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Vermont City Marathon Race Report 2018

Pre-race
I don’t remember which order we signed up for our spring marathons, but JP and I found ourselves doing 3 marathons in the span of 7 weeks. That’s no big deal for him, but since the most I’ve done is 2 in one YEAR, and that was last year, I was hesitant about running all 3 full distances. I figured I could always drop to a shorter distance or DNF if it came down to it. VCM was to be the third of the three marathons. I have heard rave reviews from everyone that I know who’s done the race, so I was excited as we embarked on race weekend.

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We got to Burlington, VT, Friday night. I couldn’t sleep so I thought a lot about the race. I knew I wasn’t in sub-4 shape, but I thought 4:15 would be reasonable. Yes, that would be close to my PR, but I thought I could do it. But then I started questioning myself (since it was the middle of the night) and decided I should go out with the 4:30 pace group since that would be easily achievable for me and it wouldn’t be a death march in the end if I found the 4:15 pace too aggressive.

JP and I did a 2-mile shakeout run Saturday morning. It was upper 50s and humid, the same conditions predicted for race day. I made a mental note to drink lots of water on the course even if I didn’t feel hot since the humidity was so high. We showered and dressed and hit this cute little place in Winooski for brunch. The breakfast burrito was delicious but in hindsight probably wasn’t the best choice. After breakfast we headed to the expo to pick up our bibs and do some expo-ing. We both bought some hideous Hoka recovery sandals. They are super ugly but feel really good on our feet! We then chilled out for about 45 minutes waiting to VCM3go meet Meb. He was running in the relay the next day and was signing autographs in a booth at the expo. I was really excited because I am a huge Meb fan. We got in line and waited maybe a half hour before it was our turn. Meb introduced himself and shook our hands, and then he took pictures with us. My phone case says, “Run all the miles. Eat all the tacos” and Meb read that and laughed and we talked about tacos for a minute. I told him I was a huge fan and that I was also from San Diego so then we talked about where I lived and where he lives. Then he told me his best friend’s name is Martha! I am BFF with Meb! Then he signed my bib and a postcard for JP and he told us good luck and we were on our way. “To Martha, Best wishes & run to win, Meb” is what he put on my bib. I was so stoked. It was at that point when I said fuck it, I will go for it in the race and signed up for the 4:15 pace group.

After the expo, we drove down to the lake to see the start/finish area. Then since it was VCM5raining we decided to drive out to the Ben and Jerry’s plant about 30 min away. Our plan was to do a plant tour and then eat some ice cream. By the time we got there, there was an hour long wait for a tour and an hour long wait for ice cream. We opted for the ice cream line. 45 minutes later, I was enjoying some triple caramel crunch. Holy yum! We finished our ice cream and headed back to Burlington. We found an Olive Garden for dinner. Turns out it was not only marathon weekend, it was prom weekend! Lots of high schoolers dressed up in fancy dresses and suits. Plus a bunch of hungry marathoners. The chick who sat us was going to be at an aid station the next day. After dinner we went to CVS for water and snacks, then back to the hotel for the ceremonial laying out of flat Martha. We chilled out the rest of the night watching HGTV and then finally went to bed.

Race day
I got up at 5:15, and my stomach was not happy. I sunscreened everywhere, then bodyglided everywhere, then got dressed. I grabbed a banana on the way out the door, thinking it would help settle my stomach. It didn’t. We picked up the shuttle to the start area at the hotel next door. I hit the portos twice, and by the time I was done there was nothing left in my body. I again reminded myself to hydrate at every aid station and took a pre-race gel. I lined up with 4:15 pacers and made a start line friend who bent down to adjust his shoelaces at the same time I did. We chatted about the race and our goals to stay between the 4:15 and 4:30 pacers, and finally the race started. The 4:15 pacers went out at 4:00 pace for mile 1. I thought they would reel it in, but they got even faster in mile 2. I tried to put some distance between myself and the pacers, but to keep them in sight. On the “out” part of the out and back between miles 4-8, I met 2 nice ladies, who were also trying to figure out of the 4:15 pacers were on pace. I informed them about how fast they were actually going. Lady #2 was running her first marathon, so she was trying to slow us all down. I saw and cheered for Meb on his way back from the turn-around. I saw JP as well, and he looked strong. Then we saw how close we were to the 4:00 pace group when we passed them really close to the turn-around. On the way back, we saw how far out in front of the 4:30 pace group we were because they were pretty far from the turn-around. At that point I knew I’d be seeing them later in the day since we were still going too fast despite our best efforts to slow down. I decided let the two ladies go out ahead of me because they weren’t slowing enough for me. I got water at each stop and took a gel every 5 miles, and my stomach finally settled about 10 miles into the race. I caught back up to the ladies at about halfway when they stopped to walk to combat the too-fast pace of the first several miles. They split up, with lady #1 leaving lady #2 and me in her dust. I knew it was going to be a rough day for lady #2 as she immediately started walking again. I crossed the half in 2:07 so I was right on pace for a 4:15, but I knew I was still slowing down.

The crowd support for this race was great. From the people brunching on the main streetVCM4 through Burlington to the families that set up their own aid stations complete with live entertainment, you could tell the locals really love this race. There was one moment of hilarity where this little boy, probably around 4 years old, was trying to give runners half of a banana. He spotted one guy who was walking up the hill towards him, and the boy says very earnestly (and loudly), “YOU look like you need a BANANA!” All of the runners, except for that guy, dissolved into laughter. Other funny moments include the woman holding a sign reading “MeAW! I am happy to be here” meowing at all the runners and all of the spectators and aid station volunteers telling me that they loved tacos too (my bib was personalized with “TACO LOVER”).

