Hell Yeah Race Report: Madison Mini-Marathon

(Yeah, yeah. I know, I know. This is overdue, like most of my blogs. Cut me some slack – I started grad school these last two weeks. Better late than never.)

Spoiler Alert: I PR’d.

WWWWWWWHHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!

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Cliff hanger: Wait till you hear by how much!

A few weeks ago I set what I thought were some pretty ambitious half marathon goals. There were two:

1 – To PR.
2 – To break 1:54.

That second goal seemed like a pretty lofty one – it would mean almost a 2.5 minute improvement from my Indy Mini Marathon finish of 1:56:24. When you run lots of races big improvements are hard to come by. It is one thing to drop that much time when you do one race a year, but to improve so much in just three months – it seemed impossible. My PR’s lately have been marginal – 30 seconds here, 45 there. Two and a half minutes seemed simply audacious.

Because of that, leading up to the race I was NERVOUS. Not just nervous, I’m talking anxious, freak-out, butterflies eating up my stomach kind of nervous. It has been awhile, probably since any of my marathons, that I’ve felt that way. I knew I had set some high expectations and was petrified of not meeting them. (Especially since I got all confident and spilled my guts to the blog-o-sphere. Now I HAVE to meet those goals!)

The one thing that calmed me down a bit was knowing that my main goal wasn’t time: it was about fun. I’ve always maintained that the minute you lose the fun, is when it isn’t worth doing anymore. Yes – PR’ing is fun, but getting in a tizzy worrying about it isn’t. So, I tried my best to chill out.

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I went to packet pickup with my first friend I made in Madison, Adam. We met at a local running group (I’ll write more about that soon – I promise!) and have been running and biking around Madison since then. {After a 13 miler in his neck of the woods, Cambridge, WI, we went to lunch and saw a sign for a triathlon and we even signed up for that!)

Adam and I scored some sweet (illegal) parking right by Union South for packet pickup. I guess there might be parking somewhere around there, but that seemed like a frustrating place to have the expo. The space was great, but anything involving volumes of people on a college campus is always kind of a headache. Aside from the traffic though, the expo itself was well run. They even had this Class of 2013 banner with all the entrants names on it.

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Of course I had to find my name…

Perks of pre-registering!

Perks of pre-registering!

Adam and I parted ways and I headed down to the Mendota Terrace to have a beer with another new friend of Madison, Suzanne. She is friends with one of the Hotdoggers who I drove the Wienermobile with and has gotten me in the gym for lifting sessions and leg day. Friday night was carbo-loading in liquid form though this week.

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Race day morning Adam picked me up and we headed to the start line. My butterflies were still floating around my stomach, so I tried to drown them out with a little pump-up music. Didn’t you know… 6 a.m. is the perfect time for Eye of the Tiger and the Rocky theme song!

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Thoroughly amped up, I parted ways with Adam, who was running with a friend in another corral, and headed out in search of the 1:50 pace group. I thought this would be a pretty solid game plan. My goal was to stick with them as long as I could, which would keep me pumped up while I was with them. When I finally had to fall back there would just be a few more miles requiring self-motivation left. I was initially pretty worried about this though and had kind of wished there was a 1:55 group that was closer to my own ambitions.

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The start line was filled with high-fives, from the other 1:50 hopefuls, to Bucky the Badger as we crossed the start line. I knew it was going to be a good race when he furry paw hit mine (my hand, not my furry paw) and we started the climb up Langdon Street. That’s right, the Madison Mini-Marathon starts with an uphill – so cruel!

We ran up to the Capitol and through the Farmer’s Market. I feel bad for the innocent shoppers who were just trying to pick out their local produce and instead encountered a stampede of local runners. I joked that someone should stop to pick up some cheese curds for us, and was secretly disappointed when no one did.

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The next few miles were through campus and around Camp Randall. Although there were water stops along the way, my favorite aid station was around mile 3. The race ran right in front of my friend Matt’s House and he was awesome enough to wake up at 7:00 a.m. to come out and cheer. As an added bonus, he also had these delicious chocolate-covered cranberries for me for some extra energy. I gobbled some of those up and still had lots of extras, but no one in my pace group was as enthusiastic about snacks on the run. (Isn’t the big cliche in running that “I run to eat”?! Cheese curds, chocolate, I guess I’m the only one who gets hungry along the way…)

This guy is a saint!

This guy is a saint!

I stuck with the 1:50 group all the way up until mile 6.5ish. I honestly knew this was when I would lose them. Miles 5-7 were through the UW Arboretum. On the bright side, it was all shaded. (haha.) But, that came at the price of a whole lot of hills. As we passed the half-way mark I lead the people who I was running with in a “YEE-HAW” and I think I got at least 10 others to join me in the rally cry. I love a little spirit!

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Sticking with the 1:50 group as long as I did, I felt pretty good. I had created a nice buffer for my PR and still had a lot in me. That being said, the last half was when that self-motivation came in. Although the hills petered out, they still continued to speckle the last half of the course. Luckily, my sister and her new husband also came out to cheer me on.

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My one other critique of the Madison Mini-Marathon was that there was no Gu provided along the course. This just happened to be the ONE race I didn’t stash one in the good ‘ole sports bra for a just-in-case pick-me-up. I wish I had, because around mile 10 I was starting to fatigue a bit. Thankfully, a fun-spirited bunch was handing out bacon strips right around then.

