Sunday, September 27, 2015

I Beat the Blerch...Barely

Well, yesterday's marathon didn't go as planned, but I got my way to the finish line, albeit, beaten up and demoralized.

My running friend Kelly reached out to me when the Beat the Blerch Marathon was announced a bunch of months ago. It was 20 minutes from her house and she asked if I'd like to join. A race organized by a cartoonist that I love? And I got to run it with a friend? Oh yeah, I was in. It also fell on the weekend the Pope was coming to Philly, so I got to scoot out of the city before he came (and later, figure my way back into the city with Pope Francis here).

My work was closed Friday before the Pope came, so I was able to get up, pack my bags, relax, and hit the road mid-day. I made my way to Kelly's area, grabbed lunch, then waited to meet her at her place after she got out of work. We met up, drove to pick up our bibs, then got dinner. It was great to catch up with Kelly, then we went back to her place and hit the hay.
90s kid nostalgia. My costume was a player from "Legends of
the Hidden Temple."
The race was only about a 20 minute drive from her place, so we were able to "sleep in" until about 5:30 AM before the 8 AM race start. We didn't have any parking issues (others weren't so lucky), so we got there pretty early. We were able to get to the bathroom with zero line, snap pictures on the couches before the race, and relax in her car before heading to the start. I got to see a bunch of other running friends before we started and at 8:10 AM, we were off!
Kelly and me on one of the many couches before we started the race
The trails were really beautiful. The first few miles had a decent amount of easy trail and hillier roads, then we got into the tougher, more technical trails. I have been lucky enough to run a decent amount of trails (for a road runner) the last few months, so I felt okay the first 6ish miles in. I knew that lots of people signed up for this race without even reading that it was a trail race and I worried for those runners/walkers.

After the 6ish mile mark (by the first mile, we all saw that our watches were short and the race continued to be short, clocking in at 24.4 miles total for me), I started to struggle on the uphills. I noticed that I couldn't catch my breath going up and it was like my lungs couldn't open up fully. I've never had breathing issues, so this was odd. We also went nearly 4 miles without water, which would normally be fine, but I was clearly also dehydrated and the first half of the 2 loop course had so many water stops along it.

Kelly was super understanding and I felt okay when we got through the first lap. I felt happy that the first loop went by quickly and felt like I could do well through the second lap. Alas, my breathing was not cooperating with me and I had to walk up nearly all of the uphills and boy, there were a lot.

With about 8 (of the 24.4 miles) to go, I told Kelly to leave me. Neither of us was racing this and she raced the Air Force Marathon the weekend before, but I felt horrible to be keeping her back. It was just truly not my day, but she wouldn't let me go. She happily walked with me whenever I needed it, let me keep the pace when we ran, and was super understanding. She even offered to hold my bike helmet (part of my costume) and said if dropping was better for me, she'd be fine with that, too. I feel bad that I'm so stubborn because I sure as hell was getting to that finish line and she had to stick with me! Glad that I wasn't alone and that Kelly was so supportive!
We enjoyed some couch time with a Blerch!
In the second half of the last lap, we passed lots of half marathoners who were walking. A lot of them did not look like they were regular exercisers and a lot of them commented about how hard the course was. A lot of them said, "There was barely any road in this race!" I've gotten so used to being around distance runners and many who run trails regularly. I was bummed to hear their frustration because the race was clearly labeled as a trail race and one that was technical at that. We saw runners with twisted ankles and knees, cuts and bruises, etc., which made me worried about the racers. Seeing the Facebook page after the race, lots of racers complained about things that are so common in trail races, but they lacked the experience to know what they were getting themselves into.

I did fall with about a mile to go (I was surprised that it took that long), but thankfully I didn't cut myself and while my one calf seized, it loosened up nearly immediately. I hobbled to the finish, with Kelly being so supportive and nice. A lady we kept leapfrogging during the course, Kat, finished a bit a head of us, but found us with about .25 miles left and ran us into the finish line. Meeting people like her make racing like this so worth it. We were able to support each other throughout the race and could finish it smiling and cheering each other on.
It was brutal, but I finished and got my dang medal!
We finished in 5:18 and change, which was nearly an hour positive split for the second half. I needed a good marathon race under my belt, even if I wasn't actually racing it, but that will come another time. I got to explore some beautiful trails, spend hours running with a friend I don't get to see in person a lot, and I was was able to push through to get marathon #16 in the books. I even felt well enough to run 10 road miles with John and some friends less than 24 hours later (couldn't pass up running on the empty roads here in Philly). On to the next one!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Fighting the Fear

Fear is a funny thing, isn't it? Ever since I DNFed the C&O Canal 100 miler 2 years ago, I've been plagued with this little voice. The voice tells me that while I have completed a 100 miler before, the DNF makes that finish feel less valid. The little voice is pretty jerky, right?!

I've been looking for 100 milers that make sense in my running schedule and get me excited. Nothing has fit yet, but I might have found my race. My dad, who currently lives in Honolulu, will be moving much closer this fall when he moves to Tampa, FL. It'll be great to have him closer and of course, after he told me that, I immediately searched for races. I quickly found the Long Haul 100 miler, which is about an hour away from my dad's new place. He's got an extra bedroom and a car, meaning I'd have free accommodation and a ride to and from the race.

I talked with John and while he wishes I had a different desire (even just sticking to marathons would make him happier), he supports me signing up. Once that happened, I started to panic. I was just waiting for John's ask for me not to sign up to be the stop from me doing it and giving me an out. Without that, so many questions popped up. Who would pace me (I don't know anyone down there)? What would I do without my mom at this race (she'd likely stay home)? What if I really can't do it and the first one was a fluke?

