As I begin to write this, my legs are still throbbing. And in case you’re wondering how badly – I just had groceries delivered from Amazon Prime Now so I didn’t have to walk around Whole Foods. I’m exhausted. I’ve been up 1-2 hours before my alarm the past four days. It’s been brutal and I feel drained. I’m hungry. Well, I’ll feel extremely full one second, and then feel famished the next instant. That’s been interesting.
But my heart is SO. VERY. FULL.
The 43rd Marine Corps Marathon was on Sunday, October 28th, 2018 and I can proudly say I finished the race on that beautiful Sunday, got a huge PR, and accomplished my time goal! (My unofficial finishing time was 3:49:20.)
I’ve been preparing for this race for a very long time. On March 29th, I received my lottery acceptance email. But even before then, I was anticipating my first marathon since being “back to running”. As some readers may know, I took about six months off from running at the end of 2017 in to 2018 (If not, I wrote more about that here – password is “mcm”) so I was beyond excited to get back in to training again. I had declared that my next major goal in life was to qualify for the Boston Marathon, so I knew I needed a good race to motivate me towards that goal.
I had been slowly building a heavy base of miles prior to my official marathon training cycle. To do this, I ran my first Ragnar Ultra (which was an amazing experience!). So in the Spring I had trained to run 34 miles within a 24 hour period. After accomplishing that, I couldn’t wait to see what fitness I would gain for a marathon. I knew Boston was a long-term goal, but how fast could I run this next marathon?
I figured an attainable goal was to cut about ~10 minutes off my time from my previous marathon. So I wrote myself a training plan for sub 3:50 marathon. As I looked at the paces I would have to hit in workouts, I got nervous. I was coming off a lot of rest. My base mileage was all slow, easy runs. I hadn’t done a proper workout in 18 months. Was my body ready for this?
As the weeks went on, the speed in my legs came back. I PRed in 5ks and 10ks throughout the year. The heat was tough, but I was tougher. The training cycle went off without any major issues. I did feel a little “lazy” with the accessory work this time around, though. I did a little less cross-training, foam rolling, and stretching than I could have been doing. I was somewhat consistent, but I know for the future I need to do better!
I was fearful during the taper. Every niggle I’ve ever had popped back up. I got nauseous during some workouts. I cut my last 12-miler short to only 11. I changed my shoes up for the race at the last minute. I was creating stresses in my life around work that was awful timing. I was getting nervous that all these things would affect race day. Was I ready for a full 26.2?!
Since the marathon is held in Washington DC, my husband and I drove down the day before. We dropped off our pup to my parents, and spent 3 hours in the
car and headed straight to the Expo at the Gaylord National. To keep my mind busy and the nerves at bay, I did my nails in the car on the way down with Sarah Marie Design Studio’s MCM nail wraps. So cute!!
We finally got to the Gaylord National and my anxiety reappeared. The traffic, the people, the madness, the parking fees! We paid $14 for 30 minutes in the expo. Ridiculous.
Race expos always make me anxious. I just want to get in and out and bump in to as little other humans as possible! They’re always so crowded and crazy – I am not a fan. So we got my bib and the world’s ugliest race shirt, took a quick picture, asked about how the shuttles would work the next day, and got the heck out of there!
We got to our Air bnb and got to unwind for a little while. We had a very early dinner reservation and Copperwood Tavern (4:30 pm) so I could get home and get to bed early. The food was phenomenal! I was probably a little more “adventurous” than I should have been the night before a marathon. I tried venison meatballs with huckleberry jam and ate cornbread (despite trying to stay gluten/dairy free for the days leading up to the marathon to ensure my stomach wouldn’t have any issues). I ordered a salad because it had roasted butternut squash, pomegranate and pumpkin seeds, chicken and pears, and avoided a lot of the greens (no need for that before a race!). It was all delicious, but I was still hungry afterwards.
