Stacking Up More Hay in the Barn

Immediately on the heels of a fantastic Parkway Classic 10-Miler I dove head-first into another fantastic race weekend, this time involving some of my favorite Internet weirdos!

Saturday, April 29th, was the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K and 50 Miler (and a marathon, but we didn’t know anyone running it, so who cares?), which Angie, Steve, Abby, and Chris were all participating in, and which Vanessa, Bob, Ken, Sara, and I were all spectating/cheering for. And then Sunday, April 29th, was the inaugural National Women’s Half-Marathon, which Liz, Sara, and I were all running, and everyone else was spectating! So much moral support to fit into two days ❤

To kick things off, I met up with Angie for lunch on Friday afternoon when she came into town to pick up her and Steve’s packets for the 50 Milers. The fact that we’d just seen in each other in Raleigh only three weeks earlier didn’t slow down the talking. It also gave us a chance to strategize for the next day, when I was planning on jumping in to pace her for the last of three loops that she’d be running on the section of the course that was accessible to spectators and pacers. Let’s be honest: I was more nervous about the 7 miles I’d be running than she was about all 50! I’m so inexperienced on trails, and obviously didn’t want to do anything horribly wrong as a pacer that could negatively impact her race. But this was kind of a perfect first pacing opportunity, because Angie can run 50 miles in her sleep at this point, and was basically letting me tag along for my own fun and not because she actually needed the assistance.

On Saturday morning, I woke up bright and early, picked up my rental car (car-free life is great most of the time, except for when you need to get out to the middle of nowhere for races!), and drove across town to pick up Sara from the friend’s house where she’d been staying earlier that week. We then hit the road out to Great Falls, VA, about 45 minutes outside DC. We got to the aid station area and met up with Ken, Vanessa, and Bob just in time to see Angie come through for the first time (Mile 15ish). We’d just missed Steve, but we’d see him again after each of the three loops they ran around Great Falls park. It was great to see Bob and Vanessa and Ken, since it had been a long time since I’d hung out with any of them! After Angie went through, we moved closer to the aid station and set up our chairs and picnic blanket to mark our spot for the rest of the afternoon. This is the central hub of the race, and we’d see the 50K runners come through on their way in and again on their way out after a single loop, and we’d see the 50 Mile runners a bunch of times as they completed three loops: at miles 15, 22, 29, and 36 before they set back out on the 14-mile trek to the Start/Finish at a different park. It was a lot of fun to hang out in the park with my fellow spectators, chit-chatting about all manner of things and cheering for all of the runners coming through the aid station.

At 11:45am, Angie came in from her second loop and picked me up to run her third and final loop. By this point it was hot (75*) and sunny, but Angie looked as strong and steady as ever. We set out onto the trail after she’d replenished some fluids, and met up with another runner that she’d been running with for most of the day. Rachel was doing her first 50 Miler that day, and had been wisely taking in all of the advice Angie was doling out! The three of us ran together for most of those 7 miles, and chatted on and off as we navigated the technical terrain of the park. I was having SO MUCH FUN running and power-hiking in the woods and soaking up the dramatic change of scenery from my usual road and bike path routes. It was a gorgeous day to be out in the woods, the technical course was an awesome challenge for me, and the volunteers were so helpful and perky at all of the check points and aid stations. Plus I was running with a totally badass ultra veteran who makes this stuff look easy.

All too soon for me (though probably not for Angie given how much farther she’d run by then!) we came back into the main aid station and heard the cheers of our friends.

Angie and Caitlin

Angie took off for the last 14 miles, and we packed up our picnic stuff and headed back to our cars to drive over to the finish area and wait for our runners. Abby and Chris had already finished by the time we got to the beer garden, and they met up with us shortly after we got ourselves settled at a table. There was more chatting, with beer this time, and watching the tired, muddy, happy runners come through the finish chute. Sara and I were able to stay and see Steve finish, and then we had to drive back into the city to meet up with the final member of our weekend crew: Liz!

The three of us met up for dinner at a pizza place downtown (because carb loading is important!), and then called it an early night in preparation for our own race the next morning: the inaugural National Women’s Half-Marathon. We shared a ride home since Liz’s hotel was near my apartment (Sara was staying with me that night to simplify race morning logistics), got our flat girls ready, and hit the sack.

flat caitlin

This half-marathon was just supposed to be a fun run for me, since I’d raced hard the previous weekend, and had two more long races in just a couple of weeks (to be continued in the next bloop…) So I decided that since it was a women’s race, and I wasn’t going for a time goal, it was the PERFECT opportunity to bust out the Wonder Woman running costume that I’d gotten last summer for the Vermont 100 on 100 relay! I’d decided on this race outfit several weeks ago, when I assumed that a race on April 29th in Washington, DC, would likely be pretty warm. The reality was that it was 35 degrees out with a windchill in the mid-20s (!!) that morning. But I was way too invested in my costume plan at this point, so I added some arm warmers and called it good. It would only be a couple hours of suffering, right?

Wonder Woman pre-race

Sara and I had coffee and breakfast, and then headed out to pick up Liz at her hotel, and then share a Lyft down to the start line near the Lincoln Memorial. It was dark and oh so cold out! Definitely not what anyone expected of a late-April race in this area. We got the start area soon enough, and joined the crowd of bundled-up women heading over to the port-a-potties and the bag check. The wind was pretty relentless, but I was somewhat comforted by the fact that what would likely be the windiest part of the course was in the early miles, so we’d get it out of the way quickly.

My race plan was simple: run comfortably and have fun. Ideally I wanted to run strategically enough to negative split, because that type of pacing isn’t deeply ingrained yet, and it’s always good to practice racing that way (or so Coach says). I figured I’d start off at an easy 8:45-9ish minute pace, and see how that felt after a few miles, and pick up the pace from there, with an aim to finish a bit under 2:00:00. After all, I’d just raced a week ago and there wasn’t much point in pushing myself to run hard in a non-goal race.

Well. My legs had other ideas.

half marathon splits

I FELT SO FREAKING GOOD!! I blame the costume. There was just no reasoning with it. The first mile felt super easy and fun, but the first mile often does when you’re burning off the adrenaline of the start corral. I figured around Mile 2 or 3 I’d start to feel a little tired and would rein things in, and deal with the bonk when it happened. But the bonk never came! And I felt so energized the entire race! It definitely helped that I was getting SO MANY wonderful cheers from both the spectators and from the other runners, especially on the out-and-back section. I’d expected a race like this to have a pretty strong costume game, but I was the only one that I saw, and I totally soaked up all the extra mojo.

Wonder Woman 2018 half

I figured the crash would come eventually, and I’d just enjoy the ride until then. But nope! I hit halfway still feeling great, and figured I might as well step it up a little bit and try to negative split. I finally started feeling a little bit tired at Mile 11, but shortly thereafter I saw the whole gang of friends cheering! I got high-fives down the line, and that gave me a great boost. I made the final big turn back towards the finish line, and ran into (pretty much literally) the only negative part of this whole race: the back of the pack of the 8K. They’d apparently been instructed to stay on the left side of the road, but of course they didn’t and there were many people walking the last mile of the 8K (in large groups, naturally) all over both sides of the road and I, and the other half runners, had to dodge and weave around them. Not the end of the world by any means, but pretty darn annoying when you’re trying to finish strong in the last half-mile of a race!

I crossed the finish line in 1:45:46! Only 19 seconds slower than my PR from New Orleans in March! (I 100% blame the 8K walkers for those 19 seconds, but oh well).

I got my medal, hurried over to bag check so that I could get back into my warm coat, and then walked over to where the friends were cheering to join them! We cheered for a while longer and saw Sara come by (apparently I’d just missed Liz), and then we walked up to the closest coffee shop to thaw out before our brunch reservations.

Medal and coffee

It was so cold out and the coffee tasted so good!

post-race coffee

Liz had waited for Sara to finish, so they walked up together and met us at the coffee shop just in time for us to all walk over to our brunch spot. We enjoyed warm food and bottomless brunch beverages!

Brunch mimosa

All in all, an extremely successful race weekend!

Loopster brunch

I still can’t quite believe how fantastic I felt during that race. It makes me feel so good about my training and fitness, especially since I still have six months to go until Rehoboth. The barn isn’t close to full yet, but the hay is definitely starting to pile up.

 

 

 

My Favorite Race of the Year!

There are some sure signs of spring’s arrival that I look forward to each year. Birds singing in the mornings again. The sun coming up before I’m done with my pre-work run. Daffodils and tulips poking their colorful heads out, even through the snow sometimes. Cherry blossoms of course. And the George Washington Parkway Classic 10-Miler! This was my very first double-digit run back in 2012 (only a couple of weeks before I broke my ankle), and I’ve run it every year since. It’s become my favorite DC-area race due to its beautiful course, reliably crisp spring weather, and well-organized logistics. It is also typically held the Sunday after the Boston Marathon, so I’m usually still a little high on all the excitement of tracking superstar Loopsters on Marathon Monday as I head to my own race. The fact that I’ve PRed there all but one year doesn’t hurt either…

This year, the Parkway Classic was designated as my big spring goal race by Coach, so most of my workouts over the last few months have been aimed at this, with a target 10M pace of 7:40-7:30. This would be a good 30+ seconds per mile faster than I ran this race last year, so this felt like an audacious goal. But I’ve learned to do as Coach says, and even if things went poorly, it was “only” a 10-miler, and life wouldn’t be terrible for too long before the finish line.

April 22nd looked to be another perfect spring race day: sunny with an overnight low in the mid-40s and a high in the mid-50s, with a light breeze. I got Flat Caitlin ready and made it an early night given the ridiculous time that I needed to leave the next morning to get the shuttle to the start.

flat caitlin

I left my apartment at o’ dark thirty to board the shuttle bus that would take me from downtown DC to the start line out at Mount Vernon in Alexandria, VA. It was a long ride, but I chatted with a few of the runners sitting near me, mostly about how crazypants Boston was, and about upcoming race plans. We got to the start just as the sun was coming up and illuminating the little athletes’ village on the lawn of George Washington’s estate. I like to get to the start excessively early (one year of having to sprint off the bus, drop my bag, and race to the start corral just in time for the gun to go off was enough, so now I over-correct), so I found a nice place to camp out and killed some time on social media, since runner friends are reliably up early.

This was my second time running, and first time racing, in my new Nike Vaporfly 4% shoes, which look pretty darn cool with neon socks.