In the second half of the race I took to walking through the water stops. There was a baby hill right before mile 15, which I thought was THE HILL that I had heard about, but then I turned a corner and saw the real hill. It was very big and it hurt. I made it 3/4 of the way up but had to stop to walk. I was TIRED now. I wondered if anyone was still with the 4:15 pacers or if everyone else had burned out from the too fast pace too. After the hill at mile 15, my start line buddy caught up to me and chatted me up. He was lamenting his lack of long runs, and I was lamenting my excess of long runs, ha. We had picked up the pace while we were chatting, and I wanted to slow down, so he said he’d see me later. I hit the block party at miles 17-18, which was awesome. Again, lots of people who set up aid stations and were giving out ice pops, fruit, and beer. I ran through the screaming downhill at mile 21 which really really hurt and then caught back up to my start line buddy at mile 23. I ran with him for a while, then he dropped back. I got passed by the 4:30 pacers at mile 24. I tried to stay with them for a half second, but it just didn’t VCM6happen. I looked for Champ on the lake ( the Loch Ness monster of Lake Champlain) and just took in the beautiful view knowing I was near the finish. I could hear the finish line 3/4 mile before I got there. It was at this point that I started fighting leg and foot cramps, so I played off the crowd support in the last 1/4 mile, while keeping my eyes focused on the finish line. They announced my name as I came across the finish line, and when I stopped, my right calf immediately seized. I was happy it held off until I was finished at least! 4:33:17 chip time, good enough for my 3rd best marathon overall out of the 9 I’ve run. Medical helped me until I saw JP, who had finished in 4:05. I got my medal, space blanket, disappointing snacks, and then hobbled back to shuttle while trying not to cramp anymore.

Post race
We got cleaned up and spent the afternoon in Burlington. We had delicious flatbreads at a flatbread place, then we went for round 2 at the Ben and Jerry’s in Burlington. There was Ben and Jerry’s at the finish line, but they were only samples and we weren’t about to wait around for that. We relaxed a bit, hit another local place for dinner, and then back to the hotel for an early night since we had an early departure time Monday morning.

Overall a great race, excellent course, well organized, with the best crowd support. 5/5 would definitely do again! Again, I am struck by how much I enjoyed the marathon while not having a time goal for myself. That said, sub-4 (and hopefully an eventual BQ) are still my big goals. My next race is in the fall, where I will re-engage in the sub-4 quest. Thanks for reading! 🙂

VCM2

2018 B&A Trail Marathon Report – aka That time I didn’t break 4 hours again

Coming off of a disappointing Chicago Marathon in October, I was determined to have a great spring race and break 4 hours. B&A Trail Marathon seemed to be the perfect choice: flat, fast, and in a state that my husband hasn’t already run in. The timing was perfect too, allowing me to put in a solid 12-week training program after a half marathon PR in December and a month of easy running.

Training
Winter training wasn’t too bad this year: I only had to resort to the treadmill twice due to the weather. Yes it was cold and windy and awful, but I hit most of my workouts despite that. I also did a 5k race series during training in which I ran a hard 5k on the Sunday after a long run on Saturday. Each 5k got faster even as the long runs got longer, and I got a huge confidence boost in winning my AG in each race and the overall series (it was a small series, not many in my AG). Most of my workouts leading up to the race were in line with where I needed to be, and I felt confident and strong going into race weekend.

Race goals: A goal: break 4 hours. B goal: PR (current PR 4:15:08). Baseline goal: finish upright under my own power.

Race weekend
Flat Martha B&A Trail Marathon 2018JP and I drove down to MD on Saturday, hit the expo and then a local place for lunch. We chilled most of the afternoon and then found a Noodles and Co. for dinner. I had the same pre-race dinner that I had before Chicago, but I knew that my race would be much different. Flat Martha made an appearance Saturday night, with shorts and calf panties since it was supposed to feel like upper 30s throughout the race, with little wind. We went to bed between 10 and 11, with a very reasonable 5:45am wake up time. I didn’t get much sleep, but I was ready to go when the alarm went off.

Race day
Race day dawned much colder and windier than expected with windchills in the 20s, so I opted for my leopard print tights instead of shorts. We drove the 15 minutes to the start and waited in the high school for about 10 minutes until it was time to line up. I kissed JP good luck and lined up at the 9:00 sign. Before we knew it, we were off.

The race had about 450 people in the half and 225 people in the full, so the first half of the race was crowded and didn’t thin out until just before mile 13 where the half marathoners peeled off. With the exception of the first mile and the last quarter-ish mile, the entirely of the race was run on the B&A Rail Trail, a paved multi-use trail that used to be a railroad. As such, the course was mostly flat (with the exception of a few overpasses) and fast. It turns out it was pretty cambered too. (<–this is foreshadowing). The course started in the middle of the trail and went out one direction for 6.5 miles to a turn-around, then back to where we started, the half marathoners split off and headed back to the finish, and the full marathon continued out the path in the opposite direction for 6.5 more miles to another turn-around and then back to where it all started. It was a really nice course and it was fun to see the some of the same people twice during the race.

My plan for the race, as recommended by my coach, was to start off easy for 2 miles, then settle into MP and just click off the miles. If I felt good at any time, he said, I could go with it and speed up. My first 5 miles were right on goal: 9:19, 9:14, 9:07, 9:07, 8:46.

That last mile was a bit fast, but we were on a long downgrade (not enough to even be called a hill), and I had latched onto 2 other women who were running at about my same pace, so it didn’t feel too fast. I stayed with them to the turn-around then passed them and kept churning out the miles: 8:45, 8:41 (I thought maybe I should slow down here), 9:09 (ok so maybe I overcompensated a bit, let’s speed up again), 8:56 (perfect), 8:50.

