“More Cowbell!” at Mile 25 (Tales from the People’s Marathon)

Today was the 33rd annual Marine Corps Marathon, a 26.2 mile tour of Arlington and D.C.  I was running with “Friends for Michael” and, as usual, it was a mind-blowing experience.

Here’s a quick summary:

The real competition begins at 6:30 am when thousands of runners squeeze onto the Blue Line heading for the Pentagon.  Runners are “A-Type” personalities; they have to be there early. 

The sun was just beginning to rise over the Potomac when we got off the train and began the mile walk to the start line.  By the time they played the National Anthem and had a send-off from Congressman Rob Wittman (?!), there were 30,000 runners ready to roll.

And off we went.

The first couple miles were an absolute mob scene through Rosslyn.  The head of Teddy Roosevelt (Washington Nats’ mascot) was bobbing along above the crowd.  There was a long climb up the hill on Lee Highway which would have been a killer late in the race, but we handled it easily for Mile Two. 

Then it was a long roll down Spout Run and onto the GW Parkway.  After a couple slow miles, my splits were improving and I felt great. 

We crossed the Key Bridge at Mile Four and came storming into Georgetown.  A left turn and we ran along the C&O, past the Reservoir.  On our right, we could see the leaders flying back at a 5-minute mile pace. 

A right turn, then up the hill and over a steep rise by Foxhall Road.  We drew inspiration from two vets with prosthetics who were cranking along in hand-propelled cycles.

We came running back through Georgetown for miles eight and nine.  I was in a groove.  The music was playing.  The “party people” were out in force.  It was going to be a great day.

At Mile Ten, the course wrapped around the Kennedy Center.  We ran along the River past the Lincoln Memorial where sun-drenched spectators were giving us lots of love.

The next four miles were the notorious “up and back” through Hains Point, where the spectators drop off and a lot of runners do also.  Actually, I felt good at this point.  I hit the half (13.1 miles) in two hours three minutes, which was several minutes better than my goal.

We ran back to the Mall and picked up the crowds.  The path through the crowd narrowed.  More runners were walking which jammed things up. 

At this point, I was visiting every water station for water and PowerAde. 

Right around Mile Fifteen, I got passed by a man in a banana suit.  Perhaps relatedly, I started to drag at this point.  Just keep the feet moving forward.

We ran down Constitution Avenue all the way to the Capitol, then turned around and headed back on Independence Ave.  The sun was out and it was in the sixties.  Sweats and long-sleeve jerseys were strewn all over the course.  

At mile twenty, as we were crossing the 14th Street Bridge back to Arlington, all hell broke loose and the mood turned surreal.  In no particular order I was passed by a woman dressed as a ballerina, a man wearing a kilt and two men carrying the US flag and the Marine Corps banner.

I kept those flags in my sights and followed them over the bridge and into Arlington.  At this point, my groin, thighs and calves were all cramping up.  I had to power walk at Mile 22, which was embarrassing but necessary.  Still struggling, I got to Mile 24 — the south side of the Pentagon — in 3 hours, 58 minutes.

The MVP at this point was a young man who was running with jeans and a backpack with his girlfriend’s support gear.  He had joined her a couple miles back.  The adult men amongst us assumed he was her boyfriend.  Married men aren’t that crazy!

The last two miles were straight up 110.  I wanted so badly to sprint them in but my body wouldn’t cooperate.  Instead, I kept those two flags in sight and tried to keep moving.

At Mile 25, we picked up those great fans again.  My wife had written “Go Chap!” on the front of my t-shirt so I got some shout-outs.  Better yet, the cowbells were banging for us (someone had distributed them along the highway).  As one, the runners were shouting “More Cowbell! More Cowbell!”

About a quarter-mile from the finish, my legs quit on me.  As I was staggering, one woman shouted “You’re going to make it!”  I heard her friend say:  “I doubt it.”

I saw the flags take a left and climb the hill towards the Iwo Jima Memorial.  I was only a few yards behind.  The PA announcer saw the flags coming — flags which had been carried 26.2 miles — and brought out a roar from the crowd to congratulate these great runners and greater patriots.  I just kept following them, all the way across the finish line.

My informal goal had been four hours twenty minutes.  I missed it by two minutes.  That’s OK.  As usual, the MCM was worth it.  Congrats to the runners and the thousands of Marine Corps officers and enlisted who staff the race and make it the success it is every year.

Oo-rah for the People’s Marathon!

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