Marine Corps Marathon 2009: Defense Wins Championships!

Going into MCM 2009 I felt good, I was tapered and I felt amped up for the race. I excitedly talked with friends about my goal to break 4 hours and to run with my running buddies Kate, Michele and Steve. I wasn’t nervous, I was calm and focused. I was channeling my friend Noel’s amazing race in Twin Cities and felt confident. But, what happened on Sunday proves that you really never know what will happen on race day.

Saturday we all headed into the city and went to the expo which was EH, not great. NYC was amazing last year and so well run, this one was very chaotic and I personally was disappointed in the apparel selections. Silly, I know! On top of the amazing NYC expo and race experience, I also volunteered at the marathon expo in Boston last year, and let’s be honest–nothing trumps Boston! To save a little money and not have to worry about stomach issues, the night before the big race we had a big pasta dinner in my hotel room room. It was really fun and it brought me back to swimming psyche parties back in high school: tons of pasta, garlic bread and excitement. I had about 15 friends come through that evening which was great, it was a fantastic way to get pumped up and take the edge off the 26.2 miles waiting for us the next day!

That night the excitement of the race was becoming apparent by the nervous squeals and outbursts that Kate and I elicited that evening as we got ready for bed. We turned out the light and I unfortunately had a really hard time sleeping because I was so excited. I was feeling good and I knew I could do it! I just kept envisioning my race in NYC last year and how fantastic everything went. Clearly, MCM 2009 was going to be a bigger and better version of this! The alarm went off at 5am, and it felt like I had slept for 5 minutes, UGH. We piled on some warm running clothes and went for a 15 minute jog in Rosslyn. Our hotel was so close to the finish line that there were already Marines out organizing everything waving to us and yelling out “good luck!” I was nervous, but I felt ready! We went back up to the room, ate our breakfasts, got race clothes on. Below is a picture of Kate and me just moments before we left for the start line:
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We did one last check of the room and left to meet our friends Steve and Michele downstairs. The four of us left to walk to the start line which is about a half mile away—which was great. I LOVED not having to check anything or deal with a shuttle, we just walked there. This was a MAJOR positive compared to waiting for four hours on Staten Island last year!

We walked through the start line and got ourselves familiarized with the “corrals” which were basically self seeded areas, which needs to be changed in my opinion. We found out way to the Porta Potties, which had insanely long lines. We waited for about 15 minutes before we each got a turn. The porta potty area, and lack of available potties brought on some unnecessary pre race anxiety. I always think I need to go to the bathroom before or during running, and always several times before a big race, which was sadly impossible here—so one strike against the race organizers right there. Another criticism I had was the lack of water and food in the runners village, or at least that I could find! I made sure to not over hydrate (which I did in NYC) and then I was kicking myself for not bringing a water bottle with me-UGH, so mistake #1.

