Race Report | 2014 Big Sur International Marathon

10245396_10152080618037467_8683777888693800241_nThe Big Sur International Marathon is a literally epic reminder of why we run, proving with every step that our sport is awesome. So much so that the high I rode from start to finish muted the throbbing pain I felt in my quads thanks to the fact that, well, I ran Boston six days earlier.

In my course description for RW, I wrote: “… if the rolling hills don’t leave you breathless, the turquoise waves lapping over rocky cliffs beside soaring green mountains most certainly will.” Big Sur proved, yet again, that this fact is totally true.

Earlier in the year when I got offered the opportunity to run Big Sur again with Challenge, I accepted without hesitation. I had such an amazing experience last year that I just couldn’t pass up the chance to go again. What I didn’t realize right away was that Boston was just six days before Big Sur this year, not 13 like it was for my first Boston to Big Sur go-around. But then I figured, Ehh sure, why not? Challenge accepted. 

So after not running a step after a quad-busting Boston Marathon, I found myself more sore than I would’ve preferred after a short, 2-mile shakeout on Saturday morning before the race. I was in enough pain that I decided to take a dip in the (mother f-ing freezing cold) Pacific for an ice bath. Yeah, I’m a major wimp when it comes to cold water. I’ll be honest here and say that I wasn’t convinced I’d finish the marathon. What had I gotten myself into?

But come Sunday morning, there I was lining up to run my seventh marathon. Like last year, I opted to run naked (read: without a watch – didn’t even pack the thing!) and just run for the sake of enjoying the journey. I had no idea how the race would go, but I figured I’d take my time and listen to my body. This game plan worked like a charm last year, so I figured I’d try again this year and pray it would work its magic.

Well, it totally worked.

I started off nice and easy with a colleague through the first six miles or so, letting the downhill carry us along. I could already feel my quad, which freaked me out a bit, but it was still run-able. But once we reached the open road with the pristine beaches on our left and the towering, misty green mountains on our right, the runner’s high hit me like a tidal wave. Screw my quad, let’s have some fun! I thought.

When I get jazzed up in a race like that, my instinct is to run fast and ride the high. It just carries me along, overriding any pain I might be feeling. So I picked up the pace, cruising down toward the taiko drummers whose beats carry you up Hurricane Point, the biggest hill on the course that starts at mile 10.

Since the quads actually felt better going uphill, I took advantage of the opportunity, shifted gears, and churned up the 2-mile incline. Like last year, I could feel my hill training paying off. Heck yes.

But then came the lonnnnnng downhill toward the halfway point on the Bixby Bridge. You better believe I winced with every step I took, trying to figure out how to adjust my form to take the pressure off my quads. Ouch, ouch, ouch! My body was rebelling against this second marathon in a week. Ahhh well, suck it up, Meg, carry on.

The Bixby Bridge a.k.a. quite possibly the coolest 13.1 mark in any marathon ever was up next. While I ran by, the tuxedoed Piano Man played “Hallelujah” on his baby grand piano. The whole scene brought me to tears, a true pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming moment. I closed my eyes for a second and soaked in the moment. This is why we run.

The next eight-ish miles — save for a scary second at mile 18 when I felt a particularly concerning twinge in my left quad that thankfully went away — played out as close to perfectly as I could’ve asked for. I was still riding the high (somehow?! – I think I have the spectacular scenery to thank for that one), feeling solid on the flat and uphill portions while taking things carefully and conservatively on the downhills. Through mile 20, my quads were killing BUT I was able to keep up my pace. I didn’t question it, so I kept plugging onward, thoughts focused on the strawberry station at mile 23.

Believe it or not, I think I managed to work out my quad soreness — again, didn’t question it! — so the final miles, rejuvenated by a ginormous strawberry, really felt no different than they normally would at the end of a marathon. In fact, I was able to run the final .2 feeling strong and in control. Say whaaat?