Neon socks and magic shoes

Eventually it came to be time to ditch my warm layers, check my bag, and go do my prescribed 2-mile warmup. I headed off down the bike path alongside the parkway we’d be running on, and immediately didn’t feel awesome. There was no reason not to feel awesome: the weather was perfect, all my workouts leading up to today had been stellar, it had been 7 full weeks since the New Orleans half-marathon, and I was wearing my magic shoes. But I just didn’t have any pep in my step, and it was a struggle to get those warmup miles under a 9:00 pace. I tried hard not to dwell on that, and told myself that race-day adrenaline would kick in once I was in the company of the other runners. I made my way back to the start line, and got into my corral.

A few minutes later, the gun sounded and we were heading off down the parkway! There’s a big downhill right at the start, so I made sure to keep my pace in check and tried to just stay relaxed. My plan (i.e. Coach’s plan) was to try to hit the upper end of my pace target (7:40/mile) right away, and camp out there for the first 3-4 miles. Then I would try to drop the pace by 5 seconds or so for the next 5K, and then try to drop the hammer as much as I could for the final 5K and bring it in at whatever pace I could manage (preferably under 7:30).

I clicked off the first mile right on target, but the downhill start provided a big assist. Once the road leveled out and we entered into several miles of small-but-noticeable rolling hills, it was a much harder effort to hold that 7:40 pace than I wanted it to be. I tried to focus on the mile I was in, rather than worrying about how I was possibly going to drop the pace come Mile 4 when Mile 2 felt so hard. I also had the added mental boost/torture of knowing that Coach had signed up for live tracking, so she would know if I’d been able to follow our plan before I’d even finished the race.

I finished Mile 4 and knew that it was time to pick it up. I told myself that it was just one mile at a time. I could run this one mile at 7:35 pace and then see where I was. I focused on the upbeat tempo of my music and dug in.

7:34. Boom. Ok self, you’re halfway done now, and the back half of the course has more downhills. You got this. And COACH IS WATCHING.

Hitting my Phase 2 target right when I was supposed to provide a major confidence boost (as did finally getting to the nice long downhill in Mile 6!). Miles 6 and 7 clicked off relatively quickly, and then it was just the final three miles to go. Phase 3. Drop the hammer and race. I pretended to be the kind of runner that actually “races” during a race and started picking out people ahead that I could try to catch up to and pass. I tried not to look at my watch as much as possible during this last phase and just ran as hard as I could manage. There was one final short-but-steep hill right at the Mile 9 marker, a left-hand turn onto Union Street, and then about 0.75 miles straight to the finish line. I caught up to one of the women I’d chatted with on the bus who had been just ahead of me for the last few miles, and as I passed her she picked up her pace and we raced each other down the last quarter-mile or so (I won by a few meters).

Finished!!

Finish line picture

I waited a minute for my new friend to finish (we follow each other on Strava now). We high-fived and congratulated each other as we made our way over to where they were handing out breakfast tacos (totally a step up from the usual boring snack boxes from past years!).

I was eager to get my checked bag so that I could upload my Garmin data and look at all my splits together. I knew that I’d hit my target paces and had negative split as we’d planned, but I wanted to see the pretty pretty graph that proved it.

Splits

Official results:

official results

PR by 7 minutes!

I went over to the beer garden and found some run club friends who had finished earlier, and enjoyed some liquid recovery.

medal and beer

More people joined the party as they finished, and it was fun as always to rehash the race, talk about upcoming race plans, etc. with runner friends. I love this race so much.

Pacers group

medal selfie

I headed out with one of the run club friends to go meet some other run club friends (who didn’t race this morning) for brunch. Obviously, such a great race called for an appropriately celebratory brunch drink.

celebratory milkshake

Another year, another fantastic Parkway Classic.

Parkway Classic medal collection

(They didn’t start giving out medals until my third year, which was the race’s 30th anniversary, so I don’t have a medal for all my times doing it. But it is pretty cool that I have all the medals that this race has ever given out!)

Next up: the National Women’s Half-Marathon in one week!

RnR New Orleans Runcation!

About a month ago, I journeyed to the Big Easy to run a half-marathon with a group of friends from my local running store run club and, spoiler alert, it was awesome!! This was my first time in New Orleans, and my first time traveling with this group of people (they’ve done some other destination races together in years past, but I’m kind of new to the group), so I was a little nervous. I was also a little anxious about the race, because switching from the full down to the half meant that this was now a Goal Race, and would be the first big test of how my training was going with the new coach and leading up to December’s Big Goal.

We left DC on Friday 3/2, which was that absurdly windy day on the East Coast, with gusts in the 40-50mph range and sustained winds well over 20mph. Just the kind of day you want to be flying! We were incredibly lucky though – the majority of flights out of National were cancelled, but somehow Southwest was still getting its planes off the ground.

On the plane, enjoying Southwest’s open seating policy:

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After the most nerve-wracking, stomach-rolling takeoff of my life, we had a short, uneventful flight to NOLA.

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We landed around 7pm, checked into the hotel, and immediately headed out to the French Quarter for dinner. We ended up at an Irish bar called Erin Rose, which has a tiny po’ boy shop in the back called Killer Po’ Boys. The seared shrimp was delicious!

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We didn’t go too wild and crazy the first night, and my roommates and I were up early on Saturday morning so we headed to the Warehouse District to find some coffee. We ended up at a cute little coffee shop and got fancy cups of pour-over, which were made with LOTS of flair by the barista. He even had different temperature water for different types of beans. That is a level of coffee snobbery that I will never reach. It might have been the tastiest cup of coffee I’ve ever had though!

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After our coffee outing, we met up with a few other people from the group for a 3ish mile shakeout run, which I ended up leading because I was the only person who had looked at a map to figure out a route. My route ended at Cafe du Monde, because I’m not stupid.

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(Also, after the cold, windy, gross weather we’d been having in DC for months, it was SO NICE to run in short sleeves and soak up the sunshine!)

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Some people spent the morning at a cooking class, others went to a yoga class to stretch out before the race the next day. I spent a couple hours wandering around the French Quarter, which is a very different place in the daylight!

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Later that afternoon, we walked to the convention center for packet pickup. I saw these beads adorning a mailbox on someone’s house.

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This was a memorial to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, which was really poignant and interesting to see.

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We all reconvened at the expo, and managed to get one picture with the entire group!

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After the expo, I had an early dinner at a delicious Italian place with about half the group (the other half had made reservations elsewhere), and then called it an early night. But not before getting Flat Caitlin ready of course!

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I was up at o’dark thirty to eat my bagel and peanut butter in dark so as not to disturb my roommates, both of whom were cheering instead of racing and so didn’t need to be up anytime soon. Thank goodness for back-lit Kindles!

I left with most of the other half/full runners (the 10K started earlier than the half/full, so those runners had already left) to walk to the starting area, which was only a few blocks from our hotel. I dropped off my checked bag, did 5-10 minutes of light jogging and some strides to loosen up, and mostly just paced around nervously. It was already warm enough that I wasn’t very chilly in my tank and shorts, and the sun was strong. My goal pace, according to Coach, as 7:41. Which just seemed absolutely crazypants! My prior half-marathon PR was 1:52:26, an 8:35ish pace. To be going out with a goal of a PR in the 10-minute neighborhood felt way too bold. But I figured what the heck? It’s “only” a half! If I blew up, I blew up, and it would only be bad for a handful of miles. But I wouldn’t know unless I tried. The course was totally flat; the biggest challenge would be the weather, since at 70+ degrees and sunny, it was solidly 30-40 degrees warmer than what I’d been training in.

After a pep talk from Kathrine Switzer, the gun sounded and we were off! I definitely went out too fast, and that may have come back to bite me later. But I felt good for the moment! I got my pace back under control for the next 5 or so miles, but then the heat really started to get to me. I’ve learned that I am just not a warm-weather runner, despite 10 years of living in DC. I started to really feel off around the 10K mark, and struggled to keep my pace under 8:00/mile. I knew that I would be seeing our cheer crew at Mile 9, and told myself that I could stay strong and focused until then. I made it that far, and then no matter how many times I told myself that it’s only 4 more miles, then only 3 more miles, I just lost it. My legs felt like stone and I was so very hot. The last 5K felt interminable.

But I finally made it to the last stretch leading into the park where we finished, and I was able to push my pace back down for the final 0.1 to finish strong in 1:45:27! A PR by almost exactly 7 minutes!

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I was so very happy to be done!

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It is a pretty cool medal.

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I found a few of the faster half runners, and the 10K runners and we wandered back down the course to cheer on the rest of the people running the half. I stayed and cheered for a bit, but then needed to get back to the hotel to change for lunch. It turned out that an old friend and her husband happened to be in NOLA that weekend too, so I was able to meet up with them after the race! She’s a runner too, and is currently training for her first marathon back after a 4-year hiatus to have her kids, so we had lots to talk about! She’s crazy fast even after such a long break, and is going to be running Providence with a goal of BQing (again) so that she can run Boston 2019 for her 40th birthday.

Later that evening, I met up with my run club crew again and we headed out to the French Quarter for some shenanigans now that the work was done!

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We were told by locals that Frenchman Street is way better than Bourbon Street, so we headed that way for some live music.

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Monday morning, I got up and went to Cafe Beignet to do a scientific comparison with Cafe du Monde. My verdict: Cafe du Monde’s beignets are denser and chewier, and therefore better. But these were still delicious!

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Later in the morning, several of us did a cemetery tour in one of New Orleans’ historic cemeteries. It was super interesting!

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On Monday afternoon, I went for a nice easy run with one other girl from the group. I hadn’t met her before this trip (she used to live in DC and run with Pacers, but had moved to Tuscon for a job, so our paths hadn’t crossed), so it was really nice to chat with her on the run. We ran through the Garden District, which was much more enjoyable this time around than it had been the day before while I was suffering in the race. The houses were beautiful, and the flowers definitely lived up to the neighborhood’s name! One of my favorite things was that almost all the trees had Mardi Gras beads strewn all over them.

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We went four miles out, and then hopped on a streetcar and took it back a ways to meet up with some other folks for lunch at a Caribbean/Tiki place (what do those themes have in common? Rum!) While we were there, a sax player came by, and totally enthralled a baby a few tables over.

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Monday evening we explored some more bars in the French Quarter. At one point we successfully took over a cocktail bar and became the only people in it, which was a pretty solid accomplishment.