By this time I was going back and forth with a guy who DID NOT want me to pass him. We were going at about the same pace, and every time I sped up to do some of the work in setting the pace, he would speed up until he was right in front of me, then settle back into pace. Well alrighty guy, I will just tuck in behind you and let you do all the work. 8:47, 8:55, 9:17

The half marathoners split off and headed back to the finish here, and when I passed the half, I was right on track with 1:57:xx. But I started to feel some pain in my right IT band, so I slowed down a bit to see if that would help. It didn’t. I decided to stop and stretch, thinking if I could just stretch out my ITB then the pain would go away, and it would save me time later in the race. I was able to pick it back up to almost race pace after the first 2 times I stopped to stretch, but the pain kept coming back, more quickly each time, and it kept getting worse. 9:14, 10:32, 9:09, 11:21, 9:11. During one of my stretches, the guy I had been pacing back and forth with passed me for good, and I only saw him again after he had hit the turn-around at mile 19. I wish I had gotten his race number so I could have seen his finish time after the race.

At this point I knew my quest for sub-4 on the day was done. And I knew exactly what the IT band pain was from: a heavily cambered road. The only other times I’ve felt this pain were at Steamtown 2004, when I had it in both knees and DNFed at mile 16, and both times at MCM in the out-and-back on the Rock Creek Parkway. I have never had this pain in training, since I avoid heavily cambered roads. I assume that most of the miles from 6.5-19 (the first turn-around to the second turn-around) was on a reverse camber, since it was only my right knee that was hurting. I knew there was nothing I could do about it, I just needed to finish the fucking race, so that’s what I did. I stopped to stretch every other mile or so, and one time my right groin started cramping! And then my left groin cramped! Dueling groin cramps! That was not pleasant. 12:02, 10:54, 11:37, 10:12, 11:35

For the last 5k, I decided I just wanted to keep moving, so instead of stopping to stretch I allowed myself walk breaks. I tried to pick it up at the 26 mile mark and I managed to almost pick it back up to race pace for the finish. 10:18, 10:56, 10:39, 3:53 (for 0.42 miles on my GPS, 9:10 pace).

4:18:26 chip and watch time, for my second fastest marathon and only 3:18 slower than B&A Trail Marathon 2018 finisher medalmy PR! At the finish the guy taking my tag asked how I felt and I told him, “Like shit, thanks for asking,” and he looked alarmed until I started laughing and told him I was ok. I think he was going to lead me to the med tent.

The major victory for me in this race is that my mind never went to the bad place: the place where I curse myself and my training, ask myself why I even thought I could break 4 hours in the first place, tell myself that I am not cut out for this, and decide to quit marathoning forever. I never went there. My rational mind was there for the whole race: understanding the situation for what it was, shifting my goals to match the situation, allowing myself to be disappointed but knowing this “failure” had nothing to do with my preparation for the race or my race execution. This is huge for me since I struggle with negative self-talk any time something goes wrong in a race.

Also, the calf cramps that have plagued me for my last 3 marathons never hit. Yay!

Post race
Martha kissing a pirateJP’s race didn’t go exactly as he had planned either (the camber got to him too), but he was only about 5 minutes off his PR, so he was pleased. We chilled for a bit at the high school, ate bananas and slices of Papa John’s pizza, and compared notes on the course. We had both seen a woman spectator with a sign that simply said “Chorizo” which was amusing, and I told him about a dog on the course who had a sign around his neck that said, “Woof.” Both were awesome. We finally made it back to our hotel, got cleaned up, ate a proper lunch at a pirate-themed restaurant, and then spent the rest of the day sightseeing in Annapolis. I was hobbling around most of the day with the sore ITB but otherwise felt pretty good for just having run a marathon.

It’s now 2 days out from the race, and my knee feels 90% better. I have been taking ibuprofen and icing it when I can, and yesterday I got a massage which helped immensely. I have Big Sur to run in just under 3 weeks, but that’s just for fun. Assuming my knee complies, I am going to parlay this training into another sub-4 attempt at VCM in 7 weeks (5/27). I feel like I am RIGHT THERE, I just have to be smart about my race. I think I took my coach’s “if you feel good, go with it” advice too early in the race, and although I don’t think that contributed to my knee pain, I think keeping a lot of those earlier miles closer to 9:00 will be beneficial in my hitting my goal.

Trial of Miles – Miles of Trials

aka Chicago Marathon 2017 – A Race Report

“You don’t become a runner by winning a morning workout. The only true way is to marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many days, weeks, months, and (if you could finally come to accept it) years. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.”
― John L. Parker Jr., Once a Runner

I have been chasing the sub-4 marathon for years. I publicly declared my intention for breaking 4 hours in 2014, but it really goes all the way back to 2002 after I ran my first marathon. I knew there was a lot of room for improvement, and I knew I could break 4 hours. My ultimate goal is to qualify for Boston, but sub-4 is a manageable intermediate goal that I need to achieve first. After a debacle of a marathon in NYC last fall, I re-dedicated myself to sub-4, getting a coach and focusing my training in a way that I never had before. I followed specific paces in training, and I did structured speedwork consistently for the first time. I got fitter and faster and ran Sugarloaf in May to break the 4-hour barrier.