And get this, I ran Big Sur faster (!?!?!?) than Boston. Talk about the power of a runner’s high, amiright?

I can’t explain the faster finish beyond the fact that I still haven’t quite figured out the Boston course and that Big Sur is freakin’ incredible. In my opinion, it’s hard NOT to run well on the glory that is Highway 1.

I learned that two marathons in one week is no joke, but it’s certainly doable. (Read: I ran more miles in 2 days than my typical average weekly mileage).

I also decided that I want to do Boston to Big Sur every year that I physically can. It’s exhausting, but there’s nothing quite like running two completely different marathons back-to-back. You really get a sense of how unique both experiences are. In one week, I went from a 36,000-person field to a 3,500-person one. I went from navigating Frogger-like aid stations to having adorable middle-schoolers shlepping my H2O. Screaming spectators that were at times 10 people deep transformed into the sound of crashing waves. But no matter how you look at it, both races are unforgettable.

These races remind us why we run.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Go fast enough to get there, but slow enough to see.” – Jimmy Buffett

 

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Race Report | 2013 Marine Corps Marathon

photo 1I learned a valuable lesson during my fifth marathon:

Take every single negative thought and turn it on its head.

Constantly refocusing on the positive from start to finish led me to a 2 minute 51 second PR and what was probably my first negative split in any race ever. The defining moment came at Mile 14, but let me rewind a bit.

Back in April when I was halfway between Hopkinton and that famous right turn on Hereford Street, I was hurting. I’d realized early on that it just wasn’t my day, and the thought of running another 13 miles was daunting. Rather than easing my pace so I could soak up and enjoy the incredible atmosphere, I wallowed in the fact that I wouldn’t be setting a PR that day. I spent the rest of the race feeling frustrated and sad that I wasn’t having an amazing race at the fabled Boston Marathon.

On Sunday in Washington, D.C. when I reached the half-marathon mark, however, I thought: I only have 13 miles left. I can run 13 miles in my sleep. That’s nothing! New legs baby girl!

I remember consciously noticing at that moment how drastically different my perspective was between the two races. The realization that I felt good and wanted to run the next 13 miles literally set a fire under my butt.

I’d averaged around 8-minute pace for the first half, coming through 13.1 at 1:45:08…and then I ran Mile 14 in 7:36, holding my pace in the 7:30s (and one 7:25!) for eight miles. I dropped to low 7:40s for the next two miles before I ran out of steam for the last three. Even then I hovered just above 8-minute pace.

When I decided to shift gears, I honestly wasn’t sure how long I’d last. But my legs kept churning along, much longer than I would’ve ever expected. Trying to negative split was uncharted territory for this runner that likes to start guns blazing only to crash and burn at the end. After struggling to keep an even pace with the hills and crowds throughout the first few miles, I’d finally found my rhythm.

Early on in the race, I made the decision to mentally break up the race into 10-mile segments that I divided into shorter distance goals. Why 10 miles? Because my cut-back long run during training was 10 miles. The distance felt easy even though I ran it fast. I remember thinking how crazy it was to say that I had to run only 10 miles. Here was my train of thought:

After the first “short and easy” 10, I focused on 13.1. When I got there (happy halfway!), I wanted to get to 16 so that I’d “only have 10 left” (10 is nothing, right?). When I reached 16, I focused on 20 so that I’d finally be in the twenty-somethings AND the single-digits. From there, I broke it down into one- or two-mile chunks to the point where, at Mile 25, I thought, Only eight minutes left. You can do anything for eight minutes. Keep pushing.

For whatever reason, this thought process worked for me. Chipping away at the distance mentally rather than thinking about it as a whole kept my mind busy and sane. I took comfort in the fact that my breathing stayed relaxed, my stomach wasn’t acting up, and my legs were still (somehow) maintaining a decent clip. Fun fact: I felt good at Mile 18, the point in my first marathon where the wheels started to fall off. In this race, I managed a little over four more miles before I hit that point. I genuinely couldn’t believe it.

