Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Running the MCM - Just. Like. That.

There is something magical about running; after a certain distance, it transcends the body. 
Then a bit further, it transcends the mind. 
A bit further yet, and what you have before you, laid bare, is the soul. 
~Kristin Armstrong

I have had a couple of days to think about my experience at the 36th Marine Corps Marathon. An experience that I am quite confident I cannot put into words, but I will do my best to try. Most likely, this will turn into a long rambling of stories...ready?

Upon my arrival in DC last Thursday, K-bomb, Kev-dawg, and I went out to enjoy some royal carb-loading at a pizza place near our hotel. They had an adult beverage and I ordered a water with lemon (You know, to give the server something to do -- while enhancing the look of my clear beverage). Then I ate handfuls of bread, salad, and almost the whole pizza. Oh, and let’s not forget about dessert. Yup. We shared a chocolate cake covered in ice cream. Thank the Lord for marathons and carb-loading.

Veggie pizza. Bring it! 

Friday morning, I attempted to help my new friend, James from Taps (who has since friended me on FB. And I will now stalk him. Just kidding, James! ... Sorta). We spent time moving carts of OJ, Apple Juice, snacks, etc., and then headed to the expo to check in.

Making friends with a devil dog outside the expo
I have to say that this marathon expo was incredible! It was so amazing to be surrounded by our military men and women, while checking out the latest and greatest in a room full of runners. Drool.

I  was able to meet back up with K-bomb and Kev-dawg at the expo, where they guided me thru the process of checking in. I felt like a deer stuck in headlights. I just couldn’t stop staring at everything and everyone. I went from excitement and smiles to crying. Yes, I even cried at the expo. The whole experience was overwhelming and this race meant so much to me.

With Kev-dawg and K-bomb! 
Kim (aka K-bomb) helped me with searching out and getting some warmer MCM gear to run in--which was SO helpful, especially considering my dazed and confused state. She would ask, “what size?”...and I’d just stare at her, unable to comprehend the fact that I had to actually think to try on running tights. Without Kim, I might have ended up running in 30 degree weather in shorts and a sports bra.

My outfit was practical, but not super warm. I was wearing two layers of Brooks long sleeve running shirts and then a layer of UnderArmour long sleeve under those. On top of all that, I had my TAPS Run & Remember jersey, followed by a throw away jacket that lasted about 2 minutes (the zipper broke--from all the times I tried to put my head inside my jacket to warm up--nice, patty. real nice). I also had on cropped running tights, throw away gloves, and a sweet MCM hat (along with a headband to keep my ears warm). I thought about wearing long running tights, but ...
1) I didn’t want to cover up my army tattoos on my calves for Josh; and
2) I figured I’d warm up...eventually.

I should have put on some cheap sweats to wear before the start of the race...and strip ‘em off like everyone else did, but I hadn’t thought about that. Again -- deer in headlights. I wasn’t thinking much ahead like the others. Heck, some people even had blankets to wrap up in while we waited in our corrals. Yeah....I’ll get it next time.

Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The rest of Friday was spent in chill mode. The K’s and I ate, checked out another running/bike store for Kev, and watched movies (while vegging out on TONS of food) while waiting for the rest of the family to get to DC. Nee, Chris, Tom, and Stef were driving down from NYC (woot woot!) to be a part of our Support Crew.

I didn’t get to sleep ‘til super late Friday. And I didn’t really sleep too well. I realize the importance of sleep the week before a race, but that’s easier said than done. Especially when I was in DC with my family that I hadn’t seen in a few months.

Saturday morning, I got up and went for a little 2 mile jog ON THE TREADMILL. Everyone that knows my training also knows that I despise treadmills. But it was cold, wet, and pouring outside (soon to be snowing too). I dressed in layers and went to hit the road, but quickly retreated to the hotel’s fitness center. My main concern was not the cold or the rain, it was wet shoes. I had only packed one pair of Brooks and thought it’d be best to keep them as dry as possible for the marathon. Good decision on my part, I know. :)

To be honest, that I was even jogging was kind of a big deal--a fact that K-bomb brought up to the rest of the family later that day. As I shared before, I have been battling some blues post-Branson and haven’t done much training at all in the past month. I had done 2 long runs, but failed to hit anything else up. For some reason though, upon waking Saturday morning, I was itching to run. Maybe my mojo was finally coming back after such a bad funk??

