RACE REPORT: 2016 Marine Corps Marathon

This past Sunday, I ran the 41st annual Marine Corps Marathon which took course through our Nation’s Capital in Washington, D.C.

Earlier this year, after running the Brooklyn Half Marathon back in May, I had my sights set on completing a full marathon by the end of 2016.

I had a devastating experience after running the 2014 New York City Marathon and had taken a bit of a break from training for any races up until this year.

It felt good to be back in a regular running routine and have that feeling of working towards an end goal.

Initially, I had no idea what marathon I would end up running. It wasn’t until June that fate stepped in and a friend was looking to transfer her Marine Corps Marathon bib to someone. The minute that I found out, I immediately reached out to her and before I knew it, I was signed up for it.

I had almost forgotten what it was like to train for a marathon. The last time that I was actually following a legitimate training plan and taking it seriously was when I ran the 2013 Big Sur Marathon (which is my marathon PR to this day.)

When I began training for the Marine Corps Marathon, I told myself that I really had to get back into race mentality – that I had to take it seriously instead of just “winging it.” I followed Hal Higdon’s Intermediate Marathon Training plan, which is what I typically have used in the past. It’s straightforward and easy to follow.

After 4 months of training, and a few weeks of setback due to a foot injury, I felt that I was ready as I could be. When it came to travel arrangements, however, not so much.

I booked my hotel in Alexandria, VA which was conveniently located near both the race expo, start line, and finish line. I booked my flight very close to the weekend leading up to the race. In that time, train prices from New York to DC had already drastically gone up, and the bus just didn’t seem like an appealing option.

My sister and I landed late Saturday afternoon after already experiencing some flight delays. We went straight from the airport to the expo and arrived there only half an hour before the expo closed. I picked up my race bib and hardly had time to scan the exhibitor booths. When we left, we were starving after not eating lunch, so we went right to our hotel and ended up ordering Dominos (Not the wisest decision I’ve ever made. More on that to come)

That night, I laid out my race clothes, did yoga, and just tried to relax and mentally prepare for what I wanted to accomplish the next day.

I woke up at 5AM the next morning with a ton of energy and pre-race jitters. It hadn’t officially hit me that I was running a 26.2 mile race until that morning.

The hotel shuttle transported us near the start line, where we ended up walking nearly a mile to get to.

By the time we arrived, the sun was starting to rise and so were the temperatures. It was forecasted to reach near 80 degrees fahrenheit that day and surely, it did.

The race took off around 8AM.

I took the first 5K of the race very slow, knowing not to make the mistake of starting too quick too soon. I was feeling good when I started, but stopped at mile 6 to use the restroom. From that point, I already knew that I’d be behind and would have to make up for it later on. Stopping for the restroom took about 10-15 minutes off my time, so I tried to pick up the pace.

I ended up crossing the 13.1-mile mark in a time of 2:04, which I was fairly pleased (and surprised) about.

With half of the race behind me, I continued to feel good from miles 14-19. I managed to keep a steady 9:30 minute pace and had planned to really crank up the gears at mile 20.

And then, my worst fear happened.

I hit a wall at mile 21, was having stomach issues, and made the heart-breaking decision to stop, stretch, and walk a bit (which I had told myself I wouldn’t do). From there, it was a long and grueling 5.2 miles of alternating between running and walking.

At that point, I had to accept the fact that I was not going to make my goal time of finishing near or under 4 hours.

I did finish strong, using everything that I had left in the tank to stride across the finish line with a time of 4:38:44. I wasn’t ecstatic, but I wasn’t nearly as devastated as I was after the New York City Marathon.

Though I didn’t finish near my goal time, I did learn many lessons, which I’d like to pass along. Hopefully this will be helpful to anyone reading.