Our flight out wasn’t until 1pm on Tuesday, so I had time for one last beignet outing! I think these were beignets #10-12 of my weekend…

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Tuesday dawned pretty gross and rainy, so it was just as well that we were leaving.

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At the airport, my roommates and I enjoyed one last Abita Purple Haze before boarding.

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It was a blissfully short, uneventful flight back to DC! And this guy was definitely happy to have me back home.

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I’m so glad that I went on this trip! New Orleans was such a fun city to visit, and even though the race didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, I’m really happy with it. I think if it had been 20 degrees cooler, it would have been a whole different ballgame. And who can be sad about a 7-min PR??

Next up: the George Washington Parkway Classic 10-Miler, one of my favorite local races! It’ll be my 7th year running it, and apparently my goal pace is 7:30-7:40! My speed workouts have been going super well in the last month, and it’s a fast course (net downhill, only 2 turns) where I’ve PRed all but one year (I was injured). So we’ll see!

But first, I’m heading down to North Carolina this weekend to hang out with some of my most favorite people in the world! Carissa, Jen, Angie, and I will be volunteering at the Umstead 100 in Raleigh on Saturday for the second year in a row. And this time we aren’t running a marathon the next day, so it should be even more fun!

2018: Let’s Do This

My 2018 running year is off to a great start, and I think it’s time to share my Big Goal with you. Putting it in writing for consumption by an audience other than my mom and a few select friends who have gotten previews is absolutely terrifying for me, but I think it’s the good kind of terrifying. Which is largely how I feel about my goal for 2018 in the first place.

In 2018, I want to BQ minus 5 minutes. That will be a 3:30:00 marathon. A PR by 15 minutes and 21 seconds from last October. And I want to do it at Rehoboth in December.

Excuse me while I go breathe into a paper bag for a few minutes…

Ok, I’m back.

Like I said, 2018 is off to a great start. I’ve run two 5Ks and a 10K in the first two months of the year, and I have a half-marathon coming up this Sunday. In New Orleans! Yay!

When I decided that pursuing a BQ was going to be a real thing this year, and not just something I passively wanted but didn’t do anything in particular to accomplish, I knew I needed to step up my training game. I’ve been following the Hansons Marathon Method training plan for the last couple of years, and have had success with it, but I knew I wasn’t really making the most of it. I talked myself out of about ⅓ of the interval and tempo workouts in any marathon cycle because I didn’t like doing them, and it was easy to come up with reasons why I should just do an easy run instead. I still made improvements in the marathon, and ran them pretty well, but I wasn’t seeing anything like the improvements people were posting about in the Facebook group and I felt like my fitness was plateauing. Just being accountable to myself wasn’t cutting it, so I decided last fall that after Rehoboth 2017 I would sign up for Hansons Coaching Services and bring in reinforcements. Knowing that I was paying someone every month to get the Garmin data from each and every workout seemed like an effective way to make sure that I did each and every workout. Signing up for coaching also meant that my training plan would be customized not just to my running abilities and goals but also to my race plans and travel schedule. Since I’m me, by December 2017 I’d already registered for three marathons, a half-marathon, and a 10-miler for 2018! That is definitely more racing than Hansons recommends with their off-the-shelf training plans, so I was excited about working with a coach who could shape a training plan around the things I already wanted to do, and still aim for the Big Goal in December 2018.

And so far, it’s been everything I was hoping for and then some! My coach, Melissa, is awesome and was completely unfazed by both my ambitious (some might say audacious or even flat-out ridiculous) goal and the excessive amount of racing that I like to do each year. I only get 2-3 weeks of workouts at a time, which is VERY helpful for me as I am definitely prone to looking ahead in a training plan and getting all psyched out over the paces and distances in the later weeks. It also allows us to adjust the plan easily if anything comes up, like illness, injury, ridiculous winter weather, or work travel to places where running outside is a no-go. And every time I finish a run, my Garmin data is automatically uploaded to the Final Surge app, where she can see every last detail of my run. Because of that, I haven’t skipped a single run since we started working together in mid-December. That’s HUGE for me.

In addition to the added accountability making a difference in my consistency, having a coach tell me how fast I’m supposed to be doing speed and tempo workouts and the races I’ve done so far has been AMAZING for my confidence. For the first few speed workouts she had me do in January, the paces made me look like that bug-eyed emoji face and I was like, “Omg no way can that be my target pace! I can’t run that fast! What is Coach thinking?!?”

But you know what happened?

I DID run that fast.

As part of my ongoing realization that running is so very much a mental game, having Coach prescribe target paces that I thought were beyond my current abilities has made me faster. I might start out a workout with some doubts, but I also tell myself that I have to at least try because Coach told me to. And then I run the first interval or first tempo mile and absolutely nail the target pace and say to myself, “Oh! I CAN do it!”

2018 so far has already been vastly different than it would have been if I hadn’t gotten a coach. One thing that I’ve avoided like the plague has been racing short distances. I’m a marathoner! Why would I race a 5K? Those things hurt! Well, because Coach said I have to. And it turns out that they’re actually kind of fun in a weird, masochistic way. Kind of like speed work, as I’m also discovering.

So over MLK Day weekend, I ran my first race of the year: a small 5K along the C&O Canal Towpath out in Maryland that was organized by the DC Road Runners. This was intended to be sort of a benchmark race to see where my fitness was. I’d only been back to normal running for a few weeks after recovering from Rehoboth and had done just one very short speed workout beforehand. My 5K PR from last July was 23:54 (7:43 pace), but since that was set in an evening race in the heat and humidity of the DC summer, I was pretty sure I could beat that time in a small, flat race in January. The only daunting thing (you know, other than the entire idea of racing) was the wicked 20+ mph wind that day! But the race was an out-and-back, so I’d really only have the wind in my face for the second half.

I positive split the race like whoa, but that was pretty much inevitable with that wind. I went out a little bit faster than I probably should have, but the first half of the race felt surprisingly good (albeit tailwind-assisted). I finished in 22:56, a PR by 58 seconds!

MLK 5K splits

That race was a major confidence booster for me, and I spent the next few weeks ramping up my workouts a bit in preparation for back-to-back race weekends in February.

First up: the Love the Run You’re With 5K on February 11th, organized by my favorite LRS Pacers Running. I had hopes of another PR here, but I really should have looked at the course first. I made the mistake of assuming it was flat. It was very not flat:

Love the Run You're With elevation

So I gave up on the idea of a PR early in the first mile when I was panting my way up that first hill. But even though my pace was not what I was hoping for, I did manage a lovely negative split for this one:

love the run you're with splits

I finished in 23:48, which I’m actually pretty happy with. I didn’t realize until now that it was a faster time than last summer’s PR on a flat course, despite the hills. My coach also helped me realize that with there being so little room for error in a 5K, it’s not necessarily helpful to compare results from different races/different courses at that distance. So for this course, she was really happy with my pacing.

The weather was something of an improvement over the January race: low 50s and pouring rain instead of 20s and howling wind. There was a photo booth at the start line, so I hopped over to get my souvenir picture before we started:

2018 Love the Run Youre With 5K photo booth

The following weekend I ran the By George 10K, which was another very small race put on by the Potomac Valley Track Club. It was held down at Hains Point, which anyone who’s run the Marine Corps Marathon or Cherry Blossom 10-Miler will be familiar with. On the plus side, it’s very flat. But it’s sort of the Mt. Washington of DC – whatever weather the city is having, it’s amplified at Hains Point. Luckily on race down, it wasn’t tooooooo windy, so the wind down on the Point was only around 10mph.

The 10K course was a double version of the 5K course, which meant a double out-and-back. Not the most interesting course, but that was ok. It was actually kind of fun to get to see the other runners so many times during the race.

This was the first 10K I’ve actually raced. My only other time at this distance was the TinkerBell 10K that I ran/walked with my mom in Disneyland in 2014. I was pretty sure I could PR this one!

My strategy was to go out at a controlled pace and hold that for the first half, and then see if I could bring it down for the last three miles. My target for the first three miles was 7:40ish, and then I was hoping that I could get down to 7:30 in mile 4 and then closer to 7:20 for the final two miles. I didn’t quite manage that, but I’m still happy with how this race went:

By George 10K splits

The first three miles felt great, though mile 3 was back into the headwind, which I blame for the slight uptick in pace. While miles 4 and 5 weren’t quite as fast as I’d hoped, I was happy to see my pace dropping. But then mile 6 was back into the headwind, and I was spent. I was hoping for a final mile under 7:30, but I’m comfortable with the knowledge that I gave it all I had.

And my 47:40 time was good enough for 2nd in my Age Group of 30-39, which earned me an apple pie!

By George 10K pie

Next up: the Rock n Roll New Orleans half-marathon! I was originally planning on running the full, because it was there. But I’m trying to be more strategic this year and think in terms of the long term and the Big Goal. While I have no doubt that I could finish the marathon, I haven’t been running anywhere close to normal marathon training mileage since Rehoboth so it would basically just be a 26.2 mile easy run that would still require a solid couple of weeks to recover from before I could pick up with the intense training again. I decided that there wasn’t really a benefit to running a “fun run” marathon right now, whereas if I dropped to the half, I could race it, because my mileage and workouts have been much more in line with that distance. And I’m discovering that I really like pushing the pace! So that’s what I’m going to do.

Based on how the 10K went, I’m planning to target a pace of 7:50-8:00 for the half and hopefully come in right around 1:45:00. This would be a 7ish-minute PR, so it’s definitely a lofty goal! But more importantly, I’m going to really focus on race strategy and pacing rather than a specific pace target. I want to negative split the race and practice being patient in the first half and then picking it up on tired legs. Basically the opposite of how I’ve run almost every race ever. Not-so-coincidentally, 8:00 is the pace that I will need for that 3:30 marathon, so if I can hit it in a half right now, I will feel really good about building up to that for a full by Rehoboth.

After this, I have a goal 10-miler in April (the GW Parkway Classic, which I loooooove) where I’ll definitely have a goal time that will probably be informed by how New Orleans goes. Then at the end of April is the inaugural National Women’s Half-Marathon, which will just be for fun and where I’ll be joined by a couple of friends from out of town.

Then in May I have the craziest part of the year: the 39.3 Challenge at the Maine Coast Marathon. Coach definitely thinks this is nuts. I think it’ll be fun! Plus, I’ll get THREE different mermaid medals! But needless to say, both the half and full that weekend will be run at easy paces! This is the 2nd annual Mother-Daughter birthday weekend race experience; Mom will be running her 3rd half-marathon that Saturday!

