I have concluded my recent foray into the running world with today’s edition of the Army Ten Miler. Since I am too sore at the moment to do anything besides type, this is a great opportunity to tell you how it went.
Things started on Saturday at the DC Armory, where my wife and I went to pick up our race packets. The fact that this event was on a completely different scale than any cycling ride I have been on was immediately brought home in the form of a mammoth line of people waiting to get inside. Outside the armory, there were military displays, rap music singers, furry mascots entertaining the children, police security, members of The Old Guard playing the piccolo, drums, and flute, and a US Special Forces dirigible flying over the scene. This was a marked contrast from most cycling packet pickups, which are either sent to me in the mail or given to me at a nondescript table after a wait of one or two minutes.
Once inside, we were confronted with a row of about 20 registration stalls. Each stall was responsible for a series of bib numbers. I was proud of the fact that I knew my and my wife’s bib number and quickly located the right stall. Otherwise, I would have been forced to look our names up on a bulletin board containing the bib numbers of all 22,000 registered runners. We got our packet, then shuffled over to a magnetic strip to make sure the magnet which carried our personal data was properly working. Then we got our race shirts. Then we were free to browse amongst the 100+ vendors inside the armory. It was amazing to see and once again on a scale unlike anything I have seen with cycling.
On Race Day, we were on the road at 6:15 AM. Parking would be limited, so we pulled into the Franconia-Springfield Metro and took the train into Pentagon Station. The train was full and EVERYBODY was wearing running clothes. At 7:45, we eventually made it to our designated “coral” (assigned based on estimated finish time) and began to wait. I blatantly plagiarized Mr. Tootlepedal and said to my wife, “Many people are asleep right now. They think they are having a good time. Boy are they wrong.” Tootlepedal, your phrase made my wife smile and for that I am in your debt.
After watching some Army sky divers jump onto the starting line, we heard a cannon fire, signifying the start of the race. The first group to leave were wounded warriors. Then the fastest wave left. Then the second fastest wave. Then us, in the final wave. We slowly walked up Boundary Channel road with the Pentagon on our left until we reached the Starting Line. Music was blaring and people were excited. We crossed the Starting Line 25 minutes after the lead group was off. This didn’t affect our race time, but it does give you a sense for how long it takes to move 22,000 people up a road.
So far, so good. My wife was thoroughly amused to see several men break off to relieve themselves in some large bushes. The mob was very congested and the pace was slow. My calf was holding up fine and I promised myself not to push things until after Mile 7. After half a mile, my wife spied an opening in the crowd, wished me well and was off. I would see her again in about 60 minutes.
We wandered toward Arlington National Cemetery and got on the Arlington Memorial Bridge across the Potomac. This was about 1.5 miles into the run and it was here I felt the first twinge in my right calf – the one that has plagued my training for the past six weeks.
This was not good at all. It was only a twinge, but I knew from experience the thing could blow at any moment and with no warning. I was extremely cautious as I approached the Lincoln Memorial. I adopted a running style used in the Army when running in formation. It is a shuffling maneuver commonly known as “The Airborne Shuffle.” Rather than fully extend my legs and thereby flex my calves, The Airborne Shuffle allowed me to putter along at a pace around 10 minutes/mile. At this pace, I reckoned I could hold out the entire distance.
As I approached Mile 4 and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, my calf took a dramatic turn for the worse. It was not quite the complete rupture I felt 10 days ago (which caused me to abandon any training since), but it hurt. A lot.
I could still run. Barely. All around me, people were beginning to walk. To be sure, many were passing me, but I was still passing some and this buoyed my morale. I bit down hard, slowed my pace further, and resolved to gut this thing out. Maybe the pain would subside if I just kept pushing it a bit. I hoped so, because I honestly couldn’t see myself doing another six miles in the state I was in.
Onward I puttered, past the Lincoln Memorial again and up Independence Avenue. The Tidal Basin was on my right and the Washington Monument was on my left. The sun was shining, it is was a beautiful day, and I couldn’t care less because my leg was screaming at me. Along the way, there were water stations, marching bands playing inspirational music (which always seemed to be a selection from one of the Rocky movies, for some odd reason) and hundreds of spectators cheering us on. It’s always cool to be running on roads that are normally clogged with traffic and today was no exception. The fans and music added extra ambiance that added to the effect.