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If you haven’t noticed, my mantra at races is if food is offered, you have to take it! (I AM a run-to-eat gal and am not embarrassed to admit it!)

The last three miles were definitely a challenge, but with a badass PR on the horizon I did my best to finish it strong. Luckily, the spectators the last mile were awesome and the final stretch with Bucky back at the finish were awesome!

I ended up high-fiving Bucky right as I came in and crossed the finish at 1:51:36. ONE FIFTY ONE!!!

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THAT’S AN ALMOST FIVE MINUTE P.R.! Yeah, I’m more than a little bit excited about it. Looking back, I think it had almost entirely to do with mental commitment, more than physical training. I finally just went out there for a race and didn’t let me own expectations confine my performance. (I think anyway; who knows, maybe I could be running 1:45s all along!)

This medal is also a bottle opener! You know you're running in Wisconsin when....

This medal is also a bottle opener! You know you’re running in Wisconsin when….

Overall – great race, great crowd, amazing experience!

Race Report: Mini-Marathon in Indianapolis, IN

WWWHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

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Let me just start off and say that on the list of things I’m not good at, one of the top is containing my excitement. As you might have guessed, the Mini-Marathon this weekend turned out to be an absolutely awesome race and a total blast to run. I’m not going to add a spoiler alert, but by now you can PRobably guess how it turned out.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

The Mini-Marathon was a last-minute add to my race calendar. Just a few weeks prior I found out that the Top Dogs in the department were sending us to Indy. I was thrilled about this for a few reasons. First, I have a couple friends in the area who I was really hoping I would get to see while on the road. Second, was obviously because I could check off one more state on the Race for 50 States, especially when the transportation and lodging is covered!

One of my friends in the area is Rachael, who I know from back in the dorm days at Mizzou. I’ll tell you more about Razzle Dazzle Rachael in the Indy Touristy Tuesday post, but I couldn’t wait to get to see her. I wasn’t the only one either. Our friend David, from Mizzou/Chicago, also wanted to pay her a visit. David is a runner and once I found out I was headed to Indianapolis it was an easy sell to convince him to come down for the Mini-Marathon as well! Luckily we both managed to score bib transfers off Craigslist and managed to get all signed up for the race.

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I was in the Mini-Marathon spirit the minute we got to Indianapolis and immediately set to work decorating the Wienermobile for the occasion. Naturally, I had to make a jumbo-sized 13.1 sticker for the back of the jumbo dog and added a few other embellishments to the bun as well.

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I’m not even going to play it cool. I’ll admit it. I even wore an Indy-500 themed dress to packet pickup on Friday.

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I picked David up at the bus stop and we headed over to the convention center. (This was round II of the expo for me – I couldn’t’ resist and went on Thursday for work anyway.) When David got to Indy the weather was terrible – it was pouring rain. Not a good sign for race day. He ran into the expo through the rain while I went to find parking, something easier said than done in the Wienermobile.

The expo and packet pickup was extremely well organized. With 35,000+ runners and their families in tow all headed to the convention center I was worried it would be a madhouse. The flow of people was probably really well managed because the pick-up was spread out over two days. Neither David or I knew our bib numbers and just showed up. Within five minutes they had looked us up, pointed us to the right registration table, and gotten us squared away with bibs, shirts, and even a swag Mini-Marathon hat!

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The rest of the expo was pretty typical for me. Wander around, sample a lot of protein bars, and make an impulse running purchase of some kind. This time it turned out to be a pretty big buy and I am now the proud owner of a Garmin Forerunner 910XT.

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Once I’m no longer living out of a hot dog I plan on doing quite a bit more cross-training and hope to diversify more into triathlons. The 910XT just seemed like the best option for that. Waterproof and with a long battery life, I figured this would be a good investment for races to come… like a half Ironman maybe? (Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself again!)

After the expo we were on a mission to eat as many carbs as possible. Eliot was joining us for dinner and we headed back to the hotel to pick him up. Traffic was a mess and we opted to look for a place nearby instead of heading back downtown. That turned out to be a great decision.

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By 7:30 the rain had totally stopped and the sun had started to creep out again. To make things even better, we stumbled onto this Italian restaurant which was situated overlooking an absolutely stunning lake. Hello outdoor patios! It’s been way too long since we’ve seen each other!

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Dinner was wonderful! Eliot and David both made more delicious decisions than me, but all around it was the perfect pre-race meal.

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In the morning we woke up to great news – it wasn’t raining! The skies were a little overcast, which I like to keep cool anyway, and there weren’t any any big rain clouds in sight. Hurray!

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David and I made an early exit and headed downtown right away to make sure we could finding parking, which we luckily were able to find fairly close to the race start.

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The start line was insane! So this is what 35,000 runners looks like?

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Similar to the expo, I was really impressed with how organized it was. There were two waves of corrals. The first set were seeded runners who submitted race results proving their speed. This made sure that they were lined up correctly and not running over people in strollers, for example. The second wave, which is what I was in because I registered late, was all self-submitted times. My friend Kathy, who I actually met up with earlier in the week, had warned me that being in the second set of corrals could make the start really difficult – weaving in and out of walkers. I’ll admit it, I was seeded in corral M and snuck up into L to try to get a little extra advantage – I know, I’m a rebel.

