Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Marine Corps Marathon 2014 Part 2

And.... the pacer was gone.  To quote the girl I was running beside "Holy shit he's flying!".  It was no joke... after being told that the first few miles were going to be taken slower than goal pace to conserve energy due to the hills this guy was running like his ass was on fire.  8:40s, 8:30s, low 8s.  Every time I'd think I'd finally get closer he'd be gone again.  Very frustrating.  I gave up trying to be "in the group" and settled on just being able to see the balloons bouncing in the distance.  I knew if I kept having to sprint ahead when I got a hole to just to keep up I'd never survive the race as a whole.

Speaking of frustrating... everything I've read/been told about the MCM start was spot on.  It was by far the worst of any race I've been in.  There was simply no moving early on.  It stayed shoulder to shoulder people for quite a while.  People barely shuffling along, charity groups running 4-6+ wide, walkers (yes, right out of the start line).  And yes, I do agree with those that say this is the problem with "Beat the Bridge" + unregulated corrals.  If you knew that you had to get to a certain point on the course by a certain CLOCK time, not chip time, why wouldn't you want to start as soon as you can?

Let's not talk (ok let's) about the fluid stations during at least the first half.  First, you have to find a way to get in there.  Seriously, you have to be aggressive.  Once you find a hole and grab a cup, guess what?  There's no way to move. You will get stepped on, pushed, tripped.  You might seriously have to stop for a few seconds.  Because that seems to be the standard.  I was trying to stick with running past the first group of Marines to the second, grabbing the first cup I could get to and then get back out on the course, sloshing and drinking because that was the only way to not have to STOP every freaking time.  Granted, that added to those extra miles, but sheesh.  And forget the whole "We're going green this year" thing by keeping the street clean.  It was just slippery cups and Gatorade.  I can't tell you how many people I saw fall or how many times I had to fight for my own right to stay vertical.  The second half wasn't nearly as bad.  It was pretty on par with anywhere else.  If I ever run MCM again I will definitely either bring my handheld or carry a throwaway bottle for at least the first half to avoid the fluid stations.  I noticed that a lot of veteran MCM runners did this.

Ok, so once I got over trying to be part of a pace group and settled into my own, I started focusing on even effort.  The first miles were hilly, but not bad.  I could still see those balloons ahead but I wasn't going to kill myself to be on top of them.  What I wanted to do was actually be able to run.  It was so crowded and I wasn't able to really open my legs up.  I was doing an uncomfortable little trot that just didn't feel right, but there was no room.  I distracted myself with little conversations with people I'd be running near and the spectator signs.

Sometime after the 10K split I noticed that I couldn't see the pacer balloons anymore.  Now you might think that I'm going to say I started to freak out, but it was really the opposite.  I had an odd sense of calm flow over me.  I simply didn't have to worry about it anymore.  I kept focusing on MY pace and effort, I started actually allowing myself to enjoy the race and I felt really good.  Then, as we were coming back from the turnaround point at mile 8 or 9 I saw him running the other way!  Somehow I'd passed him?!  I'm guessing it was at the last fluid station... it had to have been.  I didn't even notice.  Maybe he'd finally realized he was running too fast and slowed way down?  I don't know, but again I was totally calm and didn't care.  This was my race, not his, not the group, and I was going to do this on my own.  My pace was evened out and I felt really good.  At points I felt like I was running too slow, but I certainly wasn't going to speed up because I knew the good feels would eventually go away.  I was just going to keep plugging along and enjoy it.

Prior to the race, as most runners do, I stalked the weather report.  Two things were of concern: 1) For me, the forecast was too hot.  55 degrees at the start, climbing through the 60s during the race and a high of 70 for the day.  Also - Sunny. I wore a singlet and compression shorts, hat & sunglasses.  I had armsleeves at the start, but ditched them when I warmed up as always.  2) It was supposed to be windy - 14-18 mph.  The wind wouldn't pose a problem until later in the race. But around 10 miles the sun was starting to get high and hot, it was in my face and it really started heating up.  I was thankful to have trained in all that summer heat and humidity, but I had hoped to not have to deal with it.

By the time we hit the Lincoln Memorial and headed out toward the next part of the course (I forget the name - Hains Point?) the road started to open up and I could stretch my legs.  I went from feeling good to really good by being able to do this.  I really don't remember much of this part of the course... I was so zoned out and just loving the feel of running.  I read a lot of spectator signs, high fived kids and Marines, and had a good time.  My family saw me, but I didn't see them.  They got video though. :)

The mall was awesome.  Tons of spectators and entertainment and of course, lots of things to see.  I was able to see my family around mile 18 just before the Capitol and then again before mile 20.  They really motivated me and gave me an extra boost for the last part of the course.  Also before the bridge a lady decided to walk right out onto the course to try crossing the street in front of me.  I put my arms out and tried to stop quickly and an older gentleman behind me held me up so I didn't go down.  He said "freaking idiots.. they haven't been out here running 19 miles already, you can't just stop for them to cross the damn street.  You ok, dear?".  I said yeah, just annoyed, and he said come on, we're about to beat the bridge!