Well, it's hard to answer those all. In terms of pacers, I could probably find someone local (via social media channels and ultra email list servs) to pace me. I wouldn't mind running with someone I don't know since we could spend hours getting to know each other. As for my mom? Well, as much as I wish she could be at every race I ever do, that's not plausible. She knows me so well and knows how to crew me like none other, but she won't be able to do that always. I'll just have to ask John to fill her shoes in terms of crewing.

Then comes the biggest question: can I really do it? When I attempted my first, I said I would have crawled to the finish if it was required. I had, maybe, a younger innocence and determination. After my DNF, and a recent string of races not going according to plan, my confidence as a runner isn't what it used to be. After setting running goals and achieving them for years and years, then having the opposite happen recently, it's still hard to set a lofty goal and not be scared. Not that being scared is bad. Being scared shows that it matters and is a challenge.

Maybe Tina Fey has confidence in me?!
So now, I stand on this ledge. If I jump and sign up, maybe my parachute will open and I'll succeed in completing another 100. If things don't go so well, I'll be face planting into the ground. But if I don't even try, I won't go on any sort of adventure and what kind of life is that? Here's to hoping I have the courage (or the alcohol-fueld confidence) to actually sign up!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Poconos Run for the Red Marathon Race Report

I was afraid this race report would happen. Was it a self-fulfilling prophecy? Was I just doomed from the start with 100% humidity? Who knows. In the end, I finished my 15th stand-alone marathon, albeit not in the way I would have liked.

After I fell apart during the RnR DC (for which the race report is still half written after Blogger ate the second half of it and I am too bleh to finish writing it), I immediately went on the hunt for another race to attempt at BQ. I eventually found the Poconos Run for the Red Marathon and signed up after hearing good things. I then had about 2 months to maintain my training and work hard.

The training went well, but I cannot say I did every workout. I ran most of them, but I didn't do as many speed work workouts as my coach prescribed and I didn't hit the gym as much. I started going at least once a week with some West Philly Runner friends and I have been steady in my November Project workouts (which incorporate hill running, stair running, and a variety of body weight workouts like burpees, squats, push-ups, and the like). I just had this nagging little voice in my head that felt like I hadn't put in the proper work to reach my goal.

A few days leading up to the race, people started talking about how humid it would be. I was religiously tracking the weather, per usual for a race, but all anyone could talk about was hot how it would be. I kept brushing it off like it wasn't a big deal, but I was starting to worry. I especially do not do well in heat and humidity as it just zaps me of energy. This happens to everyone, but I think my patience with it is just far lower.

Luckily, my costume (a deviled egg. Get it? It was a too hard for people to get, but I was happy to run my 13th consecutive marathon in a costume!) was good for the heat (white tank!) and I knew I couldn't do anything but deal with the heat. My mom snagged me in Philly later on Saturday, then we drove to Stroudsburg, PA. We ate a late and quick dinner, then we hit the hay.

The only positive to the 8 AM race start was that I could get in 7+ hours of sleep before the race. The downside? Walking around the starting line area was already sticky and hot! I was reminded, though, how much I appreciate smaller races. I was able to pick up my bib the morning of (for a fee, but still), I was able to hang out inside a high school before the start and use their restrooms. Two minutes before the gun went off, I had to pee yet again and I was able to scurry to the port-a-potties (with zero line!), use it, then be back before the gun went off. As much as I love bigger races like Philly and the Marine Corps Marathon, I love little perks of smaller races like that.

I said hello to some friends like Keith Straw, who was pacing the 3:50 runners. I told him that I better not see him along the course (*spoiler* I did). I got in my space between the 3:25 pacer and 3:35 pacer and got ready. After the national anthem was sung, the gun went off and so did we!

This course is a significant net downhill course, but I quickly learned that there are lots of small inclines and declines along the course. I found myself starting out too fast, so I had to calm down and not let the excitement get to me. I was staying around my goal pace, but was hovering a few seconds per mile below that. I knew that a slight buffer for the first half might be good since the hillier sections were later on, but I did my best to reign my excitement in.

The miles ticked away and I was waiting for the significant downhills because I wanted them. The roads became more scenic and boom, we hit the downhills. I really wish I had taken any photos along this part because man, it was beautiful. Running through the Poconos area allowed me to see some beautiful things!

I was a bit fast after hitting the major downhills, but I ended up pretty much right even at the halfway point. I passed it and while I normally feel great at the halfway point, I started to worry. The course was become less shaded by trees and this is where my mental demons started to really come out.

Just around mile 14 is when things fell apart. I kept feeling how much effort it took to keep the pace and I knew I couldn't hold on to it for the rest of the race, especially with the bigger uphills between miles 20ish-23ish. And so I pretty much gave up. I let my mental demons and the humidity take ahold of me and dictate my race, sadly.

Around mile 16, I took my first walk break. I was embarrassed because I never walk in marathons, but I was so done. I started to panic about how much was left in the race and how drained I felt. Thankfully, the race was remote, so I couldn't easily drop. I just keep chugging along. Nearly any uphill, I walked. I tried to push myself, but I really just couldn't. I was beyond demoralized and upset that I let a little hardship make me give up.

I can't remember the mileage, but a local friend, Mel, and the 3:35 pacer he was running with, caught up with me. I tried my darnedest to stick with them, but it felt too hard. Could I have kept up? Or was I just afraid of pain and hardship? I started to wonder why it was so hard for me to keep pushing when any little difficulty hit. When I PRed at the Richmond Marathon, I remember the last 10k being so hard and that I was holding on by a thread. How come I couldn't push through this time like I did then?

