Race report: Marine Corps Marathon

Race date: October 30, 2016

Before I get into my personal race, I have to start by saying that this was the best race experience that I’ve had of any race I have ever done. The organization is top notch. Every detail was thought of. Everything was done to ensure that every single participant was taken care of and had a fantastic time. I would recommend this event. Highly recommend it.

When I decided to do this race I knew it would be a challenge for me. It has a fairly hilly profile and I’ve never been much good on hills. I mean, who likes to run hills? Add to that the 2 time cut-offs the course has, and the fact that I’m a back of the packer, and I knew I had my work cut out for me.

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My training over the 18 week training plan was focused on two things. First, hills. Of my four weekly runs each week, at least two of them included minimum of one giant hill and a few smaller ones, and at least every other week, my Sunday long run was hills, hills and more hills. The second thing my training focused on was consistency. I run 10 and 1s, and have always struggled on long solo runs with talking myself into taking extra walk breaks. With the time cut offs for this race, I needed to keep my pace consistent without the extra breaks if I wanted to ensure that I would make the cut-offs.

Training went amazingly well. By the end I had learned to run the hills at the same effort as the rest of the run as opposed to trying to keep up the regular pace, and all those hills and long solo runs had taught me discipline. I could run 10 and 1s all day. At least up to 35 km which was my longest training run in the cycle. I was so ready for this race!

The weather forecast for race day was unusually warm for the end of October but I had come prepared for any weather that Mother Nature could throw at us. Mike and I arrived in plenty of time to get through security, relax a bit, check our bag and head to the start. The temperature was 16c as I lined up in shorts and tank.

The start was amazing. As two Marine Osprey MV-22B aircraft flew overhead and the howitzer went off to start the race, you could feel the excitement in the air. It took about 15 minutes to cross the line and then Mike was gone and I was on my own.

The first 10 km were my first challenge. Besides the final climb at the end of 559182_241204297_xlargethe race, this was the hilliest part of the course. The part I’d been training for. It starts on the highway beside Arlington National Cemetery and winds through Arlington, Virginia uphill for the first 4 km. I had been afraid that in the excitement of the race start I would go out too fast on those hills and burn out, but I ran them really well. In fact I remember thinking “that’s it? That’s the big hill?” Confidence boosted. The next 4 km was a fairly steep downhill which required some control so as not to speed down and kill my legs. The course was heading into a beautiful wooded valley with a stream trickling alongside the road. It was nice and cool through this area and despite all the runners around me, it felt really peaceful. Two more hills at 8 km and 9 km and we were over a bridge across the Potomac River into Washington, D.C. and through Georgetown.

The seco559182_241048446_xlargend 10 km took us on an out and back along the Rock Creek Trail where I was able to catch a glimpse and a wave to Mike around 13 km, a huge spectator gallery complete with a Marine Corps band and then into East Potomac Park and along the course’s Blue Mile which is dedicated to fallen service men and women and is the most moving tribute I have ever experienced in a marathon. We continued around Hains Point and back through the park. I was still running my 10 and 1s comfortably and a check of my pace band at the mile markers told me I was on pace to challenge my marathon PB of 5:23:27.

The third 10 km held my next challenge. The first time cut-off, The Gauntlet, was at 25 km. Looking at my time, I knew I would make it without a problem. We ran out of the park, past the Jefferson Memorial and into West Potomac Park for another out and back with the Gauntlet at the end of the back part. Still running 10 and 1s easily. Pa559182_240720392_xlargece still on track. I reached the Gauntlet with an hour and 23 minutes to spare. No problem. Coming out of the park area, turning towards the Washington Monument and onto the National Mall, we were reaching midday and it was starting to warm up with no shade anywhere. Through this area I had started to feel some cramping in my stomach and tried to ignore it but by the time I hit 28 km I decided that I needed to make a stop. I’ve never had gastro issues in a race before and I’ve never had to stop mid-race, but I thought that would be the best option. I lost about 6 minutes at that stop but got back on the road and actually felt better in the crowd I had ended up with. It was a little less dense. Almost immediately I was approaching the second cut-off of the day, Beat the Bridge, at about 29 km with plenty of time to spare.

