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The Tale of the Bridge

November 3, 2010

Hard to believe it’s been three days since I crossed the finish line at the Marine Corps. Marathon.

Honestly, it’s hard to forget. In addition to earning a gleaming new finisher medal and a most excellent race shirt, I got a painfully large blister on the bottom of my foot. If you’ve seen Simon Pegg in “Run, Fat Boy, Run,” it’s kinda like that.

I’d post a picture but that would be nasty. Besides, this post isn’t really about the blister. It’s about perseverance.

There are two things to know about the marathon. It started promptly at 8 a.m. and all prospective finishers had to “Beat the Bridge” and reach mile 20 by 1:15 p.m., whereupon the 14th Street Bridge would be reopened to traffic. This would pose a challenge for someone walking the race as I was.

There were 31,000 runners. Getting all of us over the starting line took a long time–30 minutes for me. That meant I had 4 hours and 45 minutes to walk 20 miles. In training, I did 20 miles in 4:40. It was going to be close and I had to haul!

Going up the first incline (some people called it a hill, but this was no hill) I spied the National Cathedral in the distance. The cathedral is my absolute favorite place in DC. I took it as a sign from God that all would work out.

Still, I moved as quickly as I possibly could. I blew through the first half of the race, and tried to enjoy Georgetown, the National Mall and all the other great sights of this spectacular city.

The lovely Sarah surprised me at mile 14. She had never been to DC so i didn’t expect to see her. She told me my pace was strong, consistently a 13:30 mile. (She was getting text messages as I crossed every 5K mark. I love technology!)

Then, the mind games started.

At mile 15 one of the Marines (there were thousands of Marines on the course) warned all of us as we passed that we needed to be running if we were going to beat the bridge. We had about 75 minutes to travel five miles.

I could feel myself slowing down. My legs were stiffening. I wanted to stop and stretch, but I worried my legs would cramp up and I’d be toast.

I kept going.

The straggler wagons, school buses that would ferry runners off the course, showed up at mile 17, accompanied by a car with signs on it that warned athletes they needed to be in front of it.

I started freaking. I wasn’t in front of the car. I wasn’t going to make it.

I passed that car. Half a mile later, it pulled in front of me again. I was hacked off. I realized it was just a mind game. At 18.5 I learned I had 25 minutes to beat the bridge. But, my legs were still feeling tight.

Still, I kept moving. Someone on the sidelines shouted: “The bridge is around the next corner, you’re gonna beat the bridge.” In front of me, athletes began pumping their fists in the air and shouting.

We were going to beat the bridge! My friend Alissa met me at the bridge to walk with me to the finish line.

As we started over the bridge, I cried.

“I’ve trained specifically for this moment,” I said, my voice catching. “I don’t care how long it takes to walk the rest of this.”

Alissa didn’t care either. She was there until the end.

I let my pace slow so my legs could relax a bit. The stress was over and I could enjoy cruising to the finish with my fellow athletes. I could enjoy the crowds on the sidelines–the strangers offering candy, guys dressed like Cookie Monster and Elmo, people holding signs like “Marathons put the FU in FUN.”

I high-fived Marines, lots of them. I laughed with people in their funny hats.

Six and a half hours after starting the marathon, I crossed the finish line. My face was lit up like the Kool-Aid Man when one of the Marines draped my finisher medal around my neck.

It was an incredible day.

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From → Fatness, Fitness

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