Eventually, we got to the 20 mile mark and I knew I had a long 10k left, but I had to keep going. I then got passed by a friend, Paul, pacing the 3:45 group. He said if he saw me on the course, he'd kick my ass and when he saw me, he gave it to me. It was a good push, but still demoralizing because I felt embarrassed by how much I had fallen apart.

While it was a small race, the support was really great, especially with the temperature and humidity. They had a water station about every 2 miles and in the later stops, they had ice. I'd stick it down my bra and allow it to cool me off slightly. I also, for the first time in forever, dumped water on my head at many aid stations. I hate being wet when I don't want to be (aka all of the time), but I knew the wetness was worth cooling my head down. The saving grace, too, was the aid station worker who had dunked towels in ice water and was wringing out the water over people's necks; I would have kissed him if I could have thought straight.

The miles slowly ticked away and I pretty much started the mourning process. I thought about all of the amazing supportive people in my life who believed in me and while obviously my race is a blip on their lives, I felt bad for even potentially letting them down. I mourned the fact that I most likely (unless something changes and I find a pre-September race) won't be racing in Boston in 2016 with so many friends. I thought about how instead of training for this race, I could have spent the time doing other workouts and focusing on trying to be in the best shape for my wedding. Then I let it all go. I realized I couldn't change a thing at the moment and I had to put it all behind me.


The last few miles, I just tried to smile as much as I could, I thanked everyone who was out there on the course, and tried to enjoy myself in any way possible. Soon enough, I was running on Stroudsburg's Main Street and nearing the high school for the track finish. I ran through the high school's parking lot and onto the track. Runners had to do 3/4 of a lap and finish on the track. I got to see lots of spectators cheering in the stands and I was finally finishing. I saw my mom with about 100 meters to go and was happy to see her face.

I ended up finishing in 3:55:25. Was it my slowest effort? Nope. Was it my biggest blow-up? Nope, I can give that to the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon. Was it the hardest marathon for me to finish? I think so. It took so much out of me mentally and physically, I was wiped far too early. I do always say that on any day, I could go out and complete a marathon distance, so it felt good that I was able to finish my 15th stand-alone marathon and make that statement true.
15th stand-alone marathon complete!
I think I'm done racing marathons for a bit. I've found the pressure to be a bit too much for me mentally and I just want to run some for fun and get back to ultras. I have realized that the margin for error in marathons is so much smaller, so it adds this major pressure to me that has put me in a mental funk when racing. If I slow down by 30 seconds per mile, that can make or break my marathon goal. In an ultra, you have a little more leeway and being a few minutes slower or faster isn't usually a big deal. I have faith that I'll secure another BQ and actually run Boston one time, but I have to learn to be patient. I'm lucky to have finished upright and to have finished at all in that heat and humidity, so I'll take it as a win!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Philadelphia Marathon 2014 - What it's like to run a marathon the day after a 50 miler

Okay, so the Philadelphia Marathon happened about 2.5 months ago and I'm just getting around to finishing this. Whoops. Better late than never?

When I woke up the morning of the race, after just 5 hours of sleep, I was in such denial about running the marathon. I quickly got into my 50s poodle skirt costume, though, and my mom and I headed to meet my friends at the Marriott nearby. I scarfed down a donut as my pre-race breakfast (a recent favorite choice of mine) and once we all met up (I was at the wrong hotel at first!), we walked to the start.

Walking hurt. It hurt a lot. I was kind of freaking out about what running a marathon would be like, especially since I knew it'd be slow given my soreness and tightness. I was able to quickly say hi to my Back on My Feet friends and one of our alumni members (he used to live in a homeless shelter, but now has a job and his own place) pulled my mom aside to tell her how proud of me she should be because of dedication to the organization. Talk about incredible to hear. It was such a boost to hear that and remember that I had fundraised for men and women like him, so I had even more motivation to finish.

I hobbled to the start with my friends and we found our friend, Brooklyn Bobby, in our corral. Bobby, Lisa, Alice, Jen (who did the JFK 50 the day before as well), and I planned to run the whole thing together. I didn't know how long it would take, but we all agreed we'd enjoy a leisurely tour of Philly together. The gun went off, but since we were in a slower coral, it took literally 30 minutes for us to cross the start line. I had never started so far back and that long time made me so anxious. We said goodbye to my mom and Mara (another friend cheering us all on) and started the race.
Jen, Stephanie (who ran without us), me, Lisa, Alice, and Bobby
The first mile hurt. A lot. I pretty much just could hobble. I did, though, love showing my friends my city that I love so much. After a mile or so, I loosened up a bit and my stride got closer to my normal one, but I still hurt with every step. I had to take a quick pit stop to pee in a bush at around mile 2, then we were making our way up Washington Ave. and through Society Hill. Around mile 4, we even were able to snag some beer (which tasted amazing!).

The gang really loved seeing South Street and commented on how cute it was. It's funny because seeing it from their eyes, with the holiday wreaths and lights up, it really was cute. When I think about how gross it is and the bars that are down there, it's funny for me to call it cute.
We kept going and eventually got to our apartment where John, Mara, and my mom were waiting. We hugged them, I gave John my gloves (it was getting warmer), posed for a quick picture, then went on our way. I love where we ran next through Center City, because the crowds are amazing. I was able to see tons of spectators, including a bunch of my Back on My Feet friends.

