so well, but knowing somewhere inside that he would be tickled to death that I had sucked it up and flown away. Hope I made you a proud papa, Len. Broke my damn heart to see you on the Crystal City loop, still walking along. I remember every time you came back for me after you'd finished a race, to talk me home, and I wish I'd been far enough ahead of you to return the favour. Running those first fifteen miles with you was something I'll never forget. Except for the part where we peed in the trees together. Twice. That I'd like to kind of erase, if that's ok with you.

Then there was Crystal City, and beer. And Moo. Moo? What the hell? How did you come up from behind and scare me like that when you left Len and me in the dust at Mile 6? Is there a wormhole on this course? It's the only thing I can think of that accounts for passing Len on the bridge and you being behind me two miles later.

Out of Crystal City into the desolation of the final two miles. Like every year, these two miles were in many ways the longest. You're on a stretch of four-lane divided concrete highway, you're down off the high of Crystal City, you hurt like hell, and there's nothing to look at. No spectators, no Marines in boots and utes, no nothin. Just an off-ramp that is specially designed to make your quads pop out the front of your thighs when you go down it. I actually got a pretty good speed on the downhills, but it was more like gravity taking over than actual running. What the hell, I was close enough to the finish that they could scrape me off the pavement with a spatula and carry my constituent parts across the finish mat if I bit it. And then, just when you think you're going to die for sure, there it is.

Thank the freakin' Lord.
Sadly, this beautiful scarlet numeral also means one other thing. It means you are not done yet. It means the hardest part is yet to come. Because, as Deb's shirt says, a marathon is not 26 miles. Nope. It's twenty-six point FREAKIN' two. And, because this is the Marines, those last 385 yards are straight up a wall to the Marine Corps War Memorial, more commonly known as the Iwo Jima memorial.

....because 26.3 would be crazy.
Deb, shown here to actual scale behind le Elbow du Gunz.
Up the hill. Little hill. Fuck the hill. Little hill. If you don't know this, it's because you've never sung cadence with Jimmy. If you've ever sung cadence with Jimmy, there's no way this isn't going through your head as you gut it up the last 385 yards with Marines bellowing at you. If there's anything able to go through your head at all, that is, other than the pavement. And then it's over, and there's this:

There's also the finisher's festival to negotiate on your way back to the hotel. I don't know about most people, but after six hours of running my guts out, I am not feeling very festive. I don't want to party. I don't even want a massage (for which I would have had to stand in line for almost a half-hour). I want about four things when I'm done a marathon: I want a bagel, I want to stretch my ass, I want a hot shower, and more than anything else in the world, I want to get out of my compression shorts so I can make my way to the nearest cheeseburger. This last one often takes a bit of doing, compression shorts being what they are, but this year I also had some trouble with the other three. 

Apparently I'm known for not being able to operate food products after races--remember last year's PDR when I couldn't figure out my banana? Yeah. This year the bagels were individually wrapped in plastic packages. I'm pretty sure I made Marine Corps history when, after several unsuccessful attempts on my own with gloves, bare fingers, and even my teeth, I had to meekly walk up to one GnySgt Lindley and confess to him, "Gunny? I can't open my bagel." 

What's so funny, woman?
Yeah, that made me feel about four. Especially since he had to not only open it, but scootch it up out of the wrapper so I could deal with it  (If I'd had a windbreaker nearby, he probably would have zipped it up for me too). Dude. People are being shot at somewhere as we speak. People are at war, living and dying, every day, and this man's job was to open my bagel. And, being a Marine, he took it as seriously as any other mission. Which isn't to say that he probably didn't laugh about it later. Hell, Nita sure did.

Then there was that glorious moment when I am alone in my hotel, savoring the victory that is finally mine. I have successfully shed every bit of compression spandex on my body, especially those fucking shorts. Once again, I managed to be in a different hotel than the victory beer, and once again Jerry was the first to congratulate me when I walked through the door. What was weird this time was I wasn't last one home. 

More beer and epic shenanigans followed, including a rousing game of How Many Half-Drunk Marathoners Can You Fit Into a Hotel Shuttle Van? (answer: about fifteen, if none of them is Gunz the Way Too Tall and you are willing to sit in the back like illegal immigrants, sandwiched between Carl's crotch and Jimmy's smelly feet).

At this point, Jimmy has been up for about 36 hours and
quite possibly has no idea he is surrounded by beautiful women.
There was also the ceremonial Wearing Of The Shirt. This year's Wearers included Jimmy, Gunz, Carl, a very good-natured Len, and even Moo, who usually balks at this ritual. This year, MCM is also proud to inaugurate Virgin Wearer (and we use that term loosely, darling),  CJ Oh My God We Have Another Gunny In the Room. Not kidding about that. At one point Saturday I looked around and realised I was the only person in the room who wasn't a Gunnery Sergeant. It was a little disconcerting.

Get used to it, Paws.
Actually, a word here about CJ. CJ is good people. He got thrown into a group of very strange fellows he'd never met before, running only on Jimmy's good faith that we wouldn't have our evil marathon way with him. And when we did, he dove right in and gave it right back to us. And then we tallied up the final bill at the sports bar Sunday night only to find that CJ had quietly paid for all the beer. Y'all, 22 thirsty marathoners and their assorted significant others can (and will) (and, indeed, did) drink a shit-ton of beer. When we protested, he just shrugged and said, "I like beer."

I have had my cheeseburger, therefore I am a happy FireCat.

It's true. He does. And so do we. And we like CJ, too. We think we'll probably keep him.