International Peace Marathon: 26.2 Miles on the C&O Towpath
The alarm sounds at 5:40 a.m. Ugh. I turn over, fumble with my clock, and seriously consider ditching the International Peace Marathon for an extra hour or two of sleep.
Having spent the night before carefully preparing a pre-run meal and assembling all my essentials for the day, I reluctantly think sleeping in is not an option and push myself out of bed. I shove a couple pieces of toast with almond butter into my face, grab a banana, double-check that I have my running shoes packed on my bicycle, and roll out the door around 6:45.
The morning is cool, and I’m wearing knickers over my running shorts and a light jacket. After a couple of miles I warm up and ride comfortably toward the marathon start, which is a seven-mile cruise along the Potomac River.
The sun gleams off the water and I roll along quiet city streets and onto the bike path. I watch a kayaker as he powers his way toward the Memorial Bridge. I love early morning riding in the city, but I’m not much of a morning person so I seldom experience it.
I reach mile four of the C&O Canal, lock up my bike, and restage from bike rider to runner. I give the idea of ditching the event one more consideration, but the day is too sunny and pretty. Since the course returns to the start at the halfway mark, I tell myself I’ll reconsider how I’m doing 13.1 miles in.
At 8:00, the run organizer makes some remarks that no one can hear. Someone sings the national anthem and her voice cracks on the high parts. She apologizes, and we all help her out with the remaining notes. Without any additional fanfare, the organizer sends us off. These urban events with a small-town feel are rare and I wear a big smile as I take my first strides.
This run has two starts, one at 8 a.m. and another at 9 a.m. I chose the earlier of the two so that I could take full advantage of the morning’s cooler weather.
I put my headphones on at the start and listen to my marathon playlist. The new John Legend, Arctic Monkeys, and Nine Inch Nails beat into my ears and I fly along. Okay, I’m not really flying, but I feel like I am. That is, until I see the fast people from the 9 a.m. group come toward me. Man, they are really fast and I know that some of them will finish before me despite having started an hour after I did.
Around mile 13 my left hip or some muscle near there starts to express its dissatisfaction with my endeavor. I hope that doesn’t continue and keep on going. I finish the first half of the course in just under two hours.
After the midway point, I do two things that make the second half distinct to the first. First, I shut off my headphones. I’m loving my tunes, but they are preventing me from fully experiencing the event. I want to immerse myself in the space around me. I want to hear my own footsteps.
The second thing I do is take walk breaks. My hip nags at me, but if I walk for 20 seconds or so, it fades and I can keep going with minimal discomfort. Initially, I feel guilty for mixing in so much walking, but when it makes the ache go away my guilt does, too.
The number of runners drops significantly, and I realize that most people are doing the half. The trail is sparse, and it’s lovely. I can hear the water in the locks along the canal. Birds and insects chirp in the trees. A light breeze caresses my face.
The 9 a.m. fast people start to pass me around mile 20 or so, and I circle back to why I’m doing this. What is the point? I’m slow. I’m not good at this running thing. I’m not even a runner, really.
But it’s hard to stay in that self-deprecating space when I consider that I have nowhere else to be and what does it matter that I’m slow. Despite my slowness, I’m having an amazing day.
The green and gold hues permeating the C&O propel me along, and the fast people say encouraging words as they pass by. It’s really nice to hear. Who cares if I’m not fast, I conclude, and it dawns on me how lucky I am to be in decent enough shape to complete 26.2 miles on my own two feet.
I hit the 25-mile mark. Home free, I pick up the pace. As I pass mile 26 and run the final meters to the finish line I can hear Felkerino yelling my name. I did not expect that he and DF would come out to meet me. It’s a welcome surprise. The clock is ticking toward 4:15 and I try to finish under the wire. 4:15:01. Oh well, good enough.
Felkerino gives me a big hug and takes a few photos. “I’m so proud of you!” he says. I stash my Montrails and switch back to my Sidi’s. We ride off to Baked and Wired for a celebratory soy latte.
I spend the rest of the day feeling lucky. So so lucky.