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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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My first “Oorah” spotting of the weekend!

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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!

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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:

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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!

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There were even encouraging signs cheering us on:

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And a finish line with chocolate medals!

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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:

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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.

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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.

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

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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:

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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!

Hartford Marathon Race Report: All Kinds of Awesome!

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get this race report written up! But I figured I at least needed to do it before running my next race on Sunday!

The Hartford Marathon was my big goal race for early fall, and I’d trained hard for it all summer and was so excited that the weekend was finally here. I grew up in western Massachusetts, so Hartford was practically in my backyard and racing there also meant a long weekend at home with my family, which was awesome. I flew home on Thursday night, hoping that I’d remembered to pack all my race essentials (spoiler alert: I did! No drama there, thank goodness.).

On Friday afternoon, Mom and I drove down to Hartford for the expo. As a bonus, we got to have lunch with a couple of friends first! They work near the expo location, and it was great to catch up with them. The Irish pub and pints of Guinness were an awesome throwback to my Ireland trip last month (dedicated blog(s) on that are surely forthcoming!), and I think the extra carbs from the beer helped on Saturday!

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After lunch, Mom and I headed over to the expo! These “Go Big!” signs were all over the sidewalk leading to the building, and plastered to all the doors. Given my goal of a big PR for this race, they seemed like a good sign indeed! (pun slightly intended)

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The expo was a pretty good size, but I was able to pick up my packet quickly and take the requisite pre-race decorated wall picture.

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That evening, I laid out my Flat Caitlin and made it an early night.

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Cute and thematic race nails are essential for marathon success!

My parents, sister, and I got up obnoxiously early on Saturday morning to make our way back down to Hartford. I was wide awake and excited! They were less so, and probably didn’t appreciate my enthusiastic pop music sing-a-long during the drive…

We got to the start area, and my family went off to stake out their first cheering location. I found a couple groups of fellow Marathon Maniacs for some pre-race pictures.

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Soon enough, it was time to line up! We listened to some pre-race announcements and the National Anthem, and then we were off!

The race started on a nice gentle downhill as it wound through downtown Hartford. I was feeling good, and trying to hold steady at my goal pace of 8:45ish/mile. We ran along a really nice park bike/walking path along the river, and then back up to downtown before crossing the river. I saw my family around Mile 5.5, and was able to toss them my gloves as the day was warming up.

We wound through the course a bit more before hitting the loooooooong out-and-back that makes up Miles 10-24. I was feeling great, and enjoying the gentle ups and downs of the small inclines. The weather was perfect for a marathon, crisp and breezy. The foliage was spectacular, making it a classic New England fall day.

I hit the halfway mark at 1:52:30, exactly on target (and a 4-ish minute half-marathon PR!). Still feeling good, although I was increasingly aware of how much longer there still was until the turnaround. However, it was fun to see the front-runners coming back our way, and the crowd support was surprisingly great along this stretch given that we were running through a quiet residential area.

Around Mile 16, things started to get a little tougher. My left foot started cramping, which has never happened to me before, and was not a fun surprise mid-race! It wasn’t excessively warm, but I started taking fluids at every aid station in case it was dehydration-related. That seemed to keep the full-on cramp at bay, though that twinging feeling just shy of a muscle cramp lingered for the rest of the race.

Around Mile 19 I bonked pretty hard. I was really struggling to keep my pace under 9:00/mile, and my quads were more shaky than usual for mid-race. I started walking through the water stops, and then taking a little bit longer each time to start running again. By this point I was really over the out-and-back section and just wanted to see downtown again and know that I was almost done!

Finally a little past Mile 24, we turned right and headed back into the city! Except that we were heading up the biggest incline on the course! In my opinion, it’s just rude to put a hill at Mile 24-25 in a marathon. To add insult to injury, there were photographers right at the top of the hill! I’m sure they captured some stellar pain faces. Another Marathon Maniac passed me going up the hill and offered some words of encouragement, which was much appreciated. Hopefully he didn’t take my grunt of a response personally.

We ran back down a slight incline through downtown and past lots of cheering spectators who really boosted my energy. There was one more turn at the very end to run through the big arch in Bushnell Park (the one on the magnet that gave me the color scheme for my toenails), and then the finish line!

Official time: 3:52:03!!! A PR by 7 minutes and 54 seconds!

I think I scared a volunteer with my gasping/ugly crying, but I pulled it together enough to get a foil blanket and my medal, pick up a water bottle (they gave out nice sport bottles instead of disposable ones!) and my food bag, and make my way through the chute towards the family reunion area. On the staggering, stumbling walk towards where my family was waiting (my quads were all kinds of not cooperating by this point), I really couldn’t hold back the ugly crying! I don’t know what it is, but all of the emotion from the last 26.2 miles always comes out my eyeballs at the finish line. I was so excited about my PR and so happy that my whole family was there to celebrate with me that the tears seemed completely silly, but such is life. After doing a mini rehash of the race with my family, we walked over to where Mazda (one of the race sponsors) had set up this really cool photo booth where half and full finishers could pose with their finish time.

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Obligatory selfie with the super-cool medal:medal-selfie

I really like the medals from this race! The half marathon medal has a blue ribbon and background, and both medals feature different famous buildings in Hartford. Mine shows (I think) the State House, the Bushnell, and Founders Bridge (which we crossed during the race). And it’s one of my very few gold race medals, so that’s pretty cool.

We hung out in the finish line festival area for a while so I could regroup a bit and enjoy my free beer, and then we headed to lunch so that everyone else could eat and enjoy a well-deserved beer themselves!

Garmin record!

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The end of the race was tough for me both mentally and physically, but I’m so happy with the final results! I don’t know that there’s anything I could have done differently earlier in the race that might have preventing the cramping or the bonking. I figure now I should just turn my attention toward getting ready for the half-marathon in Philly (my first in two years!) and the full marathon in Rehoboth Beach, which is far enough away that I think I might be able to improve my time at least a little bit.

But first up: Marine Corps Marathon this Sunday! This’ll be my TENTH marathon (and second MCM), which I’m finding a little bit hard to believe. I still vividly remember working my way through Couch 2 5K for the first time 5 years ago and thinking that running for more than 30 minutes straight would be impossible!

Since it’s only been a few weeks since Hartford, I have exactly zero time goals for MCM. I’m focused only on having ALL THE FUN! I want to soak up the electric atmosphere of this amazing event and enjoy the crap out of running through my city and partake in every unofficial beer, donut hole, and candy station and take as many selfies with hot Marines as I can. It’ll be my own personal tenth marathon-i-versary runparty!