On September 1st I’m running my first international marathon: the Dingle Marathon in Ireland! I’ve been planning on this race since my first trip to Ireland in fall 2016, but it turned into a family vacation when my mom discovered that there was a half-marathon too and my parents invited themselves along! I’m not complaining though; it’s going to be amazing! But as the coast of the Dingle Peninsula is crazy hilly and this course is not USATF-certified, this will be another “just for fun” marathon rather than a goal race, followed by a week of recovery in Ireland. I know it’s tough, but someone has to do it.

I’ll probably (be forced to) do some more short races in the summer and early fall as tune-ups for the REAL marathon training leading up to Rehoboth. After the Dingle Marathon, it’ll be time to get down to serious business! I’m not thinking too much about what that’ll look like yet, but based on the last 10 weeks or so, I have all the faith in the world in my coach’s ability to guide me to my Big Goal.

I’m so excited for what this year has in store!

#Rehoboth2018 #BQorBust #Chasingtheunicorn

(Please tell me when my obsessing over BQing at Rehoboth becomes insufferable and I’ll try to tone it down. Maybe.)

 

Closing out 2017

I know it’s already February, and some people might think that the ship has sailed on end-of-year bloops. But hopefully none of those people are here, and if they are, they’re free to move along. Maybe my blog posts just like to be fashionably late?

So. 2017. In retrospect, this year was really focused on race experiences more than goal times. I started out the year in questionable fashion, battling a nasty bout of piriformis syndrome in January and February after not quitting a long run when I should have because finishing that run would mean breaking 60 miles/week for the first time. In retrospect, that was real dumb, as running those last 11 miles on a bum piriformis (lol, pun intended) took me out of commission for 6-7 weeks, during which there were a LOT fewer than 60 miles/week. You’d think I’d know better than to let the numbers be the boss of me by this point. By early March, my butt was feeling much better but my training had taken enough of a hit that I dropped from the Whale Challenge (8K + marathon) at Shamrock to the Dolphin Challenge (8K + half-marathon). But that turned out kind of awesome because 1) the weather was f-ing AWFUL, even by Shamrock standards, and 2) I was able to PR in both the 8K and half-marathon! Yay!

My first marathon of 2017 came in April, when I went down to Raleigh to hang out with three of the most BA runners you’ll ever meet and we ran the Rock n Roll Raleigh marathon the day after spending lots of hours on our feet volunteering at a 100-mile ultra. I didn’t get a finish time PR, but I’m pretty sure I set a personal best for 1) elevation gained in a race (Raleigh is hilly yo!), 2) fun had working at an aid station. Despite the hills, I was able to finish in a very comfortable 3:56:xx, setting me up for a streak of sub-4:00 marathons last year.

In May I went home to Massachusetts for my birthday and a race weekend! My mom and I went to Martha’s Vineyard for the inaugural Martha’s Vineyard Marathon weekend, which was a lot of fun except for the race, which honestly kinda sucked. But nevertheless, Mom finished her very first half-marathon!! And I squeaked out a 1-min PR to finish in 3:51:xx, which was also good enough for 1st in my AG (serving to remind me to run tiny races more often, because that is kind of ridiculous). July contained my first 5K in 2.5 years, which turned out to be a PR even though it was an evening race and evening-time in DC in July is basically the worst running conditions ever. In August I returned to the wilds of Vermont to join my second Vermont 100 on 100 relay team, which was once again super fun and awesome except that it screwed up my back pretty badly.

I had big marathon plans for the fall, so coming out of August with a bad back was definitely not what I had in mind. Plus, just typing “bad back” makes me feel way too old. I’m only 31; I should not be worrying about throwing my back out. My mildly-herniated disc disagreed, apparently. And obviously I trained through that longer than I should have, because I had goals dammit! So I was finally forced to take some time off in early-mid September, right when I was supposed to be hitting my peak mileage for the Wineglass Marathon. On the plus side, I got to try muscle relaxants for the first time. I went into Wineglass weekend with some trepidation, but in keeping with the theme of the year I was really more focused on the whole weekend rather than just the race. Both of my parents were with me, because Mom was running half-marathon #2 and we’d planned a side-trip after the race to Ithaca, NY, to visit my college stomping grounds for the first time since I graduated in 2008. Plus there were going to be a whole bunch of Loopsters at Wineglass, so it was going to be fun no matter what! It ended up being an amazing weekend all around: I finished in a strong-feeling 3:45:21, a PR by nearly 6 minutes and had a ton of fun with my family and the other Loopsters.

A few weeks later I traveled north again, this time to the Big Apple for the most amazing race experience EVER: the NYC Marathon! My mom met me in the city and we had an awesome mother-daughter weekend staying in Hells Kitchen, going to a Broadway show, and soaking up the whole marathon weekend experience. The race itself was beyond incredible, and wrote an entire bloop on that if you need any convincing to throw your name into the lottery for a future race. Talk about an amazing race experience. My nearly easy-feeling 3:52:xx finish was just the icing on the NY-style cheesecake.

Finally, December brought my all-around favorite race weekend of each of the past 5 years: Rehoboth!! We had another houseful of Loopsters traveling to Delaware (plus one who lives there) for the race and accompanying shenanigans. I had a much better marathon than last year’s 12-mile puke-fest, thankfully! I felt really strong through the first half, and set a nice little 90ish-second PR at the halfway point (1:50:xx), and then crashed and burned pretty thoroughly, which was not exactly surprising as this was my 3rd marathon in 9 weeks. But I finished out my streak of sub-4:00 marathons with a 3:50:xx finish time and a smile on my face!

I ran 1,870 miles in 2017, a new personal best by 315 miles. There were some ups and downs in there, but overall it was an awesome running year, and I’m so glad that I got to hang out with Loopsters for five of my races this year and have some incredible new race experiences! I have some big goals for 2018 (really, just one BIG goal), but that’s for another blog post. Maybe I’ll even get that written before another month has passed? Anyway, happy 2018!

The City So Nice They Named it Twice

Oh goodness, where to start? The New York City Marathon was so much more awesome than I ever imagined, and I’m sure I won’t do justice to the experience here. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try!

I left DC on Thursday via Amtrak (my favorite way to travel anywhere on the I-95 corridor), with coffee in my hands and manic excitement in my eyes…

1 -Union station coffee

I arrived at NY Penn Station around noon, and walked the handful of blocks north to the Port Authority bus terminal, where my mom was due in at 12:30 from MA. We walked another handful of blocks together up to Hell’s Kitchen, where our (definitely illegal but super convenient) AirBnB was located. Checking in was fast and easy, and within a little while we were on the move again, this time south towards the Javits Center where the expo was held (with a quick stop for lunch first; a girl’s gotta eat).

2 - expo welcome sign

Entering the expo was SO EXCITING and a lot less hectic than I’d imagined. We got through security quickly and were free to wander the many, many aisles of NYC-branded running-related goodies. But first, I just had to pose in front of this huge blow-up of one of my favorite race pictures ever:

3 - Expo big picture

In the small section of the expo not dedicated to blatant consumerism (no judgement; I succumbed) there was a HUGE tabletop map of the marathon course. This this was practically life-size!

4 - expo big course map

On Thursday evening, Mom and I went to the New York Road Runners (NYRR) Marathon Pavilion located next to the finish line in Central Park, because I’d reserved us tickets for a screening of the Boston Marathon documentary that was released in April. The Pavilion had the ginormous wall of names of *almost* all the race entrants (sorry Jay-Zee).

5 - big wall of names

Thanks to Mom for spotting me!

6 - wall of names Caitlin

Seeing the movie again was so great, and definitely stoked some fires in my goal-oriented little mind. I think Mom enjoyed seeing it too, as well as getting a preview of what a ridiculous blubbering mess I’m going to be should I ever be lucky enough to qualify for and run Boston. As a special treat, Bill Rodgers was in the house and did a Q&A after the film!

7 - Bill Rodgers

He was a bit spacier than I’d expected, and didn’t so much answer questions as reminisce about races of yore… But who can blame him? He’s Bill-freaking-Rodgers and can talk about whatever he wants.

On Friday morning, I woke up early-early to go get a fresh bagel at 6:30am. Because, New York City. Then at a more civilized hour, I made my way to the NYRR Run Center to join a marathon-focused running tour of some of the historical sites of Central Park! There were about 20 people in the tour group, and the leader kept the pace to a nice and leisurely 10:15-10:30/mile. While we were hanging out in the Run Center waiting for the tour to depart, guess who walks in. Emma Coburn!! You know, the World Champion and American record-holder steeplechaser. #steeplepeople

I didn’t talk to her or anything, but let me tell you, she is just as gorgeous in person as she looks on tv.

Anyway, the tour got underway and we made it to the Park! One of the places we stopped for a story was on Cat Hill, so named for this cool bronze statue of a mountain lion-type kitty perched on the side of the road ready to pounce on unsuspecting runners and cyclists.

8 -cat hill

Another place we paused for some stories was at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, which was just beautiful:

10 - reservoir skyline

Thankfully it was a nice warm day, because we stopped for stories and pictures about every quarter mile, which would have been torturous had it been cold!

One of the last places we stopped was at the marathon finish line, where this guy was hanging out for the weekend:

11 - Fred Lebow statue

This is Fred Lebow, founder of the NYC Marathon, standing watch over the finish line ready to click off your time on his watch. Normally he lives over at the 90th Street entrance to Central Park, but the NYRR move him over to the finish line for race weekend. I imagine he appreciates the gesture.

On Friday afternoon, Mom and I did some wandering around Manhattan. We visited Washington Square Park, walked around Soho, window shopped along 5th Avenue, did some top-notch carb loading…

12 - cupcake box

We paid a visit to the finish line in Central Park so Mom could see it (she would be avoiding that insanity on race day):

Then on Friday night we had dinner with my cousin and his wife, who live in NYC, and then saw Kinky Boots on Broadway! What an incredibly fun, uplifting show that is!! If you have the chance, I highly recommend seeing it!

On Saturday, we did some more wandering around the city, because it is just too wonderful not to enjoy!

rockefeller center

NYC architecture blows me away, whether it’s huge skyscrapers or gorgeous little details that are too easy to miss.

pretty lamp

On Saturday evening, Mom and I met up with the other Loopsters running the marathon (plus a local one – hi christine.eliz!) for a delicious pasta dinner. After dinner, we managed a group photo in the craziness of Times Square.

times square loopsters

I needed to be at my bus to the start line by 5:45am the next morning, so we called it a night very early on Saturday. But not before getting Flat Caitlin ready!

