MCM 2016 ~ Mission Accomplished

November 2, 2016

in Fitness, Just life, Training

I’ve been feeling sorry for myself and beating myself up since running the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday, October 30. So many feelings have swirled around inside of me, trying to claim a spot in my permanent memory of the event, that it’s taken me a few days to decide which ones would be allowed to stay.

I had a goal for the marathon. To finish, of course, but I wanted to beat my time of 6:30 from 2013. I thought 5:45 or 6:00 would be a reasonable goal. It took me 7:02. You read that right: seven hours. Almost a full work day. Longer than it took me to drive from Erie to my aunt’s house in Maryland. I can’t think of too many things I ever do for seven hours straight. Maybe sleep.

It’s hard to explain and make sense of my mixed feelings. On one hand, I absolutely am proud of myself for finishing another marathon. For running and walking 26.2 miles on my own two feet. But on the other hand, I have battled feelings of disappointment and embarrassment these last few days after what I felt was a pitiful performance.

I spent most of 2016 to this point preparing for this one event. One day. One chance to put forth the effort and see what I could do. I began training in March for a half marathon set for June, I continued training for a second half in July, and then it was time to kick things up and increase mileage and follow the training plan that would take me to 26.2.

This summer was rough. It was hot and humid, and never cooled down at night. I had a hard time getting runs in sometimes because it was just too warm. But I didn’t skip the long runs, and only missed a weekday run here or there during the shorter mileage stretch of the program. I distinctly remember my excitement in early September when the humidity finally broke and we had some relief. The long runs became a little easier. It was actually chilly for the morning weekday runs.

{Okay, enough about the training. If you want to read those details, you can read previous posts in the blog.}

The week leading up to the marathon was a little bumpy. I woke up last Tuesday morning with an awful neck pain, so bad that it hurt even to sit up in bed. I missed scheduled runs for Tuesday and Wednesday and was able to see my chiropractor and massage therapist Tuesday and begin feeling a little better. Thursday I planned to run, but woke up to hear pouring rain and wind whipping against the windows. I didn’t want to take a chance at getting sick and it was only a few miles so maybe it wouldn’t really matter.

My mom and I left that afternoon for Maryland, and I mentioned to her that I should try to get a short run in at my aunt’s Friday morning. I didn’t go, though, since I had only brought one running outfit and it was for race day. I don’t know that a two-miler would have made much of a difference at that point anyway for what came later.

I wasn’t exactly nervous as the big day approached, but I was a little tense. The weather was supposed to be warm. Unseasonably warm. As in, a high temp in the low to mid 80s. In late October. A bit of dread planted itself in the back of my brain.

Saturday evening, my sister-in-law picked me up and drove me to her house in Washington, D.C. We had a spaghetti dinner and watched the World Series. I headed to bed around 9:20 and thankfully it didn’t take too long for me to fall asleep and I slept well. We were up early so she could drive me to catch a shuttle that would take me across town to the Pentagon, where runners would await the start of the race. The bus started loading a few minutes after I arrived. I took a seat in the front row, a guy about my age or a little younger joined me a minute later, and the bus quickly filled. We were on our way and my seat-mate and I made small talk.  In a flash of a moment I realized I had forgotten my equipment belt in the room I stayed in at my SIL’s house. In it was a bag of sport beans, two packets of GU, and a small ziploc baggie of wipes. She was planning to come downtown later anyway and see me on the course, so I just texted her and asked her to bring it with her. In the meantime, I would try to not panic. I had one packet of GU stashed in the small pocket of my shorts, and I knew there were a few food stations and one gel station on the course. There was a chance I would see my friend Lauren at some point after she finished her 10K race, so I texted her and asked her to bring some extra GU. She went a step further and instead messaged her running club and learned that I could look for them at mile 3 and ask for a woman named Cathy and she would have GU for me. <exhale> Crisis averted. (Lauren is an amazing troubleshooter. She loves solving problems, no joke!)

After getting off the shuttle bus, I walked with the herd of people toward a huge parking lot that had been turned into a ‘runners village.’ There were long rows of porta potties with people lined up to use them, and a row of 30 or so UPS trucks lining one side of the lot waiting for runners to drop their bags. The trucks would later drive to a block near the finish line, where runners could retrieve their bags after the race.

I waited in line and used a potty, then wandered around the parking lot for a few minutes trying to look like I belonged there and not look like I had no idea what I was doing. I dropped my bag at UPS truck #20, and after a few more minutes of walking I knew I needed to sit and rest like so many others were. Staying on my feet was not a good idea. I’d be on them enough later. I picked a spot of cold pavement and sat. The hardest part, since I was alone, was to NOT pass the time by playing on my phone or scrolling Facebook. I needed to save as much battery as possible. I only ended up sitting about 30-40 minutes, and it was time to make our way to the start line for opening ceremonies. (All of this pre-race action was new to me. In 2013, I simply tagged along with Lauren and her running club friends as they took pictures and we walked from a Starbucks to the start line. Easy peasy.)

Day was breaking and we listened to the Star Spangled Banner sung in amazing harmony as the sky brightened. The race began. I had lined up in the corral with the anticipated 5 hour finishers, which was a bit ahead of my goal but not so far ahead that the other runners would have to trip over me with their speedy paces.

It takes quite a while for 20,000+ people to cross a starting line. The elite runners took off at 7:55, and I think I finally crossed the start line around 8:25.

I tried to consciously start the race a little slower than what I’ve been running, since I had an entire week off. I felt okay but didn’t expect to feel good yet. My first few miles are always rough. Unfortunately, the first few miles of the course included some big hills. That certainly didn’t help my pace at all.

