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!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What I've Been Up To

I've been MIA, but not because I've been slow. Life has been go go go and I figured I'd catch you all up on what has happened (in chronological order):

I ran the Seneca Creek Greenway "50k" (it was 33 miles). It was nearly all mud and I fell once (shocked it was only once), but I got to run it with some awesome friends and it was a really fun day on some trails! I wish it had been faster, but I don't think it could have run any faster with the conditions. I'm pretty happy with how the day turned out!

I got engaged!!! John proposed on March 24th and we're oh so excited. We don't have much planned, but we know we'd like to be married next spring (April or May) and we definitely will be doing it here in Philly. I have asked my bridesmaids and they've all said yes, but that's about all that we have done. We're just really pumped.

We went to Austin, Texas for a wedding that John was in. It was really fun to go as a recently engaged couple and we had a blast! We elongated our stay past the wedding and were there for 6 delicious days total. We weren't hungry for any of the 6 days because we just kept eating! It was insane, but we had a blast! I think I turned into a taco when I was there and my love of tacos has only gotten stronger. 

I've gone to a lot of concerts. From the Sweetlife Festival this past weekend, Metronomy last night, Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos last week, and The Legwarmers a few weekends back, I have been a music fiend. My mama is coming up to Philly to see Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings with me on May 30th, too! My music-loving soul is so damn happy.
My girlies and me at Sweetlife
My crazy friends and I ready to see The Legwarmers
I am running the Dirty German 50 Miler this weekend! I haven't run a stand-alone 50 miler before and when I had the chance to interview the race director and run the race, I couldn't pass up on it. If you're curious about the interview, you can find it here.

So that's about it! Pretty fun and exciting stuff has been going and I just feel lucky!!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Juicing Experience

When my 26th birthday was approaching a few weeks ago, John asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I'd been pining for a juicer and once I agreed to find room for it in our apartment (1 bedroom apartments aren't always the best for storing loads of kitchen appliances), he ordered me one and within 48 hours, it had arrived!
My first homemade juice! Beet, apple, and kale
I have read quite a bit about juicing vs. smoothies and while I love making smoothies for breakfast (easy way to get loads of veggies and fruits), I love a cold, refreshing juice when I can. Juicing allows you to get tons of nutrients and vitamins in an easy and concentrated way, but with that, you are losing out on the produce's fiber. So far, I've been making both smoothies and juices in order get the health benefits of both.
Swamp juice aka kale, carrots, and blood oranges
When people hear about juicing, they think about juice cleanses. I, personally, enjoy chewing my food far too much to ever do a real juice cleanse. I tried a one day cleanse when a friend who worked at a juice company sent me coupons, but by mid-day, I was missing chewing and downright hungry. While food should be about nutrients and vitamins, it also for me is about experience. I love cooking or baking, sitting down to a meal, relaxing, and chewing. Instead of cleansing, I've been enjoying a fresh, cold juice first thing in the morning, normally after a work out. I've even gotten the boyfriend to enjoy the veggie-packed juices! We have used it to make mixers for alcoholic drinks, but if you're going to have a mixer, why not make it fresh?

The foam on top of this grapefruit, orange, romaine, and
mint juice was so pretty! 
 Overall, this has been an awesome birthday present and I love using it.

Have you tried juicing? Thoughts about it? 

Monday, February 10, 2014

ICY-8 Race Report

For not racing for 6 months of 2013, I really am making up for it with all of the racing I've been doing since October. I actually won entry into this race forever ago through a charity raffle, so it's been on my race calendar for nearly a year! I had a friend run it before and he said good things, so I was really excited for some time on the trails!

After training Friday night from Philly to my mom's house in MD, eating a late dinner, and crashing, I woke up at 4:30 AM, got ready, and hopped in the car with my saint of a mother, who was going to drive me the 2 hours there and back, as well as be my cheering section. When we arrived at Lake Anna in Spotsylvania, VA, I rushed to use the bathroom, get my bib, and head to the race meeting. I loved how the RD, Alex, ran the meeting as he asked any other RDs to share their races (and I got to talk about the Rocky 50k. Eek!). He also had ultra newbies stand in a group so they could get the awesome spotlight and asked us ultra vets to provide any advice and encouragement. Soon enough, the race began!
Right before the start. Note the hat! :D
The race was an 8 hour race and runners had the option to either run an 8 mile loop or a 4.7 mile loop. I signed up for the Groundhog Day division, which meant I agreed to run only one loop in one direction (I chose the 4.7 mile loop) the entire race. Call me crazy, but I knew I'd prefer a shorter loop to a longer one, so why not just sign up for the special division? I was not alone, either!

