30 October 2012

RR Marine Corps Marathon 2012, Code Name: No Guts, No Glory. No, Really.

This was simultaneously the best and the shittiest race of my relatively short marathoning career. I learned some important lessons this weekend. Among them:

1. Six weeks after abdominal surgery is too soon to run a marathon, even if it was laparoscopic.

2. I am still having trouble digesting things. Sometimes I care more than other times. One of those times is at Mile 5 when I have to veer over to the guard rail and try to puke.

3. There are still things in the running world cooler than a finisher's medal. Even one from the Marines.

The weekend started out pretty well. I didn't get detoured, lost, or ever really re-routed through the District on my way into Rosslyn, though I did run into a wee bit of traffic. But right from the get-go, something was off. I knew I was going to be moody all weekend (hello, hormones!) but I'd forgotten to take into account that I was also on a decongestant that makes me cranky and tense. Oops. So I was simultaneously really happy and a total bitch until after lunch on Saturday, when I figured things out and stopped taking the decongestant.

Friday night the part of the gang that was already in town went out to dinner and then set about some serious drinking back at the hotel. Not sure how it happened. Suddenly it was 2am and the beer was gone. Oooops.
I've got my people with me. And I'm standing on a table. Life is good.
Saturday I finally got a chance to get to the Expo, which unlike other years was a complete gagglefuck. Seriously. Did they lease this thing out to Competitor Group? Get it together, Marines! You're better than this! My bib was in a different place than my bag was in a different place than my shirt was in a different place than I had to STAND IN LINE because there was only one poor civvie volunteer looking up  bib numbers for those of us whose printers went tits-up when we tried to print out our confirmation emails before leaving.

And then, the lines. Ugh. The line was fantastic in that it moved quickly, but long-ass. And it made me miss the brunch-bus. Which made me sad, since I'd asked to go to OHP specifically. No dutch baby for me. But I managed to drive out and meet them, and Char had already ordered mine for me. Sweet relief! After brunch, I had time for a nap before dinner, but couldn't get to sleep. Did get a bit of a lie-down, though. Just not enough to make up for the five hours of sleep.
Do not get between me and my Dutch baby. Period.
Dinner itself was very, very odd. I won't get into specifics here, but the original dinner plan got hijacked. The good bit about dinner was getting to see my cousin OB for the first time in about 19 years. OB and I aren't actually related by blood--our moms are best friends--but we go back literally our entire lives. This is the kid who taught me how to belch the alphabet, the one who was my partner in crime the first time we stayed up past midnight, and--oh yeah, he's also a Naval Commander now. So he fit right in with the gang. I just sat him down next to Gunz and Gunz's old Marine buddy Patrick and let them loose.

Me and OB, together for the first time in nineteen years
Got back to the room before nine, but could not get to sleep. For the second night in a row, my stomach was bothering me, in addition to pre-race nerves. And this time they were justified.

Sunday morning go-time. Should have gone downstairs and had oatmeal for breakfast; instead, because my stomach was uncertain, I had a Clif Bar. Which turns out not to have been the best choice. By the time I finished it, I was already queasy. This was not good.
We are marathoners victorious, with our game faces on. And we are sleepy.
Also, some of us are psycho,  but that's beside the point.
We met up in the lobby and walked to the start together. I kept my eye out for Len, who was running with me--and the chest cold I had last week. I couldn't find him, so when the Howitzer went off I just put my head down and went, relatively certain that Len would find me--but in the meantime, I needed to run my own race. And right around Mile 2, find me he did, which turns out to be what got me through this race as far as I did. By this time, I was already needing the encouragement. I was lightheaded, and right around the 5k mark I started feeling nauseous and thinking it was going to be a very long race.

Oh, the irony.

So we continued, with Len graciously keeping at my pace even though he could have gone ahead several times. I made an aborted attempt at a pit stop somewhere in Spout Run--in other words, I veered suddenly over to the guard rail and tried earnestly to puke my guts out, without success--and a porta-john pit-stop around Mile 7.5 or 8. Trouble was, every time I started to run, within two minutes I'd be deeply nauseous to the point of watering eyes and tunnel vision. Urp.

By the time we got to Hains Point, we were mostly walking. Walking at a decent clip, mind you, but still definitely walking. The internal incisions where my gallbladder had previously taken up residence were aching badly now, on top of the nausea. This sucked hardcore. I wanted to stop. Coming back from the Point, the wind picked up--oh, did I mention there was a hurricane forecast for Sunday night? Yeah. So there we were, asses flapping in the breeze, getting blown backward while trying to hunch over and walk forward. And not puke. And not cry. I seriously wanted to lie down in the road. Even during my worst moments, that's never happened before. I was actively looking forward to being ill and falling over so that I would have an excuse to stop moving forward. I couldn't catch my breath, and I couldn't feel anything except cold and nauseous, and....oh. Now my right IT band got in on the act. That was unusual; it's always been the left one that's bothered me.

Hobbled a few more miles, but this was seriously the longest fucking race of my life. I wasn't even watching the signs or the spectators. I wasn't handing out high fives, and I'd stopped fist-bumping Marines before the orange station at Mile 9. I was not in a good way.

And then we got rerouted. Motherfuckers added a second cutoff to the race course two years ago, and it's the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard in my entire life. Because not only do you not finish, you have to actually COMPLETE the course, getting rerouted right from Mile 17.5 to Mile 19.5, where the victory party of having beaten the bridge is busy going on. Everyone's telling you you've made it, you're almost there--only you're not. You're an imposter, a fraud, a cheat. And you have to hobble by these people with your head held high like you don't resent them for thinking you've made it this far in one piece. Fortunately Len is too good a man to ever remind me of the things I said during these two miles, because I was bitterly upset and disappointed. What was even worse was the well-meaning spectator who shouted out, "Good job, runners!--and walkers!" Ouch. We are not walkers. We are runners who happen to be walking. Or, you know, hobbling.

