Saturday was marathon #20 for me, the National Marathon. In its 5th year, I was a bit hesitant to sign up for it under my own name and pay the ungodly entry fee so I bought a woman’s bib off Craigslist for 40$ and took on the persona of Dina Ashley. In the past, the race has been sucky, to say the least. I’ve never run the full but the course runs through the ghetto and the medals and finisher festival was always lousy. Plus, the goal was to pace my friend Matt through his first full marathon. I wasn’t sure what the results would be so I felt like running under someone else’s name would prevent my current times from getting marred, should we end up having a rough go of it (no offense Matt, really, but I’m anal that way…) I also was not going to leave him behind so this was my first race I ran solely for someone else, my partner for all 26.2.
We finally came upon the finish line and true to form, he perked up and began the tough but exciting last .2 to the finish line. As his partner, I was shouting and cheering him on the entire final leg. In looking at the photos, he’s focused, I’m ecstatic. And then it was over. And I felt as proud as a parent watching their child do something amazing for the first time. I always run for me, but that day I ran for him. We finished in 4:30, my slowest, but one of my most meaningful race experiences (third only to my two Boston qualifiers, of course)
I had to take off not long after that in order to get cleaned up, and get down to VA Beach, 3.5 hours south of DC, for the Shamrock marathon, the next day. That race, too, was ridiculously expensive so I bought another bib off CL, this one for Ashley Beebe (yes, TWO Ashleys! What are the odds I’d be running as Ashley in both?) I made the mistake of getting the cheapest hotel room I could find, a drug den in the bad part of Norfolk. On the upside, staying in a really shady hotel ensures that you won’t miss your wake up. I actually was wide awake at 3 am after listening to my neighbors squabble outside my door over whether or not he was going to leave his wife for her. Needless to say, I was up and on the start line at 5:30 am. For an 8 am race. Literally, the only people there were the night shift cops and the sound engineers setting up the start and finish lines.
I waited around for the start on the second day, of an unseasonably warm weekend. This was good though because if I had to sit on the start line in the freezing cold, I would’ve probably passed out in my car and missed it altogether. Gun goes off and we’re heading down the main drag and I realize, crap, I’m in the middle of a second race and I’m just worn out. Oh well – no time to think about that so rather than obsess on it, I found a few new friends and started chatting.
One woman (her name escapes me now) told me in great detail how she’d started running and wanted to make it to Boston. Today was her day – she needed 4:05. So I agreed to be her partner because I didn’t care what time I got. Sub 4 would’ve been nice but really, this was all a training run. We managed to get behind the 4 hour pace team which puzzled me. I do this 5-6 times a year, professionally, we shouldn’t be slipping behind. I didn’t have my Garmin but hell I know what a 9:09 feels like. She informed me that the team captain also was not stopping at ANY water stop. I have to get on my soap box here and give the proverbial smackdown for this. Bad pace leaders frost my ass and this guy was very obviously trying to “bank time” which is a BIG marathon no-no AND he was skipping water stations, which, for a 3:15 group, I understand. A 4-hour group often has newer marathoners and skipping stations does little more than stress out runners who stop, then attempt to sprint back to catch up. So I informed her of all of this and she sticks with me. She begins growing very agitated around 11, saying that her watch said we were “off” – too slow. I tried to reassure her we weren’t but she didn’t listen. Fine, we’ll speed up I said. I was trying to be a good partner but this was rid— :: BLECH.:: I hear an odd sound and look over – she’s gagging and dry heaving. I knew we were well in the low 8 minutes, it was hot as all get up and she’s now starting to throw up. Thankfully we were on the boardwalk and there were enough people and aid to take over. I wasn’t about to take care of this woman at this point when someone far more experienced than I was around. Plus, dammit, don’t bust on my mad pacing skills! I PROMISE I WILL GET YOU THERE, PEOPLE! I do this for running companies on a national level. I know what I’m doing, really.
Anyway, I continue on. I’m feeling surprisingly well for a hot day. We weave around through the beach area, then up a beautiful wooded area and into a military base. We’re at mile 21 or so by now and I start to realize that I’m bored. You see, even though I DO run for me, I’m a social runner at heart. I need stimulation and people to talk to. 4 hours of repetitive anything can be boring. I try to jump into a conversation with some people around me but there’s a lot of issues going on. A woman has collapsed at 21 and the paramedics are working on her, the guys behind me are having gastro issues and the men next to me are either chatting about WMDs or plumbing installations (seriously). YAWN. So I did one thing I’ve never done before – I plugged in my ipod and decided that it would be a great time to get in some speed work. And I took off.
There is nothing so wonderful as finishing a race on an upswing. I love negative splits for just that reason and I decided to make each mile a shade faster for those last 4, choosing to sprint the very final .02. Passing all those people, feeling strong and steady, hearing my name getting called out over and over – oh wait, but it wasn’t me. “ASH-LEY! ASH-LEY!” At first I ignored it but then I would smile and wave and say “thanks!” really loudly because the Rocky theme was blasting out my ear drums. And then I crossed the line, 3:58. My weekend was now done and I felt great.
I came home and quickly changed again, this time for an awards dinner with Bill Rogers as the speaker. “Boston Billy” as he’s known didn’t say much of anything insightful or interesting that night. He’s never coached, he doesn’t like talking to people and he only wants to beat Joan Benoit again at some point in his life. Definitely not who I am. However. I knew that as different as we were, we had a partnership as well. We both run because it’s who we are, two, of many, peas in a pod.
I do tell better jokes, though.