My original goal was to run 9 laps, but after I started the first lap, I realized I had underestimated the course and slightly overestimated my trail running abilities (which are quite low haha). The course was open to horseback riders, and for the first few laps, you could tell that they had been on the course as the mud at parts was choppy and rock solid. It was definitely an easy course to roll an ankle in spots if you weren't paying attention!
Me finishing my 3rd lap
I had a weird emotional cycle during this race as every other loop, I would go from happy, confident, and excited to lonely, tired, and frustrated. My first lap felt tough as I was just doing the lap for the first time, but right when my second lap started, I was super pumped and loving the course! The third lap, I was back to being down in the dumps, especially since I realized I would probably only get in 8 laps as opposed to my original goal of 9. My fourth lap was a good one as I knew I was going to be halfway done by the time I finished it.
My favorite part of the course. It was so pretty!
I bargained with myself to not listen to my iPhone (music or podcasts) until I was done 4 loops and I'm glad that I did. I was able to socialize with the runners early on and when we all spread out quickly on my earlier loops, I was able to focus on the trails and work on some mental toughness. The last 4 laps, I slowed down considerably due to the course warming up and getting super muddy, but I enjoyed the trails and the NPR podcasts that I listened to.
5 laps in. Mom: How are you feeling? Me: Tired.
This shit's long.
The last two laps were nerve-wracking because I wasn't sure if I'd finish my 8th lap in time, so I spent less than 30 seconds at the start/finish area after my 7th lap before heading back on the course (I even missed my mom, but I had to get out there) and I pushed so hard the last lap. Thankfully, I finished with about 7.5 minutes to go and I was really happy with how I did with the 8 laps. According to the official results, I finished 37.6 miles in 7 hours and 53 minutes, but my GPS clocked me at 39.31 miles. I'm going to believe my watch. :D
Finally done!
In the end, I didn't hit my first goal, but I quickly realized how unrealistic it was. I also ran nearly all of the course, only waking the first .25 miles of the last 4 laps as it was uphill and only in super slick muddy areas. I would say that I walked only about 1.25 miles of the course and for being a road runner, I'm super proud of that.  I also finished 3rd female in the Groundhog Day division, but am slightly bummed because if I hadn't signed up for it and still run my same distance, I would have been 2nd overall female. It's really not a big deal (or so I tell my ego), but it would have been fun to have placed that way.

Overall, I had a great time, I got to spend a lot of time working on my trail running, and I had my awesome mom to support me. It was a great day for sure!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Maybe I don't hate yoga...

I've had a fledgeling relationship with yoga for the last handful of months. I know how good it is for me and my health, but during classes, I've not enjoyed it at all. I enjoy the feeling of being done a class far more than actually being in one. I've stopped going to classes because honestly, I hated paying for something that I didn't enjoy. Like many people who force themselves to eat healthy foods when they don't want to, I felt that way about yoga. Until this week...

This week, a friend and co-worker asked me if I wanted to join her for a Bikram yoga class near our office after work. I agreed to go without really thinking that I would probably hate it (like the person who orders a salad because they know it's good, only to remember they hate salads). As I ran there (in snow boots, no less) to make it to the class on time, I wondered, "Why am I doing this? I don't like yoga."
The 26 poses done in every Birkam yoga class
I hurriedly signed in, set up my mat next to my friend, and let the 105 degree heat and upped humidity hit me. I was about to sweat and not enjoy myself for 90 minutes. But as the class progressed, I found myself, dare I say, enjoying the class. Yes, the heat and humidity was hard, but I adjust somehow and just focused on my poses and doing my best.

In the end, I actually really enjoyed it. The heat allowed me to get deeper into poses. I also enjoyed the lack of Sun Salutations, which I usually detest in other styles. I ended up taking my shirt off, doing most of the practice in a sports bra and shorts. Did I feel comfortable? Far from it! I'm really self-conscious of my midsection, but with so many other people in minimal clothing and the heat getting oppressive, I just stopped caring. There was something so freeing about not caring (okay, not caring AS much), so I think that added to the class enjoyment. The teacher was also friendly, funny, and helpful, which is a key!

