5:30 AM. I am too excited to have slept much, but I still feel rested, thanks to a two hour nap yesterday afternoon. I dress and check over the contents of my bag: polartec hat, polartec gloves, towel, water, water bottle, and five dollar bill. I plan to sip water continuously during the race, exactly as in my training runs. Dehydration will not claim me.
I am wearing a sweatshirt over my bright red, sleeveless, coolmax tee and jade shorts. My race number is pinned to my shirt, and the claim ticket is on my bag. My carefully preserved 998s are laced over those marvelous Ultimax socks. I wonder how I ever ran in cotton. The timing chip is securely attached. The keys to Becky's car sit atop a Metro ticket.
I bite into a banana VO2max bar. Yuk. Two weeks earlier I ate a chocolate VO2max before the Army 10 Miler. It tasted terrible too, but I had a great race - I blasted an unthinkable seven minutes from my PR. I think about superstition and finish the bar. I drink more water.
Finally, I play enough solitaire for it to be time to leave. Since Bud is sleeping on the couch in the living room, I try to quiet the shuffling with my hat. I have no idea if it is working, but I can hardly ask him. I drive to the Metro and park. Halfway into the station, I realize that I do not have my ticket. Panic strikes; did I leave the ticket in the car or at the house? I retrieve my ticket from the car.
I descend the escalator at 6:56 AM. Just as the train comes into view, the doors close. It seems that the Metro is not opening at 7:00 AM as advertised, but at 6:56 AM. Some runners on the platform are agitated by this development, but I remain surprisingly calm. The next train leaves promptly at 7:16 AM. There are two other runners in my car, both of whom are doing chinups. I sit down, close my eyes, and try to rest.
The staging area is a sea of bodies. I stuff my sweatshirt into my bag and exit the baggage tent. I get in line for a portapot. There are not very many portapots, but there are lots of customers. A limo accompanied by police and secret service inches past the portapot lines. I think it must Secretary Albright, but later I wonder if it was the Vice President with his daughters.
Finally, relief is mine. I reach the starting line. The announcer delays the start and asks repeatedly for a runner to come to the podium. It is clear from his tone that he has bad news for the runner. Later, I learn that the runner's father suffered a fatal heart attack while spectating. The runner does not materialize.
Light rain begins to fall. I curse. Surely, it is a passing shower. The forecast is for rain later in the day. Rain falls harder. My tights are at home. Obviously, I cannot retrieve them. My hat and gloves are safely tucked away in the baggage tent. They might as well be at home. I am cold and getting colder. The howitzer booms.
Marathoners jam the road, and I am glad for the Army 10 Miler experience. Although I am near the back of the pack, it takes less than 5 minutes to cross the start line. My chirp from the timing mat mingles with a cacaphony of other chirps. I am becoming Marathon Man.
The first mile takes just over 10 minutes, but to my delight the second is nearly on pace at 9:07. Avoiding other runners requires constant attention. I see a woman with a bloody knee limping to the side. Precious minutes tick by as I relieve myself in the trees near the Pentagon, but at least I know that I have been drinking enough. Soon I recross the starting line, still on pace. As I head for Georgetown, I savor the odd sensation of running on an Interstate.
My watch informs me that the mile markers are increasingly close together. I visualize the debacle of my last training run. I recall the sensations of bonking. I come to my senses, such as they are, and slow down.
Halfway down the Mall, I search for my personal cheering section. A large green and yellow felt banner reading `Go Paul' catches my eye. Cathy is waving it. Cathy wants to be Marathon Woman, but hasn't yet slipped over the `I want to run a marathon' edge to `I can do it!' and then `I will do it'. I am doing it! I smile, wave back, and search more, but fail to find the rest of my cheerers.
I deduce that sign preparation and storage were the reasons I was ordered to stay out of the basement yesterday evening. The fact that I can think clearly at the halfway point shocks me. Despite the rain, I feel very good.
Carol does not recognize me. The culprit is a combination of rain and thinning hair. Carol is embarrassed, but I am not. Bert, who has nine years on me in this process, says it well: "Grossvater Baeseler was bald, but he was a happy person." I am content to live with that. I later learn that Bert spends the entire day thinking about my run. Bert too wants to be Marathon Man. I will entice him over the edge.
I find all of my cheerers after circling Capitol Hill. I stop and kiss Matt and Becky. Bud holds Matt, and Carol and Cathy cheer. Becky snaps pictures. Becky has recently become 5K Woman, the limit of her knee. Becky profits from her transformation, as do I from mine. I head down the Mall, which stretches on forever. I am beginning to tire.
Olfactory assault awaits at each aid station. Rain dilutes sickly sweet puddles of spilled XLR8. BenGay mingles with sweat. I splash on through. At the 19 mile mark, the PowerBar team hands out goodies. I opt for PowerBar chunks, and, despite all the warnings about never trying anything new on race day, a PowerGel. I am undaunted; my stomach is iron. The sugar in the gel is overpowering. I eat half and discard the remainder. PowerGel packets, their contents squirted into colorful smears, litter the pavement.
I notice that my pace has slowed, and I make myself run faster. This is hard work. To distract myself, I strike up a conversation with another runner, who turns out to be a veteran marathoner. I am passing runners, some of whom have been reduced to the marathon death march. I am cold running; I cannot imagine walking. It is a relief to reach the 14th Street Bridge, familiar ground from the Army 10 Miler.
I spread my arms like an airplane and bank around the corner onto the ramp. A spectator cheers my show of energy. I feel better. I encourage another runner up the ramp. A spectator on rollerblades cruises down the side of the bridge open to traffic. Clearly, the lunatics are the spectators, not the runners. A policeman pulls the rollerblader over. I pass the 23 mile mark and enter virgin territory. I have never run this far before in my life.
I am in a daze. My body demands to stop. I run. My watch informs me that the sadistic race organizers have spaced the final `mile' markers dramatically farther apart. The 24 mile marker is cruelly far away. The 25 mile marker is even worse. After an eternity, I reach the turnoff leading to the Carillon.
I later learn that Becky cheers loudly from perhaps 15 feet away. She waves a large green and yellow felt sign reading `Go Daddy'. I do not notice; everthing is a blur.
I reach the 26 mile mark and speed up. I cannot fail in the last two tenths of a mile. The finish line clock proclaims 4:01. My chip time is well under four hours. A wave of emotion engulfs me, and I fight back tears. Just past the finish a Marine questions me, "Sir, do you need medical help?" For a split second, I contemplate his question. He is serious. I must look as bad as I feel. I thank him, but decline. Victory is mine. I am Marathon Man.
You may wish to visit the home page for the Marine Corps Marathon.