By Melissa Peek Burton
As I come in full view of the Capitol, I notice three things: first the two school buses being escorted by a police car, the strong odor of human excrement, and trash cans are overflowing onto the ground. WOW! I’m just stunned. I’m in front of our Nation’s Capitol and I smell s***… literally. Totally ruined the experience it should have been. I get around to the other side of the Mall and I’m still near the Capitol. I notice LOTS of race photographers on the course. They are positioned to get pictures of the runners with the Capitol in the background. (These poor people have been sitting here where it smells so bad…. UGH!) I jockey back and forth, in front of the line of photographers to make sure I get at least one good shot (I do!) and move on. Up ahead is mile 19, water, BEANS (finally!), and oh crap… BUSES!!!!
At mile 19, two school buses pulled up, one already loaded with people. The Marine at this mile marker wasn’t announcing clock times like they were at all the other ones. He was saying, “if you want to finish the race, you must be in front of these buses” over & over. I said a few choice words & ran a 10:51/mile to get to the bridge. Actually, I was saying quite a few choice words while huffing and puffing to the bridge. I was running right next to the door to the bus, as it was moving forward. ARGH! As I rounded the corner, I was expecting to the see the bridge.
Nope, couldn’t see the bridge, but I could see two more buses between me and the bridge. I still had one bus right beside me, and it was being followed closely by another empty bus. The bus right beside me was full. I glanced up at those already on the bus. For a split second, I thought that was it, I was done.
Then I came to my senses. In my head I heard people saying, “I knew she couldn’t do it.” I said and few more choice words and kept pushing.
There was NO WAY I was going to give up. I was already preparing to go down with a fight if I was told to get on the bus. If it came to it, they were going to have to physically put me on the bus.
I kept pushing. A small incline… lots of cheering spectators… I particularly remember a woman wearing Fleet Feet Baltimore gear running up to me and encouraging me. She was telling me over and over I got this. I push up the incline, a Marine on the course STOPS the bus I was “racing” next to the two buses already parked on the side. At the top of that little incline, I see the entrance to THE BRIDGE and mile marker 20. I was almost there.
With the buses stopped, I slowed a bit and made my way up the incline of the entrance ramp to the bridge. I glance at my watch: 1:07 p.m. The entrance to the bridge would be closed to runners at 1:15 p.m. I had made it.
As I passed mile 20, I asked the Marine there if I was safe. He looked at me, looked across the bridge, smirked, and said “get across the bridge.” I walked the incline to the flatter part of the bridge, curious what was left in my legs.
I saw a man wearing cammie trousers, jungle boots, and a red t-shirt leaning against the wall on the bridge; a full pack at his feet. He wasn’t the first I had seen today wearing such attire. I had passed 4 dressed similarly earlier by the Washington Monument. Two had their packs off and were sitting on the ground. One had a boot off and was trying to wrap some blisters.
I asked the man leaning on the wall if he was ok. He smiled and said, “I’m done for today, ma’am.” As I turned to continue moving forward, I started to turn back to him to ask him how heavy his pack was. I came very close to offering to carry his pack to get him across the bridge. He had made it to the bridge, where he was supposed to be safe, only to stop. Instead, I turned forward and made my way across the bridge. I knew David was waiting for me across the bridge, just past mile 21.
I walked most of the bridge, but my walking pace is pretty fast, even when I’m tired. I passed quite a few runners in the process. Overall, it was pretty quiet on the bridge. Those that were left on the bridge at this point were the last ones that would be crossing it by foot today. We’ve all worked HARD to get there and we were quiet.
I jumped every time I heard a diesel engine that sounded like a bus, even if it was on the other side of the bridge. Those buses had been WAY too close. There was a man named Ray on the bridge. Ray wasn’t wearing a race number but I saw him several times through the rest of the race. It seemed like he was there to encourage those at the end of the race. He was wearing a bright colored singlet with “RAY” handwritten across the front. I saw him talking to a various runners on the bridge, about halfway across. He was taking pictures for people with the DC skyline in the background. I thought about asking him to do the same, but the words from the Marine at mile 20 rang in my ears: “get across the bridge.”
At this point, David was calling me, wondering where I was. He was waiting for me just past mile 21. I was just trying to get across the bridge.
I was over half way across the bridge when they brought the 4 sweep buses and stopped just behind me. To my knowledge, they didn’t take anyone who was already on the bridge into the buses unless they gave up.
