At 7:45 AM on Tuesday, September 3, 1985, I walked into the Pentagon and began my active duty military service. Over the next four years I would serve as a lawyer on the Secretary of the Army’s legal staff. During my time there I had the privilege of working with young lawyers who would go on to have amazing legal careers. After leaving the Army they would fill senior positions in Democratic and Republican administrations, manage Presidential campaigns, serve as Supreme Court clerks, and prosecute mass murderers. Some would sue tobacco companies while others defended them.
We all belonged to the Pentagon Officer’s Athletic Club, better known as the POAC, and would spend many lunch hours running together. We would start on the north side of the Pentagon, run northwest along the Potomac, cross the Memorial Bridge, circle Lincoln’s memorial and head back. On really nice days we would extend the run and circle the reflecting pool.
Many of my friends trained for and completed marathons but I did not. Until today, that is, when five hours and eighteen minutes after I passed over the starting line I finished the Washington, D.C. Rock and Roll USA Marathon.
The race started at 14th and Constitution and as I arrived the first song that greeted me was “I Can See for Miles” by The Who. This, coupled with a last minute text of encouragement from a friend, reassured me as I waited for the race to begin while watching the sun rise over the Capitol dome.
Washington is beautiful this morning. It is chilly when the race starts but I am covered by the wool sweater that has kept me warm over the last few years at early morning swim practices and on the shores of many open water swims. Today I leave it at the start line where it will be collected by the organizers, given to a nearby homeless shelter and put to a better use.
Most of the runners here today have signed up for the Half-Marathon and both races share the same course for the first 13 miles. We begin heading west on Constitution, then behind the Lincoln Memorial and run over and back across the Memorial Bridge before taking Rock Creek Parkway to the steep hill leading to Calvert Street. From there it is mostly downhill as we head east then south then east again towards RFK Stadium.
At the 13 mile split I watch as thousands of runners turn left towards the finish. I turn to the right and head west. The streets are nearly empty now as we pass behind the Supreme Court, dodge a few early morning tourists leaving the Capitol and run downhill towards the White House. We turn south at 9th Street and take a tunnel under the Smithsonian Castle before circling L’Enfant Plaza. From here we run along the Potomac and around the bend to the Anacostia. We pass the Nationals’ stadium and cross the Frederick Douglass Bridge into Maryland. We head northeast for six miles then cross the East Capital Street bridge to the finish line.
After finishing the race I return to Union Station to catch the MARC train home to Baltimore, repeating a trip I made nearly 1,000 times before completing my military service at 5:45 PM on Friday, September 1, 1989.
I am early and treat myself to a Martini at the bar in the center of the main hall. Sipping it I remember two other lawyers I served with who, twelve years and ten days after I left the Pentagon, were still there when American Airlines Fight 77 was crashed into it. One would die in a conference room obliterated that morning. The other, working just down the hall, would survive, his life forever changed by what he experienced that day.
I finish my drink and board the train home happy, but also a bit sad, that I have returned to Washington today.