Okay, I've been putting this off long enough. ;) This is very, very long. Fair warning. ;) And this is copied/pasted to my regular forums at RWOL, so second warning to skip altogether if you happened to catch it over there.
To go back to the very beginning, about two years ago, I was a few months out from my youngest child's birth, out of shape, overweight, unable to run more than about 30 seconds without being exhausted. On a lark we signed our oldest daughter up for the fall GOTR 5K because she was an active kid who liked running, I started doing the equivalent of C25K with her, and the rest was kind of history. Got back in shape, the best in my life, and realized I loved running and racing.
Somewhere during this time of increasing endurance, mileage and pace, I started thinking about a marathon, and running a time that would qualify me to run Boston. I was hearing "you just want to finish" so much-but you know what....the thought of a BQ just lit a fire under me. I figured that if anything else, BQ or not, I'd have a race that was that much better if I trained for the goal I had in MY head. I very much respect the marathon and know that anything and everything can happen. I knew that *IF* I managed to BQ the first time, it realistically would be by a very narrow margin....less than a minute, even seconds was my prediction based on training and race results through the summer and fall. I believed, though, that I had a realistic shot at it so I went through all of my training with that in mind.
I signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon last spring with 30,000 of my closest friends, and got started training about two months later, after a winter of base building and racing. I grew up in Virginia, and my father ran this race 6 times (not 5, as I learned this week) in the 80's, so there's family history there. My SIL, a high school and collegiate runner at short distances was also running the race as a first timer, and we arrived last Thursday to stay with her family prior to the race.
We got up on race morning, and were dropped off at the Metro by my BIL, riding in to the Pentagon metro station, moving our way up to the big parking lot where most runners were hanging out. After a day of cold and rain on Saturday, I was very happy that there was no precipitation. SIL and I planned to line ourselves up somewhere in the 8:00/mile range, and I was planning to average 8:20-ish miles, she at closer to 7:50-8:00. We were going to start together but then do our own thing and branch off when we needed to.
After several stops through the port a potty line we hurried up through the crowded start area and worked our way smack between the corrals that had about 8:25 or so as a dividing point. I checked my gear one last time....I was carrying a handheld with a couple of GU's, a Geetah straw so that I could drink and jog through most aid stations, and more GU's in my skirt pocket. A few minutes later and we were off.
For all the talk about massive crowds/jostling for position at MCM, I have to say honestly that it did not feel any more crowded over the first few miles than our Canyonlands Half back here in this part of the country. There were a lot of people on the course for sure, but moving between them when I needed to was just not that bad. We started moving uphill and I just wasn't feeling physically my most spectacular, but I never feel great at the start of a run or race so I just tried to relax and remember that I'm never jumping for joy in the first few miles.
First few Garmin Splits:
Mile 1: 8:23
Mile 2: 8:38
Mile 3: 8:05
I started kind of settling in, and planned to really be aggressive on the hills, both going up and coming down. I like them and thought that if anything the downhills would help me get a few extra seconds here and there, so I wasn't going to put on the brakes. Early on, I was very surprised at how many people could read and were actually pronouncing my name correctly from my Team Tiara foam crown. I hadn't been thinking either way about wearing it for the race since none of my teammates would be at this race with me, but when one of my coaches asked half jokingly if I was going to wear it, I'd said "you know...why the heck not?" I didn't realize it at the time but this turned out to be something that made it easier for family to spot me on the course, and I surprised myself at how much it really pushed me when a Marine course volunteer or civilian spectator shouted my name.
More splits as I settled in:
Mile 4: 7:59
Mile 5: 8:20
Mile 6: 8:16
Mile 7: 8:22
Mile 8: 8:10
Mile 9: 8:09
Mile 10: 8:17
Somewhere at the crest of the last big hill early in the race (I think this was mile 8 or so?), among the fans, there was a lone woman cheering loudly and enthusiastically for all the runners, continuously drumming on one of those small handheld Japanese drums that you twist back and forth with the two balls attached, drilling away on the drum. The first thing I thought of were the women of the Moab Taiko Dan at the Canyonlands Halfs who drum from atop the last hill on the course, so I really tried to take that as a sign and additional motivation for the rest of the race. The weather was cool, but my breathing was a little different than in Colorado. I wasn't getting my butt kicked by it but there was a very, very slight difference in the effort it took to breathe in moist air when we're at about 10% humidity back here on most days.
