First half review. Although I felt good in the first half of the 2007 National Marathon, I was steadily slipping off my goal of 8-minute miles as I chased after a time of 3:45 (8:35). After four miles I was steadily over eights, and I ran an 8:40 thirteenth mile. In the second half of the race I wouldn't run any mile in under 8:35. The thirteenth mile was up and over the long Frederick Douglass Bridge over the Anacostia River. (All smiles the day before at the Expo. I think I can!) We transitioned during that mile from nice flat waterfront running in SE through pastoral Anacostia Park to running the streets in the District again, heading for a return to the Mall.
A special view. My magic moment in the race came when I saw the Nationals’ new stadium from the bridge, its skeletal steel arising out of the mist along the riverbank like the ribs of a wrecked ship which had been driven upon the shoals. It was spectacular. (The next day. How come there are Russian numbers on my bib?) But in retrospect the telling point was that the climb over the bridge didn’t bother me, at that point. But that was about to change drastically. Up until then, I had been putting miles behind me. But now each new mile was starting to lengthen and acquire an orbit of its own.
(Looking south from the construction zone of the new baseball stadium at the Frederick Douglass Bridge, also known as the South Capitol Street Bridge. The incline didn't seem like much in the thirteenth mile but my perceptions were about to change dramatically.)
MP Split Time Notes
1. (8:06) 8:06; 2. (7:45) 15:51; 3. (7:57) 23:49; 4. (9:00) 32:49 Missed the marker; 5. (7:22) 40:11 Short mile; 6. (9:01) 49:12 Missed the marker; 7. (7:22) 56:35 Short mile; 8. (8:14) 1:04:50; 9. (8:33) 1:13:23; 10. (8:04) 1:21:28; 11. (8:38) 1:30:06; 12. (8:28) 1:38:30
13. 8:40 1:47:10 Scenic-The new ballpark
14. 8:35 1:55:46 Momentarily lost
15. 8:42 2:04:28 Tunnel
16. 8:51 2:13:20 Runnin’ the Mall again
17. 8:53 2:22:14 Manifest Destiny
18. 9:49 2:32:03 Uphill grade
19. 9:31 2:41:35 Slogging up the grade
20. 11:04 2:52:39 The Climb
21. 12:12 3:04:51 Missed the marker
22. 7:15 3:12:07 Short mile
23. 8:46 3:20:54
24. 9:15 3:30:09
25. 9:15 3:39:25
26. 9:12 3:48:37
.21. 1:59 (9:04) 3:50:36 (1:22 is 6:30 pace)
3:50:22 (3:50:39) (8:48 pace)
MP 14 (8:35) 1:55:46. Lost. Leaving the bridge I ran northbound on South Capitol Street SW past MP 13. I immediately turned left onto M Street SW and headed back towards the DC waterfront. Although I was retracing in reverse my eighth mile, I didn't know where I was because I rarely run M Street SW and I have never entered it from the south before. Studying the street signs soon oriented me, however, and I passed the halfway mark in 1:48, an 8:15 first-half race pace. That's on pace for a 3:36 marathon but I knew that with how I was slowing down and the hills coming up, I would be lucky to break 3:50. I was now slurping gatorade in addition to water at every water stop, still grabbing the cups on the run. I swallowed my first GU, and it made me feel nauseous for the next mile. I hit the waterfront and turned onto Maine Avenue, passing by the Arena Stage.
A special moment. I reflected upon the last time I had seen a play in its unique theatre, seven years earlier when I had brought my now-21 year old son there to see Howard Sackler's pulitzer-prize winning play The Great White Hope. Then the wearisome memory of five recent years of devastating divorce proceedings that followed soon afterwards passed through my thoughts, instantly sapping my energy. Defending myself against that bitter rip-and-tear litigation financially ruined me and left my children estranged from me. As I ran by I wryly answered my own unstated question-no wonder I run marathons!
(Looking westward at the Arena Stage in SW by the waterfront, where M Street SW swings around to turn into Maine Avenue down about a mile west of the new baseball park.)
MP 15 (8:42) 2:04:28. The Tunnel. We left the waterfront and entered the 9th Street Tunnel, a highway underpass which runs under the Mall. Ever since the first National course went through there, I had wanted to run it. There are sidewalks lining the walls down there. For a long time whenever I drove it I studied it to see if a runner could get through there safely. I finally decided it would be suicidal. So when the opportunity to run it during the race arose, I relished finally running through the dark dank tube. Emerging onto Constitution Avenue, I turned left towards the Potomac River. The short incline leaving the tunnel was the last uphill stretch that I didn't suffer on for the rest of the race.
MP 16 (8:51) 2:13:20. The Mall again. I retraced exactly my third mile along the Mall. Earlier I did this flat section in 7:57 but now my time was almost a minute slower. I went past the Washington Monument and the White House for the third time and passed mile marker 16, the sentinel I had run by in reverse over ninety minutes earlier.
MP 17 (8:53) 2:22:14. The sweep of history. As I veered left to run down Henry Bacon Drive towards the Lincoln Memorial, I glanced right to see the statue of Albert Einstein, seated half-hidden in the bushes. Crowd support here was sparse but vocal, with every spectator clapping and cheering us on. Some called out my number in encouragement. I passed Lincoln and at the Potomac River swung north to head up Rock Creek Park, a deep wooded ravine cutting across the District like a slash mark made by an other-worldly sword.