So you better believe that I soaked up inch of the 26.2-mile journey. The sights from atop bridges and beside monuments were awe-inspiring and serene in the early morning light; out at Hains Point, the quiet, lonely moments punctuated only by footsteps were sobering; the endless tunnels of spectators and Marines were pitch-perfect and made me laugh when I needed to smile; the drum lines and bands got me pumped up like they have since high school; seeing my coworkers at the hair-pin turns was unexpected and way too much fun; it was all incredible.

I finished in 3:26:32. I couldn’t be happier.

photo 2

QUOTE OF THE POST: “That was so far!” – words repeated in a tone of both disbelief and astonishment by my first-time-marathon-crusher/coworker during the car ride home 

To read about my training leading up to the race, click here. To everyone who supported me along the way, THANK YOU!

P.S. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon through the Runner’s World Challenge, an online training program that comes with race weekend perks (think private porta-potties and the epic view (above) at the post-race party) at a few big races around the country. As an RW editor, I love going to these events because it gives me the opportunity to meet more inspiring runners! I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity. Check out photos from our event here.

Race Report | 2013 Runner’s World Half & Festival

Unlike my usual Race Reports, I’m dedicating this post to my dad and brother who raced at the 2013 Runner’s World Half & Festival. I’ve always been “the runner” in my family, but this weekend proved that that’s so not true anymore. Here’s why:

A few weeks after the Boston Marathon this year, my dad texted me this: photo 1

Honestly, this text nearly brought me to tears. For years now, my dad has hopped on the running wagon only to fall off of it (no) thanks to roadblocks life decided to put in his way. There was no doubt in my mind that my dad could do it (back in January, I wrote about how I secretly wished he’d run the RW Half), but I knew all too well how god-awful it is to train through the summer in Texas. Not to mention a lot can go wrong in six months. Getting to the start line of a race healthy for anyone is a miracle. He had a long road ahead of him.

photo-2But sure enough, weekend after weekend all summer long, my dad reported successful early-morning long runs that started before the sun crested the top of the mountain and weekly 3.1-mile afternoon runs that got progressively faster despite the rising afternoon temps. He challenged himself with hills, pushed through the sweltering heat, learned the importance of hydration on long runs, and didn’t get bogged down or discouraged by the not-so-great runs. I might not have witnessed it in person, but his commitment and focus on his goal of completing a half-marathon was apparent and incredibly inspiring.

photo

Before we knew it, there he was at the expo, picking up his bib with my mom and brother in tow.

Later that night, we attended Dave McGillivray‘s keynote speech. Dave, the race director of the Boston Marathon, not only rocks a wicked Boston accent, but has notched countless running feats throughout his lifetime. (He runs his age in miles on his birthday, he has run across the country more than once, he has finished the Boston Marathon for 40+ years in a row, the list goes on…) The philanthropist had us laughing and crying, all the while teaching us life lessons he’s learned while pounding it out on the roads. I wish I could bottle up his talk and re-live it before ALL of my races. It certainly set the tone for the next day.

On race morning after we pinned on our bibs, my dad and I set off for the start line. The air was crisp, the clear-blue sky was bathed in sunlight – it was the PERFECT day to run. We lined up at the front so we could take it all in. The crowd’s energy was electric. A few minutes before the start, my dad and I snapped a couple pre-race photos and gave each other good-luck hugs. I can’t really put into words how much it meant to me to see my dad on the brink of accomplishing this goal he’d worked so hard for all summer long. It made my heart swell with happiness. Instead of crying nervous tears, I cried happy ones. (Click on the photos to enlarge!)

And with that emotional start, we were off!

The game plan was to finish my race, which doubled as my last long training run before Marine Corps, then run the course backwards until I found my dad. After I finished my run, I snuck back on the course, and it wasn’t long before I saw him cruising past a water stop just before Mile 12. He was crushing it.