I passed my Dad for the first time on the course at 10 miles, and got to smile and wave back when he shouted out to me. From here on out, I really started focusing on the rest of the race being a series of one mile races or time trials, not getting into the "OMG I have 16 miles to go" mindset. I listen to Steve Runner's Phedip podcasts when I run inside on my treadmill during the week, and he had some show when he referred to breaking his marathon miles down this way, and this just really resonated with me as a way to relax and pace myself. It was just beginning to warm up and get brighter out there at this point.
Mile 11: 8:25
Mile 12: 8:24
Mile 13: 8:26
I used some sort of modified Geetah straw-I think I missed cutting something somewhere but it was all good....I would kind of pinch the cup, get the straw in there the right way, close the top around it and sip down a powerade. Two thumbs up on this method....I know from prior races that aches and pains seem to creep up on me only if I slow down or walk through aid stations in most cases, and that my BQ time, if I made it, would be SO close that I could get it or miss it with going too slowly or walking too much through aid stations. I know other people have great success walking the aid stations but it seems like this is almost always something that doesn't help me. One of two aid stations where I walked for a few seconds was the one that was somewhere around this point, and when I stopped, my left IT band suddenly hurt. Now, this has happened in a few other runs and went away, so I tried to stay calm about this, plan on using the straw for the duration of the race, and hope it went away. After a few minutes the pain did subside, and I went on my way with plans to Geetah straw my way through all the remaining aid stations. The straw is definitely a keeper as far as tools and tricks for me for future marathons.
As the middle miles rolled on, I still felt okay but not like I had extra kick. Just enough to maintain, and I was glad at this point that I'd let myself fly down the hills in the spots where they existed in the first half of the marathon. I passed my DH, children, Mom, Dad, MIL and FIL around mile 16 and was not enjoying the heat but focused on each mile, getting through each one and not sabotaging myself.
Mile 14: 8:39
Mile 15: 8:34
Mile 16: 8:27
In the 17th mile, I started looking for Greenlee from Marathon Race Training and the women's BQ attempt thread group. I knew she'd be around here somewhere in a yellow shirt and hoped I'd be able to spot her. Imagine my surprise when she comes bounding toward me! She ran along right next to me and we chatted, and as I was chatting I became oblivious to the fact that I'd accelerated to an 8:00 pace up that incline that started somewhere around 17.3 miles. I said WHOA....how'd that happen? and scaled back a bit, but was thrilled to have gotten up something I probably meant to take conservatively on a nice clip without feeling awful. It was SO cool that she was there as a spectator and really awesome to have a FE for a few minutes, then and there! :) Thank you Greenlee!
From here on out I started having weird flashes of self-doubt creeping in since this was my first marathon, I was slowing down a little bit and didn't want to hit the wall, crash, burn, and have a disastrous end of the race. At the same time, I knew exactly what my splits and elapsed time looked like, and knew that being too conservative could also mean my missing a BQ. I kept having these moments when I would feel really tired my pace would slip significantly, and a moment of "oh crap. The wheels are coming off" which inevitably would be followed by a little burst of energy and I'd say "no, they're not! Keep going! Keep going!" I knew I was not out of it for the BQ but right on the edge, and really didn't know how hard I could push when I felt good without killing my chances.
Mile 17: 8:26
Mile 18: 8:43
Mile 19: 8:26
Mile 20: 8:56
So here we came into no man's land. The last 10K. I mentioned that in the first half, in the humidity versus altitude training ratio, the humidity probably had a miniscule edge. Well, in the last 10K, even though I was getting VERY tired and starting to slow, I think this is where training at altitude and racing at sea level gave me a very slight edge. I was starting to feel kind of lousy, but thought about how I felt during the last two miles to the summit at the Imogene Pass Run. I'd grade myself as "needs improvement/still learning" in lots of aspects of running, but I think one thing I've been not too bad at is finding whatever it is that I need to mentally push through tough situations. What I told myself here was "this isn't as tough as Imogene. Remember how hard that was? This isn't as painful as that. Go, go, go." I thought of Hammer from the Masters forum and his first marathon BQ by mere seconds, what it took to do that, and how I was going to have to keep trying to surge whenever I could in the final miles if I was going to BQ. I was slowing down but kept repeating stuff to myself in my head..."GO! PUSH! DON'T CURL UP AND DIE! INCESSANT FORWARD MOTION!" I thought of some people I know who cannot run, and the children (Cody, Megan, Katie) of several forumites fighting REAL health battles, and that's really all you need to suck it up and realize how it's a gift to be out there, able to exhaust one's self in a marathon.