14a - flat caitlin

(wow, three pages in and the race hasn’t even started yet! #sorrynotsorry #doallthethings #yolo)

My alarm went of so very early on Sunday, but I bounded out of bed with all the energy I seriously wish I had on speedwork mornings.

I left the apartment to walk over to the library where the bus would take me to the start line on Staten Island. It was about a 20-minute walk from the apartment, which I normally wouldn’t recommend at 5:15am, but it was one of those special race experiences because I was accompanied by so many other throwaway clothes-clad runners!

As I walked towards the long line of buses, I looked up and saw the Chrysler Building in all its Art Deco glory:

15 - Chrysler building

Quickly enough, I was settled in on the bus and ready for the hour-ish long drive to Staten Island.

16 - bus selfie

I noshed on my bagel and peanut butter, drank some Gatorade, and dozed a bit during the ride.

Eventually the sun came up, and shortly thereafter we arrived at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, and I tried to figure out where I was supposed to be in this massive runner village.

17 - start village sign

It was pretty exciting to see the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge off in the distance, and know that I’d be running over it so soon!

18 - bridge from start village

I passed the Dunkin Donuts truck and got my awesome orange and pink fleece hat! It was chilly enough that the warm hat was a nice bonus while sitting around. I found my way to the Orange Village, and settled into a comfy patch of grass near the corral entrances to hang out for the 3ish hours before my wave was called. I ate a bit more of my bagel, as well as a fun-sized Snickers left over from my parents’ Halloween stash (which Mom very nicely brought with her to NYC), and passed some time by reading the race program. There are always so many compelling human stories in a marathon.

I laid down on my foil blanket, wrapped snuggly in my throw-away sweats and blanket, and actually managed to fall asleep for about 45 minutes. I awoke abruptly, and lost at least 5 years off my life, when I heard the sound of an explosion seemingly right next to my head! Having just watched the Boston documentary, which prominently featured the 2013 bombing, and given the truck attack that had just occurred in NYC earlier in the week, I was apparently VERY on-edge, and awoke in an absolute panic thinking that something unconscionable had happened.

No worries! It was just the first start canon, signaling the beginning of the professional wheelchair division at 8:30. I did not get back to sleep after that… And I jumped every time the cannon subsequently, which it did numerous times before my own start (Achilles handcycle and disabled athletes start, Footlocker Five-Borough Challenge start, professional women’s start, and Wave 1 start).

Finally it was time to start my own migration towards my corral (which luckily had portapotties in it since we have to be inside 45 minutes before our start time!). I made it through the three bib checks and into the corral, where I hung out some more and chatted with a woman from Ireland and a man from England. And took a selfie, because why not?

21 - start line selfie

FINALLY it got to be almost 10:15, time for Wave 2 to start! The ropes were dropped, and the corrals started moving slowly towards the starting line on the bridge. We got to the staging area just before the bridge, and could hear the announcer introducing the wave. They played “God Bless America” over the loudspeakers, and then Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” which some German guys behind me tried to sing along to, with hilarious results. Being in the middle of this crush of enthusiastic humanity was absolutely electric.

20 - start line with bridge

And then the cannon sounded again and we were off! It only took me a couple of minutes to cross the start line, and then I was running on top of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge! I think I spent the first two miles just whispering “this is really happening; I’m running the New York City Marathon” to myself. I barely noticed the incline of the first mile on the bridge because I was too busy enjoying the moment and soaking up the view from the bridge, foggy as it was. I tried not to look at my watch too often because pace wasn’t important to me today. I had no time goals for the race, and with so many people around me at all times it wasn’t going to be easy to maintain an even pace anyway.

We got off the bridge at Mile 2ish, made a couple of turns, and started up 4th Avenue, which would take through Brooklyn all the way to Mile 8. And this is where the real fun started, and didn’t let up for the next 24 miles. The crowd was absolutely deafening. I thought I was prepared for raucous crowd support, but I had no idea. I’m SO GLAD that I put my name on my shirt for this race, because I felt like a freaking superstar the entire time. There wasn’t a single mile where I didn’t hear multiple people yelling “Go Caitlin! I see you Caitlin!! You got this Caitlin!” at me, and it was AWESOME.

A friend of mine happened to be visiting Brooklyn over race weekend and she took this picture of me somewhere along the course. I didn’t see her and certainly didn’t know she was taking a picture, but I had this goofy smile on my face the entire way because it was so much fun!

22 - running in brooklyn

I stayed along the left side of the route so that I could more easily high-five everyone within reach. Tangents be damned. My watch registered a 26.8-mile marathon but it was totally worth it.  

I kept waiting for the fatigue to set in, or to get annoyed by the constant press of runners around me, or to get to the mental state of just wanting the race to be done with. It never happened. I felt so strong and fresh the whole time, and every new cheer from the crowd and high-five from a group of kids or police or firefighters gave me a new burst of energy.

23 - mid race running

Literally the only stretch of the race where I felt just a little bit tired and cranky was on the Queensboro Bridge from Miles 14.5-16. We were on one half of the lower level of the bridge, so it was narrower than the course had been previously, and created a pretty bad bottleneck that slowed everyone down, and being on the lower level was kind of dark and gloomy. I also had a near-collision with the people next to me when someone who had stepped off the course to the left decided to step back onto the course directly in front of me *at a walk.* #rude But no one fell over and everyone seemed pretty chill given the crowded conditions we were all trying to navigate.

I knew that my mom would be near mile 18 at 93rd Street, so that was a good motivator to get through the bridge section and the first couple of miles up First Avenue in Manhattan. I ran over to see her and give her a hug, and hand off the Dunkin Donuts hat that I’d been hanging onto for 18 miles! The crowds in Manhattan were awesome as well, although I think Queens and the Bronx are tied for loudest, rowdiest spectators. The stretch through the Bronx was short but memorable thanks to the enthusiastic support of the crowds. At Mile 21, we reached the Madison Avenue Bridge leading back into Manhattan, and proceeded south on Fifth Avenue.

24 - mid race on bridge

I saw my cousin and his wife at 110th Street, and they’d even made a sign for me, which was such a fun surprise to see at Mile 22.5. I knew that we entered Central Park at 90th Street, so I was counting down the blocks until we go there. There was some uphill along Fifth Avenue, and it gave me a nice mental boost to pass people this late in the race AND going uphill #sorrynotsorry #yougotchicked

We entered Central Park at 90th Street, just before Mile 24, and proceeded down the hill we’d run up during my NYRR tour of the park. We exited the park a bit past Mile 25, and ran along Central Park South nearly the whole width of the park. The crowds here were still awesome and loud, despite the fact that it had now been raining for about 3.5 hours and wasn’t the loveliest day to stand outside. I kept passing people here, and made a special effort to pass a dude in a full-length Superman cape. I was determined not to have some big red cape ruin MY finish line photo!

We jumped back into the park off Columbus Circle and passed the Mile 26 marker shortly thereafter. I started getting really emotional as I simultaneously pushed towards the finish line and tried to soak up every last second of these final moments of the race. This was my 15th marathon, and the first time that I’ve ever been sad to cross the finish line. Of course I was also super happy with my experience, and completely thrilled to have finished well under the 4-hour mark!

25 - Finish line BP

Official time: 3:52:16

I got my medal, and immediately stopped to capture the moment.

26 - medal selfie

A few minutes later I got to the foil blanket distribution, which was much appreciated because the chilly rain felt a lot less good while hobbling along than it did while running.

27 - foil blanket walk

I had opted for the post-race poncho option rather than bag check. I’d heard such wonderful things about these ponchos that I was pretty excited to get mine! The walk to where the volunteers were handing them out was considerably longer than I’d expected, and it was uphill. #notcool But about 20 minutes after crossing the finish line, a lovely volunteer finally wrapped me in the warm, waterproof, insulated poncho and life was grand. 

28 - blue poncho walk

I walked for a few more minutes to wear Mom and I had planned to meet. I saw her waiting for me, and the first thing she said when I reached her was, “SHALANE WON!!!!” My approximate reaction?

shalane

(thanks to Corc-o-rama for the image)

It was such a perfect cherry on top of an already perfect marathon sundae to learn that Shalane finally got her so-well-deserved moment of glory! And knowing that I crossed that very same finish line 90ish minutes later was so cool!

On Monday Mom and I had a lovely breakfast at a cute little diner near our AirBnB, and then headed back towards Port Authority and Penn Station to catch our respective transportation home. But first I needed to get my hands on the Marathon Monday edition of the New York Times!

29 - New York Times

I really can’t say enough good things about my New York City Marathon experience. It was impeccably well organized for such a huge event (over 51,000 finishers!), and the people of New York completely floored me with their energy and support through every mile of the race. I’m so thankful that I got to have this experience this year. Marathon #15 is definitely one that I’ll never forget!

 

Wineglass Marathon Race Report – Everything is Awesome!!

TL;DR: Wineglass Marathon was amazing! I ran my most consistent race and got a PR by nearly 6 minutes. Parents and Loopsters made it extra-special. 10/10, would run again.

The parents and I arrived in Corning, NY, late Friday afternoon. We checked into our hotel and met up with Liz and Peg for a drink and bite to eat nearby. It’s always great to catch up with Loopsters, and it was fun for my parents to meet some of the people that I talk about so much. It had been a long day of driving from Massachusetts, so we called it a night pretty early.

Saturday morning started out with a short and fun shakeout run with the Loop ladies:

shakeout run

Later in the day, we went to the Corning Museum of Glass, where the race expo was held. Very cool venue for sure! The expo was surprisingly large for such a small race, and the swag we got was top-notch. High quality half-zip pullover specific to the race distance (which I LOVED! I’m always kind of disappointed when there’s a single shirt for all distances), a wine glass, a split of sparkling wine, and a nice drawstring backpack to put it all in. After the expo, the parents and I visited the museum itself, which was very cool! We saw some contemporary art installations made of glass, as well as some breathtaking glass mosaics made and/or designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

On Saturday evening, the parents and I went to the official pre-race pasta dinner, because securing a dinner reservation in Corning turned out to be way more stressful than I would have expected. So the official dinner seemed like the safest bet, and the menu we saw online was much actually really great-looking! Turns out that this was one of my favorite parts of the whole weekend! I shouldn’t have been surprised, because runners are the best people ever. But our tablemates were completely delightful, and we quickly got into sharing race stories and training experiences and our goals for the next morning. The food was plentiful and delicious, and I tried a couple of new things that worked out amazingly well and might become part of my goal race routine: gluten-free pasta (this one was corn-based) and a baked potato. I picked the corn pasta because it was spaghetti-shaped, while the regular wheat pasta was short (farfalle or something) and I just like long pasta better. But my stomach was noticeably calmer than usual the next morning, so maybe it’s something to consider for future races.