There was an impressive fly over done with V22 Ospreys, a combination of helicopter and airplane, the national anthem was sung and then we were off! Taking some advice from SuperNoel, Kate and I started and I made Kate go slower, and I felt good—I was happy that we warmed up and got some of the nerves out early—that really helped. I was feeling good, but something wasn’t right. I just tried to focus on the task at hand and run a solid race. Around mile 4 I saw a girl I knew from college and her husband who I haven’t seen since graduation, which was a great little surprise! Then, around mile 5 or 6 my chest started tightening up and I started feeling like I couldn’t keep up with the pace (which was now a little above or just over 9 minute miles) Kate was a trooper and stayed with me even though she felt great. I also was really frustrated by the lack of water stops—in NYC they had one at every mile, but this one they had one every other or every third, which was frustrating. Even when there was a water stop at some points it was so crowded it was impossible to get over to the volunteers! Everything really took a turn for the worse at mile 8. Anyone who has run this race before knows that there is a HUGE hill, which was extremely painful to say the least. Kate was running a few paces ahead of me, and my breathing was becoming more and more difficult, so I made the decision to stop and walk. I’ve never had breathing problems before (well, I’m lying, I did have the same sensation at the end of my last 20 miler, as well as the 10k I did a few weeks ago) so it was an extremely strange experience for me. I told myself—just make it to Mile 10—that’s where my mom, Foxy, Hannah and Patti are so that will help. Just see your friends, if it’s bad and you’re dying, you can stop. The closer I got to Mile 10 the more and more I thought about just stopping—It was so hard to breathe and I was so thirsty, suffice to say, I really was hating life. I finally found my mom, Foxy, Hannah, Patti and a few other friends and I was like “this SUCKS, this is not like it was last year” and I was complaining about breathing and my heart rate to them.
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My mom gave me a water and I gave her a hug and then went on—I held onto the water for the next 3 miles and alternated between running and walking everytime my chest got so tight that I couldn’t breathe, which was terrible. It was disconcerting, exhausting and frustrating all at once–Why was this happening to me?! When I approached mile 14 there was a medical tent, I figured I probably wouldn’t see one for another few miles so it would be best to stop and try to at least get myself checked out by a professional. I told them my heart was racing what I felt was more than normal, my chest was tight and I was having a hard time breathing. They ran around for a minute or 2 (at this point I didn’t care about my time anymore), took my pulse and they said that they thought it was actually pretty low. They asked if I wanted to be further evaluated and I said no-just that I wanted a little water. They also listened to my heart beat and didn’t hear anything weird and also gave me some Tylenol and I took off. I felt a little better because at least I knew I wasn’t going to die and that I had a bit of a break from running for a bit.

Then I saw my cheering squad again at mile 16 and told them I had stopped at the medic tent and that they said I was OK, my mom and boyfriend looked relieved. My mother told me I looked better and was happy to hear that I had taken precautions and stopped at the tent, they gave me another water which was a huge help. I took off again and my knee really started bothering me. Great, just great. I could feel the awful pain from a tight IT band and I pretty much knew I was screwed. At this point I was right by the national mall which is so gorgeous and there were a ton of spectators. It was such a juxtaposition, the most majestic scenery of the marathon and then there I was, sinking faster the the Titanic.

I was limping and crying to myself because I’ve never had such a big cluster f*** of an athletic event before. I continued to do the same run-walk series, but I would have to get into a power walk, then hobble to get my knee warmed up and then break into a slow run and gain speed until it hurt so bad that I had to stop. The whole scene was just pathetic, I had never had such a terrible athletic experience before, which was impressive considering all of the terrible swimming workouts I did my entire life. The only good news about the quick moving knee pain, was that at least I was stopping enough/or running slow enough that the breathing was no longer an issue.

As I was passing the Washington monument on the left hand side of the mall, I was feeling really terrible and seriously considering stopping and pulling out. I kept thinking to myself, this really is not worth ruining my whole body for! I was walking and feeling crazy frustrated when I looked up and I saw the most inspiring scene of the day. I saw a man that must have been wounded in battle because he had large scars and leg problems all over both of his legs and he was walking quickly with a pair of arm braces. He had a whole team of people around him, including someone pushing a wheel chair just in case he got tired. As I passed him myself and all of the runners surrounding him cheered him on, thanking him for his service, it was quite the demonstration of sportsmanship. The look of determination on his face was enough to make a grown man cry. I just knew stopping was never an option, he MUST finish. I looked at him and I thought, “WOW, if he can do this in what must be unbearable pain, so can I!” It was at that moment that I made a pact with myself, under no circumstances could I not finish. I knew I wouldn’t be able to live with myself and I would beat myself up for being a total wuss and lacking mental toughness. The next 4 miles were much of the same—really bad knee pain so I alternated running and walking.

