“It’s a privilege to run in the places you’ll be today,” Race Director Mark Cucuzzella said as we lined up at the Freedom’s Run Marathon start, the morning sun popping out over the tree-covered hills behind us.
Weeks of long hours in the office made the Freedom’s Run Marathon seem like a great escape. The Friday before the marathon I loaded my Surly LHT with running shoes and split the confines of the District as fast as my bike would take me which, let’s be honest, wasn’t very fast at all.
Because my schedule had been so full, I lost my usual chance to freak out and wonder if this bike-run-bike plan was a good one. A perpetual fretter, something was missing from my pre-run routine. The fret.
I managed some pre-run jitters along the C&O, until the uneven surface of the towpath and the early fall color demanded my attention. Oh, and the rain. I arrived nice and soggy to my hotel, and drifted off to sleep to wait for Felkerino, who was joining me to participate in the Freedom’s Run 10K, his first run of that distance in over (redacted) years.
The race director’s pre-race announcements set the tone for my run. “If you’re feeling a little uncomfortable, think about what the Civil War soldiers in Antietam went through.” Perspective.
Ideal weather conditions made for good running, and the Freedom’s Run Marathon follows a spectacular route. The first half of the course lulls some into thinking that the terrain will be relatively flat, but at around mile 15 things take a turn for the vertical, as runners move away from the Potomac River toward Antietam.
Self-doubt crept in at miles 13 and 14, but I left it behind when my feet padded off the C&O and over the rises beyond the river. No pain, no cramps, no bonking. Steady forward progress.
The C&O is one of few places where I sense the footsteps of days gone by. I watch the GAP-C&O through bike riders pass (two of whom saved my Friday ride by offering me a wet wipe after I threw my chain; thanks, Brooke and Daniel!), and I see my own footsteps and bike miles along it as part of a long continuum of travelers.
To run this marathon is a gift– a privilege, as Mark said. I heard someone comment that she choked up when she entered Antietam. I recalled my own emotions and tears from previous years in this sacred place.
The Freedom’s Run course shows how far we’ve come as a country. People fought and died on these lands to end slavery and change the status quo. But these historic battlegrounds also remind me that we still have work to do. We must do a better job in our country to overcome hate, divisiveness, and discrimination.
Felkerino, who finished his 10K in 54 minutes and change, cheered me in from miles 23 to the finish, and I continued to bask in the day’s perfection. At 4 hours and 43 minutes, I crossed the finish, and proudly threw on my marathon t-shirt.
The following morning, Felkerino and I left Harper’s Ferry and meandered the 68 miles back to D.C., almost entirely via the C&O, where the crisp sensations of autumn continue to steadily emerge. My feet were light on the Surly’s pedals, and I still wore my marathon shirt. I love this run.
Thank you, Mark and all the volunteers who make this unique event happen. Hope to see you again next year.