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.

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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.

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MCM Training | 98 Days ‘Til Go Time

Switched roles and was the interviewee at a 5K I ran last weekend!

Switched roles and was the interviewee at a 5K I ran last weekend!

Hello run-blog universe! Long time, no see everyone!

It’s been far, far too long since I’ve posted here. To get my blogging butt in gear, I’m dusting off the keyboard with a Marine Corps Marathon training update, the first of what’ll become a weekly series until October 27.

MCM will be my fifth (!) marathon, and I’m racing it through work with the Runner’s World Challenge, which, by the way, is one of the coolest running programs around. Not only do you get access to my colleagues’ seasoned advice and coaching, BUT you get VIP treatment on race weekend. Know what that means? Private porta-potties. That’s right. Join us, it’s worth it. (Got questions about it? Ask ’em below.)

Last year I worked the event and got to celebrate post-race with all of the Challengers. No matter the outcome of their race, every finisher said MCM was an incredible experience. One runner’s recap even moved me to tears. That was all the inspiration I needed to want to join in myself in 2013.

So here we are, just 98 days away from 26.2 miles through our nation’s Capitol. And let’s just say my training is off to a, uhhh, bumpy start. The RW Run Streak got me hopped up on speed and strength, which helped me run a post-college 5K PR of 19:42 (and snag a top overall female win!) at a race my old teammate puts on in honor of her mother last weekend. I’ve also been consistently hitting the gym two to three times a week, and I’m already feeling stronger head-to-toe. (And get this, I figured out how to enjoy planks, even the dreaded side planks! Rather that holding a position until my core gives out, I’m rotating positions every 20 seconds, doing at least three sets per gym session. Plus, according to my roomie, shorter bursts are better because you’re more likely to hold proper form. Rock hard abs, here I come!)

photo 2But…that momentum came to a screeching halt when I went on vacation with my family last week. I did one glorious run with my Dad on the beach, but that was it. I’ll be honest, whenever I’m with my family, running goes on the back-burner. I hardly ever see them, so the time is precious. I’d rather be with them than on the roads alone. I’ve got 50 other weeks to do that.

As much as I needed to hit the mental reset button, I’m ready to dive right back in to training. Taking a week off from the get-go has left me a bit anxious, but I know that my off-season streak and newfound need to lift stuff has given me a solid base. Since strict day-by-day plans are still the bane of my existence, I’m going to keep up my flexible routine. Here’s a rundown of my goals and what I’m hoping to do training-wise:

  • This race marks just over a year anniversary since my first marathon. I haven’t run as fast since, so I’d be thrilled with a PR. Don’t care by how much, but you know, deep down I’d love to cross the line in the low 3:2X’s.
  • Speaking of that uber-successful first marathon, I went through my training log and wrote down what I did for my long runs leading up to Steamtown. The goal is to more or less copy that progression since it worked so well last time. Don’t fix what ain’t broken, right?
  • Ideally I’d like to do some sort of speed session once per week, because I finally got the itch to do genuine workouts. It took a year, but the desire has returned. Whether it’s doing Wednesday intervals at work or throwing a tempo run into the mix, upping my turnover to offset those long, slow distance runs will hopefully make me faster come October.
  • No excuses, I’m going to lift at least twice a week. A third time and/or yoga is a bonus.
  • I trained through the heat last year and it paid off. Every time I want to skip out on a run because of the sauna-like conditions, I’ll wipe the sweat out of my eyes and focus on that fact. Yes, summer running sucks, but remembering that it’s only going to get cooler will make those miserable miles worthwhile. And hey, maybe that’s why I ran as fast as I did at Steamtown!

Long story short, my weekly routine should look like this: 1 long run + 2-3 lifting sessions + 1 speed workout – any heat-related excuses = a successful Marine Corps Marathon.