With the tragedy in Boston, I was pretty alert at the start line. It felt really safe and there were tons of volunteers, police, and quite a few men in uniform that I would guess were National Guardsmen.

MM14

I slowly walked to the start line and eventually got a jogging start about 20 minutes after the gun went off. Sure enough, the first mile involved a lot of side stepping, trying to pass people. I’ll be honest, I might have been running a little bit like a jerk jumping around people to get through. At the half mile mark my watch said I was on pace for a 9:30 first mile. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but I had high hopes for this race.

The Mini-Marathon was going to be MY race. The climax of a month of running every day. The third half marathon in five weeks. The final race of my year Hotdogging. I wanted to go big. I wanted to PR and in a substantial way, breaking the 9:00 min/mile pace. That was the goal anyway.

Who doesn't love a big American flag?

Who doesn’t love a big American flag?

So when I saw 9:30 I knew I had to step on it. Even if it was just one mile, 30 seconds would be a lot to make up. I anticipated the first mile to be slower, with warming up and the course clearing out, but didn’t want to give it that much time. A few runners had left the pavement and hopped onto the sidewalk, which seemed like a good idea. The first mile I did in 9:06.

This was a pretty strategic race for me. Normally I tend to dilly-dally, taking pictures, sending texts along the way. Don’t get me wrong, I was still set on having fun (which is always priority #1) but had a little more pep in my step and determination in my stride. So no, I didn’t stop for a picture with the Lion mascot in front of the Indianapolis Zoo, but I did run zig-zags across the course to high five little kids and dance with the bands along the way. (Decisions and trade-offs, right?)

The first five miles went by fast. There was just so much to look at between the runners and the course. I was feeling really good and each mile kept coming in under my target 9:00/mi pace.

At mile 6 we turned into the speedway. The first thing you see going into the Speedway was the jumbotron. I had to laugh when I looked up at it and the news was interviewing the winner of the half marathon. Welp… guess there goes any hope I had at getting 1st place today!

I have a love/hate relationship with the Speedway section of that course. Let me first admit that I went in with the totally wrong mindset. Oh, it’s a track. That won’t be too bad. One loop – that’s like a half mile and it will be nice pavement. Well… It’s a car track though (duh silly!) and that’s much longer than I was expecting. It also got a little congested with runners in this portion of the track. Even so, it was really neat to do a lap in the Indy 500 arena! The only thing missing was a number and some sponsorship money!

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It was on the track that I met the two guys who pushed me the rest of the way through the race. Right at the start of the track portion I heard a cacophony of high school girls cheering on this guy Jesse. I figured he must be their coach or something like that and joked he was their hometown hero. Nope, he was just an excited runner and they were reading his name off their bib! Jesse then proceeded to get our group of runners pumped up with some Army cadences.

Jesse – “WHEN I SAY ONE, YOU SAY TWO. ONE.”
Us – “TWO!”

Jesse – “WHEN I SAY THREE, YOU SAY FOUR. THREE.”
Us – “FOUR!”

Jesse – “WHEN I SAY PT, YOU SAY SOME MORE. PT.”
Us – “SOME MORE!”

I knew instantly this guy had the type of energy that would keep me going, at least around the track. I assumed he’d be a short-term running friend and take off past me, but I was more than happy to feed off his energy while I could. We ended up as running buddies for the rest of the race. Jesse had also started running in the grass around the track, which proved to be another useful tactic. It was much cooler than the asphalt, and while probably more tiring, it was a nice change of pace.

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Toward the end of the track, mile 8, Jesse called out to CJ – another runner he had met. And just like that, we were as thick as thieves, three musketeers finishing out the race.

Both Jesse and CJ were faster than me. Jesse claimed to have calf cramps (having not really trained and instead just jumped into the race as a mental challenge – which he was deftly overcoming) but you couldn’t tell at all. This guy was a rockstar and so encouraging! CJ was doing his first half marathon and had that rookie enthusiasm that was also contagious. With them pushing me, the second half I clocked some serious negative splits! If I ever lagged behind at a water stop, they were calling for me to catch up and get back in step – exactly what I needed for a strong finish.

By mile 10 I knew the PR was in the bag. Even if I slowed down I could still make my goal, but those gentlemen weren’t about to let that happen. By mile 11 I was having that weird, emotional “I’m so proud, I love running, I love everyone!” moment that happens at least once during each race. That’s the runner’s high, right?

At 12.1 we decided it was time to sprint. CJ still had fuel in the tank and I told him he better haul it and finish way ahead of us. Even as he booked it to the finish, he was still waving us forward. Jesse and I stepped up the pace too and crossed the finish line together. Even that last mile, when we were both close to empty, he was still cheering. As soon as we passed the finish line and I hit stop on my watch I pretty much collapsed and he managed to catch me before I fell apart too much. Sorry Jesse – thanks for looking out!

I DID IT – 1:56:24!!! Mission Accomplished! My Garmin actually had me doing 13.27 miles, which meant an overall pace of 8:46. Whoo! That’s what I’m talking about. The pace for 13.1 would have been 8:54/mile though, which still shatters the sub 9:00 goal I was working toward. Whoo!!