The treadmill run was...interesting. I was stiff and slow. It felt all wrong. But again, I didn’t really care. I knew I could do 26 miles and then some. It would be slow, but I could do it. I had God, my family, the Marines, the weather, the crowd, and my friends around the country watching their computers on my side. And to add to all that, I had Josh to run for--to honor with this marathon. We were going to do it together!

After my 2 mile slog (slow jog), Tom and I went to search out a coffee joint in the freezing rain, where I got in another mile or so of slogging. After the rest of the family woke up and took in some caffeine, we headed out for some calories. Our first choice was Future Farmers, an awesome healthy joint that Kev-dawg had found for us to try. Unfortunately, that was everyone else’s first choice as well....so we went across the street to Johnny Rockets instead of waiting ’til 3 in the afternoon just to get a table for breakfast. And snap, we did not miss out! Johnny Rockets served us some dark chocolate shakes, smiley face burgers, and loads of rockin’ music...while I took snapshots of the group nonstop. Ahhhhh, I love marathons.
I love my family! 

We know how to eat and we know how to drink! 
At this point, the weather had gotten colder...and the snow was picking up. I knew that I should have been a little weary of how freezing it was and that I’d be running in it, but I was so excited to see the snowflakes! I’m pretty sure I got a few hundred random shots of the white stuff. Don’t worry, I’ll spare you of those. :)

The weather was wet and chilly, but we still ventured around DC to check out the Lincoln Memorial, VietNam Veteran’s Memorial, Korean War Veteran’s Memorial, White House, Pentagon, and the Washington Monument (I might be missing something else....). It was all so much to take in. The Veteran Memorials were humbling to be near. We have such a blessed country, with so many who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom. I couldn’t even process it all at the time. All I could do was say prayers and utter thankfulness to God and the families of our military men and women. I cried. A lot. It was just all so much.






Saturday night, we went to dinner at my fav DC pizza place (okay, the only pizza place that I knew of). I don’t usually eat much the night before a race, but I definitely inhaled a good amount of bread and pizza on this trip. Maybe it was emotions. Maybe it was just being with family and friends. Maybe it was the idea of not having a race goal that drove my type A personality insane enough to eat carbs like I was a bear getting ready for winter hibernation. I don’t know, but I ate. A lot.



After dinner, the boys headed out to enjoy DC and my sister headed to bed to get some much needed rest (she was pretty sick with a bad cold the whole weekend). I was in bed and drifting off by 10pm (thanks to Nyquil).

I went to sleep excited, nervous, and ready to run...



The Chaotic Morning:
Sunday, I woke up 3 hours before the race and ahead of my alarm. My first thoughts were that I actually ran the marathon twice (those Nyquil dreams!). My second stream of thoughts were that I had missed it. After I got past my deliriously sleepy state and heard my alarm going off, I realized that I was right on schedule.

I got up and paced around the hotel room before remembering to change and eat a banana. Despite my ADD amped up from all the excitement, I was all dressed and ready to go in my layers (as mentioned earlier in this ‘no detail left behind’ race report) to take the shuttle around 6am, as planned by the K’s and I the day before.

We headed out in the bitter cold to find the shuttle, only to realize that we were only 2 miles from the start. Change of plan: we would be walking there instead. On the way, we had to be especially careful to not slip on the icy roads (did I mention the freezing snow the day before??) It was cold, y’all. Crazy cold.

Kim keeping me warm on the way to the corral
On the way to the starting point we saw so many Marines! We even got to see them raising the MCM arches. It was an awesome site. And yes, besides being patriotic, I’m a big fan of the uniforms. Drool.



After Kev-dawg and I visited the VIP porta potty (Thanks K-Bomb for setting that one up for me! It was divine!), we headed to the 4:00 hour corral. We still had 45 minutes or so before the race. I tried to huddle with the warm bodies close to me--without them realizing it, of course. I kept on getting closer and closer to strangers, just hoping it’d help with the cold! It helped some--well, until the Marine in front of me started to jump up and down too much for me to cuddle. I think he figured out my strategy.