Running through Drexel, my alma mater, was painful because we went up a big hill, but I got to see a bunch of Students Run Philly Style participants at the water stop at the top, which was awesome! We then slowly made our way up the bitch of a hill that is just before mile 10. I then had to pee again, which Jen then gave me hell for because I always had to pee during flats or downhills (not an uphill when she could walk) and I peed more in the first 10 miles of the marathon than in all of the JFK 50 the day before. What can I say?! I had to go!
Our group just past mile 6
We made it to West River Drive, saw the AWESOME crazy cheering group at the turnaround who always come dressed in insane outfits, and I shortly after hit a real mental low. I was hurting a lot and there was still so much left to run. I saw everyone on the other side of the river, miles ahead of me, and got so demoralized. I really considered just doing the half, but I knew I'd feel like a quitter. I had told so many people about my endeavor and while I knew it wouldn't have mattered if I had only done the half, I set the goal to do the full and I was determined to do that.

We got to the halfway point, saw Mara on the course, and I had a Gu. The second half of the course is out and back, so I was able to see so many friends running on the course when I was heading out. This really was the mental pick-me-up that I needed. Instead of focusing on my pain, I just looked for my friends and cheered them all on. Soon enough, we were in East Falls, where I saw a bunch of November Project Philadelphia friends and found my Fathead that they created. Shortly after, we were at mile 17 and that meant just single digits left! While I was in a lot of physical pain and just so tired, I was surprisingly cheery as the miles were slowly ticking away.
Two scary faces on the course
We got into Manayunk and I was so happy to see the giant crowds. I saw some Philly Runner friends near the turnaround and it was the jolt that I needed to push up the hill. Our group had separated a bit (Bobby and Alice ran down a hill when I had to walk to get water down at some point), but we reconnected at around mile 21ish. I had beer at mile 19 on the way out, but the beer did not sound good on my stomach at mile 21. I still had two small cups throughout the course, so I'm not mad!

Once we passed the NP Philly folks and East Falls again, I started to struggle again. The other side of Kelly Drive (people still heading out) was nearly empty, which surprised me. You have 6 or 7 hours (can't find the exact rule) to finish the course, so I thought that I'd see at least a handful more people still heading to Manayunk. When we did see someone, though, we cheered like crazy! I got to the point where walking through aid stations wasn't feasible as stopping and starting hurt too much. I'd slowly jog through the water stop, drink while jogging, then keep going. Everyone easily caught up with me each time, but it was getting more and more painful with each step.
Near the 20 mile mark!
As we were inching closer to the finish, I realized that once I finished, I could lay down and elevate my feet. It then dawned on me that, duh, just because I stop, it doesn't mean the pain goes away. I felt this weird sense of being trapped since I wasn't escaping the pain, but I knew when I finished, I could lay down and at least feel some sense of relief.

We made our way to the 26 mile mark and saw Mara, my mom, and John there. I was disappointed with how empty the finish line area was. I had finished all of my Philadelphia Marathons much faster and it never took me so long to cross the start line, but I was sad to see how few spectators were out there. I felt embarrassed as this is MY home course now and my friends seemed to be disappointed as well. But alas, we were finishing and that's all that mattered!
Hugging Kaitleen, a NP Philly friend, along the course
We all crossed together and my finisher time was 5:10:00. It wasn't my slowest marathon (ran MCM with my giant group of friends at about 20 minutes slower than that), but it for sure was my most painful. Everyone was so cheery at the finish, but I just wanted to lay down STAT. I found John and my mom, said goodbye to my friends, and just collapsed onto some grass to elevate my feet. I had done it. This crazy goal of mine, to run the JFK 50 Miler and the Philadelphia Marathon in the same weekend, had been accomplished. I also was sore beyond belief, but the running was over. The Eagles game had started and I felt bad that John was missing it, so I got up and slowly hobbled over until we found a cab.
Final stretch!
I came home, relaxed a lot, showered far later than I should have, ate my face off with John and my mom, and then said goodbye to her as she headed back to DC. Some November Project friends were at a bar near me, so later that night, I met up with them, had 3 whole drinks, and got very intoxicated. We danced a lot and all celebrated everyone's racing. It was so fun, but waking up the next day sore and hungover was not a fun combination!
Woohoo finishers!
All in all, I'm really happy with how the race went. I'd never do that double ever again as it hurt far too much, but being able to run my favorite race with a bunch of really special people and accomplishing my crazy goal made it all worth it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

JFK 50 Miler Race Report

A bunch of months ago, I told a fellow crazy runner that since the JFK 50 Miler and the Philadelphia Marathon fell on the same weekend, it would be an interesting double race weekend. She agreed and the seed was planted. We quickly registered for both races and soon enough, I was training for the 76.2 mile weekend.

Going into this race, I had A, B, and C goals. Secretly, my A+ goal was to PR, which would be sub-9:34. I knew it was going to be tough since I had no clue how tough the Appalachian Trail and the boring C&O Canal would be. My A goal then was go to sub-10 hours, B goal was sub-11 hours, and C goal was to finish in the given time, 12 hours.

Different than in previous years, I hired a running coach to help me. I was bored of coming up with my own plans and with a lot of friends finding success with Michele Yates, I hired her for 6 months (I still have a few months left). While I find myself to be a lower mileage runner compared to a lot of ultra runners, I found myself doing a lot of speed work, cross training 2-3 times a week, and running a lot fewer miles than in years past. I was a bit nervous about this shift, but couldn't complain as I felt myself getting faster, I wasn't running for hours upon hours on weekends, and I knew to trust Michele and her plan. So glad that I used her as I know her plan helped me succeed during the double race weekend!
A photo posted by Rebecca Schaefer (@rebschaefer) on

The Friday before the race, I trained down to DC to my mom's house. A few hours later, she drove us to Reagan National Airport to pick up that crazy runner who also signed up, Jen. We drove to a favorite sushi restaurant of ours, ate a delicious buffet of sushi, then finished the drive to our race hotel. We picked up our bibs (easy when it's in the lobby of where you are staying), ate dinner, and got ready for the cold and long day ahead.

