I chose the Marine Corps Marathon as my first because my dad was a marine and I figured well you get to run with marines and celebrate marines and be all about the marines and he might like that.
So many vendors and so many cute clothes that I now own because it was my first race. I tried to drag my mom to be one of the first in line because there was promise of a bigger swag bag and I like swag. Turns out thousands of other people wanted to be first too so we waited in a corridor in the convention center with the masses and I only received a regular swag bag. You win some, you probably lose a lot more.
You arrive at The Pentagon and wait in line to get out of the station as there are thousands of people. You meander the mile plus to runner's village only to get stuck in a huge crowd at the security check point. You barely move for 45 minutes. You hear people comment about how slow a 4:30 marathon is (and what was your pace for your first marathon sir?). You finally get through security and see everyone peeing in bushes...
You are determined to use a Porto-o-potty. Somehow your mother beat you in the line so you cut in with her and discover there is no toilet paper. You shake vigorously. You make your way to the starting line... Turns out the race started 20 minutes ago so you basically just keep walking with everyone until you reach the start and then you go. You are running amongst people who are significantly faster than you and people walking at mile 1. There is no pomp. No circumstance, just all of a sudden you think oh, I'm running a marathon right now.
The other bad:
Anyone who tells you there aren't really any hills is a filthy liar. There aren't a ton but when you train in Chicago it's still horrific and there is one very small hill at the very, very end of the race that just makes you want to cry.
Washington is beautiful and the crowds are awesome and supportive. They give you things like pretzels and candy and champagne (which you decline but the offer is nice). You have a lovely run through woods.
Mile 12 is called the blue mile (or something) where they have tributes to fallen soldiers. It's very somber. Right after that there are volunteers holding American flags that you run under while they cheer you on with the most awesome passion. You turned off your headphones for this. You kind of want to cry... But you don't.
The run through the national mall is filled with people so you know you have to keep running and you want to beat the bridge, which as it turns out seems like a zombie movie as at that point very few people are running and the majority are walking.
You keep trying to run as much as possible. You hit Crystal City which is filled with onlookers and then hit your final few stretches where the Marines keep pushing you on. And of course you go on because despite how your legs feel, despite your IT band and calves being tight, despite something happening in your ankle and Achilles you will finish. You dedicate the last mile to your dad and say ok I'm going to run this full mile and then you don't, but that's ok.
And then you finish. You are done. A marine puts a medal around your neck. Many other marines congratulate you and you think thank you but also thank you for being willing to die for me as I don't necessarily share that.
Then you follow the throngs to take a finisher photo and get your I just ran a marathon jacket and box of snacks and you try to find your family. (And then you stand in the world's longest line for the metro but that's ok).
You just ran a fucking marathon. That thing that you never even thought about doing just fucking happened.
P.S. That wall at mile 20? I think my mental wall happens earlier but due to not having run this distance that offer a physical wall definitely happens. How do you get through it? You push. Or as one sign said... Walls have doors (not all walls but I still accept and appreciate this sign).