The Navy/Air Force Half Marathon.

Just entering the City!

Sometimes it can be amazing how different two similar events can be from each other. That was the case with my first two Half Marathons, on the surface they both seemed alike: several hours of travel, running with a good friend and motivator, time to explore the location, very well organized, they both even had the same start times. When you dive deeper is when the differences stand out: urban vs rural, walk to the starting line from the hotel vs driving, arriving well prepped vs under prepared, hilly vs flat.

Let’s start with the arrival to and exploration of D.C. then onto the race itself. I had only had one brief visit to our nation/s capital several years ago and two or three times I had driven by it. As fate would have it the GPS took us directly by the Washington Monument on our entry to the city which would also be our starting line in 36 hours. The hotel we stayed in was just a mile straight up the road from there. After checking into the hotel and putting our things in the room we decided to go for a walk and see the city. Jackie and I both have very strong military family ties that have left us very patriotic so this was going to be fun.

Without a map or any true idea of exactly where to go we first found Thomas Circle with it’s beautiful churches and park in the center and then we meandered to the equally beautiful Scott Circle. We turned south towards the ever present outline of the Washington Monument and walked directly into Lafayette Square and there it was… 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, The White House.

As with all the locations we came to I could not help but think of the history, beauty and symbolism this place had. After that as darkness set in we came to place after place, each with it’s own special part of history, it’s own patriotic tug. The World War II Memorial, the Reflecting Pool, The Lincoln Memorial, The Korean War Memorial.

Then came one of the most humbling experiences of my life. As we had walked through these places we talked and joked and soaked it all in. Everyone around us seemed to be enjoying a text book perfect early fall evening. The we came to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial… THE WALL. As we approached there was a difference in the air, a respectful silence that felt like being at a funeral. As we walked down the sidewalk the wall climbed higher and higher, filled with the names of those who had died. There was an elderly man in a wheelchair, gently stroking a name on the wall with tears running down his face, then a middle aged woman tracing a name with pencil and paper before screaming out and slumping into her families arms. Suddenly this was raw, what these men and women had done for me to be free. After we walked a distance in silence Jackie remarked that almost all of us probably have family with names on the wall, she is most likely right.

Our last historic stop of the night was at the Washington Monument. After the recent raw moments
this one seemed like a celebration, ringed in American flags that seemed to be flying high and proud. It seemed a fitting setting to place this highest of memorials to the man that is known as the father of America. Then we were off to find food and rest.

Day 2: The hotel we were at was just wonderful. Our friend Bea had found it for us and let me tell you, if ever you need a place to stay in downtown D.C. then the Residence Inn is it! The rooms were big and comfortable and we started the day with a continental breakfast that could have easily rivaled most restaurants. Then we off to find the Metro stop and start a full day of exploring.

The Arlington National Cemetery was our first stop and it

brought a very similar fell to the Vietnam Memorial. It is simply impossible to pass all of those memorials and graves without feeling humbled and honored at the same time. At the Tomb of the Unknowns there was a group of World War II veterans that they brought in that made the changing of the guard even more special.

Then it was back to the Metro to go across town to race registration. When a subway is not busy it can be a pleasant experience, a good chance to people watch, relax or chat with people. That was the case to Arlington and back to where we had to switch lines to go to registration. That was not the case as we lined up to get on the Green Line to complete our trip. As we stood there waiting the lines got deeper and deeper, 7 deep, then 10. The train pulled up and it was already packed. When the doors opened the people inside said there was no room but we managed to force our way on anyway. We found ourselves packed so tightly that we had no hand holds and no chance of falling. They had to try 3 times to get the doors to shut. Thankfully the ride was short and when the doors opened we all literally fell out and were on our way.

There was a light rain as we walked to the registration/pick up with the hundreds of others. It was at the Nationals Baseball Stadium and although very crowded it was fast and well run. There were several vendors and I really enjoyed the expo part. We picked up some rain gear as it was pouring and asked the staff about food and walked a few blocks to McD’s for lunch. Instead of battling the crowd at the Metro again we opted to walk since we could see the Capital in the distance.

Once we were there the rain stopped and we rolled through the museums one after another. Jackie’s friend John, who lives in the area, meet us and became our tour guide until the museums closed for the day.

When we got back to the room we had been gone for 9 hours and the only time we had not been on our feet were the Metro ride to Arlington and during lunch. A great, full day in Washington! After a rest we went for pizza and then I fell asleep watching football.