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I also finished 181/1638 in the W20-24 division, which is top 11% for my division.

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You might have to click this to actually read it. Whoops

We met up with CJ at the finish and we all collected our well earned checker-print Mini-Marathon medals. At the end of a race I’m usually equally as excited about the food as the medals and we grabbed bananas, granolas, and one of the most delicious cookies I’ve had. (Maybe the secret ingredient in the chocolate chip treats were PRs and negative splits!) After exchanging hugs and well deserved high fives we split and I went to cheer on David.

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This was David’s second half marathon and I was eager to see how he was doing. With 35,000 participants, who all started at various times after the gun time it was darn near impossible to catch him and I ended up missing his finish. Drats! I was really bummed because David also PR’d by a whopping 5 minutes! Now that’s what I would call a successful race for the both of us!

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David had challenged me to meet my goal and we had even wished on PRs at the fountain in Monument Circle, so I was glad we both had things to celebrate!

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After the race we went to meet up with Tim and his friend at the Bourbon Street Running Club. Talk about VIP treatment! They were wonderful and offered us sandwiches, cupcakes and beer! I went for the first two but naturally had to politely decline the last. It was a blast to share running stories and hear how everyone’s race went. I didn’t know this until then, but this year Tim is trying to run 62 races for his 62nd birthday. Wow! Now that’s impressive! I love runners and their ambitious goals!

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David and I made the walk back to the Wienermobile, which seemed substantially longer after the race than it had been before, and headed back to change. Even though we had already run 13.1 miles that day, it was just beginning! it was time to celebrate! We still had to catch up with Razzle Dazzle Rachael, a story I will save for the next Touristy Tuesday post.

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Here’s a preview though: the rest of Saturday involved a road trip to Chicago, a margarita pitcher, and Rachael and I losing a beer drinking competition. I know… you’re on the edge of your seat already!

Race Recap: Marine Corps Marathon

(Warning: Much like the Marine Corps Marathon, this post requires quite a bit of endurance. It’s long and detailed and maybe not ‘blog’ material, but really it’s a personal race recap for me! Just giving you a heads up before you get started.) 

Remember how my big concern with the Marine Corps Marathon weekend was rushing in and out of town? Thanks to Hurricane Sandy it might have been a whirlwind of a weekend, but it was anything but rushed!

Before the Race:
Going into race weekend I was a mix of excited, nervous, and back to excited again. I had changed my flights to extend my time in D.C. and was eagerly looking forward to seeing the sites, kicking ass at the race, and enjoying the close company of the running community. However, that excitement was followed by feelings of nervousness about the impending hurricane and the possibility of bonking during the race.

I knew my training had set me up for success. I had amped up one of Hal Higdon’s intermediate training programs and run more than 500 miles leading up to the race. Sure, I had missed a dozen or so workouts over the training cycle (OK – so that’s kind of a lot!) but given the amount of travel and inconsistency in my life I was happy with the 18 weeks overall. I had nailed the long runs, knew my fueling needs, and felt confident I could at least finish.

On the flip side though, my pace had slowed in the last month, I had begun to feel burned out, and serious self doubts had begun to pop up.

So what does a nervous runner do? Carbo-load of course! I do this totally guilt free, even if it goes beyond carbo-loading and into self indulgence, because it serves two great purposes. First is functionality. You need those carbs! The second reason is carbs are delicious and seem to do a great job at reducing nerves!

Before the Flying Pig Marathon in May I bought an Italian baguette with the intentions of making bruschetta and just ended up eating the entire thing by itself! And you know what, I killed that marathon and didn’t hit the wall once. So this time around, partly out of nutritional planning and partly because of the tradition, I bought a loaf of italian bread and had that for dinner Friday night. (Advice for runners always says don’t change your race strategy, right? If it works, it works!)

Friday night Abe dropped me off in the Wienermobile at the Phoenix airport. What a trip that was! I would say that’s better than begin dropped off in a towncar if I didn’t know better now! I was catching the red eye from Phoenix to Boston – what a mistake that was. They say get as much sleep as possible two nights before the race because you won’t sleep at all the night before. Well, I learned my lesson never to book a red eye for that night because I couldn’t sleep a wink the whole flight!

We pulled into Boston and I haggardly made my way to the airport bathroom to transform into a decent looking human being again. If you haven’t been lucky enough to do this at some point in your life you’re missing out. There is an incredible sense of camaraderie among women applying mascara and eyeliner in those cramped quarters, as we silently acknowledge our mutual embarrassment and frustration with the situation.

From there, I made my way to the gate, which was boarding a flight to Aruba. For a split second I thought about trying to stowaway and spend the weekend on a beach instead of pounding the pavement for 26.2 miles. Instead, I curled up and pretended to sleep until I woke to the sound of three Boston cops discussing their marathon plans.

Talk about straight out of the movies – these guys had accents that would have been Oscar-worthy! One of the cops was talking about how his kid punched his friend at school for flicking a pencil at him. “I told him I was proud of him, but next time punch the other boy harder.” It was like I was eavesdropping on a screen test for a stereotypical Boston cop.

(This was the first of many times during the weekend I had to pinch myself to make sure I hadn’t walked onto a Hollywood film set!)