I ended up getting the intro pass, so I spent $30 for 30 days of unlimited classes. Can't beat it! I hope that I can continue to go as I know it'll be a great counter to my ultra marathon training now.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

PHUNT 50k (well, sort of) Fatass Race Report

I'm still sort of processing yesterday, but overall, it felt like a mixed-bag of a day.

I didn't sleep very well the night before, but I got up, finished packing, layered up a ton, then picked up my friends Annie and Jose, who were joining me on this crazy journey. We drove the hour to the race start, checked-in, picked up our bibs, and tried to not freak out about the race and temperatures. At the start at 9:15 am, the temperature was 3 degrees. After a short race briefing, we were off!
Annie, Jose, and me at the start!
The course had gotten about 3 inches of snow on it less than 48 hours before we came, but the snow wasn't icy and was fluffy. About 100 of us racers started off into the woods, snaking through the path, crossing over logs, small bridges, through streams, and up and down plenty of hills. While the snow wasn't icy, the fluffy nature of it meant that we slipped a bit with every step, making our miles not our speediest.

We got to the first aid station at around mile 6.5 and it felt almost like a fun party. Slews of runners, going crazy for chips, Double Stuff Oreos, Gatorade, and more, laughing the whole time. I saw a box that had contained beer and made a comment about how great a sip of beer would be. Another runner said they didn't have beer, but they did have whiskey and she was taking a swig. I'm not even a huge fan of whiskey, but when there's whiskey at an aid station, you drink it. It gave me a pep in my step and meant that I couldn't take myself or the race too seriously.
Photographic proof our our Oreos and whiskey
We moved along to the next part of the course, which was a loop. We found loads of runners that took the wrong way around it, so we kept having people running toward us on a small one-way path. We got worried about having made a wrong turn, but we were assured that we had been correct. We got to the next aid station around mile 12.5, loaded up on food, then moved along.

After finishing the loop, we were plugging along when another runner asked if we had seen a course marking in the last little bit. We realized that we hadn't. We had done a decent job of looking for them, but we clearly missed something. We got to the end of the path we were on, at a fork on the path, with no clear way to go. We tried to see if either of those ways was correct, but no markings could be found. We tried to go back to where we saw the last course marking, where we found a slew of more lost runners. We couldn't figure it out, so we ended up deciding to find the road along the course near us that would lead us back to the trail, meaning we ended up cutting part of the route. I hated knowing we were cutting because I felt like a cheater, but I didn't have any other choice.

We found our way back to the course markings a few miles up, then continued along. I started to panic about how few miles we had run and how freaking long we had been on the trails, which was demoralizing for me. I started to worry that we wouldn't make the 23 mile cutoff, so we pushed our pace as much as we could. We got to the aid station with about 10 minutes to spare, filled up on food, and agreed to keep going (a few people dropped there).
Annie at some point along the course. At least we had a pretty place to run!
Jose, Annie, and myself moved along and were obsessive in checking for course markings. We felt confident and I saw the light at the end of the tunnel that was this race when we realized we made a grave error; we had gotten back to the unaided water stop at mile 20, when we should have been at the one at mile 27. Another runner had also made the same mistake, but we luckily found a few cross country skiiers that told us the easiest way back to the start. At this point, with the sun slowly setting, we were happy just to get back, change clothes, and get warm. We did somehow find the course again, and at that point, the course EMS found us. He told us if we hopped back on the course, we'd have 5-6 miles left with only an hour before the sun set and the course officially closed. We opted to continue our shortcut. We finished 26.5 miles in just over 7 hours.

When I finished, I felt so mixed. I was beyond happy to be done because it had been a long, frustrating day. I loved running with my friends, but I was upset with how short of the 50k we were and how long we had been out there. I know the distance isn't something to be upset about because it was a tough day and we still did a ton, but I still feel slightly like we failed. Pretty silly, I know, but I didn't achieve the goal that I wanted to.

This morning, I have some minimal soreness in my one foot and one ankle, but other than that, I feel pretty darn good. Just makes me eager to push my training and get ready for my 8 hour race in early February!