Friday, November 13, 2009

2 ½ Marathons in 15 Days—Part 1

10.25.2009 Marine Corps Marathon

Going into the MCM my thoughts were something like this.  “Well I signed up for this feat.  Marine Corps Marathon.  NYC Marathon.  OBX Half Marathon.  Now the day of reckoning is here.  I feel like the car-chasing dog that caught the car.  I’m overweight.  Carbed up for too many workouts that got rained out or reprioritized by work.  I’m undertrained.  Ditto on the workouts that didn’t happen.  Now what do I do?” 
Well, what I did was to have the greatest time of my life!
Last year I felt that my first MCM was one the greatest experiences of my life.  I felt like my second MCM could never compare.  Sunday, October 25, proved me wrong.  The 34th MCM was every bit as great an experience for me as the 33rd.  Hopefully the same will be true for the 35th
My inseparable teammate and I traveled to DC on Friday and were privileged to take part in an inspirational dinner with Hope For The Warriors.  It was a great opportunity to meet some of the beneficiaries of this great organization.  Check out the Fox News video with interviews with MSgt Carl Traub and LCpl Matt Bradford. 
Video: Injured Marines' Journey to Marathon
Saturday we dodged the rain and visited the Expo.  The new digs at the convention center are a big improvement.  The only drawback is that the place is so huge that it is easy to get lost.  We even did that.   I handed my cell phone to my teammate and guess what?  We had no way to contact each other.

In the afternoon we worked at the Hope For The Warriors table at the expo.  I should say my teammate worked the table.  I managed not to break anything.  For me it was a great social event and a chance to meet the MCM Team Hope For The Warriors teammates.  This year we had 90 fundraisers on the team.  We also had nine wounded warriors, including Team Bradford.  “If a blind double amputee can do it, anyone can do it.”  Turned out that blind amputee “kicked” my butt.
One of the treats of the afternoon was when fellow blogger Charlie stopped by.  Nearly a year after breaking his leg, he was back at the MCM for his first marathon.  No lack of ambition here.  Charlie was hoping for a BQ!  His blog is a must-read!  

Another treat was getting to see “The Voice of the Marine Corps Marathon,” Ken Berger.  I have gotten to know Ken from our annual Run For The Warriors.  There is no feeling in the world like hearing Ken announce your finish.  He was not to disappoint this year.   Coincidentally, I ran into Robi Powers as we were leaving.  I had the opportunity to thank him in person for the awesome job he did of announcing my finish last year.
When we got to the hotel, the team was doing a maintenance check on the handcycles.  This year they employed a bike mechanic.  That was a nice touch.  My teammate got my bike ready and aired up my tires.  As luck would have it, one of my tires went bad and I had no spare.  Fortunately the team had just bought some spares Friday.  They had one left.
Saturday night we met the other Team Hope For The Warriors fundraisers.  And ate pasta.  Again.  We sat with a family from Yonkers who came to support their son who was running his first marathon.  When I mentioned I was doing the NYC Marathon the following weekend, I was instantly a family member.  I didn’t know it at the time, but that was to become a recurring theme with New Yorkers.

A Rocky Start

Our handbikers were instructed to meet outside the lobby at 0630 to wheel to the start.  That would be more than plenty of time.  We set the alarm clock for 0500.  At 0600, my teammate jumped up and said, “We’ve overslept!”
At 0615 I think, we got a panic call from Robin. “We’re OK.  We overslept.  Go on to the start without us.”  I wasn’t worried.  We were staying in the hotel we were in because of some extensive recon I had done after last year’s MCM.  Hope For The Warriors had problems in previous years getting their handcyclists to the start and back to the hotel afterward.  I stayed in Rosslyn last year and found it was perfect to just roll downhill to the start and then it was just a short hop back to the hotel after the race.
I knew that if I just rolled out to Wilson Blvd. and rolled down the street, it was a straight shot to the starting line.  And it was downhill.  Down a BIG hill.  I could be there in 5 minutes.  The opening ceremonies started at 0730.   I was on my handcycle and ready.  It was 0715.  No problem.  So I thought.  I told my teammate, “I’m gone.  Meet me at the start.”
I turned down Wilson and immediately found the street blocked from curb to curb by tables and chairs.  There was no room to turn around.  I bumped and bounced my way through, “rearranging” the furniture as I wheeled.  Finally, at my familiar intersection of Lynn and Wilson, I looked down my “I think I can do that” hill.  “All I have to do is release brakes and I’m at the start!”
The blast of speed felt good compared to my memory of coming up that steep hill.  As I went around the corner I realized I would lose some of that kinetic energy to my brakes.  Two squad cars blocked my path.  “I’m sure they don’t mind moving one since I’m late already,” I thought.
“I’m sorry sir, we can’t let you go this way.  You have to go back the way you came.”   There was no getting them to back down.  I turned around and looked up that hill.  I looked at my watch. I could have cried.  I did NOT want to have to go through that park.
I said to myself, “There ain’t but one way to get to the start from here.  It’s up that hill.  You normally want a warm-up ride before your start.  This is it.”  I put the handcycle in one of the lowest gears and started up the hill on Wilson Blvd.  For the first of two times that day.
Getting through the park on wheels was ugly.  Fences crossed the sidewalk.  There were no provisions for wheelers.  Then lawn was gooey mud from rains the day before and the footsteps of tens of thousands of runners.  When I finally got to a paved area, it was clogged with people.  It was 0730.
Finally, I found a sidewalk hidden between the backs of two rows of port-a-potties.  It lead me to the top of the finish hill.  I started “warming up” my vocal cords down that hill.  “Wheels coming through!” I yelled.  When I got to the Route 110, I leaned back and yanked with all I had.  I must have hit 20 mph going down that highway.
At the start, the opening ceremonies had begun.  The Marine band stood between me and the start.  A starting official cleared a path for me through the right side of the starting line.  I made it!

