Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Antietam Battlefield 10K - Success!

It was a grey and quiet when I woke up, late, at 7:15am on Sunday morning to drive 90 miles out to Antietam Battlefield in Sharpsburg, MD for this 'local' 10K. Who am I kidding - I didn't drive. Alejandro bravely took the wheel since I could hardly keep my eyes open, recovering from a wonderful Saturday night.

Antietam is the site of the bloodiest single day battle of the American Civil War. Over 23,000 men, including six generals, between the Confederate and Union forces, were killed in a 12 hour period. As we pulled into the National Park, their sacrifice was palpable.

This was the friendliest race I had ever been to! There were about 450 registrants total, including the 10k and 5k. Local volunteers greeted us warmly when we picked up our packets and directed me to the (clean and toilet paper-filled!) port-a-Johns. Yep, I was prepared this time. Volunteers and racers were still cheering every participant from the earlier 5k as they came across the finish line. Before our race, a high school junior sang the National Anthem. She blew Deborah Cox out of the water. (Deborah sang the National Anthem at the ING Marathon in Miami earlier this year for 25,000 people.) This girl's powerful voice cut straight across the National Park and directly into my heart; my hairs bristled.  We stood in a moment of silence for all soldiers, past and present. I felt a lump forming in my throat. To stand in silence over a battlefield was pretty damn powerful for a bleak, Sunday morning. Then the starting gun screamed... and we were off!

There were big hills, there was lots of uneven pavement and the air was muggy and thick. But I could hardly keep my eyes off of the beautiful countryside. Alejandro ran with me for the first 3.5 miles then took off when I slowed, as symptoms of a hangover and sleep deprivation crept in hard.

Award Ceremony at the Finish
This was the second race in which I found a running buddy for the last two miles. I passed a 44 year old Navy retiree, Mark, walking in his toe-shoes and everything, who picked up his pace to jog with me in the final miles. You can learn a lot about someone when you're running next to them. It's like sitting on a plane; you're next to that person until you reach the destination so you might as well make the most of it. He had quite an inspiring story - he lost 200+ lbs and quit his 2 pack a day smoking habit about five years ago, when he found himself winded after climbing a flight of stairs. I asked him how I would ever get my little brother to stop smoking and he said, "He won't stop until he's found something that's worth living for. You're just going to irritate him by asking him to stop; he's got to want to do it for himself." He told me that he had failed out of college and was driving home from a late night bartending shift at 22 years old and pulled into the Naval recruiting station thinking, 'Anything is better than what I've got going for me right now.' That man changed his own stars. I asked him about any little idiosyncracies he has when he races. He said every time he runs, he remembers all the buddies that he lost in Iraq and Vietnam and feels that they're running there with him.
Burnside Bridge

PS - My three idiosyncracies are:
 1. Lucky pink underwear reserved only for race days
2. Never, ever walk
3. Always sprint over the finish line

We finished in under an hour, sprinting over the finish line. I said goodbye to him and was suddenly flooded with nausea. I proceeded to sprint down to the port-a-Johns and yak my brains out. I instantly felt better and we had a lovely morning driving the 8 mile loop and touring the battlefields. I highly recommend a visit to this historic site during the summer months; its an amazing story. Oh, and while you're there, why don't you go for a little jog?  :)
Gallery photos of Antietam National Park; taken on days a little brighter than mine!


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