Huddling alone in my broken throw away jacket. Snap. 
Oh, about the 4:00 hour corral - for those of you who were wondering about my goal time. I went into this race without a goal. Honestly, I had been battling some serious blues lately and it was all I could do just to get to the starting line. It’s humbling to admit that someone like me--so in love with fitness and exercise--has been unable to find the motivation to move again. I have not wanted to do much of anything since Branson. I did a few long runs here and there, but that’s about it. I haven’t enjoyed running this past month (soooooooo crazy to admit!!!). I haven’t been training, sleeping, moving, etc. It sounds pathetic, but that’s where I’ve been lately.


However, it was different once we got to DC and I saw the boys and my family. I remembered why I was running--to honor a great soldier and amazing man. Everything within me wanted to run the MCM once I was there. Heck, I even wanted to run it twice. I was gonna be slow, but I wasn’t going to stop.
Back of my jersey -- Running for Josh

As soon as we lined up in the 4:00 hour corral, I began rethinking where I should actually be lined up (like maybe the 5 hour mark). At this point my goal time was 4:05. There it's out. I really did have a goal, but didn’t fes up to it. I wanted a 4:05 and had a secret hope for 4:00.

Kev-dawg and I waiting in the cold
AnywhOOO Rah, at this point I was thinking...I am in the wrong corral, it’s cold, and...I don't see a lot of people. Where are all these alleged people? But then I realized the corrals were doubled across the road. There were two huge areas for each pace group. Whoa. All I could see were a massive amount of heads bobbing about. I guess they were all trying to cuddle to get warm too. Thousands upon thousands of runners. All huddling together and ready to take on the marathon. And I was one of them.


With the sound of the gun we were off and running the 36th Marine Corps Marathon. Wait, no...we weren’t running. We were shuffling and barely moving forward. I can honestly say that the first 6 miles were probably the hardest and most frustrating miles during the race--even though I’m sure my pace shows that it should have been the last 6 miles of the marathon.

There were 30,000 runners in this race so space was a limited commodity. I spent so much time on the uneven brick sidewalks, the grass, and pushing weeds to pass runners and stay on track. It didn’t help that the first section of the race was the hilliest as well. Not Branson hilly, but tricky hilly. The incline was about 4-6%. Yes, tiny, but never ending.

Awesome pic that a friend took of the race. SHUFFLE SHUFFLE!
So here I was shuffling along, weaving through crowds, hoping and wishing for an open space to move. Next time, I will start with a group slightly faster than me so that I can actually run the first 6 miles instead of shuffle. I couldn’t use the downhills to coast because of the crowd. I wasted a lot of energy in the beginning of the race, and am not sure it was worth it. Between trying to stay warm and trying not to trip over people...and trying to find that “open spot”...it was chaos. Pure chaos. Good thing we had the Marines lined up around the streets and at the aid stations to keep us all in check. Drool...again.

At one point (no wait....2 points), I almost fell. I am pretty clumsy, but I swear it wasn’t my fault. Both times, someone fell into me and would have taken me out if it wasn’t for random guys that pulled me up (Thank you random guys!).



I couldn't believe how many thousands of people were around me. According to my Garmin, I acquired about a 1/2 mile more in the race because of all my weaving in and out on the roads. A lesson learned on future situations is just to take it easy if it is so congested and make up the time once the crowd opens up. I could have just relaxed and gotten the first few miles in at a lower HR and not have the stress and extra mileage as extra baggage.

At about mile eight, the run was hitting the national mall area (I think, anyways). The crowds were amazing--really kept the energy up. I saw some hysterical signs that made me laugh out loud. I saw "Dad, try not to suck" and "Milk was a bad choice." I also saw tons of costumes due to the race being so close to Halloween. If I saw one Wonder Woman, I saw twenty. I saw Richard Simmons, Spongebob, and cows (which I knew were Team Fisher House but they reminded me of Arkansas).



The weather was still freezing, but I didn’t notice it much with the service men and women, American flags, military fly bys, and crowds of encouragement. I was highly emotional in this race--more than ever in my life during an athletic event. I cried for at least 20 miles of it. Every military man and woman reminded me of those like Josh who gave their lives for our country. Every American flag reminded me of the cost of freedom and what he died to protect. I was in tears with almost every step, completely humbled by my surroundings, while thanking God for those that serve.

