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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!

The Climate Crisis: Challenge and Opportunity

I am attending my first SXSW right now, and one of this morning’s speakers was Al Gore. He, of course, was speaking about climate change and what can be done about it, if anything.

Al Gore at SXSWGore highlighted the extreme weather patterns that have been increasing in frequency over the past few years and the impact this is having on our lives. Punctuated with startling videos of sea level rise, flooding, landslides, and fires, Gore illustrated how extreme weather is taking a huge toll on human life and destroying worldwide ecosystems and infrastructure as well as disrupting the global supply chain.

Climate change whiteboardAdmitting that he’s not a scientist, Gore gave a high-level overview of the mechanisms of extreme climate and proposed solutions to curbing it. Citing wind and solar energy, Gore stated that these renewable energies will be key to slowing–and perhaps reversing–climate change.

Well…bust! Richmond Marathon 2014 Race Report

Tl;dr version: I just ran a marathon faster than I’ve ever run a marathon before, and that doesn’t suck.

Long version:

Training
I started training for Richmond in the spring. I had a solid base from MCM training last year and had kept my mileage up over the winter. I used the Hal Higdon Novice II program for this training cycle, which involved 5 days of running and 2 days of cross training. I also did lots of core work and upper body strength, but that fell off in the month or so before the race.

Running well at RTB
Running well at RTB

I focused on losing some weight before/during training. I cut out alcohol entirely in July and just ate better in general while closely tracking calories in/calories out. I lost about 7 pounds in total by race day, and if I am being honest I have about 7 more to go before I hit my ideal race weight.

My training went extremely well. I got all of my miles in, and the long runs were way better than last my last training cycle. Although I still had issues with the heat, I didn’t have to cut any of my long runs short, and they were an order of magnitude less miserable than last time. They were over a minute per mile faster than my long runs last year too, so that was encouraging.

RTB was a huge confidence booster during training. I ran a more difficult set of legs than I usually do, and I ran them well. I felt strong throughout, but it took me a while to recover from this race.

MCM was not quite what I had hoped it would be as a train-through marathon. It was quite a tough run for me, but it had to do with the weather and other non-running-related things surrounding the race. I took what I learned from that experience and corrected a lot of things leading up to Richmond.

Physically I didn’t recover well after MCM. I developed a bit of PF in my right foot, and then I rolled my ankle while walking the dog. My right piriformis has always been tight, but in the weeks leading up to Richmond it got worse. Then my left piriformis got in on the act. I was stretching and rolling and icing and anti-inflammatory-ing and things seemed to be feeling better by race day.

Race day
My boyfriend and I stayed with my sister in Richmond, about 15 minutes from the race start. That was pretty sweet, especially since it was in the 20s at the race start. I got up early, ate a banana, drank some water, and donned my race clothes. I went with capris, a long-sleeved top, ear warmers/headband, and gloves. It was the perfect outfit, and I was never too cold or too warm during the race.

My strategy for the race was to warm up the first few miles and then dial in race pace for the rest of the race. My boyfriend and I had taken a bus tour of the course the day before the race, so we knew where all of the hills on the course were, and honestly, they weren’t so bad. I knew there was a pretty steep downhill around mile 6 that I wanted to be sure not to take too hard since it’s rolling hills after that and a screaming downhill to the finish.

My fueling strategy was based on the locations of the water stops: every 2 miles up to mile 20 and then every mile thereafter. In training I had taken a gel every 5 miles on my long runs, and I thought every 4 miles would be too much during the race, so I settled on gels at 6, 12, 18, and then somewhere between 22-24.

The race started with little fanfare (the 8k and half marathon starts were much more exciting), and we were off. The first two miles were a literal warm-up for me since it was cold and I was just trying to get my muscles warm. I settled in behind the two 4:15 pace group pacers, a guy in a skirt and a guy with a chicken on his head. My goal was to stay behind them until after the big downhill and then pick it up from there.

The first 4-5 miles were in the city and down Monument Ave. I tried to take in the sights and enjoy the spectators in these miles. I had no idea of elapsed time or distance at all during this race because I somehow couldn’t set my GPS to display it (I got a new Garmin at the MCM expo and haven’t read the f-ing manual yet). So the splits on my watch only displayed the time and distance for the current mile, which actually helped me keep focus in the later miles.