As the Great Tide Of Humanity moved east on Independence Avenue, we eventually came upon runners coming back in our direction having reached the turnaround point. I looked in vain for my wife amongst the hundreds of runners I passed and didn’t see her. As I was dodging a person who was slowing down in front of me (a not uncommon occurrence) I heard someone shout, “Steve!” I look up and briefly saw my wife, who was by me in a flash. I was heartened to see her doing well and for her to know I at least reached Mile 6 in a conscious state.
My leg was feeling a bit better at this point and I was ready to pick things up a bit at the turn around point (Mile 6.5). I was very frustrated, knowing I could be doing so much better. There once was a day when I could run a mile in less than six minutes and I routinely strung together eight minute miles without difficulty. Here I was, hovering between 10 and 11 minutes per mile. My cardio was fine and I was barely out of breath. I could have been doing better but I was not in the right shape and I pushed my training before I was ready, thus giving me the chronic injury I was now dealing with. I was feeling sorry for myself.
I then saw a man running with no legs.
He was a wounded warrior who had lost both legs ABOVE the knee. He was running on two prostheses with a female friend. Usually, one normally needs legs to run. It’s kind of a basic requirement. Not this guy. He was awesome to behold and it made me remember my sore calf muscle was not something I should be feeling sorry about. It was very inspirational.
It was now Mile 7 and my leg was behaving, if not cooperating. I had plenty of energy left and decided to see what I could do. I lengthened my stride and picked up my pace. Briefly, I was 30 years old again and moving at about an 8:30 pace. It felt great, despite the annoying problem in my calf. I was passing all sorts of people and would have done even better except the roads were still too clogged to allow a straight run. I was dodging and slowing to get around all sorts of slower people. I was reminded of Gerry’s recent cycling event when he took pride in passing riders with lower bib numbers than his. This event identifies runners by the color of their bib. Mine was orange and the only group slower than me wore Purple. I was pleased to see I was passing some white bibs and some blue bibs.
After passing the Holocaust Museum on 14th Street and the Jefferson Memorial, we were approaching the 14th Street Bridge back over the Potomac. My calf sent me two renewed spasms that told me it had just about enough of my zipping along and would soon put a stop to it if I did not do so myself. I dialed my pace back to about 10 minutes/mile, crossed the bridge, and turned into the Pentagon’s South Parking lot. The last mile was a tough one – and not just because of my calf. I was physically spent at this point. I eventually made it to the finish line.
I was really, really glad to be done.
As I shuffled up the road in a sea of fellow runners, my mind turned to the practical matter of linking up with my wife. We had agreed to meet at the finish line, but it was immediately apparent that would not be possible. The runners were herded along for another half mile, where we were given water and finishing coins. My wife was waiting for me near the coin station (a huge area where hundreds of runners were queuing up in several lines for their coin) and somehow managed to spot me. Thank God for that because I don’t know what I would have done next. I suppose I would have wandered the area aimlessly until we eventually met. That would not have been fun in the least.
We got our coins and toured the vast sea of hospitality tents set up in the parking lot. There was some more water and plenty of snack food in the form of bananas, bagels, cookies and other treats. Many military units had set up display tents and were handing out free items like posters, tote bags and whatnot. After a few minutes, we headed back to the Pentagon Metro stop and joined the throng of people attempting to get on a train. An hour later, we pulled into our driveway and I was happy to be home.
In the end, my 1:43:51 time gave me a place of 14,404 out of 21,914 runners. In my age group, I finished 1s 1,342 out of 1,747. It was not my finest hour, but I was tremendously proud of my wife, who finished twelve minutes ahead of me and 201st out of 981 in her age group. Apart from a 5K run, this was her first-ever organized race and she began jogging only 18 months ago. When I talked her into registering for this event back in May, she wasn’t sure if she would be able to finish the race. Not only did she finish, but she excelled.
Now it’s time to get back on my bike. It was nice to see the “Running Life” and I will probably still engage in the occasional jog around the block, but I’m ready to feel the wind on my face and watch the miles fly by without feeling the effects of massive concussion injuries in my feet, ankles, shins, calves, and knees.