Thursday, November 02, 2006

Highway to Hell

It was almost exactly a year ago that I started writing on this site, and it’s only appropriate that I celebrate it with a second annual marathon diary.  Maybe I should just start referring to it as the Icarus log, however.  Second run, second time to get slapped back to earth by the 26 miles.  Without further adieu…

Punishee War Journal, Saturday.
Here’s the gameplan: last year, I made a horrific mistake by spending the day before the San Antonio marathon at Sea World with my wife and sister, awaking the slumbering beast in my shin and returning to the hotel with aching legs.  With that in mind this year, I choose to forego even staying with my friends in northern Virginia and booked a room in the Arlington Ritz-Carlton.  The hotel sat on top of a Metro and was only a stop or two from the start and I fully planned on shutting myself in as soon as I got my registration packet, rebuffing friends that suggested we hang out that night.  Sorry, not hitting the country western bars hours before the race.  Not this time, you wily tricksters.  

Confident in my plan, I got to the airport at 7 a.m. for my 8:20 flight out.  As I’ve previously griped, airlines are focusing on all options for getting their losses under control while knowing that $500 fares will mean they’d lose 70% of casual flyers, and one of the tactics they’re rolling with is cramming people onto the smallest “jets” possible for the trip to maximize the fuel economy (Civics versus Suburbans thinking).  Well I’m sorry, I’m not the President, it’s not the 50’s, and I don’t feel I should deplane onto the tarmac when I’m flying across a third of the country.  The flight was awful, moderate turbulence from end to end, only room for my legs if they were crossed and pointed into the aisle, and I swear I could still see cars on the road when we were at cruising altitude.  Needless to say, I landed with a massive headache and a foul mood.  As an aside, I feel the adage about not marrying someone until you’ve gone on a cross-country road trip with them first also can be true of learning everything you need to know about strangers on your flight.  Maybe sneak yourself on the plane to spy on future in-laws or roommates.  Is this a person who feels entitled to both armrests and the guy next to them better just deal with it?  Do they treat the attendant like their maid?  Have a hissy fit when there’s not room for their oversized luggage in the overhead and start shoving other people’s bags around?  Knowingly buck the rules and keep playing their iPod or take off for the bathroom even if it holds up takeoff?  Maybe they’re like the one on my flight there’s always one of these) – I was in seat 1A, with 3 seats behind me before the other row began, yet had Outtamywaymom pin me in my seat as we landed in her desperate bid to get off first.  Think she’s trying to make a tight connection?  Nope – there she was at baggage claim.  Flights let you peg someone’s consideration/self-absorption rating quick.

So I land with my headache, and slight hunger as I skipped breakfast for no good reason.  Ted and his girlfriend Katie grab me at Dulles and we scoot over to the Pentagon so I can check in.  I toss my bags in the room and we grab the subway to the D.C. Armory to grab our registrations.  We come out of the station at 2 to find a line going out of the building…down the sidewalk…out of the gates…around the block….doubling on itself to the far street corner…and doubling on itself again to wrap around the other block.  Sweet Jesus I Thought They Were Kidding©.  Apparently, in this 31st annual Marine Corps Marathon, the organizers had come to expect 90% of the 34 thousand registrants to be kidding.  Two hours of standing while hungry later, we got our race bibs and freebies.  I was a bit too weary at this point to care about the vendors, despite a notion to grab some cold weather insurance because of worries that race temperatures would be in the low 40s.  I just wanted to get out and get some food on the way to my room.  Unfortunately, Katie had an ADHD moment and made like a 7 year old in Toys R Us, I can only complain so much since it netted me some complimentary Tylenol and some cheap running gloves.  By the time we returned to Pentagon City, Ted looked like he’d had a one-night stand with Dracula, and we parted so I could haul off for Subway and Eckards.  With a sandwich and Gaterade in tow, I finally got back to the Ritz at about 6.  The worst of it was, the one thing I had masterfully planned around came about anyway – my legs were shot.  I munched on my single meal for the day, watched a DVD, called the wife, and thanked the merciful lord that clocks rolled back overnight, essentially keeping me on central time for a 5 A.M. wake up.        

I should mention that the Pentagon Riz-Carlton was very pleasant; a great view of the Lincoln Memorial and Kennedy Center and a cushy bed that seems to be laced with sedatives.  Usual nickel-and-diming that you find at all high-end hotels (as the clientele wouldn’t notice or care), with $9 connect charges on long distance calls.  One of the few situations that I’ll admit I could use a mobile telephone.  

