Personal Bests

  • 04/07 Boston Marathon3:33:22
  • 10/08 Hartford Half Marathon 1:46:23
  • 09/06 New Haven Road Race 20K 1:36:47
  • 08/04 Deary 5-M Road Race - my 1st race ever 39:37
  • 11/06 VMG 5K 21:05
  • 07/06 Boombox Mile 6:12

Breaking The Tape

Upcoming Races 2010

Stay Tuned!

MCM 2009 – Always Earned, Never Given

The last time I tried to run a ‘destination’ marathon, I flew across the country to San Diego, caught “The Ick” and was unable to run the race. My second attempt at a ‘destination’ marathon found me at the start line of the Marine Corp Marathon this past Sunday morning. This is my very lengthy account of that adventure.

Friday evening: I dashed out of work, drove home, grabbed my bag and was at the airport with plenty of time to spare. I called my former coach and when he asked what my goal was for the race, I replied “I guess I’m shooting for a 3:40″ in a very non-committed kind of way. Behind my half-hearted statement, the truth was this: I wanted to re-qualify for Boston, so I had to run at least a 3:45, and technically I had trained for a 3:30. I was content to just see what would happen if all the right pieces fell into place, without any pressure.

The flight was late, but uneventful and I was at the hotel by 10 p.m. Jeanne had left me a message with instructions on where to meet her in the morning so we could ride to the expo together.

Saturday: A whirlwind day of text messages, phone calls and logistical details. A metro ride with Jeanne to the expo, a visit to a Starbucks in Chinatown and a quick visit to the National Portrait Gallery to soak up some free art. I felt so cosmopolitan and cultured. Then it was off to a late lunch where we met up with my friend Kirsten and her hubby and two young kids. I feasted like glutton on pasta with sausage and peppers and a delicious salad. (I think I scared Jeanne with my appetite. Honestly, I scared myself a little.)

Just as we stepped out of the restaurant, our hotel shuttle was passing by, so it was a rushed goodbye with Jeanne, but at least we have a picture that proves that we were together.

After some quiet time back at the hotel, Kristen came by and we watched ‘Spirit of the Marathon’ to get motivated for the journey to come. I found it odd that I wasn’t feeling more nervous or stressed about the race. It just felt like another run.

I wasn’t hungry for dinner, but we made our way down to the hotel dining room around 7:00 p.m. I had a turkey club sandwich with a handful of french fries. Looking back now, that might not have been a great choice; I should have asked for a special order of grilled chicken, rice and a small salad or side of veggies.

Sleep was typically elusive, as it always is the night before a race. I fell asleep after midnight and woke up every 30 minutes or so. I’ve spent the past two years sleep deprived, so this wasn’t a big concern for me, but it was another piece of the plan that didn’t fall into place.

Race morning went like clockwork. Getting to the Runner’s Village was a breeze and breezy with mild winds blowing. I was grateful for the ‘throw-away’ sweats and long-sleeved tee that I had worn, as it was a little chilly in the pre-dawn hour. The most impressive thing to me: the sheer number of port-a-potties. I was amazed, and it was just a wonderful sight to see all those little boxes lined up next to each other. I didn’t wait more that 5-10 minutes to use one.

On the way to the start line, there was a final dash into the woods. As I was finishing up my business, a man comes rushing in to the woods RIGHT NEXT TO ME. There was plenty of other places – trees, bushes, tall grass – that he could have chosen, yet he chose my spot. Sigh.

As we pushed our way through the crowds to get to our place in the pack, we could hear the announcer “Two more minutes to the wheelchair start” and then “Five more minutes to the marathon start”. We kept pressing forward, watching for our Pace Group signs – Kristen looking for 3:45 and me for 3:40. We found 3:50, but couldn’t find either one of ours. We didn’t want to line up much further up in the corral and get caught up in the faster pace, so we stayed put, standing near other runners who said they were trying for the same paces that we were. Kristen was nervous about not being with the pace group, so I silently decided that I would try to pace her for the the first 10K or so, and then I would pick up my pace so we could each run our own race.