Race Day: I woke up 45 minutes before the alarm, a gnawing feeling inside. Was I ready for this, could I do it? A piece of cold pizza and then it was time to get dressed. It was cool, probably 20 degrees colder than the night before, so Jackie suggested we wear our ponchos we had bought for the rain. They did the trick keeping us warm but not hot on the mile walk to the Washington Memorial.

The Start: Unlike the Oak Barrel race, this one was actually 3 races in one. As we lined up for the half, the runners for the 5 mile race lined the sides. There were speakers and then the presenting of the colors by Air Force and Navy personnel. After the national anthem and invocation we were treated to several wounded warriors making their way through the crowd in there racing wheelchairs to start 5 minutes before us. They went out and then it was our turn. Like the Oak Barrel we gradually walked to the line and only started running when we were a few feet from the timer.

The Early Miles: Jackie is a very capable runner, much faster and stronger than me, but she told me she had come to run with me and wouldn’t leave me. We had talked about what pace we would do and she told me as we started that I was setting the pace, not her. I can not over state how great it is to have such a friend. We started about 45 seconds a mile faster than our projected overall pace but the pace felt good and we were not pushing hard. The first couple of miles took us by the Lincoln Memorial, towards Arlington Cemetery and then along the Potomac.

Miles 3-5 1/2: Whenever someone tells you a course is flat, you should really wonder! We found ourselves going through a series of rolling hills that gradually climbed higher and higher towards the high point of the course. At mile three there was a roar that passed through the runners towards us and the first wheelchair racers came screaming by on the other side of the road. Soon after our first water stop we passed the first male runner and then the first female. They were really kicking and as the number of runners increased I started to wonder just how close to the back we must be. Still, the pace felt good and we continued on.

Miles 5 1/2-10: The high point of the course was also a turn around and we started back down the rolling terrain. I should mention that while we were still in the city this area had a very country feel to it. The road was 4 lane but tree lined and somewhat blocked out the tall city buildings. As we passed the 8 K and 10 K marks I was surprised to find that we were on a slightly faster pace than my recent races of those lengths. Equally surprising was the long line of runners that were still climbing. Then it happened, a pop in my right shin, a sharp sting and then that gradual spreading burn. I did not tell
Jackie at the time but she had to notice the sudden change in our pace. Still, the pain was bearable and even at this slower pace we were still slightly ahead of our projected time. We shouted encouragement to the others as they continued by and I was thankful for the Gatorade at the next water station.

Miles 10-13: The pain in my shin started to become worse and I was struggling. Jackie was awesome, staying with me and encouraging me. Except for water stations I hate to walk. Nothing against the walk runners but for me, in my mind, walking is excepting that I am unable to keep running. I had to give in and walk finally at mile 10.5. I found that the walking did little to ease the pain and with her help I was able to start a slow jog again. The runners had thinned a lot by this point as it seemed that each individual or small group was in their own world, each with their own battle to find the end.

Just after mile 12 we passed a 5 mile runner, the only one we encountered. She was a complete leg amputee with a prosthetic leg that started at her shorts and she was using crutches. There was someone with her trying to get her to sit in a wheelchair and she was refusing. If She was not giving up then how could I? With my spirit lifted I took Jackie’s words to heart, ” Sometimes you have to SUCK IT UP BUTTERCUP”. Strangely this was also when we picked up a strong headwind, daring me to keep going.

Mile 13-the end: We were back into the city proper again. Where was the end? First my phone, then Jackie’s watch, then my Garmin all said the end had come and gone but still we kept going. My phone was almost always a tad short so no big deal but my Garmin was always a tad long, it had recently measured a 10 K as 5.89 miles. Also, at the 12 mile marker my watch had actually said 11.92 miles. This race had a “bonus section” .There it was, the 13 mile marker on the road, just as we turned to see the finish line. We had already started to pick up the pace and now Jackie encouraged me to finish strong. In the end my finishing sprint was about the same speed as my first couple of miles, not bad really.

With Jackie’s friend John

The Afterward: My father, sister and her family had driven up from Richmond while we were running and were there at the end. It was great to have family there and to share the moment with but then it was off to search for ice. This was my first trip to a medical tent as a runner and although they were very nice, I hope it will be my last. The ice thankfully numbed the leg after a few minutes and then I discovered that my shirt was blood streaked from chaffing so they were nice enough to offer band-aids. Water, fruit and chocolate milk followed, then the slow walk back to the hotel.

While the official times are strangely still not posted with the help of a great friend I was still able to set a PR even though it was a struggle. Just like the first half marathon I was able to share this experience with someone whom is very dear to me and is very inspirational. Thank you Jackie for sharing this special weekend and adventure! Hopefully we can run a marathon together in December.

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