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:
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.
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.
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!!