They'd traveled to Columbia, S.C., from near (like South Carolina resident Janice Addison) and far (Anchorage, Alaska, home of race winner Christine Clark) for the 2000 U.S. Olympic Women's Marathon Trials.
Two hundred and nine women had qualified, 170 had stepped to the line, and in the face of unexpectedly brutal temperatures and an extremely challenging course, 141 had made it across the finish line.
That was race day. The next day bore an entirely different complexion. Thick clouds covered the sky, and the air was moist with a heavy dew. The incessant heat of the day before had been replaced by a rolling fog, and the blue sky had paled to soupy gray.
I'd planned to rise and shine at 7 a.m., but at 5:30, a cramp in my legs awoke my tired post-marathon body. Descending to the lobby, we found a charge for yesterday's complimentary coffee and hotel staffers scurrying to get more copies of The State, Columbia's local newspaper and a must-have for every athlete, coach and spectator still in town.
My ritual pre-race breakfast of Pop Tarts and a Power Bar was gone, so I scrounged around for whatever semblance of breakfast I could find to accompany my cup of black Joe. A little later, we headed out to run, passing several runners in various forms of post-race consciousness along the way. Some smiled as they hobbled along while others seemed preoccupied, still deep in thought over yesterday's race.
Outside, the mercury had dropped about 30 degrees from the 86-degree high of race day. I did the best I could to stretch my aching calves and quads against the huge cement pillar in front of the Adams Mark, then gingerly began a very staggered run across the patio-like entrance way toward Main Street.
With each step, I took post-marathon inventory: sore calves (right one worse), sore hams (right one worse) and aye, my neck hurts! Running became a little less labored as we headed down Main Street, toward the infamous Capitol building where the Confederate Flag still flew.
Yesterday, the starting line and all its hoopla had engulfed this section of the road. There had been banners above, barriers to the side, a marked-off corridor in the middle where runners could warm up and a line of port-a-johns to the right, where one runner had inadvertently been locked in until seconds before the start. Today, the start was barren, save for the blue line and some scattered water bottles.
We turned left onto Gervais Street and followed the blue line backwards through the first mile and a half. Near where the mile mark had been, on Pickens Street, we encountered Tammy Slusser from Pennsylvania. A few strides later, her husband emerged from the fog wearing a huge knee brace, limping heavily as he ran due to recent knee surgery. We knew we'd see both on the starting line of the Hartford Marathon in the fall.
We turned left onto Richland and then back through the empty, eerie-in-the-fog streets towards the start. As we approached the Capitol for the second time, a sensational post-Trials running magic filled the air.
Suddenly, from the right, a pack of half-running, half-limping runners materialized out of the fog. "Hey," one runner proclaimed, "Guess 8:00 is the time to run the day after Trials!" From the left, a pack of nearly 10 runners joined the post-marathon shuffle up Main Street, and up ahead, we saw the silhouettes of two more.
As we passed the Sherlock Holmes Pub, I basked in the glory of what we were doing. Sore though we were, we were all out there running such that we could the day after the Olympic Trials. It wasn't Baker Street and we weren't in England, but as we ran through the morning fog, I knew Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have appreciated the moment.
We left the others and took a right down to where the two-mile mark had been. That's where the first woman had dropped out of the marathon, succumbing early to an injury. We took a left on State Street, where a fast-moving male runner emerged from the fog, a woman who had run the day before pacing him on a bicycle.
The ascent back up Blossom Street proved brutal, but it was worth it to again traverse the USC campus and get another glimpse of the 25-mile hill on the other side that I'd climbed the day before. So late in the race, so brutal, yet once at the top, a sure sense of making it to the finish.
Back at the hotel, a group of six women gathered on couches in the hospitality suite comparing war stories from the day before.
"No way am I running today," one said.
"I think I'll do some swimming for a while," another chimed in.
"I couldn't believe the heat and I didn't finish, but hey, at least we all got a good tan," another said. Not your typical coffee clatch!
Anne Marie Lauck looked sad when I saw her in the elevator. A fellow New Jerseyian, I felt extra compassion for her dilemma of having placed third but not being able to go to the Olympics due to the time-standard rules. She'd given it her all and had even ended up in the medical tent afterward.
Eleven hours and six states later, we finally reached the New Jersey boarder. It was 2 a.m. and it was pouring when I arrived home. I fell into bed, exhausted from the excursion yet still so exhilarated from the whole Trials experience.
The last thing I saw before I fell asleep was number 158, still pinned to my bag. Above the number, in a blue box, it said "2000 U.S. Olympic Team Trials Women's Marathon." I was so honored to have been a part of it.
Laurie Corbin was hit by a car while running one month before the Olympic Marathon Trials. Despite having suffered a fractured skull, broken nose and herniated disc in her neck, she competed in the race, finishing 77th in 2:56. Check back at ActiveUSA.com for her story of her accident, recovery and perseverance to compete in the Trials.