I missed sub-4 by 15 minutes at Sugarloaf (poor race execution on my part), so I signed up for Chicago as my fall marathon knowing it was a flat and fast course. I also knew that it could be hot in Chicago for the race :foreshadowing: but I hoped that wouldn’t affect me since I would be in such great shape from training. That was wishful thinking since I usually melt in the heat, but it wasn’t something I dwelled on since it wasn’t something I could control. This represents growth for me since I usually obsess over the weather for my races. :p

Training
Building off the fitness and a shiny new almost 30-minute PR from Sugarloaf, I trained through the summer with sub-4 at Chicago as my sole focus. Easy runs, long runs, tempo runs, repeats—most of my training was right on target, but the summer heat took a toll on some of my long run paces. I ran a series of 5ks throughout the summer—progressively lowering my time at each race, I ran my best times ever at RTB 3 weeks before Chicago, and I finished off my training with a hilly, hot, humid half marathon as part of a 16-mile training run 2 weeks out from the race. I had put in the work, felt confident in my training, and I was mentally prepared to finally break the elusive 4-hour barrier.

That said, I had a lot of work and personal stress over the summer along with the stress of planning a wedding. The week leading up to the race I had a particularly bad bout of insomnia, but I tried not to let that stress me out too much on top of everything else.

Race weekend
JP and I arrived in Chicago on Friday afternoon. Thanks to the air travel, I was rocking a massive migraine by the time we landed. We hit the expo, and my blood sugar plummeted since it was mid-afternoon and I had only eaten breakfast and one snack all day. No one likes a hangry Martha, and this Martha was very hangry! We had a late lunch, chilled at the hotel for a bit,

The CNA building in Chicago was lit up for the Chicago Marathon 2017 with a 26.2 in its windows.
The whole city was ready for the marathon

then met some friends for dinner. On our walk back from dinner, I developed GI distress that wouldn’t leave until after the race. Ugh. I went to bed early but was up bright and early at 4am. Yay insomnia!

Saturday JP and I did a 2-mile shakeout run and then met our fellow Semper Fi Fund fundraisers for our team lunch. The rest of the day we didn’t do much of anything but watch Spirit of the Marathon and Chariots of Fire for inspiration. I focused on hydrating since everything I was eating was going right through me. Ugh again. We got some pasta for dinner and set our alarms for the quite reasonable hour of 5:30 am. Again I was up at 4 but I was excited for the race to start.

Race day
We walked to the start area, which was only about 10-15 minutes from our hotel. JP and I were in the same corral, which was convenient. We got through security and got in a porta potty line that moved excruciatingly slow. After standing in line for about 30 min, we realized that our corral would be closed by the time we got to the front of the line, so we stepped out, checked our gear, then headed to the corral. As our wave started and we all moved slowly forward toward the start line, the course marshals were letting people jump out of the corral to hit porta potties and then jump back into the corral. I took advantage of that opportunity and ended up back in the corral, somehow ahead of JP. I finally crossed the start line and my race was underway.

The race

Flat Martha is ready to run the Chicago Marathon 2017.
Flat Martha is ready for the race!

Immediately after the start line, we went under a really long overpass. My Garmin freaked out and apparently didn’t track anything correctly for the entire race. It was off by almost a mile early on, and in total it said I ran 28.2 miles with a 6:17 and an 8:11 thrown in at miles 14-15. I thought it was still tracking pace correctly even though the mileage was off, but I was wrong on that point too. Complete technology fail.

It was in the 50s when we started, and the first half of the race was in the shade. It didn’t feel hot, but the running felt hard from the very beginning. I didn’t feel like I needed to hold myself back from running too fast, which is how I felt at the beginning of all my other marathons. This time I felt like I was struggling to even keep the easy pace I was supposed to be keeping for the first few miles. I knew I was in for a long race, but I tried to keep pushing the pace regardless. I thought I was finally hitting MP (~9:00) by mile 6 or so, but my official splits tell me otherwise and that I was never even close to MP the entire race.

I took water at every aid station since I knew I was probably still dehydrated from the GI distress and also since it was supposed to get hotter as the day wore on. I took my gels as I had in training, but every time I did they made my stomach cramp. I just kept plugging along until the half marathon point, when I took a much needed bio break. I felt a lot better after that, but it was then that I knew my race was done and that I wouldn’t be getting my sub-4 that day. I tried to speed back up to what I thought was race pace, but my body said no. I have never experienced that in a race before, hitting a wall like that. I just couldn’t go any faster than my slogging pace.

My slogging pace translated into running between aid stations, walking through each water stop to get one cup of water to drink and one to pour on my head, then running to the next water stop. I stopped to stretch twice as well. Although most of the logistics surrounding this race were great, the logistics of the runners on the course really really sucked. I was dodging runners during every single mile of the race, and the crowds never really thinned out. I was in a bad state of mind since I knew I wasn’t going to PR or break 4 hours, and this added annoyance of having to continually sidestep other runners did not help my state of mind during the long last miles of the race.

My calf was cramping on the way to finish the Chicago Marathon 2017
My calf cramping on the way to the finish

Once I reached the 40km mark, I looked at my watch and thought “hey I can go sub-4:30 if I pick it up a little bit” so I tried to speed up and my right calf said “NOPE!” It twinged as soon as I pushed off trying to go faster. I was actually happy since my calf cramps started at mile 20 at Sugarloaf and at mile 16 at NYCM so having them hold off until this late in the race was an improvement. :p My calf didn’t fully cramp until just after the 1-mile to go sign, and then it cramped at 800m to go and 300m to go. It also was cramping on the final stretch to the finish but f- that, I was not going to stop at that point so I just hobbled it in from there. 4:34:30 for my official time. 77 degrees and full sun at the finish.

Post-race
I was super disappointed in my race. It wasn’t what I trained for. I know I have sub-4 in me (even though I contemplated quitting marathons in those last few miles), and it was supposed to happen on this flat, fast course. The heat definitely got to me, and the insomnia, low blood sugar, and GI distress in the days leading up to the race didn’t help. But in the hours after the race, I realized that this is my second-fastest marathon time ever, and both of my fastest times were set this year, so that perspective has made me re-evaluate the entire race. If I can run my second-fastest time in less than optimal conditions with all of those things against me, imagine what I can do on a cool day and at 100%?