After confirming they were indeed running the Marine Corps Marathon, I chatted up the Irish Catholic cops until we boarded. They were entirely unfazed by the hurricane that promised to join us for the run and honestly I appreciated their irreverence. I also had a great conversation with Heather, a music theory PhD student at Boston University, who had done the Baltimore marathon the prior year. Those talks really got me in the marathon spirit. Finally – a whole weekend I could talk running non-stop and not feel bad once!

Before we even landed I was giddy with excitement. FALL! Gorgeous green, red, and yellow leaves were welcoming us into Baltimore. Being in the Southwest I’ve totally missed the entire fall season, which is my favorite time of the year. And those colors were just one more reason I was clamoring to get off the plane and into D.C. My Capitol adventure was just about to start!

The Expo:

Eventually, after a thrilling trip into the city, I made it to packet pickup. Talk about military precision at the Marine Corps Marathon expo! There were two sections – packet pickup and the health and fitness expo. This was really nice and streamlined it so that if you wanted to avoid all of the vendors, you could. I was able to walk right into the packet pickup tent, go to my booth, and grab my bib – 24146!

At the expo I got my Marine Corps Marathon patch (so cool but I need to figure out what to do with it) and the turtleneck. I’m actually really excited this ISN’T a tech t-shirt. I have plenty of those. Going into winter, I’d rather have something warmer. The Marine who handed me my shirt was a total sweetheart too. I was debating between a small and a medium and he said, “You definitely look like a small to me!” and handed me my shirt. A girl just has to love any comment like that.

Just by chance the very first booth I happened upon at the expo was the one booth I was on a mission to find. It was the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, who had given me about $10,000 in scholarships during college. I was thrilled to be able to stop by and tell them how much that scholarship meant to me and how it allowed me to graduate college debt free and with honors.

I could tell the girls were equally pleased to see me as well, as a successful recipient and to see their work in action.

The rest of the expo was a whirlwind energy supplements, running gear, and race promotions. One of my favorite things was seeing those who just came to support MCM runners sign up for their own races at the expo! I was genuinely excited for their excitement. And, honestly, a little jealous – there is nothing like that first marathon experience.

After I had loaded up with fliers, samples, and new gear I decided it was probably time to move on from the expo and actually see D.C. I knew I would be running through it the next day, but I still wanted to check out the National Mall and take in some of the monuments. (Of course I forgot my National Park Passport and didn’t get stamps for any of them. Oops!) The original plan was to pop back over to the hotel, change into running clothes, and then do a warmup jog before the pasta dinner. Running short on time, I opted to go straight to the mall.

It was an absolutely stunning day to be sightseeing. I love touristy destinations too because you can always find someone willing to take your picture so you will take theirs.

Washington Monument

Lincoln Memorial

World War II Memorial with the Washington Monument in the background

For me, the most incredible monument was the Vietnam War Memorial. Every time I see that it takes my breath away and I get teary eyed. Seeing all of those names is one hell of an eyeopener. It was a somber reminder of what I would be running for the next day.

Once I regained composure it was off to the pasta dinner at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. As overpriced as these things can be, I really enjoy pre-race pasta dinners.

They are just a great way to meet people and get inspired! I mean, I met one woman who was doing a marathon each weekend for a year in honor of her dad. While I think that’s a little bit crazy, I was beyond impressed with her dedication.

The evening started with the Marine bagpipes band and an appearance by Miles, the official Marine Corps Marathon mascot.

During dinner the USO girls provided entertainment, along with a speaker from Runner’s World.

The best part of the evening though was easily when the drill sergeants came out. Bursting through the doors, screaming, they demanded excellence, perseverance, and commitment during the race in the morning. I was a mix of excited and terrified and when one of the drill sergeants got close to me, I did the whole “look away, look away” thing to avoid being called out!

I left the Pasta Dinner a little early just to make sure I got into bed on time. After the redeye flight the night before I knew I couldn’t sacrifice a good night of sleep. Like a good runner, I diligently laid out my entire outfit for the next day, plugged in my Garmin, and crawled under the covers…

Race Day:
Seven hours later, at 4:45 a.m., I emerged well rested and ready to run! And while I was ready for 26.2 miles that morning, I was deeply disappointed to find that my Garmin 210 had decided not to wake up. I think for most runners that’s a nightmare but probably not the end of the world. However, I had used my Garmin for every training run I went on! I’m one of those data junkies that looks at it every mile for my split time and adjusts accordingly. I am NOT a runner who just runs. I know, I know – I’m well aware that I get caught up in those numbers, but I love it. So when my Garmin 210 greeted me with a blank screen and wouldn’t reset, I freaked.

It was like I went through all five of the the Kubler-Ross stages of grief.

  • First I denied that this could even be happening – I’ve never had this problem! My faithful watch always works so this must be wrong.
  • Denial turned to frustration and anger when I realized that it was indeed not working.
  • Then bargaining set in. Can I fix it? Google – give me some answers! I promise to PR if it will just work!
  • When the internet produced no viable solutions the depression set in. How would I pace myself? How would I PR? How could I even run at all?!
  • Then I realized I was being a nut job; it’s just a watch, and it wasn’t like my legs were broken. I was going to go out and run like any marathoner before the Garmin era, by trusting and listening to my body. With that, acceptance set it in and I threw the watch to the side and headed out the door.