Anyway, the main attraction of the pre-race dinner was the featured speaker: Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray! He was funny, self-deprecating, charming, and inspiring as hell. It was such a great way to get pumped up for the next day’s race, and definitely further stoked my desire to qualify for and run Boston in the near-ish future (more on that eventually. I’m not ready to put my plans down in black and white yet.).

After dinner, we went back to the hotel and got ready for race day! Mom and I got our flat girls ready (she was running her second half-marathon!) and we put ourselves to bed. #racenailsonpoint

The next morning dawned cold and crisp, which was exactly perfectly right for an October race in central NY! But for this pseudo-Southerner used to the never-ending DC summer, it was soooooooo cold!! I just kept telling myself how good it would feel once we got running. Mom and I caught our respective buses to the half- and full-marathon start lines (the half-marathon started at the half-way point of the full course), and I quickly found the other Loopsters once I got to the marathon start line staging area. Another awesome thing about Wineglass: they had a lovely big tent for us to wait in, which got nice and toasty once several hundred runners were packed inside! It was so great to be able to stay warm-ish and sit down on actual chairs while waiting to toe the line.

loopsters prerace

Eventually it was time to walk over to the start line and get this show on the road! I chucked off my layers of Dad’s old sweatshirts and lined up next to the 3:45 pacer. Most of my training this summer had been done with a 3:40 in mind, but then I hurt my back in August and missed about three of the highest-intensity weeks of the training plan. I’d felt good in the few weeks leading up to the race, but I knew those weeks off had cost me something. I thought that an 8:35 pace seemed reasonable, all things considered, and figured I’d start there and if I had to back off, then so be it. The gun went off and we ran into the misty morning. The fog was pretty thick for almost the first half of the race, and it kept the air quite chilly! I didn’t ditch my gloves or makeshift tube sock arm warmers until at least 10 miles in, which is highly unusual for me.  I stuck to the pacer like glue, and to my pleasant surprise, the 8:35ish pace felt practically effortless. After battling the heat and humidity of DC for so many months, feeling cold while running was kind of amazing and definitely made a huge difference in my race.

The course (or at least what we could see of it through the fog) was pretty and quiet and rural. There were small pockets of spectators as we went through small towns, but it was pretty zen overall. I just listened to my music and tried to trust the pacer rather than check my own watch every few minutes. The pace group was pretty big, and several people were chatting steadily as we ran. I tried to tune them out and just keep my breathing steady and not worry about anything more than taking my gels on time.

The pace was still feeling really good at the halfway point, and when the pacer peeled off to use the bathroom I took the opportunity to surge ahead a little bit. I was tired enough that his banter and people’s talking was getting annoying, and I wanted to just run my own race from this point on. I tried to keep my pace as steady as I could just ahead of them. I felt pretty good about the fact that they never passed me after that.

Around Mile 18 or so I really started to drag, and I focused on just getting through the intervals in between gels. I felt so good about how the race had gone thus far, and worked hard to maintain that psychological momentum if not the physical. I didn’t let my pace stray too far above the 8:35 target, and I tried to take it one mile at a time.

Eventually I reached the little bridge that leads into downtown Corning, and there was only one left turn remaining between me and that finish line. I took out my earbuds when I made the turn onto Market Street with about half a mile to go. This would be the greatest number of spectators I’d seen all day and I wanted to soak up the cheering, because I knew that I’d run my butt off for a nice PR!

This was my face when I knew that I was about to finish in 3:45:xx:

Finish line excited

Official time: 3:45:21. A PR by 5 minutes and 39 seconds, and my most steady marathon splits ever:

splits

I definitely credit the pace group with keeping me in line during the first half of the race, and enabling me to save up the energy for the second half.

Such an awesome race calls for another Bangle Pump:

Finish line BP

I spotted Peg shortly after I finished and got the quick version of her race. After getting some snacks, I found my parents back along Market Street. My mom had finished her race with a 7-minute PR! Then I got to see Liz finish looking crazy fast and strong!

Eventually we got all the Loopsters back together for a group picture. PRs all around!! Wineglass is just that awesome!

loopsters

I printed out my official results, which I have almost certainly since lost but it was nice to have the record in-hand even briefly.

official results

In another super cool feature, they had these race clocks where you could punch in your bib number and bring up your time for a photo op:

time clock

Everything about this race weekend fell into place perfectly. I really can’t recommend it highly enough. I was really worried about how my unplanned time off would affect my fitness. This may not have been exactly the time I’d planned for at the beginning of my training cycle, I really couldn’t be happier with how I felt or how I did once it all came together.

medal selfie 2

Now that the goal race for the fall is behind me, I’m focusing on having fun! To that end, I leave on Thursday for what will surely be a VERY different New York marathon experience: the New York City Marathon on November 5th!! I can’t wait to get to the city and see all of the craziness of the expo and race pavilion and everything. It’s sure to be an unforgettable race experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shamrock Dolphin Challenge race report: Sparkle Skirts and PRs!

Two weeks ago I picked up my rental car (a cherry red Hyundai something; the cherry red was the best part!) and made my way south to Virginia Beach for my third year participating in the Shamrock race weekend. I did the Dolphin Challenge (8K + half marathon) in 2014, then the Whale Challenge (8K + full marathon) in 2016. This year, I’d planned to do the Whale Challenge again, with the marathon being my big goal race for the spring. But as my last bloop described, I had a nasty bout of piriformis syndrome in the 5 weeks before the race and my interrupted training left me uncertain about being able to even complete the marathon, never mind attempt a big PR. Thankfully I was able to drop down to the Dolphin Challenge a couple weeks before race weekend, which eased my anxiety considerably.

Saturday

We got up nice and early on Saturday morning to run the 8K, which I think is the largest of the three races offered. You get four beer tickets for each race, so the beer:miles ratio is definitely tops in the 8K. There are always lots of people dressed in their best green running finery, and I was no exception. Sparkle skirt #1 of the weekend!

8K outfit

 

 

My 8K PR was from this race in 2014, when I ran a 44:55. I was absolutely gunning for a PR this time, since I’d improved so much as a runner in those three years, and I knew that, bum hip or no, I could definitely run faster than a 9:00 minute mile for 5 miles. My plan was to start out at my goal pace for the half (8:25) and see how things went from there. When Mile 1 clocked in at 8:08, that plan was clearly out the window. But I felt good, and my hip was holding up, so I figured what the heck? How bad could things get in 5 miles?

8K homestretch

Mile 1 – 8:08

Mile 2 – 8:12

Mile 3 – 8:14

Mile 4 – 8:11

Mile 5 (technically 0.98 miles) – 7:48 (!!)

8K finish line

Official time: 40:35, and a PR by 4 minutes and 20 seconds! Definitely a great start to the weekend. And best of all: my hip felt completely fine the whole time!!

 

The weather for the 8K was chilly and fairly windy, but not too terrible by Shamrock standards. Things were definitely about to get worse though.

Sunday

Shamrock is a little weird in that it starts the half marathon at 7:00 on Sunday, and the full at 8:30. So I got up super-duper early and tried to eat my bagel very quietly so I didn’t wake up Abs and Ang, who were both running the full. I’m sure I wasn’t as successful as I wanted to be, but they were good sports about it regardless.

I tentatively looked out the window to have my fears confirmed: it looked like a freaking hurricane outside. Pouring rain and whipping winds. The weather app confirmed a “feels like” temperature in the low 20s due to the 30+ mph winds from the north.

But fretting about the miserable couple of hours I had in front of me wasn’t going to make them any less miserable. So time to get dressed!

Sparkle skirt #2 of the weekend!

Half outfit

I dawdled in the warm, dry hotel room as long as I could, but finally had to start the mile or so long walk to the half marathon start line (our hotel is right near the finish line, and the marathon start line, but the half starts at the 13.1 mile mark of the full, so it’s a bit of a hike). I wrapped myself in a foil blanket from an earlier race (I love saving those – they always come in handy!) and donned one of the plastic rain ponchos that Santa brought me for Christmas and headed out the door. It was every bit as wet and cold as I expected. My shoes were pretty well saturated before I even found the start line. But misery loves company, and it was kinda fun to share this particular misery with all the other runners in my corral. There was even a photographer on hand to capture our “excitement.”

Half start line

(ok, my “excitement” was actual excitement because it was race day!! And given the weather, my healthy decision to drop to the half kinda worked out pretty well…)

After a few minutes of standing around, we were off! Well, sort of. The wind was coming straight out of the north, and guess which direction we were running? Yep, straight north into the wind. It was so very cold, and so very wet. The wind made the rain quite painful as it hit us directly in the face. I realized quickly that my goal of holding the 8:25 pace that I’d been training for was just not going to happen with this kind of headwind. My goal became just trying to keep it under 9:00 and not blow away before getting to the turnaround point at Mile 7 (at which point the wind would hopefully be at our backs!).

Mile 1 – 8:42

Mile 2 – 8:56

Mile 3 – 8:54

Mile 4 – 8:47

Mile 5 – 8:44

Despite the weather, I was reminded that I really do like the Shamrock half course. The first few miles go through neighborhoods, and then the next few are through the woods, which is a peaceful change of pace for this city dweller. Usually there are Irish-themed jokes and riddles on signs next to the road through this stretch, but I think the wind was too much for them this year. I saw a couple, but not nearly as many as in past years. We didn’t even see any vertical mile markers until Mile 5 I think; they’d all either blown over or hadn’t been put out in the first place because of the wind.

We finally got to the entrance of Fort Story, and started the gradual turn back towards the south. Changing direction meant that for a while, the wind was coming at us from the side, and this section coincided with the presence of big sand dunes next to the course. Can you see where I’m going here? It was like running through a sandstorm! I had to keep my eyes closed for much of it, and just hope that I didn’t run into anyone. The sand was building up on the road, and was already a couple inches deep when I ran across it. I imagine it was considerably worse by the time the full marathoners traversed this section! When I got back to the hotel to change after the race, I not only had sand covering the side of my face (great exfoliant?); it managed to get through both of my shirts and get all up in my sports bra!