The MV-22s did a flyby.  That was kind of neat for me since during my day job, I work with a team of engineers and technicians that provides support for Marine Corps aircraft, including the V-22.  This year Montel Williams did the start for the handcycles.

At Least It's a Start

In a few minutes the artillery piece fired and we were rolling.  Soon I was all alone again, grinding up that Wilson Blvd. hill.  Again.  I saw the policemen and said, “You look familiar.”
As it was last year, all the way up to Spot Run Parkway was a slow grind.  Several runners I knew gave me a shout, including Charlie, my mentor, G-, and Shannon, one of the founders of Hope For The Warriors.  The shouts of support from the runners, the pats on the back, the thumbs-up, and all the whoops and hollers were great motivation. 
On the trip down Spout Run Parkway, I got in some hollering of my own.  “Wheels on the right!”  It seemed to me like the first part of the race went faster than last year, or at least I didn’t fall as far back in the field by the time I got back off McArthur Bvld. 
I met my teammate in Georgetown and made a brief stop.    Rock Creek Parkway, Haines Point, Independence, and Constitution were all basically flat.  And great.  

I met my teammate again at 15th and Constitution to refuel.  The sun was hot and there was no breeze at that particular spot.  At that moment I started overheating.  At further water stops I had to get Marines to pour water on my head to keep cool. 
At the corner of 15th and Madison there was a table where volunteers handed out tongue depressors with Vaseline.  There is also a small hill.  I shifted to a low gear but I stalled on the hill.  I didn’t remember this spot being that steep.  I looked down.  The street was littered with tongue depressors and globs of Vaseline.  I had the stuff on my tire.  I was spinning my wheel.  I carefully picked a path between the globs while declining offers to push from runners and spectators.
On Madison I picked up my speed a little but was having a hard time passing iPodders.  One was on my right.  As I passed him, he noticed his family on our left.  He darted left into me and I ran over his foot.  I stopped and he said he was all right.  That was my first contact with a runner.
At the Capital, I met up with some Royal Marines.  On Jefferson, one started running interference for me.  We had a pretty good rhythm going for a few blocks until I fell back and lost him.  The 14th Street Bridge was long and hot.  Having replaced the road crown compensator on my bike recently, I didn’t get hung up on the cross grades like I did in the Army Ten Miler.  The warm temperatures just wore me down.
Athletically, my time was a little more lackluster than last year.  I felt I had more strength than last year.  I felt like I did a little better on the Arlington and Reservoir Road Hills.  I had much more difficulty passing iPodders even though other runners gave me great support by helping the self-deafened move out of the way.  I kind of settled in with the same group of runners from the Spout Run area to the 14th Street Bridge.  I would pass them on the downhills and they would pass me on the uphills.
We traded off support throughout the course although the predominant words from me were, “Wheels coming through!”  I dialed up my mother on my cell phone so she could listen to the sound of the finish from her room in her nursing home.  My teammate met me on Route 110 just before the entrance to the Marine Corps War Memorial.  I stopped across the street and rested a moment and rolled up to that final hill. 

Pray For Me! 

My teammates were there to meet me like the prodigal son had returned.  I inched my way up that steep driveway with the encouragement of Robin, from Hope For The Warriors; Chris, a wounded Marine; and a Navy Chaplain.  I guess looked so bad at that point that the Marines thought I might need last rites.  I ratcheted my way up the hill an inch at a time, refusing numerous offers to push.  I’m grateful there was no Vaseline station here.

It's Still a Finish 
Once you get to the top of that hill it’s deceiving because you turn right and it’s still uphill all the way to the finish line.  It’s that hill that gives the MCM much of its character.  As I neared the finish line I received a finish line announcement from Ken Berger that would not have been more fitting for the winner.  Indeed, I felt like I needed to go do the race twice to deserve such a flattering finish. 

You can see a video of the finish and hear those kind words of Ken Berger at the following website (Select the “Finish Line 5:55:15 to 6:18:41” video.  Ken Berger announcing my finish starts at when the COURSE CLOCK reads about 6:01:50):
All in all it was an awesome weekend.  Primarily made so by the personal satisfaction of being a part of Team Hope For The Warriors.  It is an honor to participate in the Marine Corps Marathon along with 90 other runners who have dedicated their marathon to improving life for our Nation's heroes. 

And it was an honor to participate beside those very heroes and to be inspired by their example. 

Please join our cause and donate to Hope For The Warriors.  Learn about their great work.  You can easily make a donation to Hope For The Warriors by using our secure credit card donation site:

2008 Miles of Hope

Or donate by check. Download our donation form, fill it out, and send it to us with your donation to our address on the form:

Donation form.pdf

One down. One and a half to go.

Stay tuned for part 2.

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