BOOM! The howitzer fired, marking the start of the race, and 4 minutes later, we crossed the official start line. The first mile was as slow as expected as we all navigated around each other, trying to find our paces and spaces in the sea of runners. The spectators were wonderful, with loud cheers, bright signs and lots of cow bells. That remained the standard for most of the race – crowds on and off the course.

At the end of the first 5K, I had adjusted our pace so we were right on track:
5K in 00:26:27 (NET). Pace: 8:30. Predicted: 3:43:03. Since my Garmin is not 100% accurate, I was finding it difficult to gauge our actual pace. By the time we crossed the 10K mark, I had picked up the pace to my intended race pace, and Kristen was running strong right next to me: 10K in 00:52:16 (NET). Pace: 8:24. Predicted: 3:40:31.

As we passed through Georgetown and I soaked up the energy from the spectators, I laughed when I saw a sign that said “That’s not sweat…it’s your fat cells crying.” Brilliant. I felt a surge of adrenaline. It was wonderful.

From there, things started to get weird. Somewhere around Mile 9, my right calf muscle started to cramp, and felt like it was just on the verge of a full fledged Charlie horse. I stopped to try to stretch it, with unsuccessful results, and continued on, hoping that it would work itself out. It never did (and four days later it’s the only part of me that’s still sore). I was still pacing us at MY pace, and not Kristen’s: 15K in 01:18:16 (NET). Pace: 8:23. Predicted: 3:40:06. I began to worry about being a bad pace leader.

We were heading out towards Haines Point and crowd support was beginning to get sparse. There were some Kappa Sigma brothers cheering VERY loudly, and I smiled to myself as I thought ‘They’re no Wellesley Scream Tunnel but they’ll do in a pinch.’

Kristen mentioned that she needed to slow the pace down a little. I tried to slow down, and I thought I actually did slow down, but the next time I looked over my shoulder for her, she was further back. By the halfway point, we were officially separated: 20K in 01:44:26 (NET). Pace: 8:24. Predicted: 3:40:20 and Half in 01:50:17 (NET). Pace: 8:24. Predicted: 3:40:34.

I passed by an older woman (age in the late 60’s, early 70’s) and took note of her MCM t-shirt which read “Always earned. Never given.” Just as I was about to make a comment, I heard a Marine tell her that he loved her shirt. I turned and agreed with him, and he said “If only we could get Generation M to learn that.” I responded with a hearty “Yes, sir!”

At this point, I knew trouble was on the horizon. I wasn’t drinking enough, and I’d only eaten two Gu gels. My stomach wasn’t remotely interested in food. My right calf was still tight and the outside of my left knee was quickly following suit. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling so tired so early in the race. I distracted myself by watching spectators and forced myself to smile as much as possible. Once in a while I would look around and remember that I was in our nation’s capital as a monument would pop into view. My pace stayed steady: 25K in 02:10:11 (NET). Pace: 8:22. Predicted: 3:39:42.

Passing by the Lincoln Memorial was overwhelming – the significance of the structure and the size and energy of the crowd really picked up my spirits again. I smiled when I heard someone yell “I have a dream!” The long trip around the mall rewarded me with a Jeanne-sighting and got me through to mile 20. I was sorely unprepared for ‘beating the bridge’ as I didn’t realize that I would be running on a highway for nearly two miles. I was digging deep into my soul over that stupid bridge, and my pace had already started to slow: 30K in 02:36:40 (NET). Pace: 8:35. Predicted: 3:45:10.

The final miles were tougher than I imagined they would be, and having Marines handing me water at the aid stations was motivating, serving as a constant reminder that if they could make tremendous personal sacrifices and endure, I could run a few measly miles through some discomfort. Crystal City was a blur, with the highlights being: the smell of beer from a make-shift water stop, a young woman vomiting in the pachysandra and the self-made promise of walking through the remaining water stops.