The Bridge.  Part 1 of my "don't be cocky until you experience it" series.  Before the race, while going over the map and reading previous runners comments I wasn't all that impressed.  I mean, I live in Pittsburgh.  I'm all about the bridges.  Love em, in fact.  What all this hoopla and drama was over this single bridge I couldn't fathom.  That is, until I ran it myself.  This is a lonely place.  Headed toward mile 21 the course is pretty clear, so you do have your own space.  But this is also a bad thing.  On a long, lonely bridge you're kind of looking for some kind of distraction.  Maybe someone to talk to.  Something to look at.  Due to the nature of this part of the course there are no aid stations, no spectators, no music, no nothing.  Just the sounds of a bunch of hot and sweaty runners plodding along, grunting, swearing... many give in and walk here.  I didn't, but it messes with your mind when the masses are struggling. Here's where an evil cross wind started too.  On one hand it took the edge off the heat, but on the other it made running straight forward more of a challenge. I kept praying for it to be over.  It sucked.  I was really hot and dying for water.

I was so happy when we got to Crystal City at mile 22.  It kind of reminded me of the South Side part of the Pittsburgh course.  Loud music, streets lined with people cheering and handing out food and drinks (those folks with the orange slices are forever my heroes), bright colored flags and signs everywhere... it was a huge party.  The best part?  A mister at the turnaround point that drenched us with water.  Just what I needed!

Part 2 of my "don't be cocky until you experience it" series:  There is no such thing as saying there's only a few miles left in a marathon.  I still felt pretty good at miles 22-23.  So in my lame little mind I think I can start really pushing here.  That lasted... maybe short of half a mile before coming to the realization that you know, there's still a long way to go.  After the mile 24 marker I was really "feeling it".... I wasn't at the wall that I've heard about, but I was definitely hot, and wearing out.  Remember the wind I talked about?  From here to the end it was in my face which definitely made the last part of the race a challenge.  It was becoming a serious mental game to keep myself steady and forge ahead.  I remember at one point thinking (and possibly out loud, I don't know) "where the hell is the mile 25 marker???".  That mile just seemed to take forever.  After mile 25 I really just tried to hold on to what I was able to do.  My right calf started doing this weird twitchy thing.  It didn't hurt, but it bothered me.  I believe that around this time was where I was personally hitting the wall because I really felt like I was entering survival mode... I was talking to myself to keep going, plodding along, ignoring the fact that my calf was being a bitch, my feet hurt like hell, and I had to remind myself to even stand up straight.  I never stopped though, I just kept on going.  So, for that, I'm proud.

At the mile 26 marker, you turn a sharp left to "take the Iwo".  Here is Part 3.  Saturday I ran the Runners bRUNch (aka an untimed 5K that was a little longer, but hey I ran with Bart Yasso and Sean Astin so I'm not complaining).  I'll write about the run later, but we did run the hill at the end... well, the sidewalk beside it anyway.  Oh, I was so pumped up.  That hill was so easy.  Nothing compared to hills I've ran before.  I was going to just go flying over it to the finish on Sunday.  Go ahead and join me in laughing so hard you might pee.  Sure that was an easy hill after a mere 3 miles on the legs.  After 26?  Ahhh not so much.  After a brutal first couple of footfalls where I felt like I was running through mud or really heavy snow I took TWO walking steps, shaking my head.  A Marine on my right said "No Ma'am, you are not doing this now.  Get up that hill and finish strong!".  In my mind I thought "WTF am I doing?  I've come so far!", and I dug in and got up the hill and just coasted to the finish.  I gave it all I had.  3:57:00.

Like I said, I'm very proud of myself.  I learned a lot from this race.  Respect the Distance is a good lesson.  The marathon isn't just another 20+ mile long run.  It is a true test of the physical and mental.  Even when I was starting to struggle at the end I was thinking that I'm definitely doing another one.  It will probably be Pittsburgh.  I may even come back for MCM, frustrating first half and all just to see what happens when I know what I expect.  We'll see.

Thanks to everyone here, on DailyMile, Twitter, etc who sent me words of encouragement and advice along the way.  This has been quite the journey and I'm proud to be able to call myself a marathoner!

I promise I'll post some pics soon, but like I said I just moved and we're still pretty barebones right now so once I get things together they'll be up.

Marine Corps Marathon 2014 Part 1

Please allow me to shout it from the rooftop: I AM A MARATHONER! Cue the overzealous end zone celebration guaranteed to secure penalties and fines.