With just over a mile to go, the two of us set off for the finish line. Then, with one last hill behind us, we made our way through the tunnel of cheering spectators, spotting Mom and my brother before crossing the finish line. He did it.

photo 3photo

My dad ran every step of the race at his 5K pace from January. He not only finished 13.1 miles, he demolished them.

Seeing my dad’s goal become a reality in the form of a hard-fought finisher’s medal was incredible. I’m literally in awe of the perseverance it took for him to get from “the starting line” he crossed on that day back in April when he texted me to the finish line of his first half-marathon. His accomplishment is the reason why running is awesome. My dad is my inspiration, always has been, and always will be.

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photo-1On Saturday morning, my youngest brother Kyle lined up for the start of the 5K at the Runner’s World Half & Festival. Had you told me that the kid who once quit soccer because he “didn’t like to sweat” would be voluntarily running a 5K, I wouldn’t have believed you. Unlike my other (older) younger brother and I who both dove headfirst into soccer (and eventually running for me) early on and obsessed over athletics more than pretty much anything else in life for years, Kyle tried different sports on and off, but nothing really stuck.

However now that he’s gotten a bit older, he started running for the track and cross country teams at his middle school. Just like I did when I was his age, he’s getting up at the butt-crack of dawn to log some miles at practice before going to school. What’s amazing about my brother is that he already knows how to run just for himself. He doesn’t get bogged down about what others think of his performance. He focuses only on improving from one race to the next, enjoying the camaraderie of his teammates along the way. He knows he’s not the best on the team, but that doesn’t matter to him. I think he just likes to run. Yup, he figured that out about 10 years before I did.

Smarty pants.

It makes me so happy to see my brother enjoy the sport I’ve been passionate about since I was his age. My hope is that it becomes something he enjoys doing for the rest of his life, in whatever way, shape, or form that may be.

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I have to take a second to do a quick shout-out to everyone in the “twitterverse” who I met in real life this weekend: Jocelyn, Ashley, the #RunChat dudes Scott and David, Jaime, Pam, Marcia and more! Y’all are so dang cool, and I seriously wish we all lived closer to one another so we could run together all the time. But hey, thank goodness for twitter, right? Thank you guys so much for coming to our event. I’m so thankful that we all got to connect in person, and I hope that our paths cross again many more times in the future!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “In running, it doesn’t matter whether you come in first, in the middle of the pack, or last. You can say, ‘I have finished.’ There is a lot of satisfaction in that.” – Fred Lebow 

Race Report | Fifth Avenue Mile

Screen shot 2013-09-24 at 9.04.12 PMThere’s nothing quite like flooring it for a mile to remind you what racing fast really feels like. One: It’s incredibly exhilarating feeling smooth, speedy and powerful. Two: After teaching myself to hold my horses for at least 13 miles in a marathon, getting to unleash them over just a mile is a rush. And three: It still manages to wipe me out after just 5,280 feet.

On race morning, after watching my friends run their heats of the Fifth Avenue Mile, I genuinely couldn’t contain my excitement for my turn. Unlike last year where I lined up with cold legs and paid for it for 800 meters, I wanted to do it right this year and give myself a chance to drop my post-collegiate PR of 5:40. So I snuck into Central Park for a few miles and did some striders with my coworkers. I won’t lie, going through the motions of prepping for a race put me right back in college, reigniting those pre-race nerves. My body and brain knew it was time to race (even if it was purely for fun!).

My favorite part of this race is the start. Since I was in the Media Heat, the field was small so the corral wasn’t jam packed like the normal ones. That meant I could put my toe right on the start line. Ahead of me was the pace truck and a straight stretch of Fifth Avenue framed by skyscrapers and elm trees from the park. For a moment, I could imagine what it’s like to be an elite. Not to mention the anticipation of tearing down the middle of a wide open NYC road was killing me.