  1. Give yourself an extra month to train just in case something happens along the way such as an injury or a cold
  2. Pick a training plan and stick to it
  3. Do NOT order fast food (especially with cheese or dairy in it) the night prior, or even 2 nights prior, to your race. Don’t even order anything out of your normal diet. The last thing you want is an upset stomach.
  4. Make sure your bowels are empty before the race
  5. Get to the expo early. If you can’t make it a day before, then try to make sure you go a few hours before it closes. It’s not worth it to rush or be stressed about whether or not you’ll get there in time
  6. Try as hard as you can to reach 20 miles for your furthest long run
  7. Look at the course map and elevation early on so that you know what to train for
  8. Incorporate speed training
  9. Even if it’s a flat course, incorporate some hill training just in case there are even the slightest of inclines
  10. Make sure to stretch A TON in the days after the race 
  11. Don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t the time you were hoping for. Even finishing a marathon is a huge accomplishment in itself

12 Days Until Marine Corps Marathon

I’m only 12 days away from running Marine Corps Marathon – My third marathon in the books for me.

I ran my last long run of my marathon training this past Sunday and felt quite relieved to have not been as slow or as sore as I anticipated.

In the past, I’ve always underestimated the difficulty and dedication that comes with running a 26.2-mile race.

It definitely isn’t easy.

Yet, little by little, I’m getting better with each training period because I’m understanding the weight of the consequences that come with being unprepared for a race of this distance.

Two years ago, I ran the worst race of my life – The New York City Marathon. What was supposed to be a magical and exciting race ended up being one of the most awful experiences of my life. It’s not that the race itself wasn’t magical or exciting, it was my performance in running it that made it the disaster that it was.

The reason why I’m so intrigued and so passionate about training for a race is because it truly tests a person’s character, will, and determination. It sure did test mine. It humbled me.

Running is a love-hate relationship and not everyone loves it.

The reason why I love it is because it forces you to struggle with yourself. And sometimes, the best thing you can do is face that struggle. Running is a solo act. Even with team running events like Cross Country or Track & Field, you still only have yourself. You can’t tap out or have substitute anyone in your place. It’s you, your two feet, and the ground beneath you. And I think that’s something that people always struggle with, even if they love running.

With my marathon coming up right around the corner, I’m looking forward to seeing what this race will put me through; what it will do to me.

Even with the training that I have behind me, there are still those external factors that can make a difference The fun part is seeing how I how I handle it.

RACE REPORT: 2014 New York City Marathon

On Sunday, November 2, 2014, I ran my first New York City Marathon.

I arrived at the starting point in Staten Island, New York near 7AM after having little to no sleep the night prior. The nerves and anxiety kept me awake from 4AM on. I headed to the subway from my sister’s apartment at 4:45AM.  It was still pitch black outside and there wasn’t a soul was to be found anywhere on the streets. Thoughts kept circling in my head to convince myself that I was actually running this race and that there was no backing out now. I arrived at the Sheraton Hotel on 53rd and 7th avenue around 6AM and there was an ocean of runners flooding in and out of the hotel lobby. Right then and there, I finally knew that this was all real.

I met with my former co-workers from Runner’s World and was filled with joy to be on a bus with people I knew. As we were seated to depart for the starting point, I couldn’t stop mentally rehearsing how I wanted to run this marathon. In previous races, I’ve never had an issue with turning my thoughts into actions. However, this race was different. I knew I wasn’t physically prepared, so I had to try to put mind over matter. I was hoping that some spontaneous burst of energy that was stored somewhere in my body would arise and make me run the best race of my life (that was not the case)

My wave was scheduled to start at 10:05AM. It was still only 7:30AM as I was walking around looking for a bathroom to use. I kept thinking to myself, “I wonder how many times I can use the bathroom before I actually start running”

I was under-dressed and freezing cold as I wandered the parking lot near my corral. I was with my former co-worker from Runner’s World as we both searched for the best place to hide from the wind while we were waiting. We found a safe haven inside of a Poland Spring truck and sat on pieces of cardboard boxes with strangers who were also trying to keep themselves warm. It was approaching 9AM when I couldn’t handle waiting anymore. I headed to my corral and waited with the other runners who were just as impatient as me. I’ve never wanted to start running so badly in my life.

As the officials started letting us through the gates of our corrals, all I could think about was how cold my toes were and how I wished I brought gloves or a hat.

We slowly started jogging to the bridge where the race was to begin. My body started warming up from excitement. When the alarm went off for us to start, my mind went blank.

