I don’t know where to begin writing a reflection of the day I ran the 29th Annual Army Ten Miler. Growing up in the DC area, I’ve heard every year, around October, about these crazy people who crowd the metro on Sundays wearing running shorts and weird socks who come back straggling and limping and yet somehow incredibly happy and glowing. The Army Ten Miler and the Marine Corps Marathon have always been in the periphery of my awareness about Things That Happen in My Hometown.
Never, growing up, until this year, did I think I would be one of those crazy people.
But I was. After a very busy day running around from the ATM Expo at the DC Armory, over to Eastern Market to briefly catch up with my best friend who was in town just for the weekend (I couldn’t attend her big group dinner because of my early bedtime), over to the Rockville Potomac River Running Store to pick up some GU’s after realizing I hadn’t found any Chocolate Outrage at the Expo, I went home that night to decompress and totally prepare for the next morning. Mom and I pored over the ATM guidebook for all the information about security, bag check, where spectators go, family reunion areas, and whatever else we needed to know. I packed a bag my mom would keep instead of checking, that included my recover compression socks for after the race, band-aids, ointment and Advil in case of any injuries sustained while racing, my comfiest pair of Chucks to change into post-race, the pocket guidebook for the ATM with the course map, and of course, my Nathan handheld water bottle that held my NUUN lemonade tablets and my three GU’s – one for 15 minutes before my corral was set to start, one for the 3 mile mark, one for the 6 mile mark. I set my camera battery and my phone to charge overnight and settled in bed.
Luckily I was so exhausted from the day’s preparations I was too tired to toss and turn with nerves. By about 9:30 I was knocked out asleep.
I had set myself a 4:30 alarm, and Mom and I were ready to go by about 5:15. Having my mom there was so crucial for me. We chattered away in the car on the way to the metro, and on the metro ride itself. My mom’s upbeat and adorable personality kept me distracted from nerves and just glad to have her company.
Standing on the metro platform to switch lines from red to blue, to make it to the Pentagon, we saw, just as we were talking about him, my friend Alan’s face whizz by us as the train pulled up. We set off on a scurry in front of all the other runners waiting to catch up with his car and somehow made it to make it an easy meet-up with him. From then on, Alan and I were inseparable – until, of course, the gun went off.
I think the organization of the race was more difficult for spectators and runners arriving late than for me. I had a great experience. My mom had trouble once I left her figuring out how to get a good spot at the starting line, and then how to find the finish line, but she finally got herself settled at the finish line ready to watch everyone rush by. From her perspective, she said by that time, once she was settled, it was so exciting to watch the herds of runners finish. So many people ran this race – there were 35,000 registered and just over 26,000 finishers – that there was never really a lull between finishers. She said they just kept coming!
From my perspective, I had the time of my life. As soon as Alan and I got through security – naughtily slipping in with our phones and iPods that they didn’t check for – I made a dash for the port-a-johns, and then we headed over to our corral. Alan wasn’t happy about this, but I was: he’s much speedier than I but somehow got stuck in the last corral with me. I am SO glad, again, he was there. I’m so used to running races mostly alone at this point, lining up alone, sometimes even without anyone waiting for me at the finish, but those are small, NBD events with very few participants. (Spoiler alert: I finished ahead of 7,000 people, which is almost 20 times the amount of people just PARTICIPATING in the largest-enrolled race I’ve done to date.) Having Alan in the corral with me to chat with and stretch with and observe with was also really comforting for my nerves.
I missed the parachutist I’d heard always appears at races in other years. It was also hard to make out the National Anthem from so far back, too, but my mom reports that she was very impressed. I wished I could have seen the Wheelchair and Wounded Vet racers take off, but there was so much Army and troop support among the racers (people wearing shirts for their loved ones they were running in memory of, signs on the backs of shirts that said “thank you for your service,” etc.) that I definitely felt the spirit of the race anyway. Plus, there were more than a few racers in the general runners running on prosthetic legs and I just was so inspired and amazed. People are really amazing. To lose a whole part of your body and not let it stop you, literally and figuratively? Talk about perspective. When I felt tired or my legs felt sore during the race, I just thought of those runners on their prosthetic limbs and sucked it up, thanking God for my blessings.