With a 30-second warning (cue another round of adrenaline), then the gun, off we went! I think I went through the first quarter in maybe 82 or 83 (WAY too fast) and the 800 in 2:42. Then began the internal battle – I had only 800 meters to go, but man was I hurting already. I might be rusty racing distances like this, but they were tricky then and it was tricky on Sunday. To keep pushing or save something for a kick, that was the dilemma.

I held on and attempted to keep my pace, shifting into a slightly faster gear for the last 100 meters. The crowds got progressively louder and more awesome the closer I got to the finish line, so I tried to feed off their energy. I might’ve been dying inside, but I was having a blast.

And with that, it was over. Short, sweet, and seriously ass-kicking. (It’s amazing how racing a mile and cram the feeling of hitting “the wall” in a marathon into just 1,609 meters.) I ended up sneaking just under my PR, running 5:39 for a second Media Heat win in a row. The funny thing about the mile? I want to do it again, like now. It’s like riding a roller coaster. Let’s go again! Let’s go again!

My with my coworkers Budd and Robert. Thanks Erica for the shot!

My with my coworkers Budd and Robert. Thanks Erica for the photo!

The cherry on top of the cake was watching the pro race that was jam-packed with Olympians and World Champions, then sneaking in a quick congrats to Jenny Simpson (who’s back AND better than ever!) and Nick Symmonds.

This race is definitely making it’s way onto my yearly must-do list. The 20 blocks turn into a running party all morning long and it’s just flat out fun. If you want to read more about my experience, check out this post I wrote for RW’s Race Tour Book Column!

2013 Nissan Fifth Ave Mile

QUOTE OF THE POST: “I told him I was nervous about this because Brussels didn’t go well and I haven’t really raced at 1500 for a while, and he said ‘If you’re nervous, just run as far as you can.’ So that’s what I did. Sometimes the easiest instructions are the best instructions.” – Jenny Simpson to her coach Mark Wetmore before her win on Sunday

Race Report | Saucon Rail Trail 10K

Screen shot 2013-09-02 at 5.36.37 PMIf there’s one thing I’ve learned from my year of post-collegiate racing, it’s this: After crossing the finish line, head directly toward the nearest trash can or open field because I’m… about to throw up. (Don’t mind me, it’ll pass! Just gimme a sec…)

My coworker Meghan, who also won her age group at the 10K today (RW represent!), wondered out loud why we keep racing when, frankly, running so hard that you want to throw up at the finish really isn’t that much fun. Why exactly did we choose to race 6.2 miles in 90% humidity when we could’ve stayed in our cozy beds and let the thunderstorm lull us back to sleep?

Because it’s fun to test ourselves. It’s fun to be able to justify a post-race root beer float (and possibly a doughnut). It’s fun to write “PR” in your training log and decorate it with highlighters. It’s fun to endure those tough miles knowing that you might catch a second wind down the road. And it’s fun knowing that everyone around you is hurting just like you are and that they, too, made the decision to get after it instead of sleeping in today.

I know this isn’t a revolutionary realization, but today’s race reminded me that feeling like crap during a race–because let’s face it, it’s inevitable–IS FUN.

I’ll be the first to admit that there were many weekends in high school and college where I absolutely dreaded racing. Sometimes I’d be so nervous that I’d cry during warmups. Ugh.

I was afraid of the pain I knew was coming. I was afraid of the outcome, good or bad. I was afraid of what others would think of my results. I was afraid of letting myself down. You don’t need a glaring newsflash to know this isn’t a good way to go into a race.

But this morning I stood on the line with 10,000 meters ahead of me, anxious to find out what I could do. The difference between today and most of my racing career, though, was this: I was excited to see what I could do, too. I wasn’t afraid. I was confident. Granted, this wasn’t a goal race by any means, but I knew a PR and an age group (or maybe even an overall) award were within reach.

Before now, even that tiny bit of self-imposed pressure had the power to ruin a race before the gun fired. And because every race felt like the end all, be all of my running career, I was blind to the bigger picture.

