Monday, February 27, 2006

Marine Corps Marathon (October 30, 2005)

For some reason – don’t ask me why – I have never really been too keen on the idea of running the Marine Corps Marathon. Okay, do ask me. I think it’s a combination of several things. For one, the bizarre, multi-phase lottery just seems like too much work to get into a marathon (okay, to be honest, I’ve never really checked out the lottery, but hearing other people describe it made me think it just seemed too hard). For another thing, I’ve heard that the organization at the start was poor (okay, I’ve also heard that the Marines along the course and at the finish were super, but that’s another story). Finally, I’ve read too many reports from friends who thought they would have a great day at Marine Corps, but instead crashed and burned (okay, these are the same yahoos who crash and burn at every marathon, but still…). Never mind; don’t ask me why I’ve never really wanted to run the Marine Corps. Heaven only knows.

But then on a glorious Colorado day in late March I’m out running on the Cherry Creek bike path, and I run into my friend Cindy. Well, okay, I don’t literally run into her, but we recognize each other – sunglasses and all – while running in opposite directions, and we stop to chat. Cindy mentions that she and Jay – her husband – are going to run Marine Corps in the fall, and why don’t I join them? She tells me that this is the 30th anniversary of the race, and in honor of that fact, they are opening the registration to the first 30,000 folks who can get their entries in on-line. This changes everything: friends running the race, an open registration, and I’m a complete sucker for things like the 30th anniversary. So I agree to think about it, but everyone who knows me knows that when I say I’ll think about doing a marathon, it means that I’m already figuring out what to wear.

Et voila, the following week, I’m in!

In the meantime, my friend Theresa – you’ve heard me talk about her before, right? – and I are searching for an exotic fall marathon where she can run a shorter course and I can do the full monty. I’m thinking Hawaii, Alaska, somewhere cool and different. I tell her about the Marine Corps just to let her know that the weekend of October 30th is already taken, and the next thing I know, she’s entered the Marine Corps 8k. Well, waddaya know – it’s starting to sound like a party. First Cindy and Jay, and now Theresa. This is a weekend that I can get excited about. I’m still a bit less than overwhelmed by the thought of the actual race itself, but what the heck – it’s shaping up to be a fun weekend.

Getting to DC. When we started to plan this thing, both my boyfriend Mick and Theresa’s husband Kirk claimed an interest in spending the weekend in DC, so we had a huge party in the works. But in the last month or so leading up to the event, both Mick and Kirk came down with terminal cases of “workitis”, so we’ve scaled back the plans. Theresa and I have determined to make this a girlfriends weekend (no disrespect to Jay, of course, who is still planning to run with Cindy).

So it is that I’m traveling by myself from Denver to DC, via Chicago. At O’Hare I notice a woman boarding the same flight to DC; this woman looks like a runner, and she’s sporting a “Western States 100” t-shirt. Now, I’m not a crazy ultramarathoner, just a wannabe, and anyone who knows anything at all about ultramarathons knows that the Western States 100 is a Big Deal. So as we depart the plane once we land in DC, I go up to Ms. Western States 100 T-Shirt, and ask “so did you actually run the Western States?” Now, there’s a creative intro. And duh, sure, how many people would be walking around with the t-shirt if they hadn’t run the darned thing? Still, I’m lucky that the woman is friendly, and we strike up a conversation. Of course she ran the Western States. Of course she is here to run Marine Corps. And of course she too is from Colorado. We have a nice chat until her husband – also running, but who came in earlier – meets her and I depart to the taxi-stand.

I arrive at our hotel to find Theresa already checked in, tucked into bed, and dozing with the TV on and the sound off. Okay, it’s really not so much a hotel as a glorified motel, but we’re from Iowa and we’re cheap. It turns out that we chose this place because it was on the marathon website and listed as being “4” away from the race start. We interpreted this to mean 4 blocks. Not the 4 miles that it actually is. But not to worry, despite the nasty reviews that I read on the internet after we had made the reservations, it’s actually an okay place.