So here’s the breakdown for my race:
Mile 1: Went by like a breeze, except for weaving around and trying not to trip over all the people starting out at a much slower pace than me, or even starting the race by walking. I am ALL for walking in races in intervals – I did my fair share of one minute walk breaks here and there yesterday, totaling maybe 6 or 7 minutes of walking, and I CERTAINLY don’t judge anyone who has to walk more than that. It wasn’t long ago I would have had to walk half this race and I don’t think anything should stop anyone from signing up for the Army Ten Miler if they can, training and fitness level be damned. I just ask that if you’re walking, please confine the walkers to one lane. Please don’t walk four friends abreast. Tripping up my time and pace aside, it’s just kind of dangerous to be running along and then realize you’re about to smack into a wide wall of walkers. Lap: 10:16
Mile 2: More scenic, a little uphill, still feeling good. I took my first very brief walk break here when my trainer app told me to even though I kind of didn’t want to. My body wanted to but my brain didn’t. We weaved up and around a ramp that took us past a peek into Arlington National Cemetery, where my Gramma Iris is buried. This part of the Cemetery was nowhere near where my Gramma’s grave is, but I blew her a kiss and whispered “Hi Gramma Iris” anyway as I passed the graves. Up the ramp we crossed Arlington Memorial Bridge, and the sun over the water was absolutely gorgeous. I felt so blessed to truly be taking in, loving, and running my city in one of its finest-looking moments. I approached the Mile 2 marker as the Lincoln Memorial rose into view. Lap: 10:14
Mile 3: Hopping onto Constitution Avenue, we came upon the first water stop. I had my handheld bottle and was feeling good and didn’t want to stop and waste any time, so I just was careful not to slip on any of the spilled water and crushed cups covering the streets. A lot of runners took pictures of the “Constitution Avenue” street sign and it reminded me, no matter the BS of politics and incompetence of Congress and the general pessimism and snobby attitude we DC area people take toward the government and tourists, that my hometown is a place that is absolute living history. People came from all over the country for this race and I was proud to run alongside them as they experienced Washington perhaps for the first time in their lives. I thought, “This is my home. For all its faults and problems and for all the complaining I do about wanting to move to another city, this is my home, and like you can’t choose your family and love them anyway, I didn’t choose my hometown and I love it anyway.” Lap: 10:27
Mile 4: Most of this mile was a long stretch of Virginia Avenue, including passing the Watergate building. People not apart of the race were actually out and about at this point, held up from crossing the street by all us runners. It was this mile I realized I’d forgotten to take my GU until I approached the end of the mile, reminded by the water stop. I sucked that thing down and kept motoring. Lap: 10:31
Mile 5: I was positively grinning at this point. It just felt so AMAZING to be running the race. The best part of the Army Ten Miler is by far the course itself. Every time I felt myself getting tired something about the course support or something I love about DC would distract me and I would feel so much joy to be a part of the day. To be one of the runners people were cheering on, to be one of the runners getting talked about on the news stations that morning. On this mile we passed through the Kennedy Center along the water. It was truly gorgeous. Having grown up performing from about age 13 until just a couple of years ago, the Kennedy Center always stuck out as the tops for DC area performers. I remembered seeing a show there for the very first time, Thoroughly Modern Millie when it was on tour and I was in high school dreaming of becoming a, and how much all my theatre friends love the KC and its rooftop and how much I love seeing it across the water when I’m on 395. Lap: 10:38
Mile 6: This was a beautiful stretch of the course along the National Mall, a little around the Tidal Basin, which was sparkling in the sun. Running by the Washington Monument gave us a lot of really awesome spectators. One woman held a sign that had a target spot on it that said “touch here for power!” and everyone that passed did it. Looking back it sounds silly, but it really kind of worked. I always thought runners did that as a courtesy thank-you for supporting us gesture, but it really felt like a two-way thing. I started to feel like sagging a bit at this point but could not make myself take my walk breaks as long as I was supposed to, and found myself swerving and weaving walkers left and right. I hit the mat check-in for this with plenty of time to spare for the sag wagon, a good half hour ahead of it even with our 30-minute late starting corral. Lap: 10:52
