Word vomit version:
We ended up leaving Pittsburgh much later Friday morning than I'd hoped. That, on top of extended stopping along the way, led us to check into our hotel late. More stress got heaped onto my plate by my card company claiming that I never put in a travel notification so my card got flagged at the hotel desk.. How embarrassing! We had to stand there and call the bank and jump through freaking hoops to get them to clear my card so we could get to our room. Jagoff bank! So, by this time it was too late to go to the expo. This ticked me off because I like to go to the expo on Friday so that I don't spend too much time on my feet the day before the race. Well, I had no choice now. We went out to eat, stopped at a store to get some things we needed and then drove around to see some sights in the dark before heading back to our room to get some rest.
The kids... oh my. Of course this would be one of those phases they all decided to check into where they can't get along, don't listen to direction, and pretty much don't care about anything but being as loud and obnoxious and rotten as possible. They were like this quite a bit during this trip and it didn't help my focus. NOTE: I'm not blaming the kids for anything regarding my race performance or whatever, I'm just making a standard parental observation. There were moments of "who's child are you?" that happened. Every parent experiences this. Unfortunately, this took place on race weekend. Thanks for keeping me on my toes, kids! ;)
Anyway, Saturday morning I woke up early to meet up with my friends from the Facebook MCM & 10K group. We met at the Smithsonian and ran a short loop around the area (which formed a penis shape on the gps map, which is always worth a giggle). It was a good time, even though it was quite chilly as we waited for everyone to arrive! Oh how I wish this weather stuck around for Sunday! I was so happy to finally meet people and put some real faces to names and pictures on the internet. Our group really does have a great bond and I think it's awesome how we share a love of the most awesome race in the whole damn world.
After my shakeout run, I headed back to the hotel and got ready to go to the expo. The expo was... the expo. It was super crowded, hard to get around, and I definitely didn't get to see or do all that I had initially planned. It was just too much and we decided to just call it a day and leave after we got some ice cream. This is the first expo I've ever attended where I walked out spending NOTHING. At least packet pickup was a breeze. And I saw Jeff Galloway! He actually ran the race the next day with his wife as well. Such an inspiration!
For pre-race dinner we went to a place that was recommended in my FB group called the Lost Dog Cafe. I was really touched by the story behind this place and really wanted to try it. The owners also run an animal rescue and everything is based on that. Even most of the menu items have animal names so that was cool. I got plain spaghetti and garlic bread, but I wished I could have indulged in what the rest of the family had because it all looked so good! I hope to get back there some day because what little nibbles I had were pretty tasty.
Later that night at the hotel I discovered I had forgotten raisins for my traditional night before snack of oatmeal, chia, raisins and honey. Boo. Then I got to bed hours later than I wanted to. And of course tossed and turned all night long, looking at the clock at least once an hour...
I was damn tired when the alarm went off at 4 a.m. but I got my ass up and moving. I went over my list and made sure I had everything and put on some extra bodyglide. I drank some gatorade, grabbed my PB sandwich and a banana as well as a big bottle of water and headed down to the Metro. I was shockingly calm. Tired, but my nerves were calm.
I just want to say here that a lot of people in the past days have bitched about the security lines and the race start and whatever but I have to say I had NO issue at all. I was on the Metro at 5, and comfortably situated with some people I met up with at Runners Village shortly thereafter. I got right through security and hung out in the rain for the next two hours chatting, taking pictures, and using the portajohn. Guess I'm lucky I'm an early riser and know that extra sleep isn't worth extra stress.
One thing I noticed as I was waiting for the right time to head to the start line was that it was humid. Very humid. 88%. Yuck. It was around 60 degrees too. I knew a suckfest was ahead and there was nothing to do but hold on for the ride and just run. Another thing I noticed was that my stomach was wonky and I had to crap like every 15-20 minutes. Oh, and as luck would have it, I got my fucking period too. This was a perfect morning!
So, anyway, as the sun rose and me and my new best friends parted ways to head to the start, my stomach finally felt stable, thank goodness. My mood was not the greatest, but it could have been a lot worse and I do credit the guys I hung out with for keeping my mind off my own bullshit for a while. I easily found my way to my corral (Expected Finish: 3:40-3:59) and enjoyed the opening ceremonies. The prayer. The motivational talks. The flyover. The National Anthem. Amazing. I ditched my throwaways just before the howitzer fired. It was around 2 minutes before I crossed the start.
I said it last year and many times since: MCM is crowded as fuck. And yes, there are corrals, but it's a guarantee that there will be people walking right out of the gate that started near the elite corral. I was prepared for it this year and I wasn't going to let myself get as crazy over it. Notice I said "as crazy" because come on... it's frustrating not being able to run as you trained to run for whatever reason. But this year I kept my cool and didn't weave around nearly as much as before. I had some form of patience. Well, that was until I caught up with the 3:45 pacer and his surrounding group and started joining in the conversation and antics...