And what do we really need? Two old friends, hanging out, staying up way too late chatting. The only real problem is that I haven’t had a proper supper – just a bunch of fruit that I brought on the plane – and now I’m hungry. But this is a motel without a restaurant, so I get around my hunger pangs by talking Theresa’s ear off, and finally forget about being hungry. It’s a strange thing, two days before a marathon, to go to bed hungry. Normally I would have taken some liberties with cookies or ice cream (carbo-loading at its best) on the penultimate day before the race, but somehow it just didn’t happen today. No worries, I’ll get a great breakfast in the morning.

Saturday in DC. But no. It’s late when I finally fall fast asleep – really late, like 4 a.m. – and then I sleep hard. At moments before 10 a.m. Theresa wakes me to tell me she is going to the motel’s continental breakfast to grab us some grub, and she comes back with some cake donuts and not much else that interests me. I’m hungry, so I scarf down a few of these gut bombs, and then we finally get out the door.

We’re headed, generally, in the direction of the expo to pick up race stuff. The motel’s shuttle drops us off at Pentagon City to catch the Metro, and since we’re still hungry, we go inside the mall to get a bite to eat. Somehow, the whole food experience of DC is just not quite working out the way I envisioned. We choose one restaurant, but when we sit down, they give us a different menu than the one posted on the door, and when neither of us sees anything to our liking, we get up and leave. The second restaurant is a bit better – or is it just that the food seems okay now that we’re totally starving? We don’t linger too long here, though, since the place is like the inside of a walk-in refrigerator. We are finally out of the mall and on our way to the expo, and the day is slipping away.

Everyone has reported how friendly and helpful the Marines are for this marathon, but when we get to the expo, we find the opposite to be true. Nobody seems friendly, and it seems like they mostly just want us out of their hair. But the expo is not a complete loss, at least as far as food is concerned. My v-team internet buddy Russ lives in the DC area, but it’s not working out for us to get together. As a substitute, he’s told me to look up his friend Chip, who is working at the Clif Bar booth. We find the booth first, and then find Chip (not too hard to spot the 6-foot-plus-a-whole-lot-more triathlete), and I introduce myself. Chip is friendly and wants to know “how did you and Rusty meet?” It’s hard to describe – kind of like internet dating – that although Russ and I have been friends for a couple of years now we’ve not really ever met in person. Chip gives me one of those looks, so I just shut up. But as some kind of consolation prize, he tells me to open up my expo bag, the one with the t-shirt and chip and race number and other assorted crap. Once the bag is open wide, Chip dumps – and I mean dumps! – an entire box of Clif bars into it. A woman standing next to me gasps in surprise, and then whines that she only got a couple of the little samples. Theresa laughs. We take off. Food at last.

It’s now mid-afternoon, and we need to find bagels for the morning. Instead of wandering aimlessly, Theresa suggests that we go back to the mall since she’s certain she spotted a bakery there. So back we go. At Pentagon City, we find a shop with bagels (already stale, but I’m starting to realize that good food is not on the menu this weekend) and I snatch up a couple. Just in case dinner goes badly, I pre-dessert with an ice cream cone, and it’s about the best food of the day.

We’ve planned to hook up with Jay and Cindy for dinner, but haven’t made specific plans. So while we’re finishing our food shopping at Pentagon City, I call Jay and Cindy. They give us instructions to meet them at the Lincoln Memorial, with some vague directions on how to get there. Theresa and I get back on the Metro (this is starting to feel like a yoyo experience), and get off the Metro at the Smithsonian stop, as instructed, and consult maps before starting the trek down the Mall. Pretty soon, I’m getting a sense of how far we have to walk and I’m starting to swear. What the hell am I doing walking this much the night before a marathon??? This is all starting to seem extremely insane. Out of frustration, and attempting to rationalize this irrational pre-race behavior, I remind myself (and Theresa) that this marathon is simply a notch on the old headboard, and I don’t really care about the race itself. This is definitely not a fast course, so who cares. This seems like a pretty good rationale, as far as these things go. The true consolution is that we get to see – right at twilight – some really cool sights along the Mall. We reach the Lincoln Memorial just as it’s getting dark, and the lights of the memorial are really quite cool. And there are Cindy and Jay – with a cast of thousands of their other friends – so all is not lost.

