Earlier, I wrote about the Kennedy March. But just reading up on something like that, especially when the trail is so close, seemed like a wasted opportunity – so I went out and did it.
The alarm went off at half-past four; beyond the curtains, it was cool and quiet. At five, I strode out of the apartment and started the GPS. Carrying my pack of food through DC before the sunrise was dreamy; I shared the somber streets with the setup crew for the National Marathon, scurrying to fill the water coolers and set up medical tents. It was easy to move fast on the smooth sidewalks, and I made it up to Georgetown – and the C & O towpath – before dawn.
Daybreak on the C & O crept up on me. The washes of gray gradually became lighter; more and more runners with dogs showed up on the trail. The going stayed smooth; in the first dozen miles, I met with a string of Boy Scouts doing the same 50 miler, out and back between support tents.
The first 25 miles went fast, and I had cleared a dozen miles past the Great Falls Park before a quick picnic. A few miles afterwards, the trail grew more lonely as it struggled to separate the overgrown canal from the rushing Potomac, and entered a wildlife sanctuary, flanked by foreboding bare trees.
In the late afternoon, 33 miles in, a fine drizzle started; the hardening weather mirrored the walk growing harder. 35 miles in, my feet were sore and swollen. The edema helped cushion my metatarsals grinding against each other step after step, but my feet, still crammed into the same boots, started sprouting blisters in unexpected places.
By mile 40, both daylight and fun was over. My world was reduced to a narrow cone of light gingerly reaching out of my headlamp. I was out of food, and had popped open my last liter of water. The temperatures fell as well; my breath gushed out in great clouds as I steamed along the rutted trail, an anemic locomotive struggling against the clock. Checking the GPS – and watching the kilometers ooze down! – became a compulsion.
The final miles cut through Dickerson; I felt raccoons eyeing me as they washed their prizes in the river. The cold and wind picked up, and I slowed down to a crawl, with little more than two miles left.
Eva picked me up at the Monocacy reservoir, a bit past the Pepco plant on the canal. The last quarter mile I spent hallucinating about putting my feet up in the warm trunk of the car. By the end, I has barely been putting one foot in from of the other, but I had finished what I started – I had finished the 50!