The Beat the Bridge cut-off was on the Washington side of the bridge. The course ran over to Arlington again. The bridge was about 1.5 km long and at noon when I was going over it, I felt like I was baking. From this point until the end of the race it was open road, no shade, full sun with the temperature getting up to somewhere around 27c.

The next 10km was my least favourite of the course. Besides the full sun/heat, it wasn’t nearly as scenic. Maybe the heat and the waves of stomach cramping I was feeling is affecting my opinion and on a different day I may have a different opinion. It went through the Pentagon parking lot and into Crystal City. To be fair, this section of the course is not part of the usual course. Due to a major public transit overhaul and opening times, in order to allow people to get to the start of the race and still have a chance at beating the Gauntlet and Beat the Bridge, the race organizers decided to move about 2 miles of the course from Washington over to Arlington, into the Pentagon parking lot. This will probably be changed back in future years.

559182_240691865_xlargeMy race was quickly falling apart. Due to the gastro issues I was having, gels and blocks were not going down well after about 25 km and I stopped taking them, so I was not getting any nutrition. I tried some of the other things spectators were offering on the course. I thought that a bagel or something bready might do the trick, so I tried pretzels, a donut hole and animal crackers. Nothing seemed to help. I was still drinking water and electrolytes as much as I could but the heat was playing havoc with my tummy. By this time I was finding it difficult to run more than a couple minutes at a time as I continued to fight the cramps in my stomach. During an out and back in Crystal city, I had to run by my hotel twice at km 36 and 38. On the way out, I spotted a cooler with ice in it and grabbed a bunch to put under my hat. As I continued running, I saw a giant fan on a pole about 15-20 feet above the ground that was spraying water. It was like a wonderful rain fall. I took my time going through it and found it cooled me down and I was able to run a little longer. At one of the water stations along this area, the marines who were working it were actually just holding the jugs of water and pouring it into people’s mouths and letting it fall all over their faces. It was extremely hot for the end of October. Another ice station to grab some ice to melt on my face and neck cooled me down and I was ready to go into the final stretch.

The final 2 km went along the highway that the race started on. I could feel the sun burning my shoulders and back this entire way. The crowds, as great as they had been throughout most of the race, were getting thicker, and as I turned left up the final climb there were tons of people cheering and encouraging everyone to get up that hill. This was the final challenge I had trained for and as hard as it was, I pulled together everything I had and ran up that hill, around a turn and down the final stretch to the finish line.

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At the end of most races I’ve run, I have a sense of accomplishment, of pride, and this race was no different. But there was one thing I felt that I never had before. A feeling of frustration. A feeling that I had all these strengths that I had built up over months of training that I hadn’t used. I thought about running another marathon in the next few weeks and Mike and I started looking for options but there were none. So, off season begins, and I start planning for my next big race as I chase my goal of running a marathon in which I can cross the finish line and be satisfied that the race I ran, start to finish, was the best that I could run.

Official Time: 5:54:20

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Race report – Ottawa Marathon

Race Date: May 24, 2015

I chose this race as my second marathon because I love the vibe of the city of Ottawa on race weekend. I ran my second half marathon there in 2012 and was really impressed with how excited and welcoming to all the out of town runners the city is.

This was going to be a much different experience for me than the Chicago Marathon was. Although the weekend has about 48,000 runners in 5 different races throughout the weekend, only 5,000 of those were running the marathon. The crowds running my pace would be much sparser than they were in Chicago and I would be running this race, all 42.2km, alone. Totally on my own. With the spotty training I had in the final few weeks leading up to the race due to injury, I had decided to take all pressure off myself. I hadn’t run anything longer than 16km in 4-5 weeks so I had no idea how long my legs would hold out. I had a comfortable, slow pace I was going to run at, and the only goal I had was to complete the race. Based on the pace I had settled on, and allowing for extra walk breaks and additional slow-downs throughout the race that meant a finish time of about 6 hours.

We arrived on Friday which gave us plenty of time to pick up our race kit, shop the expo (a few times), get caught up with friends and relax the day before the race.