I nearly sobbed when I realized that we had to get back onto the highway for the final stretch to the finish. There were no spectators, and it reminded me of a war scene, with runners walking, shuffling, and even sitting down on the side of the road, with their heads hanging low. My feet felt like they were dragging through molasses as I plodded along. I felt discouraged by my inability to pick up the pace, as I had finished most of my long training runs at 8:00-8:10 min/mile pace. Where was my reserve tank of gas?

Finally, the highway ended and the crowds began to swell again. As I passed by the Marines lining the course, I almost asked one of them to run me in. This was the first time I would be approaching a finish line without having had a friend run along side of me for at least the last 6 miles.

In an instant, I spot Jeanne and she runs out onto the course with her camera, randomly snapping away. She asks “How do you feel?!” and I mumbled “I’ve got nothing left to give. Where is the finish line?” She says “Haven’t you passed the Mile 26 mark yet?” No. I hadn’t. And I really, really wanted to,

And then I did. My reward? An uphill finish, with a sharp right hand turn. As I rounded the corner, I slowed to take one, two steps…then dug deeper and pushed forward as the crowd cheered their loudest. I didn’t care who they were cheering for…at the moment, it was all for me. Finish in 03:43:58 (NET). Pace: 8:32.

I crossed the finish, came to a dead stop with hands on my knees and garnered the attention of about 5 handsome young men in uniform. I kept saying “I’m OK. I just need to stop running.” I straightened up, shuffled forward in a daze and had a space blanket draped over my shoulders. A few steps further, and yet another Marine was placing my medal around my neck. As I said ‘Thank you, sir’ I felt the words catch in my throat and fought back tears. I felt completely engulfed by my emotions and struggled to keep them hidden. A glimpse of the Marine Corp Memorial nearly sent me over the edge, and a phone call home to my husband left me hyperventilating.

Jeanne spotted me through the fence and shouted encouraging words to me, something about me qualifying for Boston. Slowly, I wound my way through the crowd and out onto the street. I started to look around for a medical tent, as I was suddenly overcome with nausea and some potential GI distress. After a few moments of sitting on a curb, I recovered enough to shuffle over to the baggage trucks, where Jeanne and I were reunited. She produced a magical band aid from somewhere in her bag, and helped me apply it to my bloody toe. She carried my bags for me, rubbed my shoulders and helped calm me down. In those moments, she went from being a bloggy-friend to being family, and I will be forever grateful.

The rest of the adventure involves finding my friend Kristen at the beer tent, a long bus ride, a search for a taxi, a narrowly missed late check-out fees, a shower in the hotel’s fitness center locker room, a beer and burger at the hotel bar with fellow racers, and a flight back home.

Now the question remains: Boston 2010 or 2011?

2 comments to MCM 2009 – Always Earned, Never Given

  • I read this back when you first wrote it in October. Then when I added your new blog to my google reader, it added your 10 most recent posts, this being one of them so I just re-read it :) I just wanted to say how inspired I felt reading about your race experience. Congrats on qualifying for Boston and I look forward to reading more about your training and racing! Happy New Year!

  • Daniel Rolfe

    I enjoyed your article about the 2009 MCM very much. Particularly because it nearly mirrored my experience. (No I was not the guy who peed next to you) I was in the 3:50 pace group at the start but left them early on. They later found me around mile 22 as we all shuffled across the bridge. I finished in 3:56:02. We must have spent most of the day close to each other. Great job and congrats on qualifying. I live in the DC area and have had the opportunity to run this race twice. I have two finishes both in 3:56, 15 seconds across. I also took exactly 2 steps as I took that awful right turn up the hill at the end. Like you I felt as if I could not walk and finished at a SLOW run!!! But a run never the less!!! Great fun and amazing atmosphere. I will not be running it again and do not intend on running a marathon again. I am planning on running the Army 10 miler in October 2010 also in DC.

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