Do or do not. There is no try.

It was a dark and stormy …. no wait, that’s for people running the Marine Corps Marathon this morning. For my race, it was just dark. And cold. And early.

Just after 6am, I parked my car a block or so from the starting line. But it was 45 degrees so I took my time getting my stuff together, futzing with my race number (I hate those pins), and making a decision: sweatshirt, or no sweatshirt? After standing by my car for a few minutes, I decided it was cold but not intolerable, so I left it.

Fortunately I spotted a little building where some of the runners were hanging out–it was a bit warmer in there, and I sat on the floor stretching. I saw one of the women from my training group, and as we headed out to the starting area, we met another. They’re a bit faster and I knew we wouldn’t stay together long, but it was nice to have some moral support!

I had to laugh when the announcer said they’d be doing the awards at 8:30–at that point, I’d still have four miles to go! Yeesh.

This race benefits a charity that builds water wells in Burundi. The charity’s founder was the sole survivor of a massacre in his village in the early 1990s, and now he lives here, training runners and giving back. At the start, after the American national anthem, he and his cousin sang the Burundi national anthem.

And then we were off.

It was still dark as we crossed the bridge and headed west. The first three miles were pretty flat and the road was completely closed, so runners spread out, making it easier for me to settle into the fastest pace I could manage. I’ve driven this street thousands of times, so it was an interesting perspective to run it going the wrong way.

The 5K race started 15 minutes after the 10-miler, and their course followed the same route for the first mile and a half. As I passed the 5K turnaround. I was kind of jealous of those folks who had the luxury of only running 3.1!

Around 3.5 miles, we turned north, into the hills. This is a beautiful part of the city. The lake was to our left, lots of historic old houses mixed with sprawling mansions to our right. One house had a bridge extending over the roadway to a boathouse, complete with helipad, on the lake side. Just ahead, a couple of runners stopped at a little overlook to take pictures of the sunrise over the lake. It was gorgeous, but I didn’t want to stop, lest more people pass me.

For the next four miles, I wound down and up, around and over and down. I passed a dad and daughter sitting on lawn chairs in the front yard. The daughter had a sign cheering for her mom, clearly running the race, and the dad’s sign quoted Yoda: Do or Do Not. There is No Try. I waved and kept going.

I kept looking for a park I knew was on this street, to give me an idea where I was, but eventually I realized I’d already passed it–I hadn’t noticed it because I’d focused on the water stop. What a great feeling to discover I was further than I thought and had nearly finished the hilly section!

From here, the course looped back onto the flat, straight road and headed back in the direction we’d come. There was more traffic now, and the sun shone brightly, but it was still pretty cold. I was comfortable in just my long-sleeved shirt and was glad I’d left my sweatshirt in the car.

Mile eight took us across an overpass that normally sees thousands of cars per day, but was eerily empty now with just a bunch of people on foot. By this time pretty much all of my lower extremities hurt, but I was better off than the two roadkill opossums I sidestepped on the overpass.

The volunteers at the last water stop had stuck it out for stragglers like me, and I was grateful. I don’t usually like Gatorade, but it was nectar of the gods at mile nine. I had hard time getting started again though. It’s funny, this section of road is really familiar to me–it’s the homestretch for the Capitol 10K and the Turkey Trot, and like I said I’ve driven it thousands of times over the years. But wow I had a hard time putting any speed into that last mile.

Finally I reached the bridge. A couple of spectators cheered me on as I made the turn. I passed the three-mile marker for the 5Kers, and more people cheered. I was alone on the bridge–I couldn’t catch the runners in front of me, and the ones behind me couldn’t catch up. The announcer read my number and called my name. As I crossed, two men stood there high-fiving every finisher. It took me a second to realize they were the gentlemen from Burundi. What a powerful moment.

I finished in 2:22. Not quite my crazy goal of 2:15, but not last. I’d say a good 50 people finished behind me. Do or do not. There is no try.