Hundreds of bagel eating, banana munching, water guzzling runners greeted me on the streets of D.C. I arrived at the starting line around 6:30, plenty early for a 7:55 a.m. start time. One of the women at the pasta dinner said she was going to be there two hours early because it gets so packed, so I had anxiously followed her lead and arrived as early as possible.

There were two benefits to that. First – clean port-a-potties! There is nothing like knowing you’re the first one in one of those things. Second – I was able to sit in on services provided by a Marine Chaplain. While I’m not religious, a lot of what he said was still comforting and inspiring to hear.

As the Runner’s Village began to fill up, I realized it was time to make my way to the start line. Even though I flew in by myself, at this point I knew I was not running this marathon alone, as 25,000+ other runners headed toward the arch. Collectively, we all stopped in our tracks as the National Anthem came over the speakers. It was followed by a flyover by two helicopters. After that I joked with the other 4:15 crowd that I had found myself with that the (commercial) jet that flew over was actually Air Force One and President Obama came to say good luck.

Kind of perfect!

And with that, we were off!

The first half of the race was all about taking in the crowds, the fellow runners, and the scenery. As my legs warmed up I met a few other runners who I would see throughout the race: Ben (who was doing his first minimalist shoe marathon) Angela (a stay at home mom who had gotten back into running) and Sue (a fit and feisty older woman). Ben and I ran the first four miles or so together, but I lost him along the way. We would later meet up and run three more miles around the 20 mile mark. By that point his Vibrams would be really hurting him and I would lose him again.

I had hoped to take photos along the way as I had done in my first marathon. I know it slows me down, but I really enjoy having all those memories. I also like to be able to call/text while I run. Absurdity, I know, but there is nothing like hearing a pep talk from my dad somewhere around miles 17-23! So I was a little peeved when my phone followed in the way of my watch and died almost immediately after crossing the start line. Come on technology – cut me a break! I wish I had thrown my phone to the side along with my watch. At least then I wouldn’t have had to carry it the whole race!

As we passed by Georgetown and continued through the streets of D.C. I had the pleasure of seeing two very inspiring sights. First was a blind runner, who was tethered to a partner that would be guiding him the entire way. The second were a group of service members who were each holding the flag of their respective branch. Leading up to the marathon I had read about these individuals, who carry the flag all 26.2 miles. I saw them about a quarter mile ahead of me and slowly moved my way forward to run with them until ultimately passing a few of them. It was incredible to see these individuals, overcoming these challenges and burdens, accomplishing something so monumental that most people never do.

My pacing plan for the first five miles was to stay with the 4:15 group. Since I was running blind (metaphorically – not literally as the individual mentioned above!) without a watch, I initially decided to stick with the pace group as long as I could, assuming I would eventually fall behind to finish somewhere between 4:15 and 4:30. I was delighted to find that while chasing the flag bearers I had creeped ahead of the pace group and eventually lost sight of them altogether. Aware I might be pushing it perhaps too much, I listened to my body as much as I could, but felt great.

The crowds were incredible throughout the race. It was like I had someone there for me throughout the entire race, popping up at different points! What I love about marathons is that they are long enough you actually feel like you get to know the spectators. Even though they’re not there for you, it begins to feel like they are. At the corner of a big hill, on a bridge, by a water stop – I found inspiration at just the right points along the way.

Having the custom Kelly! t-shirt also paid off. It cost about $50 for the shirt and to have it printed, but I would have paid three times as much! Hearing people call my name all 26.2 miles gave me that extra burst of motivation. At some points I was so excited and enthusiastic about the race I felt like I could just jump up and kiss them for coming out!

The worst miles of the race were easily 12-15, running through the East Potomac Golf Course. There were no spectators and the scenery was limited. Thank goodness for the water stop midway through that section of the race – at least there were some Marines there to break up the monotony.

There was one thing did keep me going through this section of the race. A local running club had set up signs literally every 30-50′ with encouraging sayings. Some were for their runners, such as “Go Tammy Go!” Some of these signs were speckled with inside jokes which were actually provided some entertainment, trying to think of the back story that went with the jokes.

Other signs were more generalized. With Hurricane Sandy threatening to take over the race, there were plenty of “Beat Sandy” signs along the way. My favorite signs through this section though were the ones like, “Compliment another runner” or “Say HI to the person next to you!” Being Midwestern, I love anything that makes something inherently a little competitive more friendly.

This section also had signs with celebrity marathon times on them. I can now tell you the finishing time of Al Rocker, Katie Holmes, Oprah, Will Ferrel, and a handful of other celebrities. That was also surprisingly inspiring! The big challenge with the Marine Corps Marathon is to beat Oprah’s time of 4:29 and I repeatedly told myself this was something I had to do during this race!

There were some other great signs along the course, such as one I saw at the steps of Capitol Hill that read “You are now in a binder full of marathoners!” poking fun at the Mitt Romney debate quote.