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Race kit pick-up and Expo at the Shaw Centre

The race started at 7am so it was great that our hotel was a short 5 minute walk to the start, and with no cut off time to be in the corral, this would allow us to sleep a little longer, prepare in a more relaxed atmosphere and avoid the long lineups at the start line port-a-potties (which is always a bonus). The weather was forecast at 12 celsius at the start of the race climbing to 24 celsius by the time I was expecting to finish. I settled on a light weight tank and my favourite running skirt. I brought arm warmers in case I needed them until I got going but on the way to the start I quickly realized they would not be needed so dropped them in Mike’s bag-check bag.

In the corral I met up with two of my clinic training buddies Stuart and Greg. We chatted for a couple minutes before the gun went off and we started inching our way up to the line. We wished each other a good race, I crossed the mat and started my Garmin and within a few seconds Stuart and Greg were gone.

The first 10km went pretty smoothly. I saw Ginny at 1km cheering us on before her race began in a couple hours. I waved, gave her a high five and carried on down along the canal. That first km was a little fast but I soon settled into my running pace of about 7:25 – 7:30 m/k20x30-OTAX0780m. The runners thinned out pretty quickly but there were still a good number of people around me. The crowd support through here was great. There were tons of people out at 7:00 on a Sunday morning cheering everyone on. I high fived all the kids along the route, the weather was perfect. Cloudy, cool.

The next 10km was a little more challenging. It took us through Tunney’s Pasture and out onto Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway for an out and back before carrying on across the bridge over to Hull. It was at the beginning of this section, around 12km that I started feeling a rubbing on the bottom of my right foot. I stopped just as I turned into Tunney’s Pasture to take off my shoe and sock and used my Chapstick like body glide to stop the rubbing (a trick I learned while training for Chicago through a really hot summer). It seemed to do to the trick. As I headed out to the Parkway I wondered if I would see anyone I knew since it was an out and back section. I looked across the highway at the runners going the other way and spotted Mike coming out of a water station and waved. Not much further along, I spotted Stuart and Greg just heading into that same water station. The temperature was starting to heat up and the sun had come out. It was getting warm on the Parkway with no shady areas to cool us down. Just after I got to the turnaround point I was passed by the 5:30 pace bunny and her small group of runners. It was also along this stretch of the Parkway that we came to our first sponge station. To date, this is the best thing I have ever experienced on a race course. It’s brilliant!”

By the halfway mark I was starting to feel my legs getting tired. Really tired. And the rubbing had started again on the bottom of my foot. Just past the 21km mat I had to stop and apply Chapstick to the bottom of my foot again. Once applied I was back up and running. But my legs were prematurely done. It was around 22km and I had already started taking extra walk breaks. The results of not getting in much running the weeks leading up to the race. The runners had definitely thinned out by this point. The course ran about 5km around Hull and at about 24km I found myself merging with the half marathon participants. There were hordes of people. Running really fast. And I was getting overhauled by them. I looked around and saw the 1:50 pace bunny among the crowds. I started to feel really overwhelmed. Who did I think I was running a full marathon when all these other people were clearly better runners than I was? 20x30-OUAA2996It was really demoralizing. Maybe I’ll just run it in with the half marathon people. Call it quits. And then I heard someone call my name. I looked to my left and saw another friend, Sean, who was running the half. Sean with his big smile, waving at me. I waved back. It gave me a big lift and I was able to continue running over the Alexandra Bridge with its spectacular view back over to Ottawa with all those half marathon runners. Once across the bridge I felt a sense of pride as I made the left turn on Sussex Dr. for the marathon course while the others went right. Here I saw a ton of runners on their way back (they were at 37km and I was at 28km). I looked for, but didn’t see anyone here. At 29km I had to stop one last time to reapply the Chapstick on my foot. This would be the last time. I never felt the rubbing again after this.

From 30km to 38km it was really desolate. There were little to no spectators along this section and runners were few and far between. In fact most of the people around me were burning out and walking.20x30-OTBG1753 I was just happy to be adding some running in there. By this point I couldn’t run more than 2 minutes at a time. The positive was that the sun had gone away and it was cooling down a bit. The support at most of the water stations was still great though. Everyone was energetic and supportive. Helping us refill our bottles, giving us whatever we needed. In fact it was somewhere along here that I saw the best cheering squad. I’m not sure who they were, but they were all dressed in red. And even this far into the race, with so few runners coming through, they kept the energy going. They were excited, funny, and made me laugh. And they made us all feel like we were special.

