A marathon is like magic. No runner ever knows what to expect when crossing the starting line of a marathon, and the Marine Corps Marathon in D.C. is no exception. My high school friend, Chris, ran the MCM this past weekend, and I was honored to be part of the spectators this year.
I drove down from Philadelphia on Saturday and stayed with my cousin in Crystal City, which is only a few blocks away from the 21 mile marker. I had a backpack full of pretzels, gummies, granola bars, and water, and I also brought my bike for going back and forth over the Potomac. Everything was planned out: I would spot her around mile 8 and again around mile 20 before making my way to the finish, or so I thought.
The downloadable map provided by the MCM was tricky to read and zoom in on my phone, and I had the seemingly impossible task of trying to get around the Pentagon on my bike. Armed guards were everywhere and stopped me, “I’m sorry, ma’am, but you can’t take your bike past this point.”
“Can I walk my bike?” I asked. I’m sure he thought: what part of “you can’t take your bike do you NOT understand?” but I played the dumb tourist.
“No, I’m not sure how you got down here, but you can’t even walk your bike past this point. It has to be sniffed by one of our K-9s.” No K-9 was even coming; they weren’t going to call a K-9 for me.
“Oh, I didn’t know. The police back there said I could walk my bike down here. I’m just trying to get to the Lincoln Memorial near miles 8 or 9.”
“If that’s the case, you can ride your bike that way.” And he pointed to a highway. I thought he was crazy: I can’t ride my bike on a highway; I’d get killed! Fortunately, there were two other cyclists trying to get to the Lincoln Memorial as well: one lady was from the Netherlands, and I forgot her name, and there was a guy named Bret. I decided to stick with Bret and follow the nice lady from the Netherlands.
The lady from the Netherlands proceeded the opposite way on the highway’s on ramp, and Bret and I followed. At one point, she decided it was too dangerous and started walking her bike on the other side of the guardrail for protection. We did the same. Suddenly, she disappeared. I mean, she was GONE. I looked around and noticed that she was at the bottom of this steep hill and on a bike path! Sweet! Bret and I walked our bikes down the hill and started riding. Soon, we were crossing the Arlington Memorial Bridge and parted ways.
I was there in time to see Chris pass mile 14 or something; I had no idea where I was, and I snapped a picture and ran with her a little bit. I felt like I won the lottery! Out of the 30,000 people running, I was able to spot her! Then, I made my way to the 15K timing strip to say hi to Ann of Mettle Events–the most awesome timing and race company there is.
Soon, I needed to make my way back to the 20 mile mark, so I could give Chris some water and pretzels; however, I had to go by the Pentagon yet again. Fortunately, it was much easier since I stuck to the bike path to the north and cut through a tunnel to make it to the 14th Street Bridge, the point where runners have to be by a certain time or risk DNF. A marching band played and encouraged the runners on. Chris was right on pace at 9:47 per mile, just as we planned. When I saw her emerge from under the bridge, I took off running to meet her on the course, and she continued the race.
Now, I can go to the finish line. And wait. And hope that she runs fast. And she did. It wasn’t a PR day due to the heat and humidity, but she finished the race with a smile on her face and a medal the size of her hand. This marathon is magic, and I hope to run it one day too. Maybe next time, we’ll run the race together. We are Cleveland tough, after all.