As we ran over the bridge, the wind was blowing so hard that I almost tripped over my own two feet. I tried to remain focused and find my balance. When we entered Brooklyn, I started hearing the distant cheers of neighbors who were all lined up on the sidewalk along the blue tape that created a barrier between the runners and them. As the crowds grew larger and the noise grew louder, I couldn’t help but smile. This was really happening. With each passing mile, I kept looking forward to mile 11 where my sister and best friend were waiting for me. My legs felt great and I was at a perfect pace to run a 4-hour marathon.

When I finally arrived at mile 11, I saw the bright, yellow Powerbar poster that my sister’s roommate made for me. I couldn’t be more ecstatic to see them. I stopped and gave them each a hug and finally felt that spontaneous burst of energy overcome me. From there, I thought “This is cake. I have this in the bag”

Once I hit mile 13, the tables started turning. Sharp pains were running up and down from my feet to my shins to my quads. By mile 14, I felt everything. My legs felt like giant cinder-blocks  and the pain became more intense. I wasn’t familiar with this feeling and I didn’t know what to do. Every step was more difficult than the last. I kept telling myself, “DO NOT WALK. WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT WALK”

I walked.

I walked almost every mile from 14 through 26 and I couldn’t be more disappointed. I’ve never walked a race in my life and I couldn’t understand how this happened to me. I began ignoring the cheers of the crowds as I ran through the Bronx and Manhattan. All I wanted was to finish with this race. At one point, I even considered just completely being taken out by a medic. I’ve never felt this amount of pain before.

Then, I thought about how much more disappointed I would be if I didn’t finish the marathon. After such a difficult year, I owed it to myself to earn that medal. Once we finally entered Central Park, less than 2 miles left from the finish line, I saw my sister and best friend at mile 25 and they were still cheering.

I cried to them, “I’ve got nothing left.”

“Yes, you do!” screamed a stranger in the crowd.

In my head, I just thought, “No. I don’t.”

I mustered up every bit of energy I had left to run the remainder of mile 26. As we approached the grandstand, I saw the finish line in sight and tried to speed up the snail-like pace that I was running at. When I crossed the finish line, I felt everything- All of the emotions, physical pain, memories, everything. But, I finished. I didn’t even care about my time. It seems impossible to really describe how difficult this race was for me. All I can offer now is advice for those who plan to run New York City Marathon or any marathon for that matter.

1.) Use a training plan

Train. Stick to a plan and don’t skip out on long runs. I was no where near the mileage that I should have reached for this race. My legs gave out because they were not used to running further than 10 miles. I now understand that wishful thinking DOES NOT carry you the entire way. Being unprepared for a race is the same as being unprepared for a test in school. The information doesn’t just appear out of thin air. Be prepared.

2.) Bring MANY layers

Whatever the weather is predicted to be, bring more layers than you think you need – A hat, gloves, a sweatshirt, sweatpants, a blanket, a sleeping bag, anything. You can always get rid of it before the race. It’s better to have more clothes than less. Bring things that you don’t mind getting rid of. This gives you an excuse to do some spring cleaning.

3.) Get enough sleep

I may have slept a total of 1.5 hours the night before, but thankfully got 10+ hours two nights before. (And I’m pretty sure that I was half-asleep from miles 16-20) Get in bed an hour or two before the time that you actually want to sleep. Trust me, you won’t fall asleep that easily. The nerves are real.

4.) Write your name somewhere, anywhere, on your clothing

The crowds helped A LOT. During the miles when I was walking, it felt amazing to hear someone still cheering for you even if you’re walking. Feed off of their kind words. It will carry you.

5.) Take the food that they give you at the finish line

All I can say is that if I didn’t eat or drink something afterwards, I probably would have passed out. You need to eat or drink something after your race. Your stomach will be crying for it and you need the sugar and protein to help your muscles recover immediately.

6.) Understand that anything can happen

Running a marathon is extremely hard. Running in general is hard. Despite your level of athleticism, you never know what could happen in 26.2 miles. Don’t get discouraged by pain. It happens to everyone. We’re only human.

7.) Don’t give up

When you want to give up, try your best not to. I was in an extreme amount of pain and was convinced that I was going to quit, but I’m so glad that I didn’t. The medal that you will get to wear around your neck will make you more proud than you’ve ever been in your life.