When I finally met up with him, I was in a FOUL mood. He was all bouncy and full of energy. He wouldn’t shut up. I was NOT happy. He had barely trained. His longest run was a half marathon the week before. He didn’t even train for that half marathon. Like the Marine Corps Marathon, he just showed up and ran it. I trained, I worked my @ss off, and I still had to race the d@mn buses. At mile 21, David was not my favorite person in the World. I didn’t speak to him in a full sentence for another two miles.
Once a runner ‘beats the bridge,’ you are pretty much safe as long as you can continue on your own. So I relaxed a bit and slowed down. I was trying to get over being ticked off. David is still all bouncy and driving me nuts.
We work our way through Crystal City. Course support through here was pretty good. They had a block party or something going on for kids and there was Elmo and Cookie Monster on the street.
It’s a little out and back in Crystal City so we could see those still trudging forward. I see a dozen or so people in a little two column formation dressed like the man that was left on the bridge. Yeah, probably a good thing I didn’t offer to carry his pack. I’m sure it was tough enough for him to stop, but to have a middle aged mom of three carry his pack probably wouldn’t have looked good to his buddies.
David is still with me and I haven’t killed him yet. When we walk, he complains that I walk too fast and it hurts. When we run, I can’t keep up. ARGH!
On the way back, we see a man who ran the marathon in a ghillie suit. For those that don’t know, it’s basically a camouflaged head to toe suit that snipers use. He’s stopping, taking pictures with people and scaring kids along the course. It was kind of funny to watch him, but it had to be hot in that suit.
Also on the way back, I see two of the four men with packs I had passed on the National Mall. I remembered them because they had UK flags on their packs. They were still in front of the sweep vehicles, but not by much. They were moving slow, but still moving forward.
As we rounded the corner to mile 24, we saw the sweep vehicles at a little over mile 22. Right in front of the car, there was a man… an eighty-something year old man… still making his way. He was still running… barely. He stopped and bent over in front of the vehicle. Then he straightened up and kept going. He “ran” with a limping stride. It was obvious it took everything in this man to keep going. David told me he had passed this man early on in the race. Even early on, this man ran with that jagged stride… but he still ran.
Swallowing hard the lump forming in my throat, we pushed on. At mile 24, I grabbed water for David (he didn’t carry any), and Tylenol for myself. I think David took Tylenol, too. At least there is a red handwritten “T” on his bib indicating he did.
We pushed on. I was smiling a little more, but still irritated with his complaints that my walking was too fast. Then we’d try to run and he’d take off and leave me.
At some point along this way, I was back with my new friend, Robbie. We talked about our training, who we trained with, how we did it. It was a nice distraction.
Eventually, we were back near the Pentagon, where the runner’s pre-race village had been. In this parking lot there had been HUNDREDS of port-a-potties. The signs by them said “More of Jon Stewart’s Port-a-Potties.” It was funny. Leave it to the Marines.
If you hadn’t heard, in the weeks leading up to the Marine Corps Marathon, there had been several shootings at military buildings; specifically the National Museum of the Marine Corps, the Pentagon, and a Marine Recruiting Station. There had been concern about the safety of runners during the Marine Corps Marathon, so security was HIGH!
David and I started talking about all the security that had been along the course. Helicopters were constantly flying over. David said he saw more helicopters during the race than he saw in two combat tours in Iraq. It was unreal. SWAT teams and police officers had been everywhere along the course.
Mile 26 is at the bottom of a little hill, just past the start line. To make the turn to the finish, it is a little hill. Not bad, but tough after 26 miles. When we got to it, I looked at David and said, “are you ready?” Without responding he was gone. He took off up the hill and left me behind! WTH?!?!?!?
I pushed myself, made myself run up the hill between the Marines lining the course shouting encouragement.
I get to the stop of the hill and there’s David standing there asking me where I’ve been. GRRRRRRRRR!!!!
He grabs my hand and pulls me toward the finish. Now he may have had my hand, but my legs were moving on my own. We ran through another group of Marines lining the course.
By the time we reached the finish, I was right beside him, matching him stride for stride. Our feet landed on the finish line pad at the same time.
In a little bit of sweet justice, my chip time was 8 seconds faster than David’s.
I’ve calculated my 5k splits through the race and I was slooooooow after the bridge. BUT, I did what I needed to BEAT THE BRIDGE!
I did it and I learned A LOT in the process