The fall isn’t the best time for my lungs. I start to feel tight. Exercise becomes harder. I feel short of breath more easily. Usually by November I’m on IV antibiotics. In the week leading up to the ATM my lungs felt tighter. Even the day of the TV interview I was concerned about whether I’d be able to do any running. I was able to run, but as one of the news clips shows, my oxygen levels were dropping pretty low.
Ed and I stayed in a hotel near the Army Ten Miler (ATM) the night before the race. The friend I’d originally signed up with years before, Leslie, was doing the race too and staying across the hall. Leslie had completed the ATM 6 previous times and averaged about 2 hours. That’s 5 minutes faster than my average pace.
When we got to the Pentagon, Ed checked a bag with his sweat pants and jacket. He’d be finishing the race about an hour before I would. Even though it was a chilly morning, in the 50’s, Leslie and I didn’t wear anything extra. By the time we finished it should be sunny and close to 70.
When I registered Ed for the race, I wasn’t sure of his pace, so I put him down for 2 hours. This put Ed in the corral before me. I thought I’d be up to at least 2 hours and 15 minutes when I had first registered. Leslie was put 3 corrals ahead of me. Since we were running together though, she stayed in my corral.
This was only my second race and my first big race. There are 35,000 people who sign up for the ATM. I’m not sure how many are actually there on race day. I was surprised to see how people stay warm before a race. There were people wearing plastic bags. Others had sweats or other layers of clothes, gloves and hats. This seemed somewhat excessive since they’d be warming up quickly once the race started.
The race has 8 corrals. There is 10 minutes between corrals starting the race. Ed was in corral 6 and Leslie and I were in 7. The race started at 8, but we didn’t start until about 9. We could see some of the wheelchair racers and the elite runners finishing their races before we even started.
While waiting to start my legs started to get cold and tight. I felt like my upper quads and hips were getting too stiff.
When we finally started, moving was a little difficult because of my cold muscles. We started out walking a little first. I was surprised to see piles of discarded clothing along the sides of the road. Once runners start moving or warming up they just throw off the extra layers that kept them warm before the race (I might have to start saving up old sweat pants for future races).
The first mile was the hardest. My legs weren’t cooperating in the beginning and running felt hard.
Leslie said she was going to stick with me throughout the race. I had asked her to push me, to make sure I ran periodically. In that first mile though, I was ready to give up. I considered telling Leslie to go on without me and I would just turn around and walk back to the starting line. This already felt too hard and I was going to do 9 more miles? Who was I kidding?
I didn’t say anything. I think the only thing that kept me going was Leslie being there. I’m not sure I would have continued if I’d been alone.
We needed to keep a 15 minutes pace to keep from getting diverted off the course between miles 5 and 6. Leslie periodically pushed me to run. She’d give a landmark up ahead and say “Let’s run to that sign”, or whatever the goal was. Even though the short intervals of running were tough, it was the walking right after the running that slowed us down a lot. It was taking me a long time to recover when I did run and I slowed down significantly. Several times I told Leslie it was OK if she wanted to run ahead because I was so slow. She said no, that we would do it together.
I was greeted with another newbie runner surprise at the first water station. There were cups on the ground everywhere (and water that had been in the cups). So as not to lose time, fast runners down their water and throw the cups to the side (there are trash cans provided). I had no idea and made my way through the short obstacle course of flattened cups.
Our pace at each mile was over 16 minutes. A little after passing mile 5 we could see the cutoff point. I didn’t have it in me to even attempt running to it. I again told Leslie she could go on ahead so as not to get cutoff. She stayed with me though. We watched as they put the barriers up. We missed it by probably a minute. We turned to join everyone who had completed mile 6.
The race was more relaxed after that, since we were in the crowd and were out of officially finishing the race. Ironically, one of our best mile times was after we were diverted.
As we approached the finish line, Ed came out onto the road and gave me a kiss. The smile on his face almost made me cry. I was surprised by it. He looked so proud of me. He stepped back off the course and followed us toward the finish line. We finished the race, walking a little over 9 miles, in 2 and a half hours. Even though we didn’t complete all 10 miles, we still received our finisher coins.
Ed had finished the race in a little over 90 minutes. I had underestimated his time by 30 minutes. He said he probably ran 12 miles since he had to weave his way around slower runners and walkers.
I am grateful to Leslie for staying with me and pushing me throughout the race. Even for the times she didn’t know she was pushing me. Again, I’m not sure if I would have accomplished what I did without her just being there.
I look forward to completing all 10 miles in 2015.