Wow.  Just wow.  Since I literally just got to my new house and got my computer set up (yeah, on top of everything else marathon week I moved!  Still moving today!  When it rains it pours, all!), I've had a few days to filter through the various thoughts and emotions I've had regarding the race.  Trust me, there are a ton.  I guess most first timers are the same.

Bottom line?  I ran exactly the race that I trained for.  And for that I am extremely proud of myself.  Yes, as a newbie I messed some things up and had to learn as I went.  But overall?  I won't talk down about myself or my performance here at all.

My A goal was a sub 4 hour marathon.  B was 4:15 and C was to not die.  I crossed the finish line in 3:57:00.  9:02 avg pace.  I couldn't be more thrilled.  Now, I will also mention my watch stats which reflect my typical tangent fails as well as a very crowded and hard to maneuver course: 26.77 miles in 3:57:10 - avg pace of 8:52.  Admittedly, one thing that kinda made me go "huh" for a moment after the race when I got my time was "how the hell is my average pace 9:02 when most of my miles ticked off on my watch at 8:50something?".  Then I realized on my watch I ran almost 27 miles... haha.  Bad tangents, yo... Not to make excuses or anything but I truly believe this is one course where it may be nearly impossible unless you're a front runner to execute those tangents.  It's just too crowded.

That said, looking at my gps stats as well as my official race splits I am just stoked that I was able to keep a fairly consistent pace for the majority of the race.  I usually refer to myself as the worst self pacer ever but maybe I just need to believe in myself a little more.  Here's one example of a 5 mile stretch of the race: 8:51, 8:51, 8:52, 8:51, 8:51.  Yeah.  And I held that within a few seconds most of the time.  Aside from a few odd miles this was not an "all over the place" race for me... which might honestly be a first.

So let me get to the race.  First of all, I don't think that anything else can compare to the epic beginning (and I'm talking pre-howitzer) that was MCM.

I chose to take the shuttle to Runners Village instead of the Metro.  The pickup spot was just a couple of blocks from my hotel in Crystal City (yep, totally planned) and I figured it would give my legs a bit of a wake up and give me solo time to clear my head.  I'd heard that lines get long quickly, so my alarm sounded at 4:30am.  I got my things together, put on my lovely goodwill throwaway, and headed out in the darkness.  Oh, something I want to mention is that DC drivers are much more conscientious of pedestrians than yinzer drivers.  Here it's like everyone is out for themselves while down there drivers will honestly stop 99% of the time no matter what to let a runner/walker cross the street.  It took some time to get used to the fact!

When I got to the shuttle stop shortly after 5am there was already quite a line.  I breathed a sigh of relief when I was able to get one of the last seats on the first bus out.  I definitely didn't want to wait for another one.

Runners Village was very well organized.  After we got off the bus, we headed through security (metal detector, wand, dogs, the whole gamut), and then proceeded up the road to where things were set up.  Oh, another thing to mention:  there's a LOT of walking involved for MCM.  Between the walk to Runners Village, the walk to the actual start, and then all the walking afterward I wouldn't be shocked to find out I had over 30 miles on my legs that day.  At Runners Village we had HEAPS of porta potties with no lines, the UPS trucks for bag check, coffee (I didn't have any because I was following my personal fueling plan of a banana and a light peanut butter sandwich), prayer services, etc.  Even in the dark there were huge signs everywhere and lots of uniformed Marines patrolling the area so there was really no way to get lost.

Around 7, I took one last potty break and then walked to the start.  I lined up beside the huge "Expected Finish 4:00-4:09" sign.  I was certainly not alone and the corrals started to pack quickly.  I took off my throwaway around this time too.  As we were standing around chatting, we enjoyed the Osprey flyover as well as the parachute jump with the huge American flags.  United We Sing also graced us with the National Anthem.  It was simply amazing and I can't put any of this part into words.  It's something you have to experience for yourself to understand.  Then we (myself and the new friends I'd made in the corral) started getting nervous.  Where the hell was the 4 hour pacer?  My plan was to use this guy to keep me on track and then sometime after 22 miles push it to the end if I still felt ok.  We were told online, at the expo, etc, that the Clif Bar Pacers would be there at 7:15 holding balloons in front of the "Expected Finish" sign.  Enter panic mode when he showed up moments before the race started and planted himself in the middle of the 3:50-3:59 corral...  Me and a couple others were able to squeeze through the crowd a bit and get closer to where he was but we were still quite a distance behind him.  It was shoulder to shoulder people.. no more room to move at all.  Any time you twisted or moved an arm you whacked someone.  It was crazy.  I told myself to breathe and be calm.  If I could keep him in my sights I was still ok.

The howitzer fired.  It would be a few minutes before I crossed the start line (around 4), but I was on my way!

Part 2!