Not lost, of course, until we try to figure out where to have dinner. Now, what kind of insanity is this: trying to get a group of about ten people into a restaurant serving pasta the night before a marathon with 30,000 runners in town for the event? I will spare you the aggravation. We drive, we take cabs, we stand on the street to hail more cabs, we walk blocks and blocks and more blocks, we go into and out of restaurant after restaurant, and it just gets worse and worse. The clock is ticking away and I’m thinking about the early morning and about my growling stomach from last night, and Theresa and I finally decide to bail on the party. We get on the Metro and end up… guessed it: back at Pentagon City. The first thing we spot is an Italian fast-food eatery, and I’m walking away with a heaping plate of pasta before anyone can change my mind. It may not be great, but it sure is filling. We’re so exhausted from the day that we’re soon back at the motel and lights out for the morning.

Race morning. Theresa suggests that we should ask for a wake up call, especially since Saturday night is the night that the clocks change. No worries, I say, since I always set two alarms before a race: my travel alarm clock and my race watch. Somehow, neither of them works in the morning, but quite luckily, race day instinct gets me out of bed. My bagel is stale, but the motel room coffee is hot and I’ve decided to not worry about food anymore. We’re out the door and waiting for the shuttle earlier than planned.

The motel is running a shuttle over to Pentagon City where it is reputed that the marathon has shuttles to the race start. Given the size of the line at the motel, I’m concerned about making it to the race on time if we have to wait for multiple ferries, so Theresa does the intelligent thing and goes into the front office and has the clerk call for a taxi. We move out of the shuttle line and find a couple who has also decided to go the cab route. She is running her first marathon, and he’s here to support her. When a cab arrives, we all pile in and head off to the start.

Now, this cab driver is a piece of work. He asks if we want a tour of the course (uh, no, we’ll be doing that ourselves soon enough, thank you), and we all look nervously at each other. Is this nut case going to take us to the start or what? But there is hope, since the cabbie says that he lives near the start of the race, and wanted to go home to get something to eat soon. We’re on a freeway – none of us passengers has the slightest clue where we are or exactly where we are going – and now the cab driver decides to recite a poem that he’s written. It ends, and nobody says a word. But then, compelled by some sense of self-preservation, we all start to compliment him at the same time. “I have goosebumps,” I say, but I don’t bother to add that the goosebumps are because we were standing around in about 30 degree temperature before climbing into his taxi. Finally, we see an area that looks like the race organizing area, and we’re out of there. I figure that if I could survive that cab ride, the marathon itself will now seem anticlimactic.

We are near the entrance to what appears to be the Athlete’s Village, so we head down the hill. There is a long row of tables set up, and a bunch of Marines in fatigues standing near the tables. We figure that this is the security checkpoint we’ve heard about, so we walk up to the Marines, who are all facing the other way. It turns out that we’ve entered from an opposite direction from where the shuttles drop off people. We approach the Marines, and have to work to get their attention. A couple of them finally turn around, and we ask if they need to see our bags. One of the guys laughs and says, “you’re inside already!” So much for tight security. All you have to know is the back door to the race staging area, and you’re in. I have some new concerns about the safety and security of my country with these jokers running the show, but I push the concerns aside. I’m here to run today, not to get all political.

We’re quite early, but that’s okay, I can relax now that we’re within a short walk to the start line. So that’s where we go next – to check out the start line – but a Marine on the road alerts us to the fact that there are limited port-a-potty facilities at the start line, so we turn back to the area we just came from. By the way, have I mentioned that the race start/finish is at Arlington National Cemetery? Yep. Gives you a bit of a pause to look out at all of those white markers in nice neat rows. So we spend some time tramping around this grand old monument. Okay, we don’t actually tramp around the graves, but there is a nice wide lawn that has been set up with all kinds of race related facilities. There are enough port-a-potties so that there is never really much of a line.

