Achilles Heel 10K

Thursday morning, after mechanical and presidential delays, B and I flew to Washington, D.C., reuniting with J and K. We spent Friday at the Air and Space museum–it’s a space shuttle summer–and on Saturday our little caravan drove down to Colonial Beach for J’s triathlon.

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We spent most of the afternoon at the beach, exhausting the kids and working up an appetite for soft serve ice cream. Mandatory at the beach, yes?

After dinner, K presented J with the first of several surprises we’d concocted over the last few weeks: a lime green technical shirt for what we’d dubbed the Achilles Heel 10K, since we’d be running the 10K portion of the triathlon together. On the back, we’d put a nickname she’d been given after an earlier race had typo’d her name on her race bib. She immediately declared she would wear it for the next day’s race.

Race morning, I woke up early–the east coast sunrise dawns earlier than it does at home–and took my kindle out on the porch to read and watch the swim portion of the race.

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From the front porch

The plan was for us to wait outside J’s house–the run course passed by about a half-mile into the race–and jump in as she approached. Which led to surprise #2: we wore lime green Achilles Heel 10K shirts too (including our friend P, who had joined us from New Jersey), but instead of our names on the back, ours announced us as J’s Goon Squad.

While we waited, we stood with J’s husband in front of the house. He started out watering the plants, but switched to directing the garden hose toward the runners instead. Most accepted gratefully, saying, “Hit me, man!” and “You’re awesome!” Even the ones who declined thanked him for being out there. But a few runners answered the offer of water with funny alternative requests:

  • coffee
  • vodka
  • golf cart

One runner asked that he not spray his shoes, just “where there’s blood.” He said he’d just tripped and fallen and was grateful for the chance to rinse off.

And then J’s lime green shirt appeared down the street, and it was go time.

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Go time

The route followed the road, the Potomac on the left, cute beach houses on the right. Cloud cover kept the temperature down as we made our way south down the peninsula.

Our shirts attracted a lot of attention as we ran. Runners and spectators alike cheered things like “Go team green!” and “Love the shirts!” One guy commented that we were the nicest looking goon squad ever.

Periodically we spotted osprey nests on platforms high up above the beach. It’s osprey baby time, so every hundred feet or so, we observed mom and dad osprey supervising their babies. They weren’t terribly thrilled with us, squawking and fussing as we passed.

As we turned north again, shade trees and a breeze helped us out. J’s Achilles’ tendon wasn’t super happy, so we weren’t setting any land speed records, but that didn’t matter to K and me. This wasn’t our race–our whole purpose was to get J across the finish line. A bigger problem was that she hadn’t eaten anything on the bike, so after we made the turnaround and passed through the shade, she started flagging a bit.

The route was scenic and flat, and even though the roads weren’t closed off, race support was really good. Water stops every mile, ice-cold towels at least twice each way, and a couple of residents with water hoses, cowbells, and cheers. But they couldn’t control the weather, and thus things got tougher when the clouds burned off and we started baking in the sun as we rounded the end of the peninsula and headed north toward to finish. But I wasn’t going to let her down–my job was moral support, and as long as she was running, I would be running. I was determined to see her to that finish line if it killed me.

Somewhere around 4.5 miles (for K and me, since we started from J’s house), J slowed, saying her stomach didn’t feel well. We walked most of the rest of the way, but as we turned toward the finish, she decided to run it in. Finish strong, indeed.

Which led to surprise #3: medals.

Last winter, when I visited D.C. with my honor society students, J and I went for an early-morning run we called the Asscrack of Dawn 5K. J secretly had medals made, which prompted K and me to do the same for the Achilles Heel 10K. Especially since some sleuthing revealed that this race apparently lacked finishers’ medals. The guy at the medal shop had looked at me like I came from Planet Zoltar, but he did what I asked. The morning of the race, I entrusted them to P, and after we took off for the run, she headed out the other direction. After J crossed the finish line successfully, the four of us met up for a special medal presentation.

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I know we mixed our mythology, with Hermes’ winged shoes to represent the Achilles Heel, but whatever.

J was feeling pretty horrid, but she laughed at this last touch. Then she went to sit down. K got her another water bottle and I found her a granola bar. As we sat on a wall, a guy asked us, perhaps a tad hopefully, where we got the medals. I explained that we’d had them made, and he was disappointed. Or perplexed by us. Not sure which.

J started to feel better, and we retrieved her stuff from transition, walking her bike the half-mile home.

In the end, all of our plans came together perfectly. The only snag was J’s suffering at the end of the race, but I’m proud of her for powering through. I’m so lucky to have these friends and these experiences. Fortunately, the three of us get to do it again for the Army Ten-Miler in October!

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