It’s not how fast you can go, the force goes into the flow

I ended up number 10,032. It took me 4:42 to do it. Slower than I would have liked, but still respectable.

It’s hard to believe there are more than 10,000 people who are crazy enough to spend a perfectly good Sunday running 26.2 miles through Washington, D.C. The fact that there was 33,000 people doing it is mind-boggling.

Here’s the thing … the Marine Corps Marathon is a nice mixture of pride, masochism, absurdity and anarchy. All marathons are, and that’s just getting to the starting line. Before the starting gun goes off you’re trying to make your way through the crowd, use the bathroom and get to your starting post (which is determined by your estimated finishing time – something there is a good chance you’ll overestimate) before it gets too crowded to move. If you’re like me and believe in hydrating yourself before you run, you have to go a couple times. And waiting on a porta-john for 20 minutes in 39 degree weather, dressed in running shorts and a long sleeved T shirt, is not fun. So I ended up dropping trou and going beside the train tracks. While a commuter train went by. Neither I nor the seven other men doing the same had any shame about it.

As for the running, that’s a different story all together. It might be insane to think of running 26.2 miles as “fun,” but it was. This was definitely a memorable experience, if only for the sheer size of the crowd. The fact that, at any time, you’re running with more than 1,000 people is pretty amazing. There were only 3,000 people total at my first marathon in Charlotte last year. I think I crossed the finish line with double that.

And the Marines were awesome. At the expo on Saturday, it was a bit disconcerting to hear them yelling, telling runners where to go to get their race packets. But they were nothing if not efficient and all of them were encouraging. On race day, crowd support is a big thing. Having people cheer for you gives a bit of an adrenaline boost. Having Marines cheer for you increases that exponentially. Hearing “Ooo-Rah!” does wonders for your morale, especially when it hurts to move. I remember very vividly a Marine with a bullhorn around mile 20 telling us runners we “ain’t gonna be eating no pain sandwich.” As crazy as that sounds, it made total sense at the time.

Another true story: at the end, I hugged a Marine. A very big, scary looking man who was handing out medals to the finishers. When he put the thing around my neck, the point that I knew I was done, I just looked at the guy and said “I really want to hug you right now.” And I did. It was pretty cool.

There’s an adage that running is a mental sport, and it’s true. You have to be slightly insane to do it. We’re a crazy breed, us marathon runners. But there’s a certain amount of pride in pushing your body to its limit and beyond. The more it hurts to move at mile 20, the sweeter it is to be done at mile 26. It’s the lowest low and the highest high all in one fell swoop.

I think a lady said it best with the sign she was holding as we crossed Memorial Bridge: “If you’re wondering why your feet hurt so much, it’s because you’re kicking so much ass!”

Marathon runner

Marathon runner

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~ by J on October 29, 2008.

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