We made it through that section, and went past the two lighthouses on the course. There’s always a photographer near them to get cool pictures of the runners with the lighthouses.

Half with lighthouse 2

The wind gave me a bit of a Marilyn moment, but the woman behind me was definitely struggling with her trash bag. It was an impressively long time to keep the trash bag on though!

Mile 6 – 8:29

Mile 7 – 8:29

Being out of the crazy headwind improved my mood tremendously! I was able to acknowledge the fact that my hip felt totally and completely normal!! I realized that a PR (sub-1:53:44) wasn’t totally out of the question if I could take advantage of the tailwind and push the pace for the rest of the race.

Mile 8 – 8:20

Mile 9 – 8:24

Mile 10 – 8:37

Mile 11 – 8:30

Mile 12 – 8:32

I really, really wanted to get under 8:00 for the final mile of this race. I did it in the Reston 10-miler two weeks prior, and in Saturday’s 8K. I was definitely feeling gassed at this point, but tried to dig deep for my last dregs of energy.

Half homestretch

Mile 13 – 7:58 (!!)

Mile 13.14 – 1:04 (7:29 pace)

Official time: 1:52:24, a PR by 1 minute and 20 seconds!

Half with medal 2

I picked up my half marathon medal, my hat, towel, snacks, backpack (Shamrock is great at swag), and Dolphin Challenge medal as quickly as I could and hustled back up to the hotel room to thaw out! Once out of the rain, I took a minute to enjoy how well that race had just gone:

Half medal selfie

Abs and Ang were out running the full, so I had the room to myself and enjoyed a nice long, HOT shower. Eventually, the shivering subsided. I had another couple of hours before Abs was likely to be back, so I took myself out to breakfast nearby since I was hungry, and the beer tent isn’t much fun when you’re alone.

Abs got back after surviving twice as long in that crazy weather, and Ang came in not too long afterwards. Once they were thawed out and in dry clothes, the three of us headed out to the beer tent.

But first I stopped to ring the PR bell!

PR bell

The cold beer and hot Irish stew in the beer tent tasted pretty good, and we’d all had races worth celebrating!

Yuengling sign

Some people celebrated a whole lot!

beeramid

 

 

Monday morning dawned infuriatingly sunny and beautiful.

sunny monday

 

Seriously, where was this weather during the race?? I dropped Ang off at the airport and headed back to DC. The weather was perfect the entire way.

 

Not the spring I’d planned, but for once that’s ok

Oh man. Since my last entry, I’ve run a half-marathon (Philly), a marathon (Rehoboth Beach), and a 10-miler (Reston, VA), started and almost finished a new-to-me training plan, gotten injured, and come most of the way back from it.

After Rehoboth, I kept my runs easy for a couple of weeks and then jumped into the Hansons Marathon Method beginner plan in preparation for marathon #12 at Shamrock. I’d used the Higdon advanced training plan for my last couple of races and was feeling eager to step up my intensity a little bit. A few running friends have had amazing results with Hansons, so it seemed like an experiment worth doing. I chose the beginner plan because that was still a pretty decent increase in both weekly mileage and intensity from what I’d been doing, so jumping right into the advanced plan felt like a bridge too far.

I must admit that I enjoyed working my way through Hansons a lot more than I expected to! I was more than a little intimidated by the weekly speed workouts, especially the first one of 12×400. 12 is just SO MANY. Each week’s workout increased in distance and decreased in number, and I really liked the variation. With Higdon, every week is 800s, and you do more of them as the plan progresses. I hate 800s. But with Hansons, only one workout was 800s! I still hated them, but that was the week I learned how to set up intervals on my Garmin, so I started taking my speedwork “free range” rather than on the track. Turns out that much of my hatred for speedwork stemmed from my hatred of running in small circles, so I had a lot more fun doing those workouts over the more varied terrain of bike trails and the National Mall.

It was a lot (a LOT) of miles for me, and it made for some very long days when I had 10+ miles of workout to do after working all day. But I was so enjoying seeing myself improve! There was one particular week where things just seemed to click, and suddenly those 8:23/mile tempo runs didn’t feel like an endless struggle, and hitting a 9:06 pace on my long runs felt (almost) easy. I broke out of the “speed” category of speedwork and into the longer intervals of the “strength” workouts. I actually really loved the 4×1.5 mile one. Few enough repeats that I felt like I was almost done after the first one, and short enough intervals that I nailed my goal pace without feeling like I was dying the whole time. The 16-mile long runs (following the 10-mile easy runs the day before) didn’t wipe me out for the rest of the day like 20-mile runs had in the past. This plan definitely worked and I was really eager to see how things played out in my attempt at a 3:40 marathon at Shamrock.

Until February 11th. It was the second-to-last 16-miler, and the cap of my highest mileage week ever (60 miles!) following two monthly mileage PRs in a row. I set out on the Capital Crescent Trail for a challengingly hilly 16-mile route, and around mile 5 my left hip/glute got super tight. I stopped to stretch it, then proceeded with my run, hoping that it would loosen up with movement. Yeah, not so much. Despite the fact that it was just getting tighter and more painful as I went on, I finished the run like an idiot. By mile 13 or so, my hip hurt so badly I could barely lift it up to step up a curb. This was not good.

I gave it a few days off, stretched and foam rolled, and got a massage. The next couple of weeks were spent in that awful cycle of optimism, failed test runs, more stretching and rolling (with the addition of a lacrosse ball to really dig in deep – SO PAINFUL but effective), and trying to find any cross-training activities that didn’t hurt. At the worst of it, I couldn’t go more than 2 miles without serious pain and muscle freak-out. I didn’t run anything other than a super easy pace or more than 6 miles at a time (and that was only once) until March 5th. I was getting increasingly despairing about the Shamrock marathon: my PR hopes were long out the window, and I was far from sure that I could even cover the distance.

On March 5th, I ran 10 miles and it was almost ok! I’d signed up for the Reston 10-Miler because it coincided with what was supposed to be the last long run of the training plan and I figured why not get a medal and a shirt out of it? Plus, my bestie and her adorable kids live in Reston, so I could pair the race with a sleepover at their house and post-race breakfast with them.

I figured this would be a good make-or-break test run for Shamrock. I had the option of deferring to 2018 or switching down to the half until March 14 (thanks for being so flexible, Shamrock!). Race morning dawned sunny but so very cold! It was 20 degrees at the start line. I ran into a runner friend in the high school where we were all congregating (and waiting until the last minute before having to go outside), so it was nice to catch up with him a bit. We went outside a few minutes before the start, and I made my way back to the 9:00-10:00 pace area. My plan for the race was to keep the pace easy and just see how my hip did. I was a little nervous about the elevation because Reston is pretty hilly in general, and inclines definitely aggravated my hip. There were some rolling hills, but nothing too crazy, and thankfully Shamrock is flat like a pancake so at least that wouldn’t add to my concerns.

The first few miles clicked off in 9:08, 8:42, and 8:53. Other than it being considerably colder than I was used to given how mild the winter has been, I felt pretty good. My hip started feeling a little tight in mile 4, but it was tolerable. I walked for a minute and took a Gu and some water. 9:31. It still felt kinda tight, but wasn’t getting any worse. I pressed on. 8:35, 8:26, 9:07. Around mile 7, it actually started feeling better! This was a happy new development! Last three miles: 9:05, 8:45, 7:43 (yeah, I don’t know where that came from either!). I finished in 1:28:03, celebrated with some chocolate chip pancakes, and decided that the half-marathon at Shamrock felt doable. So I switched my registration from the Whale Challenge (8K Saturday, Full Sunday) to the Dolphin Challenge (8K and Half) because getting the extra challenge medal is something I enjoy probably more than I should.

I was more sore than I would have liked after 10 miles, and the hip was noticeable, but definitely not as bad as it had been over the last few weeks. I took it easy the next few days and opted for an elliptical shakeout rather than running. I had a so-so 4-miler on the 9th, and a few genuinely good-feeling treadmill runs since. I’m cautiously hopeful that I can put in a couple of decent performances this weekend, and even if I blow up spectacularly, it’ll still be a fun weekend with a couple girlfriends.

I’m honestly less disappointed about not doing the full than I thought I would be. Maybe I’m gaining some of that mature runner perspective?? Sure, that’s one less full that I’m doing less year, and now I most likely won’t hit 17 lifetime marathons in 2017. But that was a silly, arbitrary goal that literally no one but me cared about. And yeah, that 3:40 marathon might take me a little longer to achieve than I’d hoped now that I’ll need to re-start some of my winter training, so I might not bring my time down as much by this fall as I’d hoped. But I’ll get there sooner or later, and then hopefully to 3:35, and 3:32, and maybe even 3:30. I’m 30 now, and have until Boston 2021 to qualify at the current standard (thanks, May birthday). So there’s no rush. 2021 is as far into the future as my very first marathon (with its 4:48 finish time) is in the past. And that feels like eons (and 6 marathon PRs) ago, so how’s that for perspective?

Can I get a OORAH?!

A few weeks ago, I ran my 10th marathon at the 2016 Marine Corps Marathon. It was my second MCM, and I’d planned out my race calendar this year so that it would be #10, because MCM holds a very special place in my heart and I knew that it would be the perfect event to mark my milestone double-digit marathon. The whole weekend totally lived up to my (admittedly high) expectations!

My parents arrived in DC on Thursday evening before the race. Mom was there two years ago when I ran MCM the first time, and has come down for a few other DC races this year too, but this was Dad’s first time witnessing Marine Corps. On Friday afternoon, we went over to National Harbor, MD, for the expo. I was a little nervous about the expo being out there, since it’s usually held in DC at a Metro-accessible location, and not only is there no way to take public transit to National Harbor, there’s basically only one road going to it, so traffic can get pretty ugly during big events. But the Marines know their stuff, and it was surprisingly easy to get out there. I had the benefit of having my parents’ car at our disposal, but there were also frequent shuttle buses going there from three different Metro stations around DC. Traffic was surprisingly efficient thanks to the many, many police officers out there directing cars.

We walked into the Gaylord hotel and made our way downstairs to the HUGE expo space. I could already feel the energy that is (in my experience) unique to MCM.