However, one of the best signs had to be the one I saw around Mile 22 though. At this point running was no longer just mechanical, but more and more heart was needed for each additional footstep. I looked toward the crowd and saw a sign that said “YAY KELLY”. Since my name was clearly written on my shirt I bounded over there for a high-five to thank them for inadvertently cheering me on. That’s when I got closer and saw the sign said YAY KELLY GOLDTHORPE! “Holy Shit!” I thought, “That’s ME!!” I mentioned earlier that my mom had a friend Shani who said she would cheer me on – THIS WAS HER! I couldn’t believe it. With 20,000+ runners and 50,000+ spectators I had run into her. It was just the moment of inspiration I needed.

This is the face of total disbelief and excitement!

By this point in the race I had held my pace pretty well. While I had managed to stay ahead of the 4:15 pace group, during the loop around the National Mall I heard the pacers voice behind me. I couldn’t believe it – she had caught up! Then the 4:15 group actually passed me at a water stop. I didn’t let them get too far ahead and made sure I kept them in sight.

Frustrated by being passed, I began to develop a race strategy to finish. I didn’t really have much of one until that point, just slow and steady. But with the 4:15 group ahead of me, I knew I would have to be strategic to stick with them. I decided I would linger behind them through miles 20-23. Miles 24-25 I would work on catching up with them and by mile 26 I would just haul buns and give it everything I had.

This turned out to be a great strategy that I stuck to perfectly. There was one moment of wavering when I thought to myself, “Just let them go on ahead. You’re clearly on your way to a PR now. It’s not the end of the world to not hit 4:15.” Luckily I pulled myself out of that crazy talk and kept trucking along.

At Mile 23 I expected a pleasant pick-me-up. The course map had promised Dunkin Donut Munchkins at the water stop. As exciting as that sounded during the carbo-load, in practice it was the exact opposite of what I would ever want during a marathon.

Of course I had to try them (who can resist mini-donuts?!) but as all of us who were dumb enough to indulge soon discovered, it was a dry-mouthed recipe for choking, hacking, and gagging. Most of us struggled to finish the bite-sized snacks. That being said, it may have actually provided a burst for many of us as we sprinted to the water station to get the donuts down! Lesson learned: donuts at mile 23 just don’t work for me! (That doesn’t eliminate the Krispy Kreme Challenge from my race bucketlist though, since that involves eating a dozen donuts but at only 2.5 miles into the race.)

The last mile of the Marine Corps Marathon was incredible. My training had involved trying to always sprint the last mile, so I was ready to give it my all. The race ends with a final uphill, barely an incline but after 26 miles it feels like a mountain, and I put literally all I had into getting up it.

4 hours, 13 minutes, and 48 seconds after crossing the starting line of my second marathon, I threw my arms up in victory as I crossed the finish line at the base of the Iowa Jima Marine Memorial. I had done it – I had run and PR’ed in my second marathon!

After crossing the finish line I continued to stumble toward the Finisher’s Village. At the end of the MCM a line of Marines are there to greet you, bestow your medal, and congratulate you on finishing. While they say you’re allowed to kiss the Marine who gives you your medal (warn him first though because they have guns) I was too exhausted to muster up the energy – that should tell you just how tired I was!

This was actually at the start, but imagine this x500 additional Marines at the finish!

The finishers medal was incredible. You don’t get to see it until you reach the finish and the surprise was worth the wait! Once I had my medal and my finisher’s photo taken I went down the line thanking, hugging, and high-fiving every service person I saw.

Partially delusional from running 26.2 miles I didn’t really process it when I heard someone yell out, “Kelly!” I heard it again, but assumed it was a spectator who read my shirt simply congratulating me. The third time I heard my name yelled I turned around and there before me was a classmate from high school. Pierce Torrance I went to school together for six years back in Rockford, IL and while we were never close I knew he had gone on to the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Now here he was, six years later, at the finisher line of the Marine Corps Marathon. I could barely believe it! First the friend of my mom who was cheering me on, now a friend from high school! What a small world!

Of course it was only after finishing that my phone decided to work again. While I missed taking pictures the entire route (which admittedly contributed to my PR) I was able to call my dad from the finish line. Since I ran the race for him, in honor of his service in the Marines during Vietnam, I was so happy to be able to share that moment with him.

I actually didn’t know my official time until I talked to him either. Without the watch, I only had a vague idea of where I might have finished. Somewhere sub 4:15. I had signed him up for the track-a-runner service and he had gotten my pace updates along the way. 4:13:48 – I couldn’t believe it! I BEAT OPRAH! I more than beat Oprah! (I had beat Hurricane Sandy too!)I had far surpassed my goal and it felt great doing it!

After the Race:
Once I hung up with him I quickly found my way out of the Finisher’s Village cluster and in line for the Metro, which wrapped around three blocks! Hurricane Sandy may have held off for the race, but it was clear she was going to make an appearance by the end of the day. I made it on the Metro and headed for my hotel, only to be greeted by a marathoner’s nightmare – stairs! The escalators were broken and while it was just one flight, it was kind of ironic as all the runners collectively groaned as we saw the next challenge before us. Thankfully, the hotel made up for it with a recovery buffet of protein bars and other snacks for the guests!

By the time I was back in the hotel and out of the longest (and best) shower of my life it was evident that while Mother Nature had been kind in the morning and she was going to make up for it starting that night. Now remember how I said I extended my flight by an extra day? Concerned that all the flights would be cancelled the next day when Hurricane Sandy was really going to be in full force I quickly checked to see if I could catch a flight out of D.C. that Sunday night as originally planned. Nope – they were already cancelled! Sure enough, so was my flight for Monday!