It’s cold out though – in the thirties - so I’m reluctant to check my warm togs at the bag check until as late as possible. It’s clear that Theresa thinks I’m crazy. As I laid out my race clothes last night– shorts and singlet – she asked, incredulously, “Is that all you’re wearing???” To be sure, it was cool and sunny – and a bit windy – on Saturday, but it’s supposed to warm up a bit today. I would much rather be a bit cool on a long run than to be overdressed, so I’m going with my clothing plan. I’m also wearing a throwaway long-sleeved t-shirt and my trusty purple gloves (they are actually ski glove liners that work just perfectly for running in in-between temps), so I figure I’ll be okay. But while I’m checking my warm clothes at the bag-check, Theresa, mother hen that she is, gets busy scoring a trash bag for me from some folks nearby. They brought an entire roll of super-sized garbage bags to the race and are giving the extras away. Theresa helps me get the thing on, and it’s like a full length ball gown. I am now the picture of fashion. And it’s actually quite warm.

Finally, it’s time to head to the start – and I think I might have waited too long, it’s so crowded on the road. Theresa and I wish each other good luck in our respective races, and then part ways. I ditch the garbage bag, and then just as I reach the start line, I throw my long-sleeved t-shirt away. There is, suddenly, so much happening! There are sky divers falling out of the heavens, and there are bands playing, and there is a guy making announcements on a loud speaker. I reach the designated area for my bib number and am grateful that I have this low bib number (1771) and don’t have to fight my way through the crowds further back. Later I will learn that I was given a preferred start because of my predicted finish in my age group, but right now I’m just thinking about staying warm until the gun goes off. Maybe I tossed that warm shirt too soon.

It’s crowded here – just as I expected from what I’ve heard about this race in the past – but I notice a couple of Marines walking through the crowd, checking bib numbers and sending people back to their proper areas. I’m grateful for this, since it thins the crowd just a bit. A guy standing next to me and I chat a bit about expectations for the day, and we both have the same philosophy: take what the day gives you. And then after some more commotion, we’re moving.

The race. As soon as we start to move, it seems that there is a crush of people and it is just flat out crowded, almost too crowded to run. I swear to myself, and think that I really hate big races and these crowds. But it’s a beautiful day – although still quite chilly – and the crowd is keeping me warm. There is a band playing right at the entrance to Arlington – at the 26 mile marker – and they have great band uniforms with exceptional plumage. As race starts go, this one is pretty glitzy.

But the crowds, hola! I’m shuffling along, and just following directly behind a whole bunch of people. People – crazy people – are darting and weaving, trying to get through the sea of racers, and they scare me – I’m certain that one of them is going to cause a major pileup. Pretty soon we’re passing the first mile marker, and I hit my watch to capture the split. 9:44??? Now I’m in despair. That is, without a doubt, the slowest first mile I have run in any marathon, including the trail races I’ve done. It’s quite possibly slower than my first mile going up Pike’s Peak, which is slow because it’s so dang steep. I remind myself that I’m just running today for fun, and have no goals.

From the course elevation map, I know that the first two miles are mostly uphill, but I don’t really feel the hill until the start of the second mile, and then it looks like it’s straight up in front of me. I’m trying to just run a straight line and stay out of trouble, since it’s still insanely crowded, and now I notice that everyone seems to be weaving. Can nobody run a straight line? Judging by this crowd, apparently not. But as we hit the two-mile mark, I recognize the surroundings, and laugh. We’ve just passed through Rosslyn, one of the areas we visited last night in our mad search for a restaurant. I had no idea we would be back through here again today, and find it funny. I hit my watch for my second split, and am more disheartened – 9:34. Still extremely slow. I figure that it’s just going to be a long slow day, and that I had better settle in for the ride.