A special spot. All around me lay two centuries of American history, embodied in visible pantheons and icons. Virginia, home to Presidents and the formerly slave-holding state where two of my three sons were born, lay to my left across the Potomac. The Custis Mansion, Robert E. Lee’s pre-war home, was shining on the hill in Arlington National Cemetery across the way. There the precise, ritualistic sentries were silently patrolling the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, and there also JFK and RFK lay at rest. The flag atop the Iwo Jima Statue in Arlington was visible, upon whose ebony base were carved the names of the two horrific battles my own father fought in as a young carbine-toting Marine corporal during the Pacific campaign, Peleliu and Okinawa. The Kennedy Center with its cultural triumphs lay directly ahead, with the Watergate and its profound effect upon American history, directly behind it. Within a mile of this point were the Bill of Rights and the Emancipation Proclamation at the Archives. The World War I, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War Memorials were all nearby. The text of Lincoln’s two greatest speeches was carved into the granite walls of the temple I had just passed. Its marble columns looked out at the Reflecting Pool, over which Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic I Have A Dream speech rang during America’s summer of discontent in 1963. The FDR Memorial lay half a mile behind me, with the Jefferson Memorial across the Tidal Basin from it. I was passing by Roosevelt Island which lay in the Potomac, with its huge statue of Teddy Roosevelt upon it. I had just come down the very route the military personnel had traversed along Constitution Avenue on June 8, 1991 during the huge military parade following the First Gulf War. Those soldiers had trod upon the steps taken during the prior century by the victorious Union armies during their two-day military review on May 23-24, 1865 following CSA General Joe Johnston's surrender after Appomattox.
Can you make out all of these heroes marching down Constitution Avenue just before they recede into the mist of time as they resumed their ordinary lives? The sense of history at this spot is palpable. If you haven't already, you should consider running this marathon some year and experience its extraordinary ambience. This is going to become an important marathon.
MP 18 (9:49) 2:32:03. Uh-oh. For the first time ever, I was noticing the uphill grade in Rock Creek Park. It’s not much but it was really slowing me down. I was getting really tired and my muscles were starting to protest, so I popped an advil. Running up this giant creekbed hollow, the long sweep of the incline curving around corners and stretching up straightaways was daunting. No more liquid replenishment taken on the fly. I stopped at a water station and walked through it as I drank a gatorade and ate a GU, washing it down with water. With a groan in my throat and a crick in my step, I got underway again.
MP 19 (9:31) 2:41:35. Beware the id. I shuffled upstream, passing under the towering arched bridges of the roadways above. I started obsessing about the big hill coming up just past MP 19, the Calvert Climb. An exit road, 24th Street, leaves Rock Creek Park to climb up to Calvert Street next to where the long Taft Memorial Bridge allows Connecticut Avenue traffic to pass high above Rock Creek. The climb is perhaps 200 feet of elevation gained in about 200 yards. It's a killer climb in the best of times. I had attended two club hill workouts there and run up the Calvert Climb a dozen times. The night before I had visualized powering up the hill. But as I worked my way up Rock Creek Park towards the Climb, I now feared it. R came running by just then. Fittingly, she coordinates the club hill workouts. We greeted each other and she went past to finish 13 minutes ahead of me. I was passing practically no one by now, and a steady stream of people were passing me.
MP 20 (11:04) 2:52:39. The Climb. There was a water station at the base of the Climb. I knew the hill well but now I was seeing it in a different light. It was huge. It went straight up, like some black diamond slope in Aspen where I’d skied two winters in another life. I stopped and took a gatorade and a water and started walking up it. There were a lot of spectators on the steep slope, urging us on. You know the type, people who slow down to gawk when they pass a car wreck. I finished the liquids and kept walking. I had no pride left. Halfway up I broke into a shuffle for 100 feet, then walked some more. One hundred feet from the top I jogged the rest of the way up, gained the level ground and turned right on Calvert Street. The worst hill was now behind me. I ran across the Duke Ellington Bridge over Rock Creek Park and went up a lesser grade to the end of Calvert Street where I turned left onto Columbia Road in Adams Morgan. The high point of the marathon lay half a mile away. There were lots of vociferous spectators cheering us on in this neighborhood. I hit MP 20 at 2:52, a four minute PR for me and an 8:38 pace for my distance up to this point.
(The Calvert Climb as seen during a rainy hill workout in June, 2006. The photo doesn't do justice to its steepness, but the runners had to gain the elevation of the roadway above, represented by the arched bridge in the picture where Connecticut Avenue crosses Calvert Street, in a few hundred feet during the climb out of Rock Creek Park. This nasty hill came at at MP 19.1 in the National Marathon. That's my friend N. pushing her bike up the hill in the background. She ran a 71 minute ten-miler last year. With her speed, she does me a favor whenever she runs with me.)
Trouble ahead. But my per-mile pace was really breaking down now, to over nine minute miles, and now I had just thrown down an eleven-minute mile. A 3:45 finish was no longer a possibility and I started to doubt my ability to break four hours. Three and a half miles ago I had been running along contemplating the grand sweep of American history and now I was running with my head down, grim-faced, thinking only about finishing and barely seeing anything past a spot eight feet down the road. Periodically I would raise my head to check the horizon. Down the road I could see another hill rising up. I was unfamiliar with the rest of the terrain. I knew from having studied the elevation chart that I was near the "top" of the race now, but there were two miles of rolling hills "up here."
The race within the race. Now that my twenty mile warmup was done, the real race, a 10K run to RFK, was just getting started. It would take me almost fifty-eight minutes to get there, a 9:17 per-mile pace from here.
Next: Hitting the Wall.