Then, we got to the bridge over to VA…which is at mile 20 and the motto is “beat the bridge” which means that they open the bridge up to traffic after 4 or 5 hours and after that it goes down to one lane for runners. Well, thankfully I beat the bridge, but it almost drove me mentally insane! The bridge was soooo long and boring it felt like it lasted two endless miles. The best part was, near the very end there was a guy dressed up in a grim reeper costume holding a sign that said “the end is near”—it seriously made me laugh and I was so thankful for that! Then we went into this business district in Arlington which was pretty boring but at least there were supporters there—I ran by my friends Steve and Michele (that part was a down and back loop, so they saw me as they were leaving the area) Steve looked like he was really hurting but SCREAMED my name-which was really helpful. I actually got into a decent groove there and was able to run for about a mile and a half, which was a big accomplishment considering how the day was going! Then I saw the injured war veteran again and that was really inspiring, people were going crazy cheering for him. The end was a total blur-it was a lot of running on highways and I just wanted to be done so badly but my knee was a total mess so I literally couldn’t even walk without limping.
I finally got to mile 26 and I saw my cheering squad again and I just sort of laughed and kept going-my mom said it was a relief to see me with a smile on my face.
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Then there was the finish, it was a HUGE freaking hill…my knee and hips were KILLLLLING me at this point so I had to do this awkward run walk thing upwards. When I finally finished I was seriously crying so hard and I was so disappointed in myself, but I was also extremely happy it was over.

When I finally linked up with my mom I was bawling my eyes out and just kept repeating how frustrating and mystifying it was. NYC had been SO fun and such a breeze the year before—I felt great the entire time and had a blast doing it! Why did this happen?! If anything I trained MORE this year than I did the year before. How could it all come down to THIS?! If I had done it without any support team (my mom, boyfriend, my college friends that came out to support me etc) I probably would have dropped out. I made myself run because I didn’t want to disappoint them because I knew they gave up an entire day of their weekend to cheer me on.

All in all the day totally sucked—but if anything it made me stronger. I know it wasn’t pretty, but in the long run I can look back on this race and smile, knowing that I was tough enough to grunt my way through 26.2 miles of misery. Think if I had just thrown in the towel? Then, I probably would have given up on running, which wouldn’t have been the right move. It also wasn’t me, I don’t quit things! And for those of you who are curious, I’m already planning on visiting the Windy City next Columbus day weekend to run a much faster and stronger 26.2 😉

I have to give a shout out to my support crew, I couldn’t have done it without you!!
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Race Schedule: Road races, triathlons, and Marathons

I thought it might be cool to keep a running list of running events that Kate and I were considering participating in. Please leave any and all comments that you might have about each race!

February 21: Hyannis Half Marathon. Kate will be doing the honors on this one! Wish her best of luck during this cold and blustery race!

April 5th: Marathon Sports City Run 5 Miler, Cambridge, MA- why not? No web site currently

May 25th The Boston Run to Remember, Boston, MA. I’ve heard this is a great race, very flat and scenic-two things I love in road races!

June and July Hyannis I Sprint Triathlon,Craigville Beach-Because I’ve been talking about this one for years! Falmouth Sprint Triathlon

August 9th CINGA Falmouth Road Race, Falmouth, MA-Last year I swore I would never run this again because the hills and the intense heat. Yup, I’m crazy!

October 25: Marine Corps Marathon, Arlington, VA. Any thoughts or suggestions on this one?

Ultra Marathon Man

… running, to me, remained the purist form of athletic expression.  It was the simplest, least encumbered sport there was, and the definitive measurement of raw stamina-Dean Karnazes
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If you are looking for motivation to starting to training for a road race, triathlon, bike race, whatever-all you have to do is google the name Dean Karnazes. I first found out about Dean in December of 2006, I was in good old Wooster, Ohio visiting my alma mater for a swim team reunion centered around the school’s annual swimming invitational. Anyone that is familiar with the sport of swimming knows that with the action packed races, there is an excessive amount of downtime. So in-between sessions we had a lot of time to catch up and talk about our big and important young professional lives. As we were all chatting, I noticed my friend Courtney was glued to a book, which seemed a little odd. So I nudged her and said, “what’s so great about that book that you can’t talk with us?” She showed me the cover and said, “This guy is absolutely crazy! He was just a regular middle class American guy and then one day he decided to start running ultra marathons.” Being an excessively competitive person, I was intrigued. As she told me more about Dean, the more I couldn’t wait until the moment she finished the book so I, myself, could read about this super-human man. Luckily, Courtney finished shortly after she delivered me the brief overview and I was able to dive into the wonders of this “all night runner” in no time.