The last 4km had a lot more spectators. It’s amazing how much crowd support can affect your race. At this point I started to look for other friends from our run community, Doug and Sam, who were going to be cheering around the 40km mark. I wasn’t sure if they would still be there this late in the race but I watched for them anyway. As I approached the turn toward the 40km mat I saw Doug and Sam. They had seen me coming and were coming out onto the road to cheer me on! I was so happy to see them. They gave me high fives and told me I was doing great and it was just what I needed to push through that last 2km. I was able to run a little longer than the 2 minute intervals and the last km brought me back to my original pace from the beginning of the race. Heading to the finish line I saw Mike, Ginny and James waving at me from the VIP area. More support. Big smile. Crossed the line. Happy.

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This race was so different than my first marathon experience. Everyone told me that any marathon I ran after Chicago would be anticlimactic since Chicago was so amazing. I wouldn’t say it was anticlimactic though. This race was harder. The course was more challenging with many small inclines everywhere, it’s a smaller race so there was a lot less runners for me to draw off and I was on my own. I’ve never run that long or that far on my own before.

It was a very humbling experience. One I will never forget.

Besides my usual group of amazing running buddies and of course my partner in life Mike, I really need to give a special thanks to my coaches Vince, Chuck and Kathryn who were always supportive and so accommodating to everyone in our clinic. I learned more from you all in the last 5 months than I ever could have asked for. Also a big thanks to all of my clinic buddies. We were a small but tough group and it’s been a pleasure getting to know all of you.

Official time: 6:04:43.6

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Final check-in before race day

In six days I’ll be running my second marathon. Just typing those words is terrifying to me. I haven’t run any long runs since April 12th at which time I felt pretty great. Me and GinnyIt was the third week in a row with a long run in the 30km range.The pain in my right leg was only a little niggling, I felt strong, and I enjoyed a gorgeous spring run that day running the first 16km with Ginny and the last 16km by myself. It was on that run, about 25km in, that I caught myself from a near fall and further strained my right hamstring and that’s when all my troubles began. Since my last post 16 days ago, I’ve had 12 days of complete rest (even walking was painful), missed my last 2 long runs in the training schedule, and had 2 of the most painful runs I’ve ever experienced. The pain in my right leg has moved into my left leg as well and I have been struggling with myself for 2 weeks knowing that I am probably not in any shape to run a marathon. FullSizeRender (4)I was having a hard time coming to terms with that. I don’t quit. Anything. I kept telling myself (as stupid as it sounds, even to me) that I’d rather go out on the course, try my hardest and not finish, than not try at all. I had to try everything I could think of to keep this commitment I made to myself 6 months ago. This past Saturday I had a 16km race pace scheduled and decided that this run was going to be the final deciding factor as to whether I was going to run Ottawa or not. I went into the run in full race day gear, with a slower race pace in mind, popped a mild muscle relaxant before we started and hoped that this would be enough of a tweak to have a pain-free 16km run. The result was interesting to say the least. The run was totally pain-free which was great, but also, since then, I have had almost no pain at all in either of my legs even though I’ve been pretty active and gone on a number of extremely longs walks. So, barring anything crazy happening in the next few days, the decision to run has been made. I’m still terrified. I’ll be running the whole race on my own. I had been hoping to use one of the last long runs to test my mental ability by running it solo, but those runs never happened. The longest I’ve ever run by myself is about 21km, about 2.5 hours. I’m expecting to have a slow finish, somewhere longer than 5.5 hours, and I have no idea what to expect mentally. I’m keeping a positive attitude (nobody would know how terrified I am unless they read this), I’ve filled my iPod with favourite 80s music that I haven’t heard in years to keep my mind occupied and outside of itself, and I’m going to run just run the race 1km at a time. Of course, if I feel like I can’t finish, I won’t risk further injury by plowing through. I’m not that crazy. But at least I’ll know that I tried my hardest, pushed myself as far as I could, and that’s all I can ask of myself. IMG_0360 (1)

What’s next?