A starting line is a runner’s opportunity to do something great, something meaningful. By stepping over that line, you make yourself vulnerable to both success AND failure. That moment is never wasted if you dare to cross it fearlessly in the first place. The key is to learn and grow from both outcomes. Strive for and cherish the good races; remember to accept and move beyond the bad ones.

Today was one of the good ones. I knew my legs might still feel Hood to Coast and Saturday’s 16-miler. I knew it was friggin’ humid outside. I knew that I usually avoid 10Ks at all costs. BUT I felt surprisingly fresh during my warmup, and I had a summer’s worth of speedwork and steamy lunch runs under my belt. I had nothing to lose, everything to gain.

The first three miles felt smooth and under control. I was definitely a bit fast, but lord knows I can’t go out slow and run negative splits for the life of me. I played cat and mouse with the other women around me, sticking to their hips, surging ahead before they’d pass me back. We went back and forth for the entire second half of the race. It hurt like heck, but that didn’t matter. I was competing. And it was fun. 

I even dug down deep for the final .2, missing third overall female by a second. And yes, I rushed through the chute to go gag in private and spare the poor spectating kids from witnessing a potentially nasty, but necessary scene. (Thankfully, it was a false alarm today!)

I pushed myself this morning, and it was worth it.

Annnnd an apparently meaningless 10K can inspire me to hash out the finer details of my running career. Who knew? (I certainly didn’t before I started writing this post!)

Here’s to hoping I choose to fearlessly cross many, many more starting lines knowing that I very well may end up looking like this (taken after Big Sur in April) when I finish: photoQUOTE OF THE POST: “What I’ve learned from running is that the time to push hard is when you’re hurting like crazy and you want to give up. Success is often just around the corner.” ― James Dyson

Friday Faves | Pies and Surprises!

In no particular order of importance (or on any scale whatsoever), here’s this week’s Friday Faves…just a teeny tiny bit late:

  • In what might be the sweetest (pun intended) use of social media ever, two sinfully delicious pies were delivered to my coworkers desk in celebration of Pi(e) Day. She tweeted that she wished we had pie at RW HQ, and not two hours later, @Stridebox had pies delivered to her desk. Long story short, this:

    lead to this:BFWEaNjCYAAZ_Q9Seriously. Read the whole story via Storify here.

  • For the ladies: Now I might be mistaken for a 12-year-old boy when it come to my chest, but this post titled “Have Boobs, Will Test Your Sports Bras” from Once Upon A (L)ime had me laughing literally every other line (and also made me grateful that I’m small). She’s my newest follow on my blog reader, and I can’t wait to read what else she has to say!
  • I added two races to my race calendar this week: the NYC Half on Sunday (stay tuned for a Race Report) and the Golden Gate Relay (I found out one of my legs goes over the Golden Gate Bridge! AHH!) Best. Surprise. Ever!
  • These still-so-freakin’-cool Flyknits left over from the paint-themed photo shoot for the Spring Shoe Guide:
  • “8. Running when all I want to do is eat and sleep and stay snuggled under a nice comfy blanket.” – from Shalane Flanagan’s post about 13 things she hates about running. She should pin Jordan’s tweet (below) up somewhere because it’s awesome. I should, too.
  • This video for the Boston Marathon Banner Day. Gives me chills! 30 MORE DAYS!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “I love this time of spring. It’s starting to get warm, the end of training is in sight (or at least the taper is), and I can practically smell the vaseline Boston feels so close. I’m so excited for you. There is nothing like the first Boston! It’s so much fun! We’re going to have a great time.” – in an email from my coworker, gazillion-time marathoner, and RW Challenge coach extraordinaire, Jen Van Allen

Friday Faves | From the Twitterverse

For this edition of “Friday Faves,” I pulled a few of my “favorited” tweets from this week:

QUOTE OF THE POST: “For me, running is a lifestyle and an art.  I’m far more interested in the magic of it than the mechanics.” – Lorraine Moller