Army Ten-Miler: an epic race!

It’s true. The pink streak in my hair made me faster.

But let’s start at the beginning.

I didn’t sleep well last night, but I expected that. And I woke up about ten minutes before my alarm, also as I expected. I committed to the short-sleeved shirt even though a cold front had come through overnight. K had brought extra arm warmers and at the last minute I added those to my ensemble. J got six of us out the door quite efficiently, and it was a short drive to Pentagon City Mall where we found parking at the top level of the garage. Minor tactical error, parking at the top, but we didn’t consider it at the time.

The race started in six waves, and I think our group represented all of them. After a quick meetup at the Metro station, a picture in which we were photobombed by a random woman, and hugs and well-wishes, we went our separate ways. A couple of us hit the port-a-potty line, then K and her husband split off to their respective corrals. G and I were in the last wave, which put us at something of a disadvantage, timewise. This race has two time limit markers (one at five miles and one at about 7.5), both based on gun time. We started 25 minutes after the gun, but we still had to make it across the markers in time. While we weren’t REALLY worried about it–in theory we should have a reasonably big window–the markers were in the back of our heads all the same. I didn’t really have a goal time other than to beat the cutoff.

Even though the race officially bans headphones and iPods, lots of runners had them anyway. I’d brought both, but I decided to leave my headphones off and looped them around my spi belt, to be used only if G and I got separated and I needed some musical motivation. I wanted to experience all this race had to offer–sights, sounds, all of it.

It was cold but not unpleasant as we watched the sun rise over the Pentagon and Air Force Memorial. The arm warmers were a good choice!

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Then the sound of the cannon sent us on our way.

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We ran along, the Potomac on our right and Arlington National Cemetery on our left. The first mile seemed to pass quickly, and soon we were looping around, heading up the Arlington Memorial Bridge. The cobblestones made it a little tricky, but seeing a guy with a carbon fiber leg negotiating them reminded me that my problems were minor.

This bridge leads from Arlington directly across to the Lincoln Memorial, with the Washington Monument a little further off to the right. I said to G that I wanted to fix this image in my mind: a sea of runners, a majestic view. I have always said that every American should stand at the foot of Lincoln at least once in their lives. It’s without a doubt my favorite structure in this city, and seeing it on this morning was incredibly powerful.

We made the right turn onto Constitution Avenue, then left on Virginia Avenue. This section had a bit of an incline, and my hip flexor twinged somewhat. We passed the Watergate (fun fact: the break-in happened on my second birthday) and made the turn toward the Kennedy Center. My Garmin lost its satellite link where the building hangs over the road a bit, so when it reconnected, it told me I was running a seven-minute mile while it caught up to my actual location. Ha.

Around 4.5 miles, G needed a pit stop. So far, I’d only slowed through a couple of water stops and was making good time, so she told me to keep going and she’d catch up. There was a bit of a line, and it took her almost a mile to join me again. But we’d made the first time limit easily. Goal one, achieved. I remember telling G that I have looked forward to this race for so long, I almost didn’t want it to end. Blue sky, bright sun, a sea of humanity, wounded warriors, incredible scenery. I wanted to freeze time for a while.

We passed the WWII Memorial, then the Washington Monument with its scaffolding and funky plastic condom covering. As we ran along Independence Avenue, runners ahead of us were coming back down the other side of the street. Some stuck their hands out for high fives. Lots of people cheered. A high school band played. Service members handed out water. It was loud and raucous and fun.

We made the loop and headed back down Independence–lots of spectators lined the street here, with signs and cowbells and even a vuvuzela. I spotted a woman holding a box of Dunkin Donuts Munchkins, and I shouted to G, “Knock her down and steal her donuts!” Fortunately the woman had a sense of humor and laughed. I wasn’t REALLY gonna mug her for her Munchkins. Probably.

We made the left turn and approached the 14th Street Bridge, Jefferson on our right. G discovered her Garmin had frozen up who knows how long ago. Mine seemed to be right, more or less, with the posted mile markers. As we ascended the bridge, we cheered because we knew now we had made the second time goal. Even so, this part was tough. Lots of incline on what was rapidly becoming sore hip flexors. I told G this is where I got cranky. She reminded me, “We just passed a guy with one leg.” Point taken.

As we approached the end of what felt like the world’s longest bridge, we could see the Pentagon off to our right. A street sign teased us with “Pentagon, 1/4 mile.” We could hear the finish line announcers and music. So close, yet so far away. We took a right toward the Pentagon, one mile to go. Up the overpass, down the ramp, around and under a bridge. Spectators lined the route again. Right turn into the Pentagon parking lot, passing the now-empty corrals from the start. I checked my watch–we had run 9.5 miles, and I realized I was under my 10-mile personal best time. I told G, we can make it. She thought I meant the finish, but I said no, with a half-mile left, we could break my 10-mile PR. We accelerated.

Around the corner, up another damned bridge. Could we do it, or would this bridge torpedo us? Down the other side, where’s the finish line? My hip flexors screamed. G channeled her inner drill sergeant–go go go! WHERE IS THE FINISH?? And then we rounded a curve and spotted the holy grail black and gold balloon arch. Go go go, she shouted.

We crossed the timing mat and I stopped my Garmin. Looked at the time. G shouted, “Did we do it?”

Yes!

Not by much. A minute, tops. But a PR is a PR, and I was elated. I never expected a PR, never planned for it, never even had a time goal for this race. Yet I ran the whole distance–10.16 miles, thankyouverymuch–except for five water stops, and I still had enough left to speed up at the end! I absolutely could not have done it without G pushing me and telling hilarious stories along the way. We wrapped our arms around each other and caught our breath, walking slowly through the chute while the moment sank in. Grabbed water, collected our finisher’s coins, took a couple of pictures.

It took a few minutes to text the others (service was spotty) and figure out where to meet them. Hugs, high fives, more pictures. We had all rocked this race, in our own ways, and the endorphin rush had us bouncing around–as much as our sore legs could bounce, anyway.

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As we headed out, a guy came up behind me and asked if I was from Austin–I was wearing my Rogue shirt, and he’d recognized it. Go Rogue!

Getting out of the Pentagon complex involved climbing over a couple of those concrete barricades that line the road (and keep cars from crashing, presumably) which was not easy for the short girl with sore hip flexors. But we managed, only to get to the Pentagon City Mall parking garage and realize our earlier tactical error of parking on the top level: stairs. Ugh.

We piled in the car–it felt so good to sit down, even if I did have to climb into the way-back–and inched into the line snaking out of the garage. J lives just a few miles away, so it wasn’t long before we queued up for showers. Three of us wore our ATM shirts. Then the piece de resistance: lunch at Brennan’s Irish pub in Arlington. Burgers, fries, coffee, wine, beer, and the post-race glow of achievement. I didn’t want it to end.

But K and R had to drive back to North Carolina, Cynthia had to work, J had to get a kid to swim team, and I had a flight home. As I write this, I’m looking at a gorgeous sunset out the airplane window, a fitting finale to an amazing weekend of good friends and a race I will never forget.

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