Most of us remember that morning on September 11, 2001, when pictures flashed over and over on TV of thick, dark smoke billowing out of the Twin Towers. I had been training for the Marine Corps Marathon which was to take place the following month in Washington D.C. My brother, Danny, at the time, worked near the Capitol as Communications Director for a non-profit think tank, the Employment Policy Foundation.
I arrived at the office on that chaotic morning on 9-11 thinking about the Twin Towers. I immediately dialed Danny on the phone. He picked up on the first ring. “Hey Danny, it’s Dolores.”
Before I could say anything else Danny cut me off. “Hi. I can’t talk long. It’s chaos here. Did you hear that another plane crashed into the Pentagon? Then another plane crashed somewhere in Pennsylvania when the passengers tried to overpower the hijackers. That plane was meant to crash into the Capital.”
I gripped the phone tighter. “Oh my God. Are you okay?”
Danny’s laugh sounded nervous. “Yeah, I’m glad I don’t work at the Pentagon. It appears to be a well-planned terrorist attack. I’ll let you know as soon as I get information about the marathon. I have no idea what will happen. The course runs by several memorials as well as the Pentagon.”
I sighed. “Okay, let me know. Talk to you soon.” Overwhelmed, I hung up the phone. But I didn’t have time to think about terrorism or the marathon. I needed to prep a candidate for an interview. Time to get back to work.
On September 20th, President George W. Bush declared the War on Terror. The attacks had killed almost 3,000 people. Danny, however, reported that the marathon was on and that security would be high. It all felt surreal and a shiver went down my spine whenever I thought about running a marathon course that passed by a recent terrorist target—the Pentagon.
As you can imagine, I felt concerned about flying into Washington D.C. the month after the attack, but Danny reassured me. “Look, Dolores, planes flying into Washington D.C. are the safest flights in the sky. Believe me, there’ll be military guys on every flight going in and out of D.C.”
I thought about it. If I didn’t go, then the terrorists would win in their attempt to spread terror. I couldn’t let that happen. On October 26th, I boarded a plane to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington D.C., but only after enduring a thorough check of my carry-on bags. No, I didn’t relax at all during the entire flight but we landed safely—thank God.
Danny met me in the airport, his dark eyes sparkling. “Hey Dolores, how was the flight?” He gave me a hug.
I rolled my eyes. “Look Danny, I dug a hole in the back of my hand with my fingernails! I’m bleeding.” I let out a long breath—finally safe. Now I could focus on the marathon.
The following day, marathon day, Danny and I got up at the crack of dawn and boarded the train to the start in Arlington. We lucked out. The previous day’s weather report had forecast cold, windy, nasty weather, but instead we got sunshine and mild breezy weather. I considered that to be a good omen.
I remembered my experience in New York, starting in the back of the pack and not being able to run at full stride. I urged Danny to hurry. We checked our bags and worked our way into the mass of runners who got there before us and ended up in the middle of the pack. Satisfied, I looked at Danny who didn’t seem at all nervous. Amazing. It had taken me three or four marathons to relax even somewhat. But, then again, he had had all that competitive experience in high school and college. This was just another race to him. I hoped he would do well. I hoped I would do well. I counted to myself—marathon number eight—time to qualify.
The gun went off at 8:30am and Danny smiled. “Let’s go!”
We moved slowly forward as the rising sun cast a shadow over the starting line. When we crossed over, we both started our running watches and broke into an easy run. The energy coursed through my veins and I fought my first instinct—to take-off and get going. I had 26 miles to go. I smiled thinking that, finally, I had learned how to run a marathon.
I didn’t know how long I’d be running with Danny but he left me sooner than I expected. At two miles Danny announced that he needed to stop at the porta-potty. What? He clearly wasn’t running for time. Of course, I couldn’t wait for him. I had to beat four hours. We said our good-byes and I continued on.
Okay, first the good news. What a spectacular course and a memorable experience. We ran surprisingly close to the Pentagon at mile five. As I passed, it got quiet. No talking, just the pounding of shoes against the road. I, like my fellow runners, slowed our pace as we stared at the wing where the plane had hit leaving nothing but a burned shell. As if on cue, I noticed, at that moment, a runner ahead of me carrying an American Flag.
Besides the chilling sight of the Pentagon, we were treated to many famous sites including the Kennedy Center, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln, Jefferson, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorials. At the end of the marathon we ran by the Arlington National Cemetery and finished at the Marine Corps Memorial. Quite the course, wouldn’t you agree?
Now, the not so good news. I fell flat on my face at mile 24. Yes, literally on my face—on hard concrete. I must have been shuffling because I tripped on a small rock in the pavement. I remember falling in slow motion but not being able to move my feet fast enough to regain my balance. First I landed on my knee before I did a face plant on the street. The pain surged through me—like a knife had been shoved through my knee followed by a punch to the face.
I lay there a few seconds trying to catch my breath writhing in pain. But before I could get up, a cart, like a golf cart, moved in beside me. A woman stepped out as I struggled to sit up. Her harsh tone took me by surprise. “Get in the cart.” She moved closer to me. “Get into the cart.”
I’m sure she repeated herself because I just sat there and stared at her. It took a minute for her words to register. “No. I’m fine.” I turned away and struggled to my feet. She had to be kidding. I only had two miles to go. I would limp to the finish if I had to.
The woman’s voice got louder. “Please, get into the cart.”
I waved her off and broke into a run. Good, nothing broken. Not finishing wasn’t an option.
Book Note: My editor returned the book and now I’m making final changes. It’s getting close to being published! Meanwhile, my speaker website is also getting close to going live. www.doloreslara.com All of my audio CD’s are now on Amazon. Good stuff if you or someone you know is job hunting. Just search Dolores Lara Breaking Barriers. More book excerpts can be found on my blog.
Training Report: Less than four weeks to Boston! I just finished my toughest training week logging a 21 mile long run with a total of 60 miles for the week. I’m tired and ready to taper! But I feel strong.