Punishee War Journal, Sunday Morning.
Woke the next morning, flipped to the weather channel, and the encouraging lady in the screen let me know that “it’s going to be a great day to stay inside and read a good book.”  Temperature is low, and winds are high.  Swell.  Flip to ESPN, and I find out that Red Auerbach died.  We’re 2-for-2 with ominous starts to the day.  I do what I can with a protein bar that could possibly be so dry that it could replace sandbags as your best defense against rising floodwaters; I get only a third of the way in before chucking it for Gatorade.   Decent stretching in the shower; the heat’s helpful, though this is a leading contender for my eventual embarrassing cause of death.  I stretch and get my superhero costume on before Ted and Katie arrive at 7.  For decades, the comic book obsession with spandex has finally leaked into reality with the advent of microfiber.  Cyclists, Runners, and Aerobicizers have all gone Spiderman.  Cotton shorts are months away from being joked on by F-list celebrities on VH1 shows.  

I’m pretty antsy about the weather.  I haven’t run in temps below the upper 50s as far as I can remember.  I think 11pm intramural football in Virginia Novembers a decade ago is the closest I can come up with.  I’m a Heat Index pro, but Wind Chill territory is not my thing.  I don’t want to try and run while shivering, and dehydration does a number on your ability to maintain body temperature.  I go with a long sleeve Under Armour undershirt, a zip up vest shirt with lower back pockets for my goo packs, and semi-long shorts.  I’ve got a cheap fleece sweatshirt that I can toss a couple of miles in.  Plenty of runners do this, but Rob labeled me a snob for it when he heard my plan.  I chose not to mention the hotel plan to him.  Ted arrives and is freaked out because he was freezing in his sweatshirt coming over.  We haul together our drop off bags, I leave my luggage with the concierge, and we take the Metro to the Pentagon.  From there we walk a good mile with a herd of other people to drop off our bags.  With the sun out, the weather’s surprisingly nice, so I stuff my fleece into my bag along with my jacket.  No need to be a snob.  Ted takes a half hour in a port-a-john, so long that others in line wonder if someone’s really in there or not.  We run into another friend (Junior) who’s doing the race and I force our group to weasel up to the front of the start of our race wave.  I’ve learned that it’s far better to be passed than have to skirt through a tangled mess of stragglers in the races.  It’s go time.

Punishee War Journal, Gametime.
Well, maybe not just yet.  The first wave took off, but our second wave is being held up.  There are ambulances just 200 feet down the road; the race is already over for someone.  This has me slightly anxious, because a key part of this race is the bridge at mile 20.  The 395 bridge connecting DC to Arlington re-opens at 1:45 pm and if you don’t get there in time, you to take the shuttle of shame to the finish line.  The first participants take off a little after 8, and it’s now creeping up on 9 as we wait for EMS to clear the road.  This sends each of us to the trees for anxiety pees.  Social rules are lifted in these events.  

9:05 - The Power Rangers cap gun finally goes off!  Here I come fame and glory!
Mile 1     - This isn’t so bad; the road isn’t congested, and the elevation map showing 2 miles of uphill climb had me worried for no reason.  This is light.

Mile 1.5 – Nevermind, found the hills.  This sucks, but I’m going to power through.  The rest of the course will be gravy after this.

Mile 3 – Whee!  2 miles downhill to the Key Bridge; this is fun!  

Mile 4 – Key Bridge to Georgetown.  Georgetown really looks beautiful.  AC/DC count is already at 2 (no one has a better collection of testosterone music) and Stairway has made an early appearance on the iPod.

Mile 5 – The first time marker has me pegged at a pace that is a full minute per mile faster than my training runs.  I’ll play along.  I’m sure this won’t last, but I’m not going to slow myself down if I can sneak some bonus time off the clock.  

Mile 7 – Out on Rock Creek Parkway, and I start getting put off by the poor showing of the spectators, who apparently are not about to cheer for anyone they don’t recognize.  The vast majority are literally standing around with stone faces and crossed arms, looking down the road for their runner.  I finally start letting them know that it’s perfectly okay for them to clap for people they don’t know, to the horror of this misplaced golf gallery and the delight of the runners around me.  This is where the riding high wave of my day flags.

Mile 9.5 – Fool in the Rain gives me some pep as I approach the Lincoln Memorial.  It’s nice jogging next to the Potomac and trying to picture GW’s famous raft ride up it in the Revolutionary winter night.