Once off the bridge, we decided that since it was unofficial and we weren't going to take finisher's medals anyway (which is on the honor system--there's no way of telling, but they ask you not to take one if you've been rerouted. I can guarantee you there are other people who did, or would. While on those two miles I considered sending my competitor shirt to our friend Nita who didn't make the trip, or outright burning it, but Len pretty much told me to get over myself.) Anyway. While on the bridge, we agreed that having to walk another two miles through Crystal City was bullshit we were not in the mood for. At that point I just wanted to get my knee taped up, get back to my hotel, curl up in a ball, puke my guts out, and cry. I wasn't going to go to dinner. I couldn't handle it. I just wanted it to be over. (I did eventually go out to dinner with the gang, once I got over myself. I just needed a few miles of self-pity.)

Len did a wonderful job of distracting me during those middle 15 miles or so. We turned out to be in the right place at the right time when a fellow runner's calves cramped up simultaneously and he fell over right next to us. I could see the twitching and tried to ease it the best I could with what I had (which is to say, reiki and talking him down and just being there). Len got him stretched out once the twitching stopped enough to seat him upright, and we helped him up and on his way, along with someone who'd gotten him water and a fourth fellow who just stopped to check. Because that's what runners do. When you fall down, we scrape you up and set you on your feet again. We point you in the right direction and cheer as you toddle on.

And then, half a mile later when you fall over again, we repeat the process. During this second one, Len was able to help him by himself, so I took advantage of our proximity to Pentagon parking lot porta-johns. With equally dismal results.

What should have been my sub-six victory march up the hill was a long, angry slash at an unfair, shitty day and an unfair, shitty series of events in the past seven weeks. We still ran across the finish, because I've always sworn I would never walk across a finish line, but it was the feeblest damn excuse for a run I've ever seen. Len said later that by this point I looked like death warmed over (there are official race photos of this phenomenon, and he is in fact incorrect. I don't look warmed over. I just look like cold, congealed, nose-runny death.) but that I was clearly determined to run up that hill, so if I could run it, he could run it. That startled me, because not only is it seriously the highest compliment anyone has ever paid my determination, but because I hadn't realised Len was hurting at that point. I was sure that even then I was holding him back. Turns out we were holding each other up. Funny how that works, at Mile 26.

Fortunately we were able to detour around the medal chute without too much attention or trouble. There was the requisite trouble getting my hands to function--seriously, I was freezing and couldn't get my thumb and forefinger to do the pincer-thing, and once again had to approach the Master Guns to get him to do rudimentary things. Remember how last year I said that if I'd had a windbreaker on he'd have surely zipped it up for me just as solemnly? Turns out I was right. His buddy gave him some shit for it, but what the hell, it was amusing.

JUST NOW REMEMBERED running into Carl and Karen while waiting in line for my first porta-john at Mile 7.5, shortly after I said something so off-colour and suggestive that I actually made a Marine snort. So there were good moments in this race. Just very, very few of them.

Meanwhile, back at the "finisher's" festival, all I wanted was some medwrap. I could do without the ice pack, I was producing enough of my own cooling. Len dumped me at the medical tent with a hug and a promise to see me at dinner, because by that point I'd realised that there's no shame in being human, and what I'd gained in 22 miles--the knowledge that I have friends who love me enough to bail on a race finish for me--was something no medal could replace. But goddamn my knee hurt.

My IT band has an actual bruise on it. Hardcore.
Disturbingly, friend Moo was also in the medical tent, getting his foot wrapped. He reacted to my news of DNF with genuine distraught sympathy and the best hug ever before hobbling his way back to the metro. Meanwhile, I got checked out by Dr. Chris With The Awesome Giggle, who was kind of fantastic, despite the fact that everything he did to my IT band made me want to punch him in the face. Got some T, got myself wrapped up in those icy wrap band thingies, which for the record are the slimiest thing you want to imagine touching any part of you, and humped it back up in search of Clarendon Boulevard. Which I lose after the race every single year. I swear. This year I think I only went a block and a half out of my way.

Then I had to deal with the fact that my tracking results were making it appeared I'd PRed and made my A goal time with nine minutes to spare, and my friends were jubilant for me. Oof. By that time, all I wanted was to be warm. And a cheeseburger. Both of which I eventually got.

The postscript of this is, of course, I spent the next two days holed up on the ninth floor of my hotel, watching Hurricane Sandy pound the shit out of my beloved New York City and wondering how in hell I'm going to make it home. I'm heading out tomorrow morning, back to Doodlehem, where rumour has it I still have no power but now actually have access to my home. So that's a start. Next time, I'll tell you about Orgasm in a Cone, the rat abatement committee, and how to make Gunz turn purple and almost spit his beer out. But for now I'm sworn to secrecy.

As for the race of my lifetime? Next time, bitches. Just you wait. Your ass is mine. I'll get you in 2013. There's a lot of miles to be had between now and next fall. And I'mma run all of them.


Shawn said...

Live to run another day. Glad you are ok Sara, great finally meeting you and will see you back next year. Your a tough cookie, smart a$$ but tough.

Len said...

Maybe I should read people's blogs more often. We do what we do for love of the sport, and the marathon experience cannot be beat (though I haven't done an ultra), even if we got re-routed and dnf'd. And the company was just superb!

thefirecat said...

It's an idea, Len. ;-) We'll get 'em next year.