That being said, I’m off to the gym! Tomorrow, I think I’m going to break out the earbuds, knock out 12 miles as early as possible, and use coffee, a strawberry-banana-chocolate crepe, and a nap as incentive to get ‘er done.

Until next week, happy running everyone!

QUOTE OF THE POST: There’s no such thing as bad weather, just soft people. – Bill Bowerman

Race Report | Big Sur International Marathon

484561_10200887983740417_1146771719_nTo say the Big Sur International Marathon course is stunning, breathtaking, surreal, awe-inspring, and downright b-e-a-U-tiful is an understatement. Holy freakin’ smokes. I still can’t really believe that I ran on it. For this reason, I included three slideshows (one for pre-race, race, and post-race shots) to try to somehow capture its magnificence. To be honest, the photos only capture a fraction of the route’s grandeur. More on this later – had to put that out there because you can’t really start a Big Sur Marathon recap without saying that this place might just be heaven on earth. Anywho…

Our Big Sur taste-buds were whetted with a drive down Highway 1 in, get this, a red Mini Cooper. We took in the sights, dipped our toes in the Pacific Ocean, flirted with some high school boys chucking Red Vines at us while we were stuck in traffic, and took a pit stop for the world’s most delicious strawberries. Umm…can we stay…like…forever? After a full day of travel on Friday, we arrived in Monterey exhausted, but completely excited for the weekend.

I had very mixed emotions about this race. I desperately needed to escape the endless stream of all things Boston Marathon. (That laughter-filled first road trip on Highway 1 thankfully provided that.) But for that very same reason, this race took on a whole new level of significance. Running Boston to Big Sur wasn’t just a fun physical challenge anymore. For me (and for every runner on that course Sunday morning), it symbolized the beginning of the healing process. It was one of the first steps toward proving that the running community is strong, resilient, and just can’t be stopped.  We might’ve been hundreds of miles away, but you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a Boston Marathon race shirt or jacket. It was a powerful sight to say the least. For many reasons, I knew this race would be unlike any I have ever run.

After expo-ing all day Saturday (where I met a Challenger who’s a fellow El Pasoan! AHH!), the girls and I got dinner on the wharf. We had the most eccentric, hysterical waiter who literally tempted us with strawberry-topped desserts by waving them in front of our faces before serving one to another customer. (Yes, I gave in and ordered some. Nom.) We visited the sea lions on the dock–cue the aargh, aargh, aargh sounds!–before the highlight of the evening: the course tour. Our gear guy Jeff drove Hannah, Beachy and I from the finish to the start and back. And let me put it this way, I spent the whole ride exclaiming, “We get to RUN on this tomorrow! WOW! Look at that!” I was beyond excited to put my bib on and run.

Pre-Race Photos

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On race morning, after getting excited at all of our Runner’s World Challengers in the lobby, we loaded the buses for our hour-long ride to the start. The darkness and eerie fog made this drive unique from my two other pre-marathon bus rides. It only fueled my anticipation for the race.

When we arrived, the runner’s village was buzzing. I’m seriously growing to love this road-racing atmosphere. It truly is a celebration. The girls and I tied our #Run4Boston yellow and blue ribbons in our hair, applied some last-minute Body Glide, snapped some pre-race shots, and made our way to the start.

While we waited for the air horn, the official starter, a representative from the Boston Marathon named Ron Kramer, took the microphone. He spoke about what this race meant for Boston, then began a moment of silence for the victims followed by an uproar of applause for all of the heroes from that day. The crowd then joined together to sing the National Anthem. Another powerful moment. The crowd was ready to run.

The always exhilarating rush of nervous excitement carried me through the first few miles. I’d decided to run this race “naked,” in other words, without a watch, because I didn’t want to be glued to my GPS screen. The goal was to listen to my body, soak in the sights, let my mind wander, and just run. I ran with my colleague Jen for the first four or five miles, taking an easy pace before we reached the coast.