But the course turns downhill after we pass the second mile marker, and it also somehow magically starts to open up some. I concentrate on sight-seeing along the way. We run briefly along the Potomac, an area that surprises me for its rugged beauty – steep cliffs and heavy woods. We pass over the Francis Scott Key Bridge, which I recognize from last night. We turn onto M Street, and are running through Georgetown, past the restaurants that didn’t have room for us last night. This area looks entirely different in the daylight, but we don’t have time to window shop today. Soon enough, we’re passing mile 5 and turning through some back streets.

I hit the split button on my watch, and look down to see my elapsed time. Huh? I have not really looked at my watch since that horribly slow second mile, and now I’m confused. My watch says that my elapsed time for the first five miles is 45:21, and I do the math quickly – I’ve recovered quite a bit of time from those first two miles and am now running consistent sub-9 minute miles. Maybe the day won’t be such a loss after all.

We leave the very urban setting of Georgetown and head out on the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, which is the first of a number of out-and-back sections of this race. And it’s absolutely beautiful here. Why didn’t anyone ever tell me that Marine Corps was such a beautiful course? We’re running on a wide parkway that is heavily forested all around, with a thick canopy of leaves overhead. For a brief time, the front runners are directly across a short median from us, and they are impressive to watch. But then the median widens and puts more distance between the two parallel sections of roadway. And then the sirens approach.

Since the road is completely closed to traffic, I think that the sound of sirens can only mean that someone has been injured further on the course, and it’s a disturbing thought. But the sirens draw closer and closer until finally a motorcycle cop with full siren blaring is parting the crowd of runners beside me. I look over my shoulder to see a wheelchair competitor right behind the motorcycle. What the heck??? Most races start the wheelchairs early because they tend to be faster than runners, and this way they have a clear roadway to work with. But the Marine Corps organizers, for some dunder-headed reason, started the wheelchairs in today’s race in between the two waves. From this point on, we will have the intermittent sound of wheelchairs coming up behind us and people yelling for runners to get out of the way. This is just plain stupid planning, and it’s dangerous for everyone. I shake my head in amazement that the same people who are responsible for the race logistics are also in charge of the country’s military. A very scary proposition.

We make the turnaround on the parkway and head back. It’s turning into a gorgeous day. At times during the early miles, I have been slightly chilly, but now I am thinking that this is about as perfect weather conditions as you can get. Still, a slight chill in the air, but full sun overhead and not a hint of clouds.

We pass the 9 mile marker just as we reach the Potomac once again, and I check my elapsed time. I have been doing mental math along the way, and I’ve figured that perfect 9 minute miles would put me at 81 minutes at this checkpoint. And my watch reads 1:20:52 – I’m thrilled! I start to entertain thoughts of running a sub-4 hour marathon.

Now we’re approaching the Mall, and the crowds are growing alongside the road. I recognize the Lincoln Memorial as we approach it from behind, and now we’re running along the Mall itself. There are lots of people here, and more bands and entertainment along the way. Someone near me wonders out loud if W will be outside the White House watching the race, and I think about looking closely when we go past the White House. But there is so much happening here – so many sights, so many people, so many distractions – that I miss the White House entirely. In fact, I would miss the Capitol if it weren’t for the fact that we turn around directly in front of it. I recognize the Smithsonian Castle as we pass by, as well as the Washington Monument. I’m enjoying the sights and sounds, and find myself thinking “wow, this is a pretty cool place to hold a marathon”, and then I laugh at myself. How quickly we forget our old bogus opinions when we’re having a good day at the races!

And as we pass the halfway point – which is on the Mall – it occurs to me that this may just be one of those good days in marathoning. I’ve only had a few stellar days, and they are always unexpected and welcome. But you just never know until well into the second half of the race, so I try to rein in my spirits.

Shortly after the halfway point, a woman running alongside me asks, “do you know if there is any gel on the course?” She explains that she has lost her running partner and is down to just a single gel for the rest of the race. I tell her that I think there might be a gel station ahead, but I’m not sure. Then I check my pockets; I always pack an extra gel, “just in case”. Sure enough, I calculate that I can spare one of my remaining gels, and I offer it to her. She takes it gratefully, and I figure that I’ve just earned myself some karma. I take this as an excellent omen.