We turned out of the city and hit that first big downhill. A lot of people were hammering down the hill, but I kept myself reigned in so that I would still have quads left at the end of the race. Around mile 5 I was starting to get a brain fog/negative thoughts about the race which was not normal for me. I took my gel as planned at mile 6 and instantly felt better. I didn’t make the fuel-brain connection until later in the race, and I just kept running on.

Mile 1: 9:55
Mile 2: 9:39
Mile 3: 9:25
Mile 4: 9:33
Mile 5: 9:32
Mile 6: 9:45 (gel, walked through water stop)
10k split: 1:00:27 <9:40>

We ran through some cute neighborhoods and then crossed over the Huguenot Bridge where we got a beautiful view of the James River lined with trees with leaves at their peak fall colors. It was really gorgeous. We turned off the bridge onto a road that paralleled the river for a few miles. Chicken head guy was still in front of me, which was frustrating because I was trying to pick up my pace. This section had some rolling hills winding around several neighborhoods, and then we popped out onto a main county road that we would take for several miles before we crossed back over the river into the city.

At around mile 11, the negative thoughts started creeping back in (why the hell am I out here? How can I run 15 more miles? This isn’t fun, why do I do this to myself?), and again they went away after taking my gel at mile 12. I decided to take the next gel at mile 16 and then another at mile 21 so that I could pre-empt my brain going to negative places by giving it enough fuel. I saw my family between miles 12-13 which was a huge boost. They said I looked much better than when they saw me at mile 18 during MCM!

Mile 7: 9:38
Mile 8: 9:44
Mile 9: 9:47
Mile 10: 9:49
Mile 11: 9:48
Mile 12: 10:02 (gel, walked through water stop)
Mile 13: 10:02
Half split: 2:08:33 <9:46>

Martha Walz Richmond Marathon 2014
At the halfway point

With my half split (which I estimated based on the clock at the half timing mat) I knew sub-4 wasn’t going to happen that day. Ok, fine, I will adjust my goal to PRing and keeping every remaining mile under 10 minutes.

The next few miles pretty much destroyed my newly adjusted goal, and I’m still not quite sure what happened. The bursitis in my left foot flared up, but I was able to appease it by moving my orthotic around in my shoe with my toes until my foot felt better. Then my lower back tightened up, which I attributed to my stupid piriformis issue. I pulled over to stretch my piriformis/hamstrings hoping to loosen up. At this point I had lost chicken head man, and we turned onto the Lee Bridge to cross the James River back into the city. Again, another gorgeous view, this time of downtown Richmond (and if you looked closely enough, the finish line). The bridge is ~1.5 miles, and somewhere along there, my right IT band started hurting directly on the outside of my knee. It wasn’t just a dull pain, it was a stabbing pain. I pulled over again to stretch to loosen it up, and with that, my race imploded.

I took my next gel at mile 16, averting the negative thoughts that had crept in before, and focused on seeing my family at mile 20. I knew that once we were back in the city, there were a few more rolling hills but nothing to be concerned about. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and pondered what exactly it was that I did wrong to cause my ITB to hurt. My piriformis and back were going from just being tight to being painful, so I stopped every mile or so to stretch all of them out.

I finally crested the last big hill over the train tracks and was on the downhill towards my family. I smiled and waved as I ran by, and my sister yelled out that my boyfriend was going to visit the med tent at the finish because he injured his foot. So for a few minutes my mind was off my own bad race and went to worrying about/rolling my eyes at my boyfriend because I figured he had gone out too hard and hurt himself. The 20 mile marker FINALLY came into view, and I knew I only had about an hour left of this painful run-stretch-hobble shuffle to go.

Mile 14: 9:53
Mile 15: 10:23
Mile 16: 11:33
Mile 17: 11:32
Mile 18: 10:56
Mile 19: 11:41
Mile 20: 11:56
20 mile split: 3:25:31 <10:15> I honestly didn’t even look at the clock when I crossed the timing mat because I knew my adjusted goal was out the window, plus I wouldn’t have been able to do the math to even estimate a finishing time at that point. So I just kept trudging on.