Exhausted from the race and well aware that there wasn’t much I could do about it at that point, I spent the night blissfully in the hotel bed relaxing.

My quick weekend getaway to D.C. turned into an extended vacation as flights were cancelled for Monday and Tuesday. The hotel was great though, providing emergency kits and hurricane-themed entertainment. There were speciality cocktails (include the Dark & Stormy) for the adults and a room with games and movies for kids in hotel. Since all of the guests were in the same boat, stranded, we all commiserated together, bonded by the unfortunate circumstances.

Eventually I was able to make it out of D.C! By this time the Wienermobile was forced to move on from Phoenix without me, and I was now flying into Albuquerque by way of St. Louis. That’s when I had yet another small-world moment while the plane was boarding. I look up from my seat and who do I see but Barbara Ifshin, a professor and mentor from college.

This was the professor wrote me a letter of recommendation for graduate school and also spurred my interest in Account Planning. I couldn’t believe it! As it turns out, she had been on her yearly trip to D.C. and had been stranded as well.

Finally, Wednesday evening, five days after starting my Marine Corps Marathon journey, I landed in Albuquerque. It was the end of an incredible, heart-warming, and unbelievably meaningful weekend. I had gotten to honor my dad, run an amazing race, and spend a few extra magical days stranded in the Nation’s Capitol!

My Fastest and My Slowest Runs – Back to Back

I. DID. IT!!!

I broke the 9:00 minute pace for the half marathon distance!!! No, I didn’t just break it, I damn well shattered it – finishing 13.1 miles with an 8:38 pace, and a final time of 1:53:06!

If Wednesday was the day I set out to break records and just ended up breaking the company car, Thursday was the day I set out for a slow and steady run and ended up feeling like an Olympian!

I initially planned on just doing seven miles yesterday. Somewhere along the way though (I’m not sure if I actually had myself convinced on the ride to the trail head or if it was in that first mile) but I decided to just go ahead and do my long run for the week. I mentioned in my last blog post that I have been trying really hard to obtain a new 13.1 PR, but I didn’t expect yesterday to be it at all.

First of all, I wasn’t mentally prepared – I was just winging it.

Second, I wasn’t physically prepared – my pre-run snack was simply a banana, which was all that was soaking up the two glasses of white wine and the White Russian I had the night before!

The first mile I actually did in 9:05. I wanted to avoid starting out too fast like I had done the day prior, so I decided to go out pretty slow. After warming up on mile one there was no holding back! Every mile after that was in the 8:00s, including the ones I took walking breaks on!

So what happened? How did I end up PRing by at least -:22/mi? I have no real idea, but I have two guesses:

First – the booze. I am a firm believer that I do my best running on a few drinks the night before. For the marathon it was jaeger bombs with the Canadians the night before. At Tulsa Sean and I had quite a few drinks at the hotel rooftop bar downtown. That’s what they mean by carbo-loading isn’t it?

Second – something to keep my mind busy! Since graduating Mizzou I haven’t had too much stressing me out or to think about really. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly had adventures, and while those are fun to replay, there isn’t much forward thinking to that. This week I’ve had some fodder for the daydreaming that inevitably happens when you’re running for two hours. Being able to keep my mind off the running itself, at least for the first few miles, always helps with the whole run. (Once I go beyond mile five though all I’m thinking about is what’s for breakfast!)

The run itself was one of those where I kept talking myself into going harder. First I was just going to do an easy run, then I decided to push it until mile 4, then mile 7, then 9 and suddenly I had committed to keeping up sub 8:00s for the entire run. That’s certainly the Type-A in me. I thought this trail was going to be pretty flat too, but around mile three I realized I was headed up into the mountains. That kept me motivated, knowing the way back would be a breeze!

I finished and I absolutely couldn’t believe it. How does someone PR by that much?! I almost wonder if I could have been doing this all along. I suppose it doesn’t really constitute a PR because it wasn’t a race, but I’m still counting it! Now I can’t wait to get an official chip-time with numbers like this! The one downside of this job is always working weekends and not being able to rack up many races!

So with the fastest run of my life yesterday, I decided today probably should be one of my slowest. That being said, I always struggle to run slowly. Again – it’s the Type A in me. I’m an all-in kind of girl, in every part of my life! Go big or go home! I’m pretty much passionate about everything I do, so it’s sometimes hard for me to reign it in.

Somehow, today I managed to! It actually was kind of fun running at a slower pace than I’m used to because it was just as much of a challenge as the PR! I almost managed a 10:00 min pace for this reverse PR run. (Which is not slow, just slower than what I’m used to!) It felt good to still get some miles in, but to run to run and not worry in the slightest about my times. (Not that I really care about my times all that much anyway – it’s always fun to do well, but I’m never sad if I’m slower than usual.)

And there you have it. The fastest run of my life so far and my slowest. Not a bad week for running out here in Claremont, CA!

I’ll leave you with one funny photo. Every day I’ve been running passed this darn sign and it just kills me that they haven’t fixed this. It’s such a glaring error!