But now there is a tall, skinny drink of water – a woman – who becomes my nemesis for the next couple of miles. This woman looks like she’s suffering – she stops to walk and looks in pain, and each time she does that, I pass her. But then somehow she picks it up again and starts to run and sprints past me. Time and time again. I know – know – that she will not be able to keep this up; I know too well how horrible it is to suffer like this in a marathon. But still, she is an annoyance and a distraction for a mile or two. Finally, as I know will happen, she disappears from my radar, and I never see her again.

What I do see is the Jefferson Memorial, and what a glorious view it is. We’ve left the Mall now, and we’re making an arc around the Tidal Basin, and the Jefferson Memorial stands out in its alabaster glory. Again I think that this is a superb setting for a marathon. And then the memorial is behind us and we’re heading out on a loop around the East Potomac Park.

We’re starting to hit the miles where everyone who went out too fast starts to hurt, and it’s evident on this stretch of the race course. It’s a lovely place to run – nice and flat, with nothing but wide river and open parklands around us. The crowd has spread out nicely at this point – there are always people around, but nobody impeding your progress. There is a crowd of people at the entrance and exit to this park, but not many spectators along the route, and that’s fine with me. I’ve settled into a really nice groove and I’m starting to know that this is going to be a really good day.

A guy falls into step next to me, and we run together for the next couple of miles. He’s friendly and talkative, and a distraction, which is nice given the quiet area we’re passing through. We pass by a camera checkpoint, and the guy is downright ebullient, waving to the photographers. I tell the guy – whose name I ask but then don’t remember – that I think I’m having one of those stellar days. He tells me that he’s starting to fade, and I figure that we are only running partners for a short time. Soon, I notice that he’s leaning into me, bumping against me, and almost stepping on me. Ew! Perhaps he’s getting a bit too familiar? At any rate, it’s not at all comfortable, and today I have the perfect solution. I have another gear just under the surface, crying out to be used, and now I turn it on. I dust the guy. It’s a beautiful feeling.

The loop around the East Potomac Park is coming to an end, and we pass the 20 mile marker as we get back onto a major roadway and the bridge that will take us out of DC and back into Arlington. I’m chomping at the bit, like a horse ready to leave its starting gate. I’ve been keeping my heart rate in check for many miles now, but my body says “go!” The 20 mile marker is my starting gun, and it goes off in my head, and I’m – finally – running full tilt.

This is stupendous! There is a crowd of people as we leave the park, and then we’re flying across the bridge. Wow, are there a lot of people walking – but I’m flying. The next six miles are a blur – I’m just racing, full out. I take splits at the mile markers, but I never really look at my watch again – I just know that I’m giving it all I have. There is a cookie station around mile 21 or so, but I don’t want to risk anything at this point and just pass it by – but shortly after the cookies, there are sponges, and those are wonderful. It’s getting warmer, and there is a bit of a wind, but I am just floating along, this feels so wonderful. We make a 180 degree turn at Crystal City, and then a few more zigzags before I start to recognize the road we’re on. Somewhere along this stretch of road, we pass by the Pentagon, but I miss it entirely. How you can miss an entire building as huge as the Pentagon is a mystery to me, but I’m not looking left or right just now, I’m just focused on the road directly in front of me. The finish of the race retraces a short bit of the race start, and it feels really weird to be repeating these steps.

The 26 mile marker is at the turn into the Arlington National Cemetery, and the next hundred yards or so are a short steep hill. This just about does me in, but I’m breathing out loud and I’m hungry for the finish. I’ve just glanced at my watch and for the first time in the day, I realize that I’m on pace for a new personal record. But we get to the top of the hill, and you can’t see a finish line. I’m grunting and chugging, and just willing the finish line to appear, and finally, around a bend in the road – there it is! I raise my arms in race finish triumph, and then hit my watch. Yes! My time is 3:50:29, a new personal best.

