It was 61 F, under a steady moderate light rain. Normally, before a run, I can just walk outside, sniff the air, and know what to wear. That clarity was eluding me that morning. My objective knowledge said: “Race temperatures ranging from 65 F, rising to 71 F. Winds will be 10 miles per hour, gusting to 20. You’re perfectly comfortable in the rain at 71 F. bare chested while running. Wineglass was 40, raining, and you were in long sleeves. You came across the line nearly hypothermic, but that was much colder.” It was so dark and rainy and seemingly cold…..I wanted to wear long sleeved fleece to stay warm. Objectivity won, however. I picked shorts, technical muscle tee, and hat under a heavy construction plastic bag for protection from the rain. It was roughly 1.75 miles from the Residence Inn Roslynn to the starting line. There, we waited roughly 45 minutes for the start. I began to shiver, putting on technical sleeves and grabbing a full technical tee shirt, looping it on my N belt. While I was only mildly chilly, though shivering, under my plastic bag, I was concerned that when my muscle tee became soaked after taking off the plastic bag.

I ditched the bag as the crowd of 30 thousand surged forward with the firing of the Marine howitzer, before I crossed the starting line. I warmed instantly, notwithstanding the 65 degree rain. Three quarters of a mile later, my arm covers were off. At first, I pulled them down to my wrists, but I was still too warm. They wound up retired them on my belt. The hat followed soon after. My original estimate stood: I’m comfortable at 65 F to 70 F in a muscle tee in occasionally heavy rain.

By 9 miles, in Rock Creek Park, the runners had become resigned to the rain. Each time it picked up, a cheer rose from us. It will be an iconic moment for me, running with 30 thousand others in the pelting rain, up the winding road into the park, then back down, returning to Georgetown. Then, the unthinkable happened. Distracted by my surroundings, I had abandoned my habit of watching the unfamiliar road before me. My foot came down in what I thought was a puddle of water. Instead, it was a pothole. I could feel my right ankle twist fully on its exterior side as I stepped on it. I stepped forward with my left leg, certain that I would surely when I placed weight on my right foot, I’d feel the pain. I knew I would fail to finish due to a major sprain. But, striding forward, I felt no pain. I passed a woman runner sitting on the side of the road being attended by medical personnel. She had fallen, hitting her face and was bleeding profusely from her forehead. During the next 11 miles, I waited for the swelling to come. It never did. I am stunned that the ankle wasn’t severely sprained.

The most challenging rain came around mile 12, while I was working my way south along Paines Point. It came down heaving, pelting in gusts of wind from the south, blowing unimpeded across the Potomac River. I heard grumbling as I passed a lady and slowed to tell her that in 6 months, this would be a pleasant memory. I told her that despite the weather at Wineglass, time had turned it’s memory into a positive experience. I shared a fond recollection of how the cows in the fields starting running along side us. I would later learn that we got 3.5 inches that morning.

It has been 9 years since my last marathon. I ask myself why I came back. I realize that without measurement, without comparison, I decline. Without visiting the scale nearly every day, my weight drifts up. Without putting that measure around my waist once a week, my girth grows. Without hanging myself off the chinning bar, my upper body gets weaker. Without testing myself in that grim, unforgiving contest between clock and distance, my body gets slower. For me, the marathon is the ultimate test of how well I have lived the last 12 months of my life to enable my strength of will, strength of body, and maximal aerobic capacity to focus on one moment of maximum effort against an unforgiving standard. It is my test of how willing and able I am to live life.

"Importance of Assessing Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Clinical Practice: A Case for Fitness as a Clinical Vital Sign: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association". Circulation. 134 (24): e653–e699. doi:10.1161/CIR.0000000000000461. ISSN 0009-7322. PMID 27881567

I started the run planning on a 13:30 pace, based on what had felt comfortable in training. I was extremely disappointed by this as during my first 8 marathons, 10 mpm represented a fairly comfortable pace and 9:45 mpm was pretty much a PR. However, after a few miles, I found 12 mpm to appear sustainable, so I ran the whole effort trying to hit that goal. This became quite challenging after mile 20 or 21, but I managed close to it. It was a near maximal effort, my best on that day for the weather, my level of training, and admittedly my age. It has left me with a desire to do much better in 2020. Next fall, I need to see the fast side of 4:30 again. I realized that I probably trained too slowly this year, though perhaps giving my plantar fasciitis a full year to recover was not a mistake.

At 64, the commitment to be faster next year a remarkable mindset. It is not unlike the one that got me started at age 49. Fifteen years ago, my peers were telling me that I would ruin my knees or hips, give myself a heart attack, or some other dread mythical result of long distance training. Yet, over the past decade and a half, my physical ambitions have grown. I see the alternative result that arises from the cumulative effects of poor diet and inactivity across decades. We consistently lie to ourselves to indulge our vices. Then we lie to ourselves until we believe that the unnatural, unhealthy result of those vices is the normal way to be in our sixties…..and fifties...and so on.

After a 9 year hiatus, I finally ran my ninth marathon. In many ways, it felt like my first, given the insecurities I’ve had leading up to it. My first was the MCM. I feel that it was appropriate to return here.