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!


MCM Weather Forecast: Kick-ass with a Chance of a Hurricane

So the weather forecast for the Marine Corps Marathon might include some mention of a possible hurricane… Here were some funny comments I saw on the MCM Facebook page:

So what does a runner do when their marathon calls for a hurricane and they haven’t trained in the rain once? They run with it! Seeya at the start line!

Marathon Training is like Pregnancy (and other taper-nutty musings)

18 weeks of training complete, it is down to just five days until race day! Even though it’s my second race, I can’t get over the build-up that goes into marathon training.

Looking for a last-minute pep-talk yesterday, I called up my girlfriend Tarah, who recently ran Chicago. Chatting about training, we came up with the perfect analogy for marathon training: pregnancy.

Think about it: You have an irrational and zealous burst of enthusiasm, with a runner’s high that climaxes in registering for a marathon. You then spend months preparing for the day – training, getting cravings and eating for two, and hoping that it all turns out healthy and happy. The day arrives and you go through a few hours of gleeful labor and pain, with an absolutely euphoric end result. Of course you have friends and family who have sympathy pains for you, but they don’t really know what it’s like, not unless they’ve been through a marathon. 26.2 miles later, once you’ve run it, your marathon becomes this part of you that you’re too proud of not to brag about. (That classic joke has some truth to it: How do you know someone is a marathoner? They’ll tell you.) Finally, like pregnancy, once you’ve done a marathon you usually want to take some time off, but there is usually another one to follow!

Ok ok, so all of that might be kind of a stretch, but you get the idea!

With five days to go, I am overfilling with butterflies. Excited, nervous, and just more excited, I absolutely cannot wait to get on that plane to D.C.

The original plan was that I was going to fly into D.C. leaving Phoenix at 10 p.m. Friday on the red eye and catch a flight back at 6 p.m. on Sunday, just hours after crossing the finish line. If that sounds crazy, that’s because it was. So this week I changed my flight and extended the trip by an extra day.

I’m elated that I was able to do this because one of my biggest concerns was rushing the weekend. I set my goal to do a race in all 50 states was so that I would actually get to SEE each state. Jetting in and out, I didn’t think I would get to really experience D.C. and this extra day will really make the weekend worth it.Now I’m not sure if I’m more excited for the race, or the weekend itself!

As it turns out, I might have a few fans along the way.

My mom, who seems to know people all over the world – no matter where she is – has friends in D.C. who said they’re going to cheer for me and make me a sign!
Beyond these kind strangers though, who I’ll hopefully be able to pick out of the masses, I might have another friendly face in the crowd. That’s the great part about runners – they are everywhere! If you need someone to support you, you can count on the running community to look out for you! It will be nice to have a recognizable face along the route and hopefully we will be able to do a warm-up run around the National Mall on Saturday.

As for the race, I’ll post another pre-race blog with a training recap and goals, but I’m really just looking to go out there, have fun, and finish. Most importantly, I want to make my dad proud. I’m doing the Marine Corps Marathon in his honor, for his service, and want to do right by him. Luckily, my dad is awesome, and I think he’ll be happy no matter how I do!

And with that, here is the official Kelly! t-shirt for this race:

Bought My Ticket to Washington D.C. for the Marine Corps Marathon!

Well, one way that is. Still trying to figure out when I’m going to fly home and where exactly I’m going to be flying to. That’s one thing with driving the Wienermobile – you don’t quite know where exactly you’re going to end up until just a few weeks before!

Now that I’ve got the flight book, I’m locked in! Now I just need a place to stay while I’m in town. This trip has already been too expen$$$ive so I’m hoping to be able to stay with friends while in D.C. for the weekend! Anyone know any nice families in the D.C. metro though just in case?

Whoo! I wasn’t sure if this marathon would actualize or not (with schedules and all that) but it’s happening! No turning back now! 26.2 or Bust!