Post race. It feels like time for a post race party, but how can you have a party by yourself? I sob deeply – with utter joy - as I gasp for breath while a Marine drapes a medal around my neck, and then I look around for Theresa.

But I don’t spot that familiar head of fiery red hair anywhere, and so I make my way through the post-race maze in a bit of a daze. I grab some food and then head off to pick up my checked bag. Bag in tow, I find the meet-up area, and sit down to munch on a bagel and keep an eye out for Theresa.

She shows up eventually – she has waited at the finish, hoping to get a shot of me crossing the line, but missed me in the crowds, and is enormously disappointed to have missed my PR. But I tell her that she is my lucky charm, and I need to bring her to all of my marathons after this. Her race – the 8k – was a success, too; she’s pleased with the fact that she ran the entire thing even though her training had been spotty.

So we head off to the motel, and I’m thinking of post-race beer and grub, but I’m learning that my expectations of good food and drink in this town are not to be. We get back to the motel, and I’m on a perpetual high, but Theresa’s stomach is rebelling, and it’s a rough afternoon for her. We order dinner delivered to the room, but when it arrives, it’s cold and congealing, and Theresa dumps hers immediately into the trash. The problem is, she’s not able to keep any foods down after the race, and we’re both getting worried.

Finally, Theresa calls the emergency number at the Mayo Clinic – where all of her cancer care and the liver transplant have been done – and they recommend getting to an emergency room. So instead of living it up on the town, we find ourselves riding in an ambulance at 10:30 p.m., and settling in to the ER at a hospital in Arlington. It’s not the finale that I’ve envisioned to such a perfect marathon, but then again, this weekend is nothing at all that I expected. And while I would like to be out guzzling a brewski or at home sleeping, as I watch Theresa – pale as the hospital sheets – dozing with an IV in her arm, I’m reminded of life’s fragility, and that we can take nothing for granted.

The good news is that the blood tests come back fine, and a couple of liters of IV fluids and some anti-nausea medicine get Theresa in shape to be released from the hospital. We get back to the motel at about 3 a.m., so it’s a short night. Theresa feels well enough to travel in the morning, so I make the trek to the airport with her, and watch as she goes through security. I’m thrilled to have had this weekend with my friend, but I’m also alarmed at how quickly one’s health can turn.

It’s another brilliant sunny day in DC, and my flight does not leave until late afternoon, so I meet up with Cindy and Jay and their friend Jeanie on the Mall. We tour a couple of outside sculpture gardens – it’s just too beautiful to not be outdoors – before heading into the National Archives. There are some great displays inside the Archives, but the things I’ve most wanted to see – the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – remind me of the lessons I’ve learned this weekend. These incredible historic documents are almost completely faded to nothingness. Nothing is permanent in this world, not even the Declaration of Independence. But the day itself is too glorious to dwell on this thought, and we all walk along the Mall. We have a grand time talking about the race – the sights along the way, the things we all saw, or that we all missed. And all too soon, I’m heading back to the airport.

At the airport, I finally sit down at a bar to have that post-race beer. It doesn’t taste nearly as good as I expected it to, but I’m also reminded – by a sudden light-headedness – that I’ve hardly eaten today. Now there’s a central theme of the weekend, completely atypical for a marathon trip. So I get a few snacks, and head off to the plane. To my surprise, Ms. Western States 100 is boarding the plane at the same time as me, and we share race results. When we get to Denver, Western States and I walk along the concourse together, talking about the weekend and the race. We compare past races and future plans, and finally decide that we’ll probably be at a race again together in the near future and exchange business cards.

As I head out of the airport, I think about my expectations and how I thought that this would be a weekend of terrific times with friends, and that the race really wouldn’t matter that much. As I stuff my new friend’s card into my wallet, it occurs to me that maybe this was, after all, a weekend about friends. But I’ve learned that you can’t predict anything about your time with your friends anymore than you can predict your race finishing time. And that sometimes, you just need to take what the day – or the weekend – gives you, and be grateful for it. And I go home to finally scrounge up some really good food.

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