JP and I hobbled back to the hotel (he had a rough race too), chilled out, showered, then met my cousin and her family for dinner and ice cream. We fell asleep around 10pm, and I was wide awake at 1am, so even running a marathon didn’t cure my insomnia. I was awake till 3:30 then up again at 5 to get to the airport where our flight was delayed for 4 hours. :-/ JP had thought ahead to upgrade us to first class though, so once we finally got on the plane it was awesome, and the rest of the trip home was uneventful.

What’s next
I am running the MCM 10k on 10/22 and am looking to PR there. Marathon-wise I don’t know what’s next yet, I am talking with my coach to see what he recommends. I KNOW sub-4 is in the cards, so I just need to be patient and keep plugging away until I get there.

The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials.

Sugarloaf Marathon 2017 Race Report

Sugarloaf was the race where I was finally going to break 4 hours in the marathon. Spoiler alert: it didn’t happen. I did, however, come away with a bigly PR of 27 minutes and 53 seconds, which I am super happy about, but it is tempered by the disappointment of missing the 4-hour goal by 15 minutes and 8 seconds.

The training
I dove headlong into training for Sugarloaf after blowing up at NYCM in November. I got myself a coach, cleaned up my diet, and set my sights on running a huge PR. My PR was 4:43:01, so going from that to sub-4 seemed like a huge jump that probably wouldn’t/couldn’t be done over the course of one training cycle, so “huge PR” was my official goal at the beginning of my training. I had never trained through the winter for a spring marathon, and I hated all of the cold windy runs, but I only resorted to the treadmill twice because of snow and my only missed runs were due to physical ailments and not the weather.

The training itself went really well. As the weeks progressed, so did my training paces, as prescribed by my coach. I was intimidated by the paces at first, but since my training was based on science and my actual previous race performances, I figured who was I to argue, and I actually hit all of the paces. I did tempo runs, 400 repeats, 800 repeats, mile repeats, and long runs with MP miles in them, all things that I wasn’t sure I could do until I actually did them. I felt more confident as the training cycle wore on and I was running faster and stronger than I ever had before, and I started to believe that sub-4 was a reality at Sugarloaf. I placed in my age group in a small local 5k and I got a half marathon PR in a train-through race, and then I set unofficial 10k and half marathon PRs in my final long run, so my confidence was super high coming into race weekend.

Race weekend
JP and I drove up to Maine on Friday. The scenery was beautiful, and Sugarloaf Mountain IMG_3633is so remote that you barely get a cell phone signal. We stayed at the hotel on the ski mountain, which was convenient since that’s where packet pickup, the pre-race pasta dinner, and shuttles to the start and back from the finish were located. We had a crappy dinner in the understaffed hotel restaurant that was full of other runners and then fell asleep in our room watching TV.

Saturday morning we were up early for a 2-mile shakeout run. We ran a mile down the road (it was all downhill), but on the way back we took a side road so that it wouldn’t be a full mile back up the hill. We ate breakfast in the again understaffed hotel restaurant full of other runners, and then we drove the course. Big uphills in the first half, downhills in the second half but more uphill than it shows on the elevation profile. We then spent the rest of the day driving around seeing what there was to see. We had lunch in a hole-in-the-wall general store/restaurant which was surprisingly good. Then back to the hotel for packet pickup and pasta dinner. Then it was back to the room to set out gear and set the alarm for a quite reasonable 5am wakeup call.

Race day
IMG_3642We caught the shuttle to the start at 5:45, getting there about 45 minutes before the race started at 7. We jumped on a warming bus, one of several buses that had their heat going full blast for runners to hang out in before heading to the start. Best idea ever! We hung out there for about 10 minutes, I tied and retied my shoes a hundred times, and then we hit the porta potty line, checked our bags, and it was time to line up for the start. There were about 700 runners, but it never felt crowded and the race was so well organized that the start was extremely smooth. The cannon sounded, and we were off!

It was chilly for the first few miles of the race, probably in the upper 30s. I was in a singlet and shorts, and I wished I had kept my gloves because my hands were numb. It was shady for first few miles and then we broke out into the sun, at which point I was happy I didn’t keep the gloves. I followed my race plan of starting out at a nice easy pace for the first two miles, then slowly speeding up to MP over the next 4 miles. By mile 6 I was at marathon pace, but I knew that the biggest inclines of the race were between IMG_3658miles 7-10 so that my pace would dip there. For the first big hill I tucked in behind a guy and a girl who took a selfie in front of me (I photobombed them) and kept pace with them up the hill. They stopped at the water stop at the crest of the hill, so I kept going up the second hill, which was less steep but longer. I kept a steady pace, and I was even passing people. I topped second hill and prepared for the downhills that were coming. I thought to myself “the hardest part of the course is over,” and then I thought, “whoa, check yourself there missy, you still have 16 miles left.” <–Foreshadowing. I ran pretty controlled on the first steep downhill, then let gravity be my friend and pull me down some of the other hills. There was a lot of “up” in this section too that you couldn’t really see on the course map, but I felt like I was running pretty evenly. At one point I thought to myself that my effort felt too hard for that point in the race, and I heard my Garmin beeping at me for running too fast, but I figured I was just getting some of the time back that I gave on the uphills. <–More foreshadowing.

