My friend, work mate and running buddy Leah was in her twenty-first mile in her attempt to break four hours in the marathon at last month's MCM as we slogged our way over the Potomac on the Fourteenth Street Bridge towards Virginia. I was running with her the last seven miles to give her support and at the top of the span, the last uphill until the nasty quarter-mile hill leading up to the Iwo Jima Statue at the race's end, I had settled into my own groove after two miles of matching her stride for stride, and it was time to get down to work and throw down five more nine-minute miles to help her try to attain her goal of 3:59, which requires a 9:09 pace.
I moved slightly ahead of her and ran nines by feel, and we steadily moved past other runners. My head swiveled around on a stick as I looked back to see where Leah was, and she was always five yards back, doggedly following. We turned left off the bridge and burned through the Crystal City out and back, with Leah ingesting an orange slice and drinking some water but eschewing taking any more of the energy-inducing jellied sports beans that she clutched in a bag in her right hand throughout the race; she had complained of stomach unrest but fortunately not shown its effects in her steady smooth stride.
We passed by runners that I had noticed passing by me many minutes before Leah arrived at MP 19, where I jumped in with her, but there was no sight of the four-hour pace group which I had seen pass by eight minutes ahead of her. Perhaps she couldn't break four hours today, I thought, but she was going to be close and establish a huge PR of forty or fifty minutes. Still, I didn't know what her actual (chip) time for the race was, as I surmised that she had started many minutes late.
Leah faltered noticeably as we ran the last mile, dropping back twenty or thirty yards a few times due to obvious mind-numbing fatigue, and I had to circle back once or twice to get closer to her in support, but she revived the last half-mile due to her pure grit, and at the bottom of the final hill, with a quarter-mile to go, I dropped away. She was greatly encouraged and uplifted at that point by running past a circle of cheering friends and, with this last bit of a little help from her friends, Leah toughed out the last steep incline and finished at . . . 3:59:05.