Mile 7: This was probably the toughest part of the course for me. After the 10K mark it was a stretch of road just around the Air and Space Museum, a part of DC I went to so many times as a kid I’d be happy to never see it again. (Except when Dorothy’s ruby slippers are there then fine, I’ll go, but otherwise…) It felt like just a blur of office buildings that we wound around. It shows in my lap time for this mile: my slowest of the race. I was feeling pretty dogged until my GU kicked in. People heading the other direction passing by were only a mile’s worth of race ahead of us, and soon enough I was passing people going in the direction I’d just come from as well. It amazed me how many people were behind me even though I knew how slow I was in the grand scheme of the race. What a huge number of runners!! Lap: 11:00
Mile 8: This part was kind of fun. My body was DEFINITELY fading but I kept thinking of my mom waiting at the finish line anxiously looking for me and it spurred me on. The most fun part was running alongside the steps of the Jefferson Memorial and a scenic view of the water again. My GU kicked in and I reset my playlist to the beginning so Fall Out Boy’s “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” gave me the boost I needed – Light ’em up, up, up, light ’em up, up, up. Lap: 10:39
Mile 9: I couldn’t have MADE myself walk if I tried. I was doing a lot of weaving [The weaving I had to do throughout the race is why my GPS ended up with a 10.34 mile distance instead of the even USATF-certified 10 miles] because so many people were toasted from running up the incline of the bridge. But my legs are used to hills from training at home and I just kept a steady trot. I was tired as hell but completely in the zone. This is the part where “running is a mental sport” meant everything. I knew my legs were aching and my toes were not thrilled with me at all, but I had all the lung power and stamina in the world. It was just a matter of mind over muscle and mind won. Even with the uphill, lap time was 10:50
Mile 10: This last mile was such a blur. It felt like a victory lap, but one I didn’t want to run. The zone and the high of mile 9 was over and I just wanted to see my mom and eat a cheeseburger. It was torture when my GPS tracker told me I’d hit 10 miles and I still couldn’t see the finish line. [Again, the weaving, adding fake distance.] As soon as we entered the zone of the Pentagon it was like every step I expected to see the finish line. People were lined up to cheer the last mile from the very beginning of it and in every face I looked for my mom. I’m sure most of the pictures that I may show up in I will look anxious and searching. I finally saw the black and gold balloons for the finish line and tried to move faster but at the same time didn’t want to miss seeing my mom before crossing the finish line. When I finally saw her, she was looking past me for me. I cried, “Mom! Mom! MOM!!!” and she finally saw me and started snapping away. I crossed the finish line in a blur and immediately felt like hurling.
Net finish time: 1:49:22
Average pace: 10:56
Age division: 1371/2013
It didn’t feel natural to stop moving but I also didn’t know where to go. The whole crowd seemed to be moving like zombies and my mom was trotting alongside me on the other side of the spectator barrier chattering away and I couldn’t understand like any of it. All I wanted to do was… everything all at once. I wanted my compression socks on, I wanted chocolate milk and a sandwich, I wanted to take my shoes off, I wanted to be carried, I wanted to be hugged, I wanted my finisher’s coin, and I couldn’t articulate anything. All I can remember being able to say was “I don’t know” to anything my mom asked. (Sorry Mom, I was pretty out of it.) I think I remember seeing a dog pass by and immediately wanting to go to it like it was an old friend, even though I don’t personally know any Weimaraners.
We found Alan near the “hoo ha” tents as Mom called them (real name: “Hooah Tent,” as they say in the Army), got our finisher’s coins, I sat in the middle of the paved parking lot laboriously pulling my compression socks on for my poor toesies and calves. The lines for food and water were long as hell and many tents were already cleared out of food (the sadness of being back of the pack), so I told Mom all I wanted to do was get on the Metro home and eat all the food Rockville had to offer. I was as hungry as a beast on crack and all I could think about was biting into a cheeseburger.
It was an absolutely perfect day. It was hard, but it wouldn’t have been perfect if it hadn’t been hard. In 5-6 months I managed to go from a 12 1/2 minute 5K pace to a sub-11 10-miler pace. WHAT?! As I said before, I signed up for this race to force myself to keep working hard, and it worked. I have almost literally worked my ass off and am completely hooked. I have a lot of big races in my future, but I will never forget my first Army Ten Miler. I have never been more proud of myself for all those runs where I felt like giving up, all those days I laced up when all I wanted to do was nap, all those cross-training days at the gym when I just wanted to be outside running, all those times I felt frustrated and stagnant in making progress.
I did it.
I ran Army. I run strong.