Surprisingly, I felt really good, so I decided to pick up the pace and have a little fun. A convoy of cars, one of which carried my coworkers Bart Yasso, Amby Burfoot, and our brand editor Warren, provided some early words of encouragement. Once we reached the ocean, I was instantly struck by the beauty surrounding me. The sun was out, the air was cool, the ocean a gorgeous shade of blue that perfectly complemented the towering green mountains on my right. It wasn’t long before I yanked my phone out to snap some photos. I held my phone the rest of the way, taking photos while I ran. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • The taiko drummers whose beats echoed through the entire valley before we started our ascent up Hurricane Point at Mile 10. This was like my high school drum line on steroids. Check ’em out (and excuse my awkward moment of bliss at the end):
  • The glorious downhill afterward that carried us toward the famous Bixby Bridge and the equally famous piano man just after the halfway point. He played “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri when I ran by. Imagine running in that epic setting listening to this:
  • Literally feeling those crazy hill-filled training runs pay off. I cruised up every hill and loved every downhill. I had no clue what pace I was going, but it didn’t matter–I was having a blast.
  • The hysterical mile markers along the way (there are a few in the slideshow). Those Californians have a sense of humor, that’s for sure.
  • Running into Beachy and Cait and a few of the Challengers along the way. Out of all of the people in the race, it was awesome seeing familiar faces!
  • The too-yummy-to-be-real strawberry I ate at Mile 24. Again, can I just stay here, please?
  • Seeing Boston Marathon race shirts and bibs on literally every inch of that course. Along the way, one such woman commented on my ribbons. We chatted briefly about Boston, then she perfectly summarized our feelings about running this race after Boston. She said, simply, “This is a happy run.”

Race Photos

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I continued to feel great until, you know, “The Wall” around mile 20 or 21. All the fun I had with the hills came back to bite me. I started cramping in my quads and hips, so I slowed my pace and settled into survival mode for the final miles full of more rolling hills in the Highlands paired with some yucky road camber. I was thankful I didn’t have my watch to see how much I’d slowed down. After what we’ve called “an insult” of a final hill, the course ended with a downhill toward the finish line. The satisfaction of finishing a marathon never ceases to amaze me. It’s addicting. On Sunday, I finished for those who couldn’t in Boston.

I was greeted by Bart, Warren, and the Boston Marathon representative afterward. He asked me if I was able to finish Boston, then congratulated me on my races. I tried to thank him for being there, but I’m pretty sure it was some garbled nonsense. I was spent. Still, after spending much of the race reflecting on all that happened in Boston, it was again, another powerful moment.

I wobbled over to our tent, pulled on some dry clothes, snagged a smoothie, and headed back toward the finish line area to wait for Hannah to finish. Before I knew it, I spotted her cruising toward the line, smiling while she ran. I can’t tell you how awesome it was to witness her finishing her first marathon. It’s such a life-changing moment, and it was incredible to see her months and miles of hard work pay off. Read her full recap here.
Post-Race Photos

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Overall, it was indeed, unlike any other race I’ve ever run, and I fully intend to run the Boston to Big Sur double again next year if I get the chance. Jen described my feelings about this race perfectly when she said running is a passport to adventures you wouldn’t otherwise have. Exactly. I ended up running 3:43:14, just under three minutes slower than what I ran in Boston 13 days earlier. And I loved every second of it.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “And that’s what you’ve taught us, Boston. That’s what you’ve reminded us — to push on. To persevere. To not grow weary. To not get faint. Even when it hurts. Even when our heart aches. We summon the strength that maybe we didn’t even know we had, and we carry on. We finish the race. We finish the race. And we do that because of who we are. And we do that because we know that somewhere around the bend a stranger has a cup of water. Around the bend, somebody is there to boost our spirits. On that toughest mile, just when we think that we’ve hit a wall, someone will be there to cheer us on and pick us up if we fall. We know that.” – President Obama, excerpt from his speech at the Boston service