Our Lives

Our Lives: From the D.C. Marathon

CorrespondentApril 12, 2014 

JohnValentine.AL.050213.JEL

John Valentine.

JULI LEONARD — jleonard@newsobserver.com

We’re bouncing on the curb at 13th Street in Washington, D.C., surrounded by hundreds of cheering families and friends as thousands and thousands of marathon runners stream past us. It’s a good day.

My wife and I are trying to keep warm and stay alert. Our daughter and her husband will fly by any minute, and my wife wants to jump into the street and keep pace with them for a hundred yards or so. She can do it, too. She has on her distinctive gray Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon numbered bib also, having just completed her celebrative first 5K. Surprising herself, she finished third in her gender/age group!

I’m support. With my trusty oversize backpack stuffed, I have something for everyone, signs and energy bars included. In zippered compartments, I have room for all the unexpected souvenirs of our latest D.C. adventure. Like everyone else in my “normal” day-to-day, I wear many hats. And I enjoy those pinball-machine days. Today, on the sidelines, fully engaged, I just have to be there for my family, just a dad, just a husband, along for the ride. And I have to say, we’re going through those water bottles.

On race days, Washington is just like any small town. Folks stand on their porches and wave flags and homemade signs. Streets are blocked off, so the whole city goes into walking mode, strollers and red wagons come out, whole fleets of bicycles and tricycles. Lots of smiling, happy families and couples holding hands. It’s early morning so we’re all clutching coffees and extra layers of clothes.

One vociferous, caffeinated family sprawled on their stoop, legs up on their porch sofa, picks out distinctive runners, obviously strangers, to offer waves of encouragement. “Come on, blue shorts, you’re almost there” and “Hey, rainbow shirt, great pace, keep it up” and “You’re doing fine, ponytail, don’t let up.” Grins all around from runners and fans.

There is a festive, stop-time nature to what we’re all part of this brisk morning. As hyper, driven and connected as city people in a political village can be during the workweek, multitasking and juggling screens, on this weekend, on these many small, neighborhood side streets, we’re all one, runners and spectators. Weekday government warriors, congressional aides and interns, spring breakers, young and old, all now together, closing the distance toward the same wind-buffeted finish line.

The traffic cone curves, jaunty sawhorse barricades, caution flags and chalk lines combine for a unique urban Saturday morning experience. Step off the sidewalk and you’re in a river of pounding, relentless, focused marathoners.

Crayon signs proclaim, “Let’s go Mommy” and “Congratulations Third Tank Division.” For more than two hours, 25,000 runners run past, some returning waves, some looking like they wished they hadn’t had that second, carbo-loaded peanut butter bagel. We cheer them all.

“Let’s go, runners.”

There are many outfits, crazy hats, baseball caps, frilly tulle tutus, sports teams galore and animal costumes. I imagine runners thinking, “How come that gorilla is passing me again?” Bright-colored wigs and striped socks seem especially popular this year. Water bottles are passed back and forth; long-sleeved jerseys and gloves are shed at the 12-mile mark.

It’s only 9 a.m.; we’ve all been up before the dawn.

Up ahead, at the curve onto Constitution Avenue, the marathoners and half-marathoners split up. Those in for the long run, many down to just shorts and T-shirts, looking good and in rhythm, wearing distinct red bibs, turn onto North Carolina Avenue and East Capitol Street and their awaiting fans on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

My daughter and her husband, blue bibs flapping proudly, power down C Street toward the finish line; rock ’n’ roll bands and cheer squads line the route. Towering speakers and splashy beer signs beckon. Everyone is either running or calling out encouraging words. There are patriotic-colored logos and brand names everywhere; I’ve never eaten so many Power Bar samples. Yes, we know, hydrate. Small groups of friends and family are hugging, lying down exhausted, finished. Done, we did it, let’s go eat!

In the social-messaging magic of our modern world, my daughter’s mother-in-law, in Boston, texts her congratulations as my daughter crosses the finish line. She had been following their progress, more than 400 miles away, online. All the runners had GPS chips in their sneakers, synced to their bib number.

Back at RFK Stadium, parking lot 7, marathon merch and mirth are everywhere. The full-grin runners wearing their red, white and blue ribbons and individual race medals, wrap themselves in the cool silver metallic space blankets as a selfie extravaganza ensues. Later in the day, those comfortable, crinkly cloaks become glitter cocoon talismans on the Metro. Hey, there’s a fellow runner. It’s loud, crowded and wonderful, D.C. SE in full celebration, and the day has just begun!

“Let’s go, runners!”

Valentine: johnvalentine732@gmail.com

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