Crying and running don’t make great race photos

Running next to “keebler”, as my friend called the guy in the green and red,
He looks “like and early Christmas elf”, she said. lol.



Miles 12-15 were pretty lonely but they helped me to focus some. This part of the race looked like it was on a golf course (maybe? not sure). My IT band (left leg) was starting to hurt bad--like on fire kind of pain. My hips were piercing as well. None of the pain bothered me though. I knew I had the energy and the stamina to endure. I did realize that I needed calories to push me on at this point (even with all that bread and pizza I had consumed the days before. uh-huh!), but I was slow in taking anything in.

Oh, speaking of calories and energy, the aid stations were challenging. Not to say that there wasn't enough water and gatorade, because there was PLENTY. And not to say that it was unorganized, because it wasn't. But, there were just too many dang people. Every water stop was just crazy with runners. As I grabbed my water at the first few, I was literally running on top of tons and tons of empty cups and trying not to fall again (although if I did fall, I’m sure a nice Marine would have helped me get back up. Drool). Without the Marines, this race would be chaos due to the amount of people running it. I sincerely appreciate how much manpower was needed to put on this race and thank all of the volunteers and Marines because it could not have been easy.

Speaking of Marines, they were everywhere. They were running, they were spectating. It was awesome! The ones with the bull horns were actually pretty funny. I remember one back at mile 6 saying, "You're almost there! Only 20.2 to go!”.

Around mile 13, I had to pee like no tomorrow and I was starting to get really warm in all my layers (finally). I made an executive decision to hit up the next group of potties, even if I saw a long line (I always change my mind last second when I see the lines and then end up regretting it later). When I FINALLY found some johns, the lines were crazy long. I had to stop and wait, wait, and wait some more. Yes, I was tempted to just find a spot and squat (like so many others did along the way), but I just couldn’t bring myself to go pee behind a tree--especially with all those Marines around!

After I got going again, I tried to take off some layers as I ran. Ummmm, for some reason I had a hard time shedding. I eventually had to stop around mile 15 to actually untwist myself from one of my shirts. Classic patty move.

At mile 15, we entered the national mall (well, I think. It’s all a daze really). The crowds were everywhere. The monuments were incredible. I got super emotional some more because the atmosphere was so moving. I knew that I was going to finish strong--not a PR kind of strong--but more of a “I could do this twice today” strong.

When I hit about 18 miles, I made a point to actually evaluate my energy levels. I had only eaten one of my honey stingers--about 160 calories. I know that sounds like a bad plan, but remember--I didn’t really have a plan (and that includes calories and hydration). I just went to run. I knew that I wasn’t suffering for energy -- with the White House to my left, the Washington Monument to my right, and Josh’s memory in my heart, I had no trouble maintaining motivation--but I was aware that I needed calories. So for the remaining aid stations, I made it a point to eat the gummy bears, jelly beans, a donut munchkin, and whatever else I could find at the aid stations.

Mile 20 was over the Bridge. This could have been a lonely bridge, but I wouldn’t let it. It was a great bridge and I felt great on it. Everyone around me was pretty quiet at this point. I could feel the struggling around me. I wouldn’t let it get to me though. Not even my painful IT band and hips could drag me down. I was hollering and dancing with the music and any Marines that were calling out to us. When I felt like “the wall” was starting to hit me, I thought of Josh. I thought of how strong and courageous he was to go to war and fight for our country. I thought of how much we all miss and love him--and how much he means to my brothers. I thought of Alicia and the twins and how much support, love, and encouragement they need. As I stated earlier, this was a highly emotional run. I poured my heart into it. And somehow, along the way, God brought healing through the tears as well.

Mile 21. Marines were shouting “You beat the Bridge! You beat the Bridge!!!”. I had no idea what they were talking about until I was told later that if you don’t hit the Bridge by a certain time, then you get scooped up from the race. Good thing I didn’t know what that meant--one less thing to worry about.

Mile 22 was a blur.

But not mile 23....ahhhhhhh...mile 23. The out and back of mile 23 got me a little confused. I apparently saw the wrong sign or was becoming delusional at this point because I thought mile 23 should have been mile 24. I got a little disappointed when I realized that I was off, but at the same time, I didn’t want the race to end.

