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. 


Len said...

No reason to feel bad or sad. It was a conscious decision on my part to walk it in. There will be more marathons. Maybe I'll even train better! And I was happy to see you keep going. You did very well, particularly considering your back. You can shoot for that sub-6 another time.

thefirecat said...

That's exactly why I kept going, Len--because I knew this is what you'd say.

RunDaddyRun (x5 at the moment) said...

Hilarous, can't wait to run with you some day.