Mile 21: 8:31
Mile 22: 8:48
Mile 23: 9:03
Leading up to that mile 23 marker was the longest mile of the marathon to me. Everything at this point seemed like a distraction...the roar of the crowd, food coming from restaurants in Crystal City, even some cigar smoke wafting onto the course from somewhere. I was feeling pretty beaten down and like all this stuff was further sapping my energy so I just kept focusing straight ahead to whatever landmark was a short distance up the road. I was fading but fighting as much as I could. I knew now that it was going to be very close but also had an overwhelming urge to want to walk.
Mile 24: 9:13
I was determined not to fade away and give it all of whatever I had left but was beginning to struggle some now. Somewhere in here I made a choice. I am still not sure if this choice was exactly what I needed when I was struggling and hurting, saved me from total collapse and gave me a little bit of extra energy to finish the race, or if this was the dumbest and worst move ever made by someone trying to BQ, and right on the edge. I felt awful, the powerade at earlier stations had kept my energy up and I wasn't cramping anywhere in my body, but I was getting tired and also a little sick to my stomach from the powerade. I was craving water and felt like I needed to stop, drink, and be certain I finished the entire thing. So, at the last aid station, that's what I did. One of only two aid stations where I stopped for a few seconds at all....and probably about five seconds, give or take.
Mile 25: 8:58
From here I just pushed and turned those legs over as fast as I could. If I had to describe how they felt, it was just plain tired. Not heavy, not tight or cramping, just tired. I felt pretty desperate now and felt like things were slipping away but was determined to not have the wheels come totally off.
Mile 26: 9:00
I came up that last hill, just feeling like toast. I knew that I definitely did not have it by gun time but could see the time clock. I knew it was roughly two minutes between the gun time and the when I crossed the start, and just threw myself into it as hard as I possibly could, even though it seemed that I was going to be about thirty seconds too slow to qualify. I kicked as fast and hard as I could, knowing that I had no way of knowing and that regardless, I needed to finish knowing I had absolutely nothing left.
I hurled myself across the finish with an 8:47 split for the last .2. Total time I'd recorded on my Garmin was 3:46:16. I had absolutely nothing left, stumbled, and nearly fell into one of the Marines at the finish. I walked a few more steps and was pretty woozy, and was asked once or twice more by Marines if I was okay. As soon as I moved through where they had the waters, and downed that, I started to feel a bit better. I moved through another line, and got a Powerade, and started feeling like myself again, kind of. My left IT band was hurting (didn't hurt again during the race after that point at the half) and I was so exhausted that every step was very labored.
I finally made my way to the finisher linkup area and found my family. I was very surprised to see that my SIL was NOT there....she should've easily run sub 3:30 at least. As we are standing there, my DH gets a text of my final split. He says "Hey, you finished" and holds up the phone, which reads 3:46:04. I couldn't believe it. Five seconds.
In the meantime, we wait for my SIL, whose texts suddenly stopped coming in. We were worried about what might have happened, and it turns out she'd breezed through the first 16 miles before a hamstring that's been an on-and-off nagging injury just seized up in pain, and the pain further moved down into her calf. She'd tried to run but fell over the first time she tried and had just wrenching pain each time she tried to run again. Determined to finish however she could, she found a power walking gait that she could do without significant pain, and walked out those last ten miles as fast as she could, finishing in roughly 4:30. I'm immensely proud of her for how she smartly handled a really crappy hand in the race, not doing things that would further aggravate the injury, but still getting it done however she could.
My final, official result from the marathon was adjusted by one second after a few days to 3:46:05, so I missed my BQ time of 3:45:59 by six seconds total. I would be lying if I said it doesn't get to me that I got THAT close and didn't BQ or that I'm not analyzing things that I could have done differently. The side of me that's trying to be logical about everything knows, though, that I didn't have anything left at the end, and that it was a satisfying experience to do some things reasonably well to finish in the time that I did.
Official splits from MCM's website:
Age Group 72/1148
If you made it through, my apologies, and thanks for reading.