As we approached mile 3, I kept my eyes peeled for a table with red balloons, where I could find Cathy and snag some GU packets. I never saw it or her. There were quite a few spectators so if I didn’t look soon enough it was easy to miss her. I would have to just make it work.

I chugged along, taking walking breaks now and then like I had done in training. I carried my own Gatorade/water mix but made sure to take drinks at each station so what I had with me would last.

The miles passed, and I kept hoping and waiting to hit my ‘feel good’ spot. For me that usually hits around mile 5 or 6 and I start feeling really comfortable with my pace and everything feels like I could run for miles and miles. Since my phone is new I was using my MapMyRun app so I could keep tabs on my pace. It was not impressive.

I was also using the Motigo app that allowed friends and family back home to record cheers and messages for me to hear at their specified mile markers. Not gonna lie, I teared up at a few of the messages. It wasn’t exactly because of what people were saying each time, but I was just so touched by the fact that people took the time to download the app and think of some encouraging words to say to me. My friend Kelley shared a little joke or piece of advice from each of her three kids and those brought smiles to my face. There were some funny sights, too:

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As I approached miles 8, 9, and 10, I wondered when I would finally reach the station with the energy gels. I’ve learned that if I eat the GU gel on time, it helps me. When I eat it too late, it’s harder for my body to catch up. I had already eaten the one packet I had and was behind.

I think around mile 11 or 12 I reached the gel station and I took two; one for now and one for later. I figured that would be enough to get me through to mile 16 when I would see SIL Melissa and get my equipment belt.

In addition to needing fuel, the bottoms of my feet were starting to hurt, which isn’t a pain I normally deal with. Usually my knees or hips will become sore (and they were, a little) but this foot pain was new to me. I couldn’t help but think I had had TOO MUCH rest having not run for a full week. It hurt whether I walked or not, so I tried to just keep running as much as I could.

I knew some of my family was making their way to a point on the course where they could cheer me on and I really looked forward to seeing them. My cousin had taken a picture of my mom next to a marker and texted it to me, so I would know right where to find them. It felt like forever, but I finally reached them.

It was such a sight for sore eyes when I finally saw them.

There they are!

There they are!

After some hugs (and tears on my end), swapping Gatorade bottles, and eating a few sport beans mom had brought me, I had to be on my way. I had ‘beat the gauntlet’ but still had to ‘beat the bridge.’ Runners who don’t reach the 14th St. bridge by a specified time are routed onto an alternate course and cannot finish the official race.

There seemed to be fewer spectators along the National Mall – and other parts of the course – but I took some nice pictures along the way.

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As I made my way toward the National Gallery, I spotted Melissa ahead. She handed me my belt and had some encouraging words for me. I rounded the end of the Mall and passed the Capitol, saw Melissa again on the other side of the Mall, and was happy to see my family again at the corner of 14th Street.

They had made some fun signs!

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Onward to the bridge. Crews had opened a hydrant for us to run through and it felt amazing. Approaching the bridge, all you can hear is the cadence played by a drum corps of a nearby high school. It was an all-female group and they were amazing.

I beat the bridge so at least I knew I would be allowed to finish the official course. I still had 8 miles ahead of me, though, and I knew it would be anything but easy. The clouds had been gone for a few hours and bright sun was beating down. I wondered many times in those last miles if I would be able to finish or not. It was tempting to just quit, but I had spent too much money on the registration and the time I had spent training was too much to throw away. The last 8 miles seemed to take forever but as I saw what ended up being about a dozen runners taken off the course by med crews on stretchers in those last miles, I consciously decided to not even worry about my 5:45 goal and just try to finish.

Finally I saw it. The promise that the end really was near.

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I knew just one hill and a straightaway lay between me and the finish line.

Praise. God.

After 7 hours and 2 minutes, I finally crossed the finish line. Amazingly (for me) I didn’t even cry. I was still pretty frustrated with myself but more that that I was elated to be done.

Dozens of Marines lined the edges of the course past the finish line, offering high fives and congratulations.

I made my way to the rows of barricades set up with 2nd Lieutenant Marines waiting with medals at the end of each row. I picked a row, the Marine placed a medal around my neck and gave me a big hug. And of course, I had to take a selfie with him!

Me & my favorite Marine!

Me & my favorite Marine!

{We’re nearing the end, I promise.}

I had a few more pictures taken, then found my family and took a few more. We made our way to the UPS trucks for bag pickup, to the Metro, to the car, and back to my aunt’s house for pizza.

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~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

I read an article today by a Runners World writer who also ran the MCM on Sunday. As I read it, I felt like I could have written it. He wrote about the frustration of feeling like a failure after months and months of working toward something and not achieving the goal you’ve set. I shared the link on Facebook and explained that my embarrassment at my pitiful finish time and feeling like a failure despite finishing was why I hadn’t written this blog post yet.

The comments that followed from my friends brought tears to my eyes and helped me adjust my perspective. People reminded me that I am not a failure, that I finished a marathon, and that I did not give up despite the opportunity to do so.

So now, after a good deal of self pity and feeling like a failure, I will move on and look at the glass half full.

I ran 26.2 miles by myself.

I didn’t have all of my fuel and equipment.

I missed training runs during the last three weeks of my program.

Race day temps were about 20 degrees warmer than average.

I had a medal placed around my neck that only about 20,000 other people in the world received on Sunday.

I ran a marathon.

mile 20 too tough to kill

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Barb November 4, 2016 at 12:33 am

I sure enjoyed reading this. Proud of you!!!

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