I had terrible night of sleep, which was filled with nightmares. I woke up and slowly got ready, not exactly excited to brave the cold temperatures (when we started the race, it was 18 degrees). We layered up, packed up the car, and headed to the start. We hit the bathrooms and sat through the second half of the race meeting. Seeing a school gym filled with all of the racers got me so excited and nervous!

Soon, we were walking the .5 mile to the start and I was getting nervous. Had my training been enough? Had I skipped one too many workouts (I hadn't skipped many, but I'd say I did 80-85% of my coach-prescribed running)? Before I could even think about it, the National Anthem was being sung and shortly after, the gun went off.
A photo posted by Rebecca Schaefer (@rebschaefer) on

The course started on paved roads for the first 2.5 miles before joining the Appalachian Trail (AT). And man, we mostly went uphill for the 2.5 miles. I slowly jogged up and wondered what I had gotten myself into. Everyone seemed nice and chatty and at least the sun was up! After the 2.5 miles, we joined the AT, where we spent the next 13ish miles.

I love running trails, but I don't have easy access to them in Philly without using the car. When I'm already busy, going down a mile to get our car, drive at least 30 minutes to get to trails, run, then come back, it's not usually feasible in my schedule. The AT was no joke for someone who spent 95% of her training on roads. It was rocky, it was steep (uphill and downhill), and it was technical. I rolled my ankle at least 6 different times, but for some reason, found a way to stay upright (shocking for how clumsy I am and how easy it was to fall on the trail).
One small paved section from miles 3.5-5.5
I actually got a sore neck from looking down at my feet so severely so that I wouldn't fall. One thing I hate about trails when they are that rocky and technical is that I can't look up and admire the beauty of the area. At one point, I noticed we were on top of the mountain and I couldn't look to soak it up. I guess I have to just go back and hike it so I can look at it all over again!

As the miles ticked away, I kept waiting for the steep switchbacks that the course description warned us all about. The miles kept ticking away and I thought, "Man, did we pass them and I didn't notice? That seems implausible." I was correct, we hadn't! I struggled more with downhills on the AT since it's more painful when gravity comes into play and my hamstrings felt it by mile 12. They SCREAMED at me when we got to the switchbacks. When you looked straight down, there was a steep fall a few hundred feet down. I kept looking just ahead at the course so that I didn't 1) freak the hell out at the steepness and 2) I didn't fall. It was scary, but everyone was bunched up and cracking jokes, which made it easier.

One awesome thing about the race was that aid stations were really frequent! We had one at mile 4, mile 10, and 16 (all before getting off the AT). I was able to see my mom at mile 15, but due to a misunderstanding on my part, I didn't stop to say hi. I thought I was coming back and could do so, but I was wrong and I felt horrible for not stopping to give her a hug. I couldn't do a sliver of my running without my mom as my crew and I felt horrible for not stopping to give her the hug she deserved (and that I wanted to give her!). I made sure to text her that I was sorry for missing her, that I loved her, and that I'd see her at the next stop!
Amazing homemade cookie from one of the aid stations
We hit the next aid station at mile 16, where the aid station folks said we were nearly a third of the way through the race. As I left the aid station, I was kind of concerned how sore my hamstrings and neck were. It was only 1/3 of the way through the course and I was that tight? How was I going to finish in one piece?! What about the next day with the marathon?! I tried to keep this fear quiet as I hopped off the AT and started the 26.3 mile journey along the C&O Canal.

For those who know, I have one DNF race ever and it was the C&O Canal 100 miler. It is still a bitter subject for me and I had about 26 miles left of the course to finish when I dropped. I told myself that this boring section of the course was doing to be my redemption, my way to feel slightly better about it since I was going to then have completed 100 miles on the C&O (mind you, in two races haha).

A friend of mine who had done the JFK 50 before said that the C&O Canal section is difficult because it's pretty much flat and the scenery doesn't change all that much. Also, due to strict no headphone rules, you have to try to not go crazy on said boring, flat section without the help of music. I took her advice and started talking with a runner who was going around my pace. His name was Pete and it was his first 50 mile attempt. He was a math teacher at a community college in Baltimore and we chatted for the next 10 or so miles about our running, our lives, and anything else to keep each other entertained.
Around mile 27
One thing that broke up the monotony was how frequently we got to aid stations. After getting on the C&O Canal, the furthest between two stations was less than 5 miles, but most were between 2-3.5 miles apart. Each one had a sign saying the milage we'd run so far and the mileage to the next aid station, which helped break up the long, slow running.

I was proud of myself that I didn't walk unless I was at an aid station. I kept my slower paced running, which ranged from 9:30 min/mile to 11 minute/mile. We usually kept about 10-10:30 min/mile pace, which actually felt easy and not too hard! I was a bit ahead of schedule, but I felt good about trying to hit my goals and was even in range to PR!

At the Antietam Aqueduct, mile 27.1, I saw my mom again. We were nearly 30 miles through and I had done over 10 miles on the C&O Canal. My legs were already hurting, but I was surprised that the hamstring soreness I had starting at mile 12 had gone away, in turn, shifting into back pain. I was then angry about that as I had done so much core work this training cycle and my back had ZERO reason to be so sore. But I trudged along and kept going.
The C&O Canal. How boring you were. 
I filled up my hydration pack with water around this aid station and I lost my running friend, Pete. I started to get really lonely and forgot how long I had until the next aid station. To keep myself sane and occupied mentally with something other than my pain and the miles left, I played a game with myself. I told myself to come up with a band for every letter of the alphabet and I had to recite them all in order (A for AFI...A for AFI, B for the Beatles...A for AFI, B for the Beatles, C for The Cars...etc.). This wasn't easy as I was getting tired and I kept wanting to chose a band that I actually liked. This kept me entertained for about 4 or so miles!