I had been running through all the water stops and getting two cups of water at each one since it was getting warm. One cup on my neck and down my back, the other cup to drink. At mile 17 I decided to walk through the water stop because both of my hips hurt, and that seemed to reset me and I kept going. After my gel at 19.5 though, I started to feel twinges in my right foot and calf. I slowed down to hold off full crampage, but then just past mile 20 both the foot and calf fully cramped. I pulled off to the side of the road and stretched, and then walked out the cramps and kept running. I walked through all the water stops from there to the end, and I pulled up and stretched and walked when my foot or calf cramped again. When I was running I was keeping a good pace and passing people, but then I would cramp again. Fortunately it wasn’t the relentless cramping I experienced at NYCM, and also fortunately it was only on my right side and not both legs. But unfortunately it totally messed with my head and I started thinking that I wasn’t meant for marathoning and I should just quit and who was I to think that I could break 4 hours in the marathon, especially this one with all the big hills? I actually told myself out loud to pull myself together and get through the race and then I could feel sorry for myself.IMG_3637

I was helped a lot through this part of the race by seeing this couple who was cheering on their daughter at every other mile marker. I was just ahead of their daughter the whole time so I saw them several times during this difficult stretch and they cheered for me each time. They were so encouraging and it was just nice to see friendly faces when I was feeling so low. I had the worst of the cramps literally at the 1 mile to go mark, and a number of runners encouraged me while I was walking out the cramp. Since there’s no walking in the final mile of the marathon, I ran the entire last mile with my calf and foot on the verge of cramping again. I saw JP just before the finish, and I tried to kick it in when I saw the cheering dad again who told me that he knew I could do it with a huge smile on his face, then finally reached the finish line, crossing at 4:15:something and knowing I had completely blown my sub-4 goal.  I got my medal and dissolved into tears. I just needed to get the frustration out, knowing I had trained my ass off for 6 months, and knowing I had sub-4 in me but my stupid body betrayed me again. Once I was done with the tears, I tried to do math and realized I had an almost 28 minute PR!! My final chip time was 4:15:08 for a 27:53 PR.

My watch also recorded 10k and half marathon PRs on the day as well.

Post-mortem
I am proud of how I ran the hills at the beginning of the race and how I thought I had run a smart race. Looking at my Garmin immediately after the race, it initially looked like I executed my race plan pretty well:
Miles 1-2: 2 mi w/u at easy pace . Right on pace.
Miles 2-6: gradually speed up to MP:  10:01, 9:53, 9:43, 9:12. NICE.
Miles 6-16: keep even pace through the half to mile 16 . I felt like I was running evenly, and the average pace is just under MP. I realize that includes the uphill miles but I still thought it was pretty good.
Miles 16-20: see how you are feeling, speed up if you feel good. This is where the slowdown started.
Miles 20-23: re-assess at mile 20. And now the cramps.
At mile 23, bring it home for last 5k . Yeah, not so much.

Looking at my mile splits, however, showed me a different story:
1: 10:10
2: 10:20
3: 10:01
4: 9:53
5: 9:42
6: 9:12
7: 9:00
8: 9:09 (hills started)
9: 10:05 (more hills)
10: 9:11 (starting back down)
11: 8:40 (ok, gravity)
12: 8:22 (wait, what?)
13: 8:32 (um, this is still faster than my tempo pace)
14: 8:36 (still faster than tempo)
15: 8:47 (this is right at tempo but I’m still supposed to be running closer to 9:00)
16: 8:18 (WTF???)
17: 8:55 (better)
18: 9:04 (good)
19: 9:30 (this feels hard, I wonder why)
20: 10:03 (oh hello there cramps)
21: 9:55 (trying to hang on)
22: 10:42 (and there goes the rest of the race)
23: 11:27
24: 10:46
25: 11:59
26.2: 11:44 + 2:51

So, yeah, I ran 6 miles in a row AT OR BELOW MY TEMPO PACE in the middle of the race. No wonder my calf cramped and the wheels fell off! I thought I was running controlled, but I should have kept a closer eye on my pace and slowed it down to MP or just a bit faster, not 30+ seconds per mile faster. Lesson learned.

So what’s next? I’m enjoying some recovery time, but Chicago is in 20 weeks and I will start training for that in a few weeks. I fully expect to crush this new PR and the 4-hour mark in Chicago, and I will be sure to run a much smarter race then.IMG_3649

No excuses, do the work

beat-yesterdaySome navel gazing on this Tuesday afternoon. I am pretty hard on myself. I set big goals and work to accomplish them, and sometimes I fail spectacularly. Especially with running. I declared 2 years ago that my goal was to break 4 hours in my fall marathon in Richmond, and I was all over social media with my training and my hopes for the race, and I garnered a lot of support and encouragement from every corner of my friend universe, both virtual and in real life. And then I crashed and burned in Richmond, failing big time, missing my goal by 43 minutes and 1 second. So I picked up, moved on, and made some new goals for last year. I changed things up a bit and did several triathlons, but I had to skip my goal race due to injury. So I dove headlong into marathon training, with my lofty goal again being sub-4 at NYCM this fall (although if I’m being honest with myself, I knew it wouldn’t happen that day). This time I failed even more bigly, missing my goal by 1 hour 16 minutes and 18 seconds (but who’s counting).

Missing my goals by such large margins leaves me disappointed and frustrated. The disappointment dissipates eventually, but the frustration remains. I know that being frustrated with these results isn’t productive. Sometimes I think I’m not meant to be a (true) runner. My biomechanics aren’t optimal, but I am counteracting them as best I can with custom orthotics. Should I give myself a pass for running on a reconstructed ACL and a surgically repaired foot? Perhaps, but I don’t. I know there are a lot of things in training that I can do better to help myself achieve my sub-4 goal. I just need to commit to doing them and then recommit from time to time so that I don’t lose sight of that goal.