It was a strange feeling to be so excited about finishing and yet not wanting to. I even walked some of the aid stations toward the end--not because I had to but because I didn’t want the race to stop. I wanted it to go on. I wanted to take in every last drop of the MCM. I even considered walking the last mile of this marathon just to hold onto it longer. That thought lasted a second when I realized that my brothers would give me heck about walking when not really needing too, but still... the thought was there. Clearly, I was still emotionally wrapped up in the experience. My IT band was throbbing towards the end so I know I slowed down, but...I still wanted the race to last longer.

I knew that I definitely wasn’t going to PR. Nor was I going to meet my 4:05 goal, but I was going to finish and get that medal for Josh.



With .2 miles to go, I headed up that last little incline toward the Iwo Jima Memorial. About 50 feet from the finish line, my brothers were mixed in with the thousands of spectators. I spotted them near the gate in their bright yellow Support Crew shirts before they saw me. Immediately, I started dancing and bobbing up and down screaming their names. I don’t know how long it took them to notice me. I must have looked pretty insane with tears streaming, hands waving, and yelling something that I can’t even remember. I went to them and started giving high fives (to others around them as well). I was SO excited to see them!

After our family celebration, I ran to the the finish line. Upon crossing, I saw everyone stopping...and realized that was it. THE END. There wasn’t anywhere else to run even if I wanted to because of all the people. I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to keep going. I turned to a guy next to me and said, “Want to go do it again now?”. His reply was something about not being a long distance runner...but a triathlete. I think I just laughed at him. I don’t remember. It was all a blur. I was just crying and laughing and crying and laughing.

 I kept moving forward, back to a shuffle in the crowd, and headed to get my medal. As I got to one of the Marines who placed my medal around my neck, he said, “Are you sure you ran the whole 26.2 miles? You don't even look like you broke a sweat. You have to go do it again." I laughed, told him that I would love to, and thanked him. Then I stared at the memorial and started crying some more.



The crazy thing is that I wasn’t even tired. The only thing bothering me was the pain in my hips and foot (I found out later that I lost two toenails from the run). Eating a bagel handed to me after the race, I shuffled some more on the muddy paths and through the crowded streets of DC searching for K-bomb, Nee, Chris, and the boys. I finally found my way to the family link up, but I couldn’t spot a familiar face.

The post race situation was insane. From trying to get out of the finishers area to searching for my family, it was crazy. After wandering around for about 30-45 minutes (I have no clue how much time), and consuming whatever calories I could find from vendors along the way (Peanut butter on a pretzel stick? Coconut soy ice cream?? Yeah! Sure! Give me more!), I finally just headed back to the hotel with a plan to contact everyone somehow. K-bomb had my cell phone, but I could reach everyone thru the good ol’ FB.

I walked in the hotel, where I was given a good look over and asked if I just ran the MCM. Then told that I looked pretty good to have just run 26.2 miles. It must be the red hair.

I got upstairs, called K-bomb with the hotel phone, contacted Chris on FB to report that I was done and waiting back at the hotel where it was warm.

And then....with some more tears,

I realized it was over.

Just like that.

OOO RAH!





With some of my support crew! Love you all! 


"You did it: you changed wild lament       into whirling dance;    You ripped off my black mourning band       and decked me with wildflowers.    I'm about to burst with song;       I can't keep quiet about you.    God, my God,       I can't thank you enough”
Psalm 30:11 MSG


8 comments:

  1. you ran a good race--pr or not--and i'm so happy i got to see you bring it home.

    xxoo

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  2. Great recap. I can't wait to run MCM as it sounds just as awesome as everyone says it is. Congrats to you on a great race, running for a great cause!

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  3. I would have it a guess that the reason you got sore (ITB) was those first miles in the masses when you were running slower than you wanted...

    I find my body hurts when I can't run relaxed.

    Loved your story, what is next?

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  4. You are such an amazing person! Hang tough chica. And, yes you may post my poem. I appreciate the compliment!!

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  5. I really enjoyed your race report! I'm also happy for you that you did so well in a race that was so emotional for you. Congrats!

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  6. This was such a great race report. I know how much this race must have meant to you and the emotions surrounding it. :)

    Love your smile and that red hair! :)

    And love those guys in uniform! ;)

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  7. Congrats! What a touching tribute. MCM is definitely on my bucket list...maybe next year...

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