1-expo-entrance

My first “Oorah” spotting of the weekend!

2-oorah-sign

There were young Marines all over the place working at the expo, and we said hi to a couple of them greeting people at the entrance and thanked them for their service. And I got a selfie with them!

3-expo-marine-selfie

I’d been challenged to get as many pictures with the handsome young Marines as I could, so I was just trying to do as requested.

Mom had been to the 2014 MCM expo with me, but Dad was completely blown away by the size of the space and the number of vendors and races and foundations and military nonprofits in attendance. Of course there were the usual photo opportunities:

4-course-map-wall5-oorah-wall

There is an entire section of the expo that is the official Brooks race merchandise store, and is probably about the size of all five Pacers running stores (my LRS) combined. I come by my unabashed love of souvenirs naturally, so both of my parents were just as excited about getting their “MCM Support Crew” tshirts as I was about getting my official event jacket. The line to check out of the Brooks store is like something out of your worst Disneyland nightmares, but either the Marines or Brooks made even the line fun by having a hydration station about 1/3 of the way through, serving Gatorade and everything!

6-store-line-hydration-station

There were even encouraging signs cheering us on:

7-store-line-sign

And a finish line with chocolate medals!

8-store-line-finish-line9-store-line-medal

So fun!

After walking down every aisle of the expo to make sure we didn’t miss anything, we headed back to my apartment to relax and made signs for my parents to hold up on race day.

Mom’s and my handiwork:

10-poster-1                    11-poster-2

We had a delicious dinner at an Italian place in Georgetown, then I went home, got Flat Caitlin ready, and went to bed.12-flat-caitlin

Not too many hours later, the alarm went off and I jumped out of bed with my usual race-day energy! If only I could be that perky on the average Tuesday…

This was a special race day though, and that made it even more fun. It was my tenth marathon, which kind of blows my mind when I think back (not that long ago) to when I was struggling to get through Couch to 5K, and running for 10 minutes straight was SO HARD. And because I’d just run the Hartford Marathon a few weeks earlier, and that had been a hard effort rewarded with a big PR, I had ZERO time goals for Marine Corps. Literally none. For the first time EVER in a marathon. Or nearly any race for that matter. Even in races when I’m not necessarily trying to PR, I’ve almost always had a time I wanted to be under, or a pace I wanted to maintain, either because of my own self-consciousness or because that race was a building block in the training plan for another race. But not this time! It was going to be warm and beautiful on race day (too warm for people going for PRs – sorry guys), but that meant that the spectators would be out in force, and it would be a wonderfully comfortable day to run at an easy pace, take walks breaks whenever I felt like it, and soak up every single minute of this incredible event. To that end, for the first time in a race I would be running with my phone so that I could stop and take pictures along the way. I figured that I’d enjoy having those moments captured, but it would also force me to stop and take breaks even if I was feeling good. With the Philly half and then the Rehoboth full in the weeks following MCM, I didn’t want to accidentally go too hard and wear myself out more than necessary. So if you thought I had a lot of pictures from the expo, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Mom and Dad dropped me off at one of the shuttle buses to the runners’ village around 5:30 on race morning. Given the 30,000ish runners needing to get through the security checkpoint at the Pentagon to get into the village, I like to err on the side of getting there way too early. I was rewarded by no line at security, and the freedom to just relax for the next couple of hours in the unseasonably warm pre-dawn air.13-runners-village

I wandered around the village a bit, and attended one of the pre-race prayer services put on by the Marine chaplain. Turns out he’d only moved to DC the week before, and got about 3 days’ notice that he’d be in charge of doing the tradition pre-marathon prayer service. It was really nice though, and like in 2014, it was a really calming way to go into the race.

There were no fewer than 45 UPS trucks for bag check:14-bag-check-trucks

I also found the Howitzer that serves as the starting gun. Because Marines.

15-howitzer

As we started to migrate from the runners’ village in the Pentagon parking lot to the start corrals over on the highway, the sun finally started to come up.

16-sunrise-over-the-start-line

Then, as is tradition, we were treated to a flyover by Osprey helicopters!

17-osprey-flyover

There was actually a small plane that flew over us first, but upon further observation, it appeared that it was just a normal shuttle plane on its way to land at National Airport. But I swear it flashed its headlight at us as it flew over the start area! A couple runners near me back me up with that.

A few more trips to the portajohns later, it was finally time to line up!

18-start-line-selfie

Given the crowds, it wasn’t a quick start. But that’s ok, because it gave me a chance to grab a picture of going under the start line arch!

19-under-the-arch

Shortly past the arch, there were Marines on the side of the road holding the flags of all the countries represented by runners this year. So cool!

20-international-flags

I did eventually put my phone away and focused on running for bit. The weather was absolutely perfect for a fun, easy long run and the spectators were fantastic! So much cheering! So many signs! The energy was absolutely contagious.

Around mile 8ish, there was a Marine band playing on the steps behind the Lincoln Memorial.21-marine-band

Along with taking pictures of the race, I also wanted to get some good race pictures of myself. So of course I was cheesing for every photographer I saw.22-number-ten-2

Number 10!!

As the course enters the Hains Point peninsula south of the Lincoln Memorial, runners come to what I think is the most difficult, humbling, and meaningful couple miles of the race: the Blue Mile. This is a 1.5-2-mile stretch that is organized by the Wear Blue: Run to Remember organization. It was lined with 300 pictures of servicemen and -women who have given the last full measure of devotion. The pictures were in chronological order, starting with men who were killed in the mid-1960s and ending with men and women who gave their lives earlier this year.23-blue-mile-1

It’s incredibly moving to run by these courageous individuals, especially seeing how very many of them were younger than I am now.

What really humbles me though is the next mile, where the Wear Blue families line the street holding American flags and cheering us on:24-blue-mile-2

These families have all lost a loved one, and yet they are here cheering *us* on and thanking us for being there?! Tears were streaming down my face by the end of that mile, and I’m tearing up again just recalling the feeling of saying “thank you” and trying to high-five every Wear Blue family member on my side of the road.

I managed to compose myself over the next mile or so, as there were still about 14 miles to go. A while later, I stopped at a couple of young Marines and asked to take a picture with them. I think they were a little surprised, but they were good sports.

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I thanked them for the picture and for their service and kept running. By this point it was maybe mile 15ish, but I was feeling good and having such an amazing time.

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Around mile 18ish, we came to the National Mall and I saw my parents cheering! It was good to stop and say hi to them, and get some extra water from the bottle they had since the day was heating up and I was between aid stations.

I also ended up with a really cool triple Marathon Maniac picture in front of the Capitol! I think the two in front were together, and didn’t know I was behind them with my coordinating hat, but I’m so glad the photographer captured this:27-triple-maniacs

Say what you will about the people who work inside it, but the Capitol sure is a pretty building. I run past it at least once a week, but it’s still so cool to go by it in this race.28-capitol-dome

Mile 19ish is when runners have to “beat the bridge”: in order to open the DC roads back up in compliance with the permits, everyone has to be across the 14th Street Bridge by a certain time. In perfect recognition of this milestone on the course, the Batala DC drum group was stationed right at the entrance to the bridge.29-batala-drum-group

They are one of my absolute favorite DC musical groups. They’re an all-female Afro-Brazilian percussion group, and they play the most energetic, up-beat, can’t-stop-yourself-from dancing music. I was so excited to see/hear them during the race!

Once we got across the bridge, we entered the Crystal City part of Arlington, VA. I remembered the spectators there being awesome in 2014, and that’s where I saw VBlevins and Colonel Cupcake that year! This year, the crowds were even bigger! There were lots of people handing out orange wedges, and one hugely-appreciated woman with a huge cooler full of ice cubes! It was straight-up hot by this point, and I shoved as many ice cubes as I could down my bra. It gave me fun flashbacks to doing the same thing with a couple of freinds in the Los Angeles Marathon in February.

I knew from 2014 that there is traditionally an unofficial aid station around mile 23 handing out beer and munchkins, and I was really hoping they’d be there again. I wasn’t disappointed! Mile 23 beer stop:30-mile-23-beer-stop

After that, there were only a few miles left but they were through the least scenic part of the course, so I was ready to just get it done. I was tired by this point (duh), but still felt good and was happy at how relatively steady my pace had been. I knew that if I maintained that pace, I’d finish a little bit under my time from 2014 (when that MCM was only my second marathon!). Knowing that I could run easy, take walk breaks, goof around with pictures, and still finish faster than the year when I’d run the whole race at a pretty hard-for-me-then pace felt pretty darn good.

I pushed down the final stretch up highway and made the left turn to “take the Iwo” and climb that final nasty hill:31-final-hill

I high-fived the Marine standing in the middle of the road just before the finish line arch, and crossed the line with the biggest goober smile on my face (to borrow a phrase from a favorite running shero)!

I high-fived the gauntlet of Marines lining the finish chute and thanked them all for their service, and then got my medal from a badass female Marine.

There were photographers ready and waiting to get our pictures in front of the spectacular Iwo Jima Memorial:32-medal-and-iwo-jima-memorial

I made my way through the food line and out towards where I’d be able to meet my parents. Another runner and I traded off taking each other’s pictures in front of the “Mission Accomplished” wall:33-mission-accomplished

I took another selfie with more friendly young Marines:

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I finally found my parents after what seemed like ever. The situation wasn’t helped much by the fact that cell phone calls wouldn’t go through, and text messages were on a pretty long delay. While I was waiting for them to get to where I was, I took my obligatory medal selfie:36-medal-selfie

After we reunited, my dad took a picture of me with more Marines, one of whom was working the Toys for Tots collection bin and looked very snazzy:35-post-race-dressed-marines

I took close-up pictures of the medal after getting home, because it is super cool-looking:

37-medal      38-medal-detail

Final race results:39-results-screenshotI’m pretty happy with how symmetrical my pacing was. I think the section where I sped up in the middle was the second half of Hains Point where it’s boring and there was nothing for me to take pictures of.

I finished in 4:23:30 officially, about 2 minutes faster than my 2014 time. I felt awesome pretty much the whole race, which was a lovely change from Hartford where I thought I’d die after mile 18. And I enjoyed every minute of the day. It was exactly what I was hoping for for my return to MCM and marathon #10. I just can’t say enough good things about this entire event. The US Marine Corps sure knows how to put on a race. After this experience, I definitely want to run MCM again in future years, but I don’t think I ever want to have a time goal for this race. There’s just too much to enjoy along the way!