I would come upon Pete at times, where we'd run for a few miles together, then we'd separate at an aid station. It felt nice to at least have one "friend" to find along the course. The aid stations were coming along, but I was getting frustrated as my GPS watch kept saying I was further along than the course markings said. I know that GPS watches aren't always accurate, but it kept giving me this false thought that I was minutes ahead of my PR pace. I was really good about running the tangents (the canal path did wind, even if it was fairly flat), but my watch kept gaining on the mile markers. I tried to keep this anger internal and pushed through.
Do you see the exhaustion in my eyes?!
At mile 38ish, I saw my mom for what I thought was the last time before the finish. I happily drank hot chicken soup at the aid station, danced to some 80s tunes (which put some smiles on the aid station workers' faces and make me happy), and felt so happy that I was nearly done with the C&O Canal path!!

At the JFK 50 miler, if you can't get to the 42 mile mark before 3 pm, you are forced to wear a reflective vest, coined by other runners as the "Vest of Shame." I thought that I'd surely get it before I started the race, but being a bit ahead of schedule, I thought I was in the clear to avoid getting it. Well lo and behold, I got there at 3:05 pm, just missing my chance to run without it. I was slightly embarrassed, then I realized that I was still in a good spot to hit my A goal (PR was just out of reach, I correctly figured) and heck, I was going to finish the most historic ultra in the country in a not completely embarrassing time.

I finally walked for the first long period of time when we got off the C&O Canal path and hit the last ~8 miles on rolling country roads. I found another runner going about my pace and started chatting with him. I am kicking myself for never exchanging names with the fellow, but he was originally from South Africa and has been running for 40+ years. He ran his first marathon after only running the occasional 5 mile jog and qualified for the historic Comrades Marathon, a 50 mile race in South Africa that people travel all over to race. He's run it 11 times now and after spending the last 20+ years in the US, he's racked up some impressive race finishes here, too. We laughed and chatted while we slowly jogged the hilly country roads.
A Lil' Sebastian lookalike I found along the last few miles of the course.
We kept hitting aid stations every 2 miles now, which helped break up the last of the race. My back was now feeling okay, but my ankles hated me. Every step was painful, but I had to keep moving. I was surprised that my mom came to mile 46, but loved seeing her so close to the finish! I saw her again at mile 48 and after pushing ahead of my South African friend, I just wanted to be DONE!

The last couple of miles were painful, but I pushed the pace and was able to keep a sub-10 minute mile pace. A local running friend, Yoshiko Jo, is another runner under my coach and is a fantastically dedicated and talented runner. She's won a handful of 100 milers JUST THIS YEAR. She just ran 118 miles at the One Day at the Fair run in NJ in ONE FREAKING DAY. I saw that she ran it last year in 9:48 and while she's 1000% in better shape than me right now, I kept her time as a goal to beat. Maybe that's mean, but to be even close to Yoshiko's race times never crossed my mind and I know she'd crush me this year if she was racing it, too.

As I pushed the last few hundred yards of the finish, still in the light (yay for not having to use a headlamp), I got so excited to see my time was sub-9:40. I finished in 9:39:31. I was just 5 minutes off of my PR and that was with my watch clocking me at 51 miles. My PR is at the Dirty German 50 Miler, which I found to be easier than JFK, so I'm one happy camper. I was so relieved to be done, get the medal around my neck, give back that stupid Vest of Shame, and to sit down. I had finished this race that was tough physically and mentally.

I found my mom shortly after, we headed inside the school to eat food and chat with other runners, and wait for my friend Jen to finish. Jen, by the way, raced Ironman AZ the week before and was running with a lot of skin missing from one of her toes. It hurt her to walk, yet she finished this 50 miler no freaking sweat. She's insane, but man, I'm glad to know her.

We ate up, changed, got in the car, then my saint of a mother drove us the 3ish hours back to Philly so we could get up to run the Philadelphia Marathon the next day. The idea of waking up and running again sounded horrible, but we'd do it. But that story is for another race report...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Marine Corps Marathon Race Report 2014

I am mostly writing this so I can relive the awesome race and weekend that I just experienced. Sunday, I ran the most fun marathon that I've run yet and I am counting down until I get to run it again next year.

About 4.5 years ago, I started posting in the Marine Corps Marathon forums on Runner's World in preparation for my first attempt at that course. I quickly became friendly with everyone on there and met up with them for my first Forum Exchange (FE) the night before the race. Ever since, I do my best to come down to either race or spectate, only missing last year since I was attending one of my best friend's weddings. I was so excited to come back this year, this time as a runner thanks to Dunkin Donuts; I won a contest put on by them where I raced in a coffee cup costume and got a free bib.

Saturday, our fun group got together per usual at our friend Brian's to catch up, eat, and drink. I picked up bibs earlier in the day with friends Mara and Tim, including 4 for our friend Jen. I got to Brian's house and realized I had left the bibs at my mom's house. Thankfully, she lives in DC now and it wasn't that far of a drive. Loved the convenience! We caught up, then left around 8 pm to grab dinner and get home to sleep.