In his book Dean retells his adventures in the Western States Endurance 100, The Badwater Ultra marathon, the first ever south pole marathon, and many other crazy adventures. As he retells each experience in sometimes too much detail, he constantly reiterates the power of the human mind to overcome even the toughest obstacles. Whether it be running through 120 degree temperatures in death valley or getting off the couch for a simple work out, Dean is able to relate his experiences to the common man without sounding like preacher. I personally (the workout-aholic) found Dean’s book addicting and I never wanted it to end, so for the adrenaline junky, this book will reignite a fire within you. Non-athletes, this book will reaffirm the fact that runners are indeed a strange and unique breed. Decide for yourselves!

I recommend you check it out for yourself: 

Next review up: 50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days and How You Too Can Achieve Super Endurance!

The Fuel Belt

Fuel BeltThe Fuel belt may strike you as a dorky and excessive running accessory. Yet, I am hard pressed to find any runner that has had an enjoyable eight plus mile run without one. Staying hydrated is one of the most important aspects of a successful run, and this wonderful piece of training gear can help ease your mind and keep your mind at the task at hand: A 16 mile training run 6 weeks before your first big marathon.

At first I was a bit skeptical to invest in a $45 piece of running equipment that I would only use a maximum of 24-28 times. So I put off the purchase before a big 12 mile training run, terrible decision. I ended up cramping so badly from miles 9 to 12 that I had to walk, something I absolutely despise! So naturally, I went out and purchased my first Helium 4 Bottle Water Belt the following Monday. Ever since then, it’s been love.

Fuel Belts can be found at most running stores, as well as online at http://www.fuelbelt.com

Reflecting on 2008 and looking forward to a bright 2009

Kicking Ass and taking names!When the ball dropped at midnight at 12am on December 31st, I kissed my boyfriend, hugged my friends, and toasted champagne with all of my friends. From the untrained eye, it was a prototypical New Years that was happening in every American city. Yet, after the ball dropped, I reflected on the past year. I thought about the good, the bad, and of course, the ugly. I couldn’t stop and think, ” WOw, I did some cool things!” In March 2008, I went to visit my friend in England and took a European vacation for 2 weeks, something I had never done before. This summer, I sent a best friend off to Panama for a 2 year Peace Corps assignment, saw Jimmy Buffet for the very first time, and ran a marathon in November and somehow survived the current economic meltdown with maintaining employment; Pretty cool stuff!

None of that compares to 2009, a year that Kate and I both know are destined for great memories and life changing experiences. First of all, my first new years resolution is to bring lunch to work 4 days a week and allow myself to buy 1 day a week. I used to life by this rule the first year that I lived in Boston, and I want to get back into these great habits. No more blaming the lack of grocery stores in the North End! 2009 is not a time for excuses.

My other resolution was to blog more on this site. I want to retell my experiences in exercise and competition and then in turn, pass on experience and tips to help people meet their own fitness goals. I have always been a team oriented person, so this blog is another avenue for me to help bring people together to reach a common athletic goal.

Along those same lines, I would love to run another marathon and push my body to the limit. The 2008 ING NYC Marathon was an amazing first marathon experience. I learned so much about the sport of running marathons and had a LOT of fun. The race ignited a fire, and now I can’t wait to run my next marathon as a seasoned vet. My eyes are on Chicago or Twin Cities, but who knows!

Here’s to a happy, healthy and memorable 2009! (Full of blogging, of course ;))