Mile 11 – Definite sense that the smooth ride is over with.  The Capitol building seems to be creeping away from me somehow.  I have a nice official photo op robbed, as an idiot girl lunges from the far side to jump and mug right in front of the camera before walking again.  I figured the mall to be clogged with cheering, since well-wishers could see friends as they pass both sides of the mall and zig zag at nearby Potomac Park as well.  Wrong.  The place is mostly empty, and I start to realize how much of a boost friends and family are when you run these marathons.  

Mile 13 – Halfway there!  Unfortunately, the path has narrowed and it seems to be slightly clogged.  To my horror, my back, hip, and knees, announce their displeasure with the day’s events.  This is particularly alarming since I haven’t had to deal with aching joints all summer during training.  What’s the deal?  Boy in the Bubble welcomely hits my ears.  The sun was beating on the soldiers by the side of the road…

Mile 15 – I hit the latest time marker, which has me still on pace for finishing in good time, but I can tell the wheels are coming off.  I’ve thrown back nearly 4 grams of aspirin in an attempt to get my back to zip it.

Mile 16 – The 5 hour pace runner just zoomed by me like I was using a walker.  THAT’s not a good sign.  

Mile 19 – The aches have mostly subsided, but now I’m dealing with an absolute truckload of run-walkers.  You know when you’re using cruise control, but some joker keeps passing you just to slow down a minute later?  It’s a lot worse when that goes on when the joker is a pack of four, and you end up having to weave from side of the road to side of the road when you’re already weary.  With all of this east-west garbage, it feels like I’m doing two-for-one miles.  

Mile 20 – Made the bridge!  Got there a little shy of 4 hours, which is still better than may training runs.  The downside is my running pace has absolutely plummeted and is still going down the drain.  6 miles to go, but I feel like that should have been the finish.

Mile 21 – Still on the bridge, and I can tell I’ve got small blisters on both feet.  Appropriately, Diamonds on the Soles of Our Shoes starts playing.  My iPod has a sense of humor…

Mile 22 – Finally got off the bridge, but I’m having my spirits broken repeatedly as the course keeps turning me further and further from the finish line.  I know where home is, and that’s where I want to be going.  Instead, I get dragged all around Crystal City and through an apparent Target piece of advertising that I can only describe as the Red & White Bullseye Sonic Tunnel of Discomfort.

Mile 23 – Crystal City was done up as a street festival of sorts, a “don’t you wish you were here” atmosphere for us appreciative runners.  The spectators are much better, but no one has the will to care anymore.  One group was handing out cups of beer, which struck me as a little too soon.  Sure enough, less than a mile later, I pass a girl pulled over to the side, hands on the knees, preparing for what was not the first or last attempt at watering the street.  

Mile 42 – The Pentagon.  Oh come on!   I’m convinced that the mile 24 marker is a typo.  The iPod siezes the moment and kicks into a nice stretch for the final push:  (Talk Talk’s) It’s My Life, Solsbury Hill, another AC/DC (Dirty Deeds – during which I mull over which I’d rather: cyanide or this run?  Neckties or this run?  High voltage or this run?), Hoedown (the Flecktones), Don’t Fear the Reaper at mile 25, and the greatest live version of Halloween popped up right at…

Mile 26 – Like a cruel psychological test, the mile 26 sign (don’t forget, marathons are 26.2 miles!) sits at the foot of a steep hill with the finish at the top.  If I were a camel, this would be a ten-ton straw.  F that.  I punch through it with everything I don’t have left and make believe that I’m not a corpse for the cameras at the finish.  

Punishee War Journal, Epilogue.
I spend the rest of the day unhappy about my time – nearly identical to my San Antonio time (on a torn shin, remember?).  There are a host of things I could blame: Saturday, the flat atmosphere, the endless weaving on the back 10 miles, overextending the first several miles, an overfixation on getting to the bridge, etc; but nothing evens up to an injured shin.  I have to just say that I had a bad run.  There are worse fates.  Only 20 thousand of the 34 registered finished the race.  2 people had heart attacks, with only one surviving.  I didn’t limp through an injury.  Which reminds me, Ted did indeed push himself through and finished, despite taking narcotic pain killers toward the end and he even managed to find time for another half hour Port-a-john stop.  Kudos!

The best part of the race, by a long stretch, was the marines.  I was humbled starting the race once I got to thinking about who they were and how they were out here catering to us as if it were a privilege.  These guys put the spectators to shame, pumping up anyone they could and shouting hoo-rah chants through mega phones.  I didn’t see a single face that questioned “why am I here again?  This sucks.”  Not one.  All positive, all great.  It was honor to shake their hands at the finish line.    Hoo-rah.