My mom recently moved into DC, so we got to wake up much later than when I raced previously and she lived in MD. We walked .5 miles to the nearest Metro stop, then took the train to the Pentagon station, which was the closest for us to get to the start. After going through a mob of people to get through security (this race has metal detectors and bag searches) and sneakily peeing in the woods (instead of waiting in a giant lines for port-a-potties), we met up with my running friends and got into place to start.
On the metro heading to the start
We decided to start off with the 4 hour runners (not sure why since we knew we'd be running slower than that), but I just went with it. It still wasn't truly hitting me that I was running a marathon since I wasn't racing it and I was going on a fun journey with a bunch of awesome running friends. But soon enough, we were crossing the start line and our race together would begin.

The course changed since I ran it in 2012 and to be honest, I forgot about parts of the course that hadn't, including miles 2-4. It was an interesting way to race in a big group since we had to account for each other at every water stop, bathroom break, and just in our pacing. Some people were ready to push the pace a bit more while others wanted to savor the race at a slower pace. We ended up getting the hang of it, but it was interesting to start.
I had a lot of fun carrying the guidon
Either way, we laughed a lot and made our way from the start through to Georgetown and to a new (as of last year's race) section going out and back through Rock Creek Park. Coming back on this section, we met an 81 year old racer who was running his second marathon ever (his first was last year's MCM). It was incredible to run with him for a bit and to hear about fighting in Korea in the early 1950s as a Marine. Moments like that make me love racing and love racing the Marine Corps Marathon even more.
The awesome 81 year old marathoner
Every year, this group of runners stays together, dubbed the "Benny Train" after our friend Benny who leads the pack every year. He runs with a guidon to honor his uncle, Ben (where he got his name), who was killed in Vietnam as a Marine. It's an insane honor to be able to run with him and to be able to carry the guidon for a period of time. One thing this group also does is veer off course to the Vietnam War Memorial to find Ben's uncle on the wall of fallen soldiers and say a prayer. This happens around mile 16 and yes, it did feel weird to purposefully go off course.
Hugging Benny after we had a moment for his uncle
at the Vietnam War Memorial
Going off course, though, was one of the most touching things of the day. It was very emotional and I felt so tiny in this big experience. After we left the memorial, we all hugged and jogged back to the race, stopping for a photo in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
Hello Mr. Lincoln!
Shortly after getting back on course, we saw my mom on the course, where I gave her a big hug and kiss, then felt really pumped for the last 10 mile of the race. We lost a few of our group members to a bathroom break early on and around mile 16.5 is where we were able to meet-up with them again. Then we were on the Mall, which was absolutely packed with spectators. The miles ticked away and I even got to see a high school friend on the course around mile 19.5.
Hanging in front of the Capital Building
Mile 20 is a big one for everyone as you get to the bridge that one must pass before the cutoff. You have to maintain a 14 minute mile to cross the bridge and head to the last 6.2 miles through VA. There is always a Batala band waiting for you to cross over, so it turns into a giant celebration. When we got there, a bunch of us stopped to have an impromptu dance party and man, what fun.

The bridge was probably the hardest part of the course for me, mentally and physically. I've run this race now 3 times and each time, I forget how long and boring the bridge is. It was also really windy and on any uphill, our group stopped to walk so the person holding the guidon at the time didn't blow away. We tacked on an extra 1.25 miles with the detour to the memorial, so I was getting to the point of a marathon or long run where my legs just are tired and achy. We kept stopping to walk and while I wasn't concerned about the time, I was just eager to cross the finish line and be off my feet!

A banana that we found along the course. Breakfast is running away!
The miles ticked away and running through Crystal City was nice as there was loud music, tons of spectators, giant fans that were spraying cold water onto the runners, beer, and Dunkin Donut holes. My costume was a hit throughout the race, but especially at the donut hole station.

In terms of my costume, yes, it was such a pain to run in, but I got used to it. It bounced up and down during each step and it wasn't super light (the top of the coffee cup was made of a heavier and thicker foam than the rest of the costume). I only took it off during the race when we got to the memorial out of respect, but other than that, I had it on for the entire race!

We walked more frequently during that last 6.2 miles than before, but we kept knocking down miles, laughing, tearing up, and getting so pumped to finish and have a Marine place a medal around our neck. We kept passing the guidon between us throughout the race, but rightly so, Benny ran up the final hill at the finish holding it to bring us home. In 5 hours, 23 minutes, and 17 seconds, we crossed the finish line, having run 27.5 miles in total. I was beyond happy to take off my costume and to be done running, but I was sad that this amazing experience with my friends was over.

This race has been special to me because it's brought me so many amazing friends and memories. I laughed more during this race than any other and I couldn't have thought of a better way to run my 12th stand alone marathon and 10th in costume.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

That time I raced as unicorn and had a really terrible race

Well, I just raced my worst marathon. Was it my slowest? Nope. Did it feel like the worst? You betcha!

To back up, I raced the Dirty German 50 miler  and had a blast. I then got tendonitis in my left foot from racing the longest ever for me in fairly minimalist trail shoes during said 50 miler. I took some time off from running, focused on recumbent biking and rowing (my new love, but that's another post), and listened to my body. I eased back into running and built up my endurance to get in a few weeks at 50 miles per week. I pretty much avoided speed work since I wanted to make sure I didn't push my foot too hard.

When it came to picking a race goal, I initially signed up for the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon to PR and increase my chances of getting into the Boston Marathon (I BQed at the Richmond Marathon last year). When I got injured, I immediately told myself that a PR was out of the question and I should just train to 1) not be injured and 2) have fun! As I got closer to the race, though, my competitive streak and hopes kicked in. I kept having other running friends around me tell me that I could totally do it (and I do appreciate their confidence in me). I did a loop at in24 (8.4 miles) at just under goal marathon pace and while it wasn't easy, it felt doable. So I decided to go for the PR and if I fell apart, so be it.