My ultimate life running goal of qualifying for and running Boston might be a pipe dream, but I’m going to do everything that I can to get there. Going sub-4 is a stepping stone to Boston, and I need to keep my focus over these long winter months and not lose sight of that. I’ve picked myself up and dusted myself off after NYCM, and I’ve already scheduled my next marathon (Sugarloaf in Maine in May) and planned out my training schedule. Now I’ve just got to execute. No excuses, do the work.

NYCM 2016: A Race Report

I signed up to run NYCM for the Semper Fi Fund all the way back in March. It was one of two big goal races for the year, the other being a half iron distance triathlon in August. My training plan was to train for the tri all spring and summer and then jump into marathon-specific training after the race. That plan was sidelined when I re-broke my hand on the race’s bike course preview ride in June. I channeled my disappointment of missing out on my goal race into focused training for NYCM with the goal of a PR. Originally I was thinking of shooting for sub-4 (which was my pipe dream goal), but realistically I knew that NYCM is a tough, crowded course, so I decided to save that goal for another day and just get a solid PR.

Training went well. I slogged through the summer with hill repeats and long runs and even a little speedwork thrown in. I was extremely consistent in my training until about 5 weeks before the race when I had a flurry of migraines that sidelined me for the better part of 3 weeks. I still managed to get my long runs in, but daily runs were hit or miss. My nutrition and hydration plans were working well, and I went into race week feeling confident.

nycm1
Flat Martha is ready to go

I hit the expo with my bf on Saturday, and I soaked in the energy of the race. NYCM was my first marathon back in 2002, so the whole experience brought back good memories for me. We had lunch with the rest of our SFF teammates, then headed back to NJ to chill out for the remainder of the day. It was definitely strange prepping for a marathon in my own home and sleeping (not sleeping) in my own bed the night before the race! My alarm went off at 4am and I popped out of bed excited to start the day.

Logistics of getting to and from NYCM suck if you live in NJ. There were buses from the Meadowlands, but you couldn’t park there, but that didn’t matter since there was no transportation back to the Meadowlands after the race anyway. Bf and I settled on driving to the train station in Secaucus, ubering to the Meadowlands, taking a bus to the start, then getting a train back to Secaucus after the race to drive home. We would have just ubered to the Meadowlands from home but surge pricing was in effect at 5am and it would have cost us almost $50!!

The bus trip to Staten Island was uneventful. We saw the gorgeous sunrise over lower Manhattan and knew it was going to be a perfect day to race. It was in the upper 40s and would be in the lower 50s throughout the day. Bf and I hung out near his starting corral for a bit over an hour, and we got to see all of the Achilles runners and racers head to the start. Seeing all of them was a great way to start the day and ultimately helped me keep my wits about me when my race started to go sideways after the halfway point. nycm2

Bf headed off to his corral, and I headed over to my area to hang out for another hour or so since I was in a later wave. My tummy was acting up despite hitting the portos 4 times, so I just chalked that up to nerves and excitement. Once my wave was called, we lined up like cattle and stood there for about 15 minutes until we were finally herded into our corral. Honestly the wait on Staten Island went quickly for me, and I met some nice runners along the way. They released us to the start line, someone sang God Bless America but got a lot of words wrong (we were wave 3, you’d think by the third time she sang the song she’d get it right), the starting cannon fired, and we were off to the sounds of Frank Sinatra singing New York, New York.

The Verrazano Narrows Bridge is the biggest incline followed by the biggest decline on the course. I knew not to go out too fast, which is nearly impossible anyway since there are so many other people running around you. The first mile went quickly (but not fast), and the second downhill mile more than made up for the first.

Brooklyn was a 10-mile parade. I definitely fed off the bands and crowds and was running a bit faster than I had planned. I was hitting around 9:30 miles when I wanted to be closer to 9:45s. As the miles clipped away I was able to settle into a steadier pace as I tried to stay within myself and run my plan. At about mile 10, I started looking for a bathroom as my tummy still wasn’t feeling great. I added about 2 minutes to my mile 11 time by stopping at a porto and having rude other runners run in without letting the people waiting go first. Mile 12 was back on track, but I had to stop again during mile 13, and I feared that this race would turn into the great 5-borough porta potty tour. My tummy settled after that and I got back into the groove heading through Queens.

Queens was a much different experience than it was 14 years ago. Then, it was desolate with few spectators, and even the water stop was unmanned. This time, there were raucous crowds just like in Brooklyn. We were in their fair borough for a short period of time before heading up onto the Queensboro Bridge. A funny thing happened on the way up the bridge: my right calf started twinging. It wasn’t a full-on cramp, just a twinge, but it made me slow my pace since every time I pushed off, it twinged again. Three-quarters of the way up the bridge I stopped to walk because I felt a full cramp coming on. Once I crested the top of the bridge I resumed a slow shuffle down the back side through mile marker 16. Downhill felt much better and the twinges went away unless I started to speed up, so I just kept it slow down the bridge into Manhattan.

Coming off the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan is always an awesome experience. You can start to hear the crowds before you even leave the bridge, and once you round that corner onto First Ave. you feel like a rock star since everyone is cheering for you. My excitement was a bit tempered this time around since I was focused on my calf, but hey, at least my tummy troubles were gone! I slowly made my way over to the left side of the avenue because my calf was threatening to cramp again. I thought maybe if I stopped to stretch it I’d be able to head off the cramp. I said a cheery hello to the spectators in front of me as I stopped to stretch, and that’s when my calf seized up. Full-on nothing-you-can-do-about-it cramp. I doubled over and tried to straighten my leg, but that’s when my foot cramped up too. The spectators asked what was wrong, and I told them, and one of them calmly talked me through it. He told me not to panic and that it would pass, then to try to wiggle my toes because I couldn’t actually move my foot, then to move my foot when I could, then to massage my calf while straightening my leg to finally relieve the cramp. The cramp finally let go, and he advised me to walk and slowly work my way back up to a jog. I thanked him and the other spectators and was off again with the masses on First Ave. I was able to work up to a jog before another cramp hit, not as bad this time but bad enough to make me pull over again and stretch. I hit mile 18 and got salt from the med tent. They also forced me to drink Gatorade which was gross and made my tummy hurt again.

