by Thomas Y. Okazaki (T.O.)
October 30, 2005
The tall, young, handsome Marine officer candidate in military fatigues placed an attractive and striking finisher’s medal around my neck. “Thank you, Lieutenant, Sir!”, I replied. So ends my quest to attain the completion of my 20th marathon. But this was more than about personal accomplishment, records, or glory. My very first visit to Washington D.C. was a memorable one with the primary purpose of honoring all those brave soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice to help preserve the freedoms our founding father gave birth too.
As the “tired and spent” marathoners enter the final stretch toward the finish, they are funneled up a short but steep hill, with the magnificent Iwo Jima Memorial at the very top. This awe-inspiring statue, portrays the six servicemen who raised the flag on that infamous island. One could almost imagine the desperate struggle for control waged for Mt. Surabachi by our battle weary Marine units as column after of column of runners toiled their way up that narrow path.
One of the very first places my friend, Mr. Byron Benoit and I visited after picking up our race packets several days earlier, was the Arlington National Cemetery. The modest size expo,which we had just arrived from, had been run smoothly and efficiently as one might expect for a Marine operation. An unexpected surprise was the handsome long sleeve race T-shirts, colored in RAW purple and gold! Outstanding! An extensive and well designed subway system, situated close to our hotel, provided all the fast and convenient transportation that we would need for most of our stay. As we step off the M train and started walking toward the cemetery, I couldn’t help but notice the splendor and serenity of this hallow ground.
We paid are respects at the grave of the late great JFK, with it’s eternal flame burning brightly in his memory and then quietly headed toward the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was haunting and overwhelming to see rows and rows of white tombs lining the hillsides. The Marines involved in the “changing of the guard” ceremony is something every red blooded American should witness at least once in his life. One couldn’t help but become somber and sorrowful during the solemm services performed, in remembrance to a recently fallen service men. In memory of these courageous and valiant soldiers buried here throughout this cemetery, I decided then, I would run this marathon in their honor.
It’s mile 7 and I am feeling bad. The 50K race I had run at Palo Duro Canyon, just several weeks earlier, was starting to catch up with me. The first 2 miles of hills at the start of the race didn’t help either. The course was beautiful though, lined with tall trees blooming with their fall colors. There were loud crowds everywhere, lining the course.
The start had begun in two separate waves, the first leaving about 30 minutes earlier. Marathoners assigned to the 2nd wave were to meet at another location further south, before being escorted to the starting line.
Looking back now, I feel that the faster runners in the 2nd wave may have been at a disadvantage for several reasons. First they were forced to walk a long distance, perhaps up to a mile, to turn in their drop bags and then all the way back again to the starting line of the first wave. Second, there were more walkers and slower runners to navigate and dodge through in order to keep on their race pace. More energy wasted! A better strategy may been to avoid using a drop bag if possible and just blend in with the first wave of runners. Oh well, live and learn.
As I turned east on mile 10 toward the capital, I knew already I was in for a long day. The E-caps were helping to stave off leg cramps, but in hindsight, I may have not consumed enough fluids. There was a cool breeze blowing, but at the same time, it was becoming deceptively warm. Perhaps I was dehydrating more than I thought. At least the brand new coin purse I was using to hold the E-caps was working. Don’t ever place them in a vial. The E-caps will rattle around while you run, crack open and cause one big mess!
Between miles 10 and 14 was one of more scenic portions of the course with plenty of crowd support! Marathoners can see the inspiring Lincoln and WWII memorials along with the towering Washington Monument and the mighty capital building with it’s distinct dome looming in the distance.
Also close by was the National Archives. Inside its cavernous walls are the carefully preserved national treasures of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. It was a 45 minute wait to finally get a glimpse at these precious documents the day before the race. The security check at the entrance was a sobering reminder, of how as a country, we must always be on guard for those who would threaten our life, liberty and freedom to pursue happiness.
I started feeling a little better between mile 16 through 18, but then it was tough sledding from there. The crowds were thinner in this particular area and the dreaded “14th street bridge over the Potamic” was up next. It was survival mode from here on. My strained plantar was acting up again in my left foot……….
The hotel room at the Hyatt was awesome. Since it was so close to the finish, it seem like the entire hotel was being taken over by marathoners.
This was my very first marathon that I had shared a room with other runners. It was fascinating to observe different veteran marathoners prepare for a race. Rituals, variations in eating habits, carbo drinks, taping etc. I learned a lot hanging out with both Mr. Terry Marcott and Mr Byron on this trip.
Getting over “the bridge” was an indescribable ordeal. It was starting to get really warm and the wind was constantly gusting in your face. Dirt particles and small debris were blowing off the pavement. I could see runners cramping left and right. The lyrics from the Bruce Springsteen song, “Born To Run” kept ringing through my head. “Highways jammed with broken heroes for a last chance power drive………”
This was my first time traveling to a marathon destination by plane. I love flying and I wish I could do it more often. I was fortunate to have Mr. Byron with me to help guide me along through the ordeal boarding a plane on stand by status. Packing my bag into the overhead compartment also proved to be quite an adventure. Just managed to squeeze that baby in! I really must get one of those small carry on luggage bags with the fancy wheels on the bottom……….
I finally got over that monster bridge and promptly celebrated by drinking a cup of “ice cold” beer offered to me by a generous volunteer. Normally I don’t drink the stuff, but today, it tasted ESPECIALLY good. I was really tired of the taste of gatoraid at this point, so I grabbed another cup of brew on the second time through that aid station! I must bring along some mandarin flavored HEED next time.
The course mercifully turned north for the final stretch out of Crystal City and past the Pentagon. Because of my plantar, I was waddling along like a penguin again. That was the nickname given to me by the legendary Mr. Terry Marcott. He had moved away about a year before I became really active with RAW. So to finally get a chance to visit with him, while rooming together at the Hyatt was a real highlight for me on this trip. The man can also “flatout drive! If you ever need to get somewhere quickly in rush hour traffic, he’s your man!
The time on the clock reads 4:37:56. No where near a PR but I was still grateful for the opportunity to participate in a marathon, which in previous years had been so difficult just to get registered in. I earned my finisher’s medal, toured D.C. for the very first time, and got to share it all with some swell friends of mine at RAW. Not too shabby! Best of all, it was an opportunity to honor our servicemen and some of our country’s finest! This was the 30th edition of the Marine Corp and here’s a salute to it’s continued success as the “People’s Marathon” Ooooo-RAW!!!!