This was my first stand-alone marathon that I was going to by myself. I got up early, drove myself to the race (of course with a panicked need to find a bathroom on the way because that ALWAYS happens before a race for some reason), got ready at the start (which meant securing my unicorn tail, ears, and horn), and got nervous! I said hello to local (and world) running legend, Keith Straw, who was finishing his 300th marathon that day (he went on to race a 3:14 and go back out to tack on more miles. If he wasn't so darn nice, I'd want to smack him).

How I felt pre-race
Soon enough, the race started and in the third wave, I started about 1 minute after the first starters. The course was a double out and back course, all along the Delaware River in Washington Crossing Historic Park. We started out on some pavement, but quickly got onto the towpath, which was made up of crushed gravel, dirt, and some grass (depending on where you were running). It was nearly all flat, with a few small dips under some bridges.

To PR, I wanted to run an 8:08 min/mile average pace. I started out going a bit fast, but couldn't get my pacing totally right. I was either running too fast or too slow, so I opted for the too fast (dumb if this was my first marathon!). By the turnaround 1/4 into the race, I was averaging about 8 minutes flat per mile. I wasn't feeling 100%, but I felt strong. I did notice that when I would take a sip of water at the aid stations, my stomach felt a bit...pukey for a minute or two. Not ideal, but not the worst I've had.

The race for mid-August was cool and cloudy. It rained for the first 7-8 miles and it felt really nice. Once the rain stopped, though, the humidity really reared and while it was still cool for August, it felt warm. Around that time is when all hell broke loose.
Only photo of me in my full running attire and it's blurry. 

All of a sudden, around the 8 mile mark, I kept looking down at my GPS watch and noticing that for the same effort, I was running a lot slower than I had been. When someone would pass me, I'd try to tack on to their pace and I just couldn't hold it. I felt like someone had just zapped all of my energy. I started to freak out because hello, it's mile 8 in a 26.2 mile race. I told myself that I must have gone out too fast, to just try to keep a good pace, and don't freak out.

By the time I got to the start/halfway point/finish line area, I was wiped. I couldn't believe that I was only halfway done and wondered what in the heck was wrong with me. I was beyond tempted to just call it a day there, but I knew I signed up for a marathon and by golly, I didn't want to tell people that I quit since my day wasn't great. A much slower time than anticipated would be easier to tell people and deal with than quitting.

At the halfway point, I was only a minute or two slower than my goal half marathon time and I told myself if I was able to maintain a decent pace, I should be able to at least go sub-3:45 without much trouble. Oh, simple and small racing brain....that's not how things go!

The miles kept slowly ticking away, but they were getting slower and slower. At this point, my hamstrings started to get tight, but other than that, I felt physically fine; I just didn't have the energy to push the pace at all! The double out and back got demoralizing on the second half since I saw how many people were heading to the finish while I was still adding on a lot of miles.

Fake (a smile) until you make it. 

At the last turnaround, I really felt like it was going to take every ounce of strength to keep running. I took my last Huma Chia Gel (not sponsored, but love them so much, it wouldn't hurt it if they did! :D) and just told myself the only way to get the finish line was running. I pushed and pushed, even when that meant a 10:30 minute mile felt like pushing. All of these people kept passing me and I felt embarrassed. Sure, they could have cared less, but I was embarrassed that everything had gone so poorly and I didn't even have any idea why.

I kept doing the math and realized that a sub-4 hour marathon was in the realm of possibility, but it would be haaaaard. When I felt fast, I was running a sub-10 minute mile, which is what I'd consider a jogging pace; I seriously felt like I was in the tail-end of a longer ultra.

In the end, my GPS watch clocked me crossing the 26.2 mile mark at 3:59:57, but I ended up having another .25 mile distance until the finish line. I couldn't even try to have a semblance of a sprint at the end, but I was so damn happy that this tortuous race was finally over. My final chip time was 4:02:39, which would be my 9th fastest stand-alone marathon of my 11.
How I actually felt post-race. 
I immediately hobbled to get my bag, sat under a tree, called my fiancé and mom to tell them about the race, changed into my compression socks, grabbed a bit of mac and cheese from the post-race goodies, then slowly walked back to my car. The 45 minute drive back felt long since all that I could do was think about the race and how it felt like a nightmare that I had just woken up from. In the grand scheme of the world, it is one of the biggest first world problems to have, but it still stung since it was fresh.

I came home, showered, ate some Chinese food with John, then ended up meeting the November Project (a group that I've been working out with the last few months) for a running event they were doing. I ended up running 4.25 miles with them and while sore and chafed in spots, I felt pretty good. I was actually angry since I felt better during those miles than the whole second half of my marathon a few hours earlier. Ah, life.

The one shining thing from the race was my unicorn costume! This was my 8th consecutive race in a new costume and with the name, Chasing the Unicorn (named that as it's designed for qualifying for Boston, which has a unicorn logo), I had to be a unicorn. My costume got so many shouts and smiles on the course that at least the race wasn't a total loss.
This is also blurry, but I had a blast with my November Project
friends as we ran in costume! 2 costumes in a day! :D 
Overall, I am ready to put this race behind me and move onto focusing on my JFK 50 Miler/Philly Marathon double weekend. I do want to say that the race was well-run, the swag was super awesome, and the volunteers were really great. Wish my day had been a better one, but it's definitely a race I'd recommend if you don't mind flat, double out and backs, and are looking for a smaller race!