I took my final gel at mile 21 and just kept moving forward as best I could with stretch breaks. I now know the true meaning of death march. The spectators in this section were great, from cheering on the runners to offering us food and bourbon, they really embraced us. They buoyed my spirits a bit, but as the miles went on, I felt completely broken down. I had a great training cycle, I was totally mentally prepared for the race, I set a lofty but not unreasonable goal for myself, and here I was crashing and burning. I had put it all out there on and I was failing spectacularly. I was sorely disappointed and I still had to finish the damn race.

And so I did, but not before my legs gave me one final surprise. Calf cramps, fun! Both calves twinged at the same time, and I knew I was about to cramp. I pulled over to gently stretch them, and when I got back on the course I saw the “1 mile to go” mark spray painted on the ground. I had visualized this point in the race many times during training runs, but it was never like this! As I got back into my wonky stride, a spectator asked if I was ok and told me I was doing great and was almost there. I said to her, “This fucking sucks!” and she laughed and agreed but said I was about to finish a marathon, and that was pretty fucking awesome.

We made three turns on city blocks and were on the screaming downhill to the finish. Gravity was my friend and pulled me down that hill, and I just let my legs take me. My right calf hurt pretty badly by this point, but I just kept going and going and going. The announcer gave me a shout-out as I crossed the finish line, and I was blissfully, finally, finished.

Mile 21: 12:58
Mile 22: 12:31
Mile 23: 13:19
Mile 24: 12:47
Mile 25: 11:55
Mile 26: 11:30
Mile 26.2: 3:19
Finish time (chip): 4:43:01 <10:48>
PR by 2:10

Richmond Marathon medal - 2014
Sweet medal

I got my medal and super sweet fleece blanket and found my boyfriend. The med tent diagnosis was possible stress fracture, but he was pleased with his finish time of 4:12:xx. I got my bag, and we found our way to the shuttle buses back to the start where my brother-in-law had dropped us off that morning and was waiting to take us to our post-race meal at Bottom’s Up Pizza. I “celebrated” with a local IPA and put on a happy face for my family. I had to get up several times during our meal to stretch because everything from my lower back down was tightening up. It was nice to relax for a while with the family before heading back to my sister’s house, showering, then traveling back to my parents’ house for the night before our return to NJ the next day.

Overall I really enjoyed the course, it was very runner-friendly and appealed to me: not super flat, no huge hills, but just enough to keep it interesting. Great course support and volunteers. And the spectators were very energetic, but I kind of hate the ones who were playing Christmas music and made the course a winter wonderland at mile 22 or 24 or wherever that was. I was kind of delirious at that point and the Christmas music just made me angry.

Post mortem
My lower back, piriformis, right ITB, and right calf hurt for several days after the race. The calf I blame on fatigue during the race and possibly the touch of PF I seem to have developed between MCM and Richmond. But I have no idea where the ITB issue came from. The only time I’ve had ITB pain like that was during Steamtown in 2004 when I DNFed at mile 16. I had pain in both knees that I had never had in training and have never had since, until this race. Maybe it was because of the downhill on the course? Who knows. I am stretching and rolling and it’s getting better with time.

I think fueling was an issue during the race. I tend not to eat much before a long run, and during training I took gels every 5 miles. During this race I started out taking them every 6 miles, and I think that might have screwed me up. The brain fog/negative thoughts are not something I experienced during training, and I think lack of carbs to my brain might have been the culprit.

Race-specific-training-wise, I put in the volume, but I don’t think I did enough MP runs. I never really knew where my MP was to dial it in during the race. Definitely something to focus on next time.

So what else did I do wrong that led to my blowup? Maybe I overtrained? Did too much with RTB + lots of long runs + MCM? The fact that I couldn’t speed up after the first 6 miles or so leads me to believe that my body was just worn out from training or something. I did have a migraine and a bad cold going into the race, and maybe that affected me more than I thought. Or maybe it was the non-running-related stress that I had going on the 2 weeks before the race. Most likely it was a combination of these things.

Now that some of the disappointment has worn off and I’ve gotten some perspective, I am kinda sorta satisfied with my 2:10 PR. I am still frustrated that things fell apart at mile 15 when I felt like I had trained for a much better race. I am throwing around a few ideas for training over the winter, but I haven’t decided if I am going to train for a half or a full in the spring. I will let this experience settle for a while longer before making any real decisions about training. I do know that I am going to add in strength training and more yoga and keep up with the core strength (for real this time!).

Still on the quest for sub-4!