We got home and I had a few bites of garlic hummus and rosemary Simple Mills crackers (an amazing combo btw!). I made sleepytime tea to wind down. I set out everything I needed for the next day. I reviewed my race plan – I was going to go out easy, settle in to GMP, and then speed up over the course of the marathon (spoiler alert – I ignored this plan). I made all my lists and checked them twice like Santa Claus. My nerves were still taking over. I ended up going to bed around 8PM. I was as ready as I could possibly be for the next day.
My alarm was set for 4:30 AM but I was wide-eyed and bushy tailed at 3:30. JOY.
I tried to settle down, but my excitement could NOT be subdued! I got up and ate 2 carrot apple superhero muffins from RFCFES and had cold brew coffee and vanilla nutpods creamer. Normally before long runs I’d have coffee and a Ucan bar, but I was saving my Ucan bar for about an hour pre-race.
The next thing I did in the morning was start to get dressed while watching a quick instagram highlight reel video of Shalane Flanagan crossing the finishing like at NYCM last year. I cried tears of joy. I couldn’t wait to cross my next finish line. In that moment, I knew I was ready for the marathon ahead of me.
I finished getting on all my warm throw away closed, packed up my new shoes, grabbed my bag full of stuff I needed for the race, kissed my husband goodbye, and headed out the door at 5:30AM.
I walked to the shuttle buses that were taking people to the start in Crystal City. It was about a 10 minute walk so I figured that’d be a good “warm up” for my legs. And boy I was warm! I took off one of my two throw a way shirts (the ugly one we got at the race expo) and my gloves. I felt over-prepared for the weather. Go me!
I met some folks in the line for the shuttles and chatted with them on the bus. Everyone was so friendly and kind! We got off the buses and walked a bit of a ways to the runners village. I was ready for my 2nd breakfast, all that walking had me craving more fuel before the start!
It was around 6:15 AM and I walked in to the giant parking lot area that was the runners village and was amazed. By what you might ask? The lack of people in the port-o-john lines! If anyone’s every run the Broad Street Run, you know you get there early to stand in lines for the bathroom for an hour. This was the sole purpose of me getting there as early as I did! I was truly shocked.
I literally peed 5 or 6 times while waiting in the Runners Village. Every marathon I had run up until that point I had to pee in the first mile… I did not want that to be my fate that day!
While in the runners village I also attended the prayer service, did some warm ups and drills, sat and chatted with more people, and tried to get warm again! I realized quickly I was NOT over-prepared for the weather. Standing around had me getting cold so I started putting all my layers back on. I tried to keep moving to stay warm, too. I had already taken about 8,000 steps that day before the marathon even began.
Finally the start line was opening up, so we all started walking over there. It was SO CROWDED! I took my final chance to use the port-o-potties and headed to the 3:30-4:00 finish time pace area. Then parachuters came flying out of the sky, announcers started to boom through the loud speakers, and the national anthem was sung. We heard the loud boom for the wheelchairs to go off. I slowly started taking off my warm-up gear, getting my headphones on, getting in the zone. I couldn’t believe it – was I really about to run a marathon?
I had told all my family and friends that although the race start was at 7:55, it was a big race, so I probably wouldn’t be starting for another 15-30 minutes after that time (again, I was comparing it to Broad Street). Low and behold, the big BOOM goes off for the start, and I crossed the start line a minute later.
Me: “OMG I’m running a marathon!”
Me 5 minutes later: “OMG they weren’t kidding about it being uphill for the first few miles!”
I was weaving around all the people and fighting the hills. I felt so good and strong (as everyone does at the beginning of a marathon). I kept telling myself to hold back….but my legs didn’t listen. The first few miles felt a little quick. Then we started going downhill. Which felt even better. I was going so fast, but I just couldn’t help it. Basically, my race plan was already thrown out the window by mile 3. #REGRETS
Finally I settled in to a pace that I told myself to trust. It was sub-GMP for the most part. But it felt great and I was enjoying the views – the fall foliage, the Potomac river, beautiful Georgetown, wonderful state parks, and the amazing spectators!