My first miles ticked off within the range I'd given myself for the race. Easy peasy. Then, before I knew it I was in this big mob of a group and this pacer is flying. I mean like fucking flying. To be honest, I was enjoying the sights and sounds and company and not paying a whole lot of attention, but my Garmin started ticking off sub 8 minute miles - 7:48, 7:52, etc. And this was the uphill part of the course! On one hand I was thinking "too fast, Nichole, you will never make it at this rate" but on the other I kept telling myself that I felt great, it felt easy and I was having so much damn fun why stop now?! So I just kept with the herd. Other people also commented: "That guy is nuts!", "WTF is he trying to bank so much time we'll be able to walk from the bridge to the Iwo?", and other such remarks. I laughed with them and agreed, but even as more people (the smart ones) dropped back, I had this do or die mentality that kept me glued to this dude. Many times I second guessed myself and what I was doing, but I kept telling myself that I'd be a loser and a quitter if I pulled back, so I didn't (well at least at this point of the race).
I will say though, nothing against this pacer as a human being, though.. he was really fun and at least talked a lot, which is a quality I enjoy in a pacer. He cracked me up sometime around mile 8 or 9 when he announced that he had to pee and handed off his sign and balloons to some random guy in the group and said "Hold this, I'll be back", and we were essentially pacerless for a while until he caught back up.
The Blue Mile. What can I say about this? It's one of those things you have to be there for. But it is one of those things at MCM that remind you that this race is not really about YOU, but about something so much bigger. Weaving and distance be damned, I will position myself during the Blue Mile so I can look at every picture and high five/say thank you to every family member, child, volunteer holding out those big beautiful American flags. During this mile time/pace/PRs don't fucking matter.
I first started realizing I was truly screwed at the half marathon point. A well meaning spectator was cheering and yelling "You're halfway there now!", which as a marathoner you know is bullshit.. the halfway point of a marathon is 20 miles. You need 50% of your energy for that last 10K. Upon assessing my personal status I kinda realized that I probably was down 50% of my energy at the half marathon point... not a good sign. But, I kept forging on.
The Mall. I love running this! From the sights to the crowd, it's just great. My family was here as well. I needed the psychological boost and I was thrilled to see them. I also saw Bart Yasso who is seriously one of the coolest guys ever.
Unfortunately I really started fading during the last part of the mall headed toward the bridge. At the mile 16 marker I realized that I was really starting to feel like I was "working"... again in a marathon that's not a good sign. It was getting ridiculously hot, someone said the humidity was nearly 100% and most certainly by 18-19 miles I was starting to feel like crap. I knew at this point the Bridge was going to be a bitch and if I wanted a chance of hitting my goal of not walking up the Iwo for the second year in a row, I had to say farewell to the (now very small) group I was running with and pull back. For some silly reason during this race I decided to fuel differently (took my GU at different mileage points and carried a water bottle I never had before). I know, dipshit move and one I will not make again. And BTW taking GU early didn't help any, in fact I think it made matters worse.
Mile 20. To the Bridge and over. I was really starting to struggle. My pace dropped a lot (I saw some 9:xx miles) and I just mentally checked out. I told myself even if I ran the rest of the race at long run pace I'd still glide in at a great time. The thing that irritated me was that I had no doubt that I could cover the distance, the stamina was there, it's just that my legs (quads and calves mainly) were just cramped up. Seriously they were SO damn tight. And then I got smacked with a big dose of reality....
There on the bridge I was about to pass another runner. This runner was a double amputee running on prosthetic legs. I got my head out of my ass (at least for the moment) and thought to myself "whatever whining and bitching I've got going on has nothing on this dude. talk about a beast!". As I went by him I said "You are my motherfucking hero!", and I forged ahead and off that damn bridge.
As I entered Crystal City I must have really looked like shit because a guy yelled out "about 4 more miles, ma'am!". I know he meant well but I wanted to kick him in the dick. 4 miles is forever at the end of a marathon. But I did somehow manage to find a second wind and I was back to running at my intended race pace again. I ate some orange slices that were handed out. I was sad to see that there was no water sprayer this year in CC... I really could have used it. Getting to the turnaround point seemed to take a long time and I was starting to get pissy again. My quads were really bothering me and I felt like I was just going to ride the pain train the rest of the race.
My pace slowed a bit again, but I kept pushing as hard as I could while keeping some kind of control going so I had the energy to take the Iwo. For the second time, I had to say no to the donuts at mile 24. I was hot, miserable, and nauseous and I really thought they would just bounce back out. Even those last orange slices I ate weren't sitting well. I had one last GU in my belt and couldn't even bring myself to take that either.
And why oh why is mile 25 the longest mile of the race? seriously!
Somewhere near the Pentagon stood a guy dressed as a nun yelling "The End is Near" among other things. It was hilarious and a much needed mental boost.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the mile 26 sign. I knew all I had to do was take the Iwo and put myself on cruise control for a minute and it was all over. I started up the hill strong but then it became a battle to get my legs to move forward. My pace really slowed (I was down to around 10:30 by the time I got to the top) but I DID NOT WALK ONE STEP. I didn't walk a single step of this whole race, actually. Right before the top of the hill a Marine yelled "only a bit farther ma'am, you got this! Oorah!".
I really tried to sprint once I got to the top of the hill. I really did. But, it just was not there. I still gave everything I had left in the tank and cruised to the finish line. I was elated to find out later that my time was 3:48:19. I executed this race very foolishly and not at all like I'd planned and I still got my PR, and a big one at that. I happily got my medal from a young Marine who I then asked for a hug. Which he obliged. :) Then I got my picture in front of the memorial, hooked up with my family (who actually saw me finish this year!), ate some watermelon and went right for the beer tent.