And so went the rest of my race. Walk, jog, cramp, stretch, repeat. At some point, my left leg cramped when I stopped to stretch my right leg, and the cramps kept alternating legs. At this point I knew my race was out the window. There might have been some tears of frustration with that realization (and with a few of the times I stopped to stretch) because I trained my ass off for this race and I was set for a huge PR and my stupid body let me down. At one point I realized that I could just hop off the course and cut across town to meet bf at the finish, but then I thought of all the money I raised for the SFF and how the veterans we help have gone through much more grueling trials than just cramping during a race, so I told myself to suck it up and finish the freaking thing. I also took special notice of the Achilles runners on the course, and told myself if they could finish with all of the challenges they had, I could finish too.

At mile 19, I texted bf to let him know what was going on and that I would be way over my expected finish time. At that point I calculated in my head that my finish time would be somewhere near 6.5 hours, but that just confirms that I should never do math while running because I was nowhere near that time. I just kept moving forward and took in all of the sights and sounds around me.

I crossed mile 20 in the Bronx and saw a bunch of runners pulled over on the side of the road lined up for something. A bunch of locals were out with sticks massaging peoples’ muscles and rubbing this blue gel stuff on them. I decided I needed some of that and got the gel rubbed into my calves. I can’t say that it helped, but it was a nice distraction from the pain.

I took salt at 2 more med tents and generally just let the encouragement from the other runners and the spectators push me toward the finish. Whenever I stopped to stretch, the spectators showed genuine concern and encouraged me to keep going; one guy walking his dog even told me his dog was proud of me! I was offered all sorts of food and drink to help with the cramps and was even yelled at to “keep running Marine!” since I was wearing my SFF shirt. I finally got to Central Park and enjoyed that part of the run. I used to run there all the time over a decade ago, and it was nice trip down memory lane. We got to Central Park South and I was determined to run the rest of the way but my calves laughed at that and made me stop twice. Up to Columbus Circle, back into the park, where my calves had one last hurrah and cramped in front of the 400m to go sign. A woman standing there said, “But you’re almost there!!” and I replied, “Tell that to my calves,” while laugh-sobbing. Once that subsided, I jogged my way to the finish line, determined to run through it no matter what my calves had to say.

Finish time: 5:16:18, an hour or so slower than my expected finish time. I semi-aggressively made my way through the crowds taking selfies at the finish line, got my medal, and walked briskly toward the park exit. I just didn’t want to be around all of the people who were so happy and proud to have finished because I was angry and frustrated that something that had NEVER happened in training happened on race day, despite my doing everything exactly the same way I did it in training. Nutrition and hydration were on point, and clearly salt and electrolytes weren’t the cause of the cramps since they persisted despite my salt loading during the race. Blech.

The long walk out of the park was good for my head though, because I slowly realized that even though this was the slowest marathon I’ve run, it was the hardest. I realized that I was mentally tough enough to gut out those last miles in pain, and quite honestly I didn’t know I was that strong. And I finished a farking marathon for goodness sake, that’s pretty amazing! And it was a lovely day for a tour of the 5 boroughs, and I got to experience the kindness of strangers helping me along the way.

Of course I still dissolved into angry tears when I saw bf, but they didn’t last long. We made our way to the subway and back out to NJ and the train station where we had started the day.

nycm-medal

Post mortem: the nice thing about being so slow those last 10 miles is that I don’t feel like I ran a marathon. My body (aside from my calves) has almost completely recovered already, and I am itching to go for a run. My left calf was sore for a few days post-race, and my right calf was painful and tight. Yoga and massage have helped, and it is almost back to normal as well.

So what’s next? A little birdie put the NCR Marathon in MD on my radar. It’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving and 3 weeks out from NYCM. If I feel recovered enough I might try to tackle that, otherwise I will jump into maintenance running and tri training for the spring.

As for my calves, I bought calf panties last night and will see how they work out for me. I did some research and it seems that my calves probably weren’t prepared for the pace that I was trying to run on Sunday, which led to some Golgi tendon thingies to freak out and for my calves to contract and not let go. So more mileage, especially at MP, and actually doing strength training will be part of my next training cycle. Onward with this experiment of one. Relentless forward motion….

I’m running the NYC Marathon and I need your help!

Hello friends! For the 4th year in a row, I am raising money for the Semper Fi Fund while torturing myself by training for a fall marathon. This year’s goal race is the New York City Marathon on Nov.6, which is close to my heart since it was the very first marathon I ran way back in 2002. My fundraising goal this year is steep, $3000, so I am reaching out to you today for a donation. Every dollar counts, and every contribution is deeply appreciated.

The Semper Fi Fund is an amazing organization that provides immediate financial assistance and lifetime support for post-9/11 wounded, critically ill, and injured veterans of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, ensuring that they have the resources they need during their recovery and transition back into their communities. Adaptive housing, education and career training, adaptive transportation, and rehabilitative sports programs are a sampling of the ways that the Semper Fi Fund enriches veterans’ lives.

runWhy do I run for the Fund? Because when my race is done, my aches and pains slowly fade, and the mental stress I’ve put myself through for the past 4 months goes away.  But theirs doesn’t. Helping injured veterans adapt to their “new normal” lives is why I run for the Semper Fi Fund.

Please help me achieve my goal and donate to this great organization today! https://www.crowdrise.com/martha-semperfifundnyc2016/

Thank you!