It’s been about a month since I ran my first marathon. In that time I’ve done a lot of replaying, a lot of talking and reliving the experience with everyone and a lot of reflecting.

Throughout the entire training period, and even going right back to the day we decided to make this crazy journey, right up to the morning of the race as we stood in our corral waiting to start, I have always maintained that this would be my first and only marathon. It was something I wanted to do to challenge myself and just to experience it. To be able to say that I had run a marathon. I kept saying that I know myself well enough to know that this was not something I wanted to do again. The training takes up more time than I am willing to give to it again.

And then, somewhere in the last few kilometres of the race, after I had dropped back from my running buddy and I was running alone, after things had started to fall apart a bit, I realized I was actually thinking about what I could do differently next time. Next time? But there is no next time… Or is there?

At the end of the race, as I chatted with some of my run club friends, most of whom had way more experience than I did, when they asked if I was going to do another, I found myself saying “yes”.

That’s right. The five hours plus spent out on the course, most of it exciting, some of it challenging, and all of it indescribably amazing, had changed my mind completely. Of course I was going to do it again!

The only question now is what’s next? There are so many great marathons out there that it’s going to be hard to choose. For now, I’ve signed up, again, for one of my favourite races – Around the Bay 30k. After that, I’m not quite sure. I’ve got a few ideas rolling around in my head.

The possibilities are endless…

Change

 

Race report – The Chicago Marathon

Race date: October 12, 2014

Two years ago a plan was put into motion to train up, slowly, for my first (and only) marathon. When I first broached the idea with Ginny we figured if we were only going to do one marathon we might as well go big and so we decided right then and there that Chicago was the one. It was a major, it was flat and it was an open registration which meant that as long as we were on top of things, and knew when registration opened, we should both be able to get in. Of course by the time we were ready to register, the rules had changed and it was a lottery, and we had talked more friends into joining us on the journey. We all put our names into the lottery in March and as luck would have it, in April when they did the draw, we all made it in.

As we went through our training, I had decided that my goal was going to be to finish the race under 5 hours and 30 minutes. I thought it would be a challenging, yet attainable goal. But, as we got closer to race day, looking at our performance on the last few long runs, my goal changed. I thought that maybe a 5:20:00 would be within reach. Final decision was made. My A goal was 5:20:00, my B goal was 5:25:00, my C goal was to finish upright and smiling.

The morning of the race I was surprisingly calm. I woke up, got ready, wished Mike luck as he headed out ahead of me to make it into his earlier starting corral on time, and then a few minutes later went down to the hotel lobby to meet up with my running peeps. The hotel was a 20 minute walk to the race start area and at 6:30 in the morning it was bustling with thousands of runners, spectators, security/police and race volunteers. It was insane!

We made our way as close to the front of our corral as we could and waited for the race to start. We had to be in the corral 30 minutes before our wave was going off and in the end it was almost a full 47 minutes by the time we actually crossed the start line and our races had begun! It was a chilly fall morning but the temperature was promising to be 14c for most of the race so I wore a tank and skirt with arm warmers and a 10708568_4866046024380_2763605660359477100_osweatshirt to keep warm while I waited to start. As we inched up towards the start line, we talked to the people around us.  Everyone seemed to have a story. And there were a ton of people in our corral that were first time marthoners like us. It was quite inspiring.

And then, all of a sudden, we were off! The crowds were thick and hard to maneuver through at the start. I was running beside Ginny and after we wound our way through a few of the walkers in front of us we looked back and Tricia and Nalini were nowhere to be seen. They seemed to be swallowed up by the sea of runners behind us. All we could do was hope they were fine and continue on with our own races.

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Ginny and I around 5k

The first 10k of the race flew by. Ginny and I were running comfortably together as we had on our training runs and taking in all there was to see. The crowds, the runners, the amazing city. It was quite spectacular. As we passed each mile marker, a quick glance at my pace band showed we were ahead of the pace a little bit more each time. At this point we had wound our way through part of the downtown area and were now up at the north end by Lincoln Park.