I screamed “Go birds!” at everyone I saw in an Eagles jersey. I asked someone the score and they said the game hadn’t started yet. That meant it was before 9:30AM still. God I had a long ways left to go in the marathon….I high fived spectators. I thanked volunteers. I enjoyed the music along the course. It was all going so swimmingly. I kept thinking “I’m running a marathon. This is it!”
All of a sudden around mile 9, behind me comes the 3:45 pacer. I said “oh look, it’s you! I’ve been looking for you!” (hoping I’d run in to him eventually and let his pace dictate mine for the race).
And all that came out of his mouth was negativity.
Pacer: “Ugh, if the race wasn’t so crowded we wouldn’t be so behind. I wish the race was more organized. These race organizers need to go to a bigger race and see how to do it. We’re 2 minutes behind. I can’t just go sub 8 minute miles to get up to speed because no one will be able to keep up with me.”
BLAH BLAH BLAH. He was bringing me down!
So I wanted to slow down a bit to stay a little behind him. I was trying to do race math and see what my times would look like if I slowed down mile-by-mile behind that group a bit. It wasn’t working. I was sticking with him because it felt natural and I wanted to be able to hold on and beat my marathon time goal. (MORE REGRETS).
At mile 14, I was falling back a bit, but tried to stick pretty close. It was time for some nutrition and I reached down for my Generation UCAN fuel and my Flipbelt was soaked. UH OH. Right where my phone was. PANIC. I look down and my chocolate flavored UCAN was all over – I saw it on my bib and my shorts. (Thank goodness it wasn’t running down the back of my shorts or it would have looked like a Code Brown.) I cleaned it up as best as I could and wiped my phone off on my arm sleeves. They were getting thrown away soon anyway… and I was happy to see my phone still worked! I saw a few texts from loved ones as I was putting my phone away, that was definitely a positive to the situation. Crisis averted.
I kept chugging along and was still sticking around with my negative pacer. I could feel my breathing getting harder. It was all starting to feel harder around mile 15. I told myself less than a half marathon to go.
Luckily the course was starting to change up at this time to break the monotony. I finally took my arm sleeves off (now that they were stained) since the weather was warming and the sun was coming out. We went up and around the Washington Monument and headed towards the Capitol building. I saw a guy holding a scoreboard for the Eagles / Jags game. It was 0-3…not good news. We ran by the Smithsonian and the crowd support was rising. People were blasting music and I was jamming along. Inside, I was starting to feel worn down and heavy.
I had fallen further behind the 3:45 pacers at a water stop and was slowing down slightly (10 seconds-ish per mile). I was still going around GMP, so I was okay with it, but it was just getting harder.
We finally got to the infamous bridge of MCM. “Only 10K to go!” – Some guy yelled that and I wanted to hug him. It was going to be a long 10K and I couldn’t wait for that bridge to end as soon as I got up to it. I was getting thirsty and the water jugs were out for people who had handheld water bottles… I was not one of them. I couldn’t wait for water at this point.
I was chugging along and looked down at my watch at Mile 23. I had gone 8:10 in that mile – I was so excited! …For a few seconds. Until I realized that was all the gas left in my tank. I was slowing down rapidly from there. My next miles were all 9+. I took the Maurten 100 gel for a pure shot of glucose. It didn’t help. I was holding on for dear life and counting down the minutes. We were on an out and back and I wanted to cheat so badly. When was it going to be over?
I was trying to think of the really hard 5Ks I’ve done this year, the last Yasso workout I did, the hard efforts I’ve put in all year to compare to saying “this isn’t that bad!” But it was that bad… and my declining leg speed confirmed that.
We finally got back to the point on the course where we had started – at the Runners Village. As soon as we turned that corner at mile 25, the headwinds started. Of course the last mile would be the hardest, and mother nature wasn’t helping. My back was aching, my abs were sore, my hips were throbbing. I kept telling myself “only 10 more minutes and you’re going to be a marathoner again!” People around me were cheering on each other saying we’re almost done. I saw flags lining where the start line was and thought the end must have been so close! But I still had a half mile to go. My watch said I was already above 26 miles – I wished I had run the tangents better.