The next 10k took us along the lake and through some beautiful residential areas. I’d never been to this part of Chicago before. The crowd support was amazing here as well. At 20k or so, we saw Ginny’s family for the third time on the course. The girls were waving and James was snapping pictures on his phone shouting words of encouragement as we went by. We were still running at the same pace. It hadn’t really changed from the time we started and we continued to gain more and more time ahead of the pace band. There were a few times when I noticed the pace got a little fast but we quickly checked ourselves and fell back to that comfortable pace right around 7:00 per km.

By the halfway mark of the race we were back downtown with the huge crowds again. The course took a turn to the west and we were still running at that same comfortable pace. So far we had stuck to our 10 and 1’s – running for 10 minutes and walking for 1 minute – and stopping for a sip of water at every water station. I had made the decision to carry a fuel belt with only two bottles, both of which were filled with Gatorade, and getting my water at the water stations which were situated about every 2 miles or so along the course.

As we approached the 30k marker I looked at the pace band and saw that we were now about 3 minutes ahead of plan and we had both just run a 30k PB! Looking at the stats later confirmed the official 30k time was 3:44:18. It was just about this time that I started to have some gastro issues. My stomach started turning and I was feeling a little light headed. I ran for a bit longer hoping it would subside, but it wasn’t getting any better so around 32km I told Ginny to go ahead shouting “Go Ginny!” as she ran on, and I took my first unscheduled walk break. I put on my iPod and started running again.

The last 10k were hard. Really hard. My 10 and 1s became 5 and 1s, then 4 and 1s, 3 and 1s… But the one thing I didn’t do was stop moving forward. 756057-1231-0031sI remember everything that happened through the entire race, but this last 10k is a blur. I mean, I remember everything, but I couldn’t tell you exactly where things happened. I saw one of my training buddies Shamita being taken care of by the medics at one of the aid stations and hoped she was ok. Somewhere around 35km I started to get cramps in my quads. I’d never experienced cramps during a run before. Luckily they weren’t as bad as they could have been and I was able to walk them out fairly easily every time they started. I quickly learned why they have bananas at the aid stations later on in the race. Maybe around 39-40km I was taking a walk break and saw Shamita run by me. Happy to see she was back in the race, I ran to catch up to her and see how she was. We ran for a few minutes together, I wished her well and took another walk break as she continued on ahead of me.

Not long after Shamita left me, I looked ahead and saw James and the girls waving at me. I ran over their way waving, so happy to see them. I asked James how Ginny was doing and was happy to hear that she had finished well ahead of her goal! I gave a big thumbs up as I ran by. Seeing them there and hearing about Ginny’s awesome finish was just what I needed to give me the motivation to kick it up a bit.

I saw the “800 metres to go” sign, turned off Michigan Ave. towards Grant Park, and up an incline that I’m sure felt bigger than it actually was as I passed the 26 mile marker. 200 metres to go as I made the final turn towards the finish. Seeing that finish line was incredible. The girl running next to me said “Oh my god, there it is!” and I screamed “I know!” And then we both heard the announcers say our names. “That’s my name!” “Mine too!” and we high fived. The finish was right in front of me and as I approached, I remembered something someone in my run club said to me a few days before I left. “As you cross the line, put your arms in the air and smile, no matter how much it hurts.” And that’s exactly what I did.756080-1165-0003s

Once past the line, I stopped my Garmin, congratulated the girl who was running beside me, another high five and I continued through the finish chute to collect my medal and headed off to find Mike, Ginny and the rest of the Toronto contingent. As I walked back to the hospitality tent, I looked at my Garmin and saw that my time would be somewhere around 5:23:32. I had missed my A goal, but was comfortably ahead of my B goal and I was pretty happy with that.

First marathon complete and what an amazing experience it was!

What did I learn? Well, they say that if you’re not hurting at the end of a marathon you didn’t try hard enough and now I understand what that means. I believe that running is about 90% mental and 10% physical, but a marathon is a test of both your mind and your body. It is meant to push you to your limit and far beyond. And on October 12, 2014, in Chicago, I think I passed the test.

Official Time:      5:23:27

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