Finally I saw the uphill to the finish line. The woman next to me said “the finish is just ahead, we got this!” (thanks girl) but that hill was steep. I put my game face on and just pushed through to the end. Kyle screamed my name right before the finish line and apparently I put my arms up, so I think I heard him subconsciously. I was too far in the zone to remember this, though. I just needed to stumble over that finish line.
I finally did it!
I smiled. I cried. I hyperventilated. I high-fived every Marine. I thanked them all. I let out the most audible, primal “WOOOO” I had in me in the finishers chute. Everyone clapped and cheered. I was elated and my heart was full. I was saying “oh my god” out loud to myself over and over. When they handed me the jacket and water, everyone asked if I was okay. I said “I think so”. All I wanted to do was sit, but that finishers chute was LONG.
I finally met up with Kyle and hugged him. I said “I did it! – I need to sit down NOW!”
We found a patch of grass and just sat there for a good 20 minutes. I was getting colder, so I kept layering up as we sat. He said the car and restaurant we had brunch reservations for was far away…about a mile. We sat even longer to prepare.
Finally, I stood up. I knew I needed to eat something and get moving again. My IT band THROBBED in pain. Everything ached. We started walking towards brunch at Tupelo Honey. It was all uphill.
Post-Marathon Bliss and Blues
Brunch was amazing. Southern fried chicken, biscuits, sweet potato pancakes, apple cider bacon, blueberry jam, grilled apples with cinnamon, candied pecans, maple syrup and butter, scrambled eggs, blood orange IPA on nitro. Too bad I had little to not appetite. I ate less than half of my dish and was done. But if you ever go to Arlington, I highly recommend Tupelo Honey. Delicious!
After relaxing at the bar for a while, it was finally time to drive home. The first thing I noticed in the car was that my medal didn’t have the center medallion that everyone else’s had. (I was bummed, but I figure I’ll reach out to MCM and see if I can get one.)
The rest of the 3 hours I had a chance then to reflect on all the things in the marathon.
I was beyond happy with my time and ~10 minute PR. But I know I went out too fast. The uphill at the beginning, and then the fast downhill, was a brutal test of holding back your energy until the second half of the marathon…. and I failed that test. I thought I would be able to hold on by pure will, but my body gave in in the last 3 miles. My mantra was to trust myself and mentally I did, and I pushed. My legs just weren’t turning over anymore. But I learned a great lesson, and I still performed as well as I could have imagined! (Another lesson learned? Lower back chafing is a thing. That hurt in the shower.)
Not to mention, the weaving and the tangents – I actually ran closer to 26.5 miles, so my pace was a bit faster than what the official results said. Strava says my average pace was 8:37, and I’ll take every second I can get!
Also according to Strava, I PRed in nearly every distance within that marathon. I was 30 seconds off my 10K PR, and I PRed in every distance above 10K! Who does that WITHIN A MARATHON?!
People who have A TON of room for improvement, that’s who.
That can be seen as a good or bad thing, I suppose. But for me, I’ll take it as a positive. It just gives SO much to look forward to. I have a lot of room for more mileage in my weeks. I have a lot of speed to gain. And I’m ~20 minutes away from my BQ goal – which seems like a lot, but I know I can get there.
I also reflected and was grateful for all the support I received and continue to receive in my running. I have a huge group of friends and family who are truly amazing – I couldn’t do this without them!
All in all, I had a great race. I met a lot of great people, the crowd support was fantastic, there were lots of flat areas which my legs were grateful for, and I got a nice tour of D.C.! I’m still building back from some time off and I know I can implement a lot of things to continue improving. Plus, it was still only my third marathon, so there’s always so much to learn.
As I finish writing this, my legs are a lot less sore and I’m going for my first run (or slog) back tonight with my favorite shiny happy runners at Burlington Running Club. That post-marathon high is slowly winding down. I should probably stop using social media to post all about the race now…time to move on to the next set of goals 🙂
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