Vermont City Marathon Race Report 2018

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.

VCM banner

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! 🙂


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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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:

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!

Running for injured veterans

MCM shirtLast year I had the honor and privilege to run the Marine Corps Marathon on behalf of the Semper Fi Fund. It was an amazing experience to see and meet those injured and critically ill veterans who receive help from the funds that we raised. This year, and every year I’m able, I will run MCM while raising funds for this incredible organization. Last year I far exceeded my modest $500 goal. This year I have upped it to $2000, and I believe that with your help, I will be able to reach this lofty goal! Donate today!

MCM 2013: A Race Report 11 Years in the Making

The short version
I ran the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon in 4:51:04. It was not the time I wanted nor the time I had trained for. However, I am not completely disappointed. I know that my body can handle marathon training again, so my next round of training will be more intense and include more mileage. I learned a lot about myself and my abilities out on the course on Sunday, and I will take that with me into my next training cycle.

The long version
My first marathon was NYCM in 2002. Since then I have DNFed a marathon at 16 miles then had a series of injuries and surgeries that kept me from training for another marathon until this year. I trained for and ran three half marathons over the past year and a half, and this past spring I finally felt ready to tackle the marathon again.

My training had its ups and downs. I had a bunch of really crappy runs this summer, the crappiest of which were long runs that I had to cut short. I just could not hack the heat and direct sunlight for some reason. But then I managed to get in two 20 milers in consecutive weekends when it was relatively cooler, so that boosted my confidence. I also had a strong run at RTB, which boosted my confidence further still. I felt as ready as I could be going into the week before the race

Flat Martha
Meet Flat Martha

The week before the race was less than ideal. I had stress coming at me from every direction, and I wasn’t sleeping. I had cut out all sleep medications a week before the race so they would be completely out of my system for race day. The relaxing few days I had planned before the marathon were anything but. I had to plan spectator schedules, figure out the logistics for the expo, visit with family, and on top of that I was stressed out by things I was trying to put out of my mind but that just wouldn’t stay out. I was pretty exhausted by the time the race rolled around.


MCM 2013 expo
J.P., Chuck, and me at the expo

My mom, J.P., and I hit the expo on Saturday afternoon. It was a complete mess. There was a 1+ hour line to get race bibs, followed by a ½ hour line to get into the expo (where you picked up your race shirt, etc.). Fortunately I had brought water with me and there were food trucks outside the expo. Unfortunately the food trucks had run out of pretzels so my lunch the day before the race consisted of a dry hot dog. Yum. The expo was crowded, but we made our rounds while waiting for my brother Chuck to make it through the bib and expo lines. He finally made it in, we took a group picture, I handed my mom off to him, and J.P. and I headed to the hotel where we were staying with the rest of our Semper Fi Fund teammates.

I had never considered being a charity runner before this race. When J.P. decided to run MCM and raise money for the Semper Fi Fund, I thought it would be a nice thing to do together, so I joined him. At the pre-race dinner, we got to hear from some of the injured service men and women that benefitted from the money that we had raised for them. Their stories and seeing them racing the next day was more than enough to ensure that I will definitely be running on behalf of this wonderful foundation many more times in the future. The obstacles that they have overcome—both physical and mental—are way more than I can even imagine dealing with. To think that I helped them in some small way…it’s just an amazing feeling. These people are definitely heroes in every sense of the word.

Race morning

Pre-dawn in D.C.
Pre-dawn in D.C.

4:45am came way too early, and I popped out of bed even though I had gotten minimal sleep. J.P. and I met our teammates in the lobby and headed over to the finish line, where the Semper Fi Fund had a tent set up with the rest of the charities. We were able to leave our bags in the tent as opposed to checking them with UPS, which was nice. They also had a nice spread of food, and I had a banana and half a granola bar to hold me over until the start of the race. We stripped down to our race clothes and throw-aways and headed down to the start line with the rest of our team. We walked past Arlington National Cemetery as dawn was breaking. That scene will definitely stay with me.

Parachuters trailing the American flag
Parachuters trailing the American flag

We made it down to the corrals and into a porta potty line just as the pre-race invocation began over the loudspeakers. During the invocation, I looked up to see several skydivers quietly making their way back down to earth. They were carrying the flags of each of the armed services, then the last three skydivers were carrying American flags: two small ones, and one huge one (the biggest American flag ever used in a skydiving event). The invocation was over, and an a capella group started singing the national anthem. The skydivers slowly came back to earth as the national anthem was sung, first with the armed forces flags, and ending with the American flags. They all landed in the field right across from where we were standing. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

After hitting the porta potties, J.P. and I lined up in the 4:15-4:30 corral. I knew my brother was going to line up in that corral too, and I wondered aloud if we would happen to see him among the 35,000 other people lined up to start the race. No sooner had I said that, then I turned and saw him! We made our way over to him, I gave him a good luck hug, and we all got ready for the starting Howitzer cannon to go off. It went off, and the race started. We didn’t move for a few minutes, but soon enough we were on our way and our MCM had begun.

The race
J.P. and I started the race together. After a few minutes, he was pulling away from me, and I told him to go and run his own race. We exchanged I love yous and off he went. I focused on running my own race and staying in the present moment.

The first few miles of the race went quickly. I was running easy, and I checked my GPS often to be sure I wasn’t running too fast. It was difficult not to get caught up in going out too fast because of the sheer amount of runners and spectators in the first part of the race. I felt like I had settled into a good pace, but it turns out that my splits were all over the place. Also, my GPS showed that I was about a half mile ahead of the mile markers (I ran 26.73 miles total), and I don’t think it was due to zig-zagging to avoid other runners throughout the race. Everyone I know ran about an extra half mile. ??
Miles 1-3: 10:18, 10:23, 9:56

Between miles 3 and 4, I decided I was too hot and I needed a wardrobe change. I had gone back and forth a hundred times on what to wear on race day, and I settled on capri-length tights and a short-sleeved shirt over a long-sleeved shirt. It was supposed to be in the low 40s with 9mph winds at the start, making it in the 30s with windchill, but it turned out to be a lot warmer than that. I should have just gone with regular shorts and the short sleeve like I had initially planned. Lesson learned. I stripped off both my shirts and put the short sleeve back on without breaking stride. I tossed the long sleeve aside just before hitting the bridge into Georgetown.

I took gels every 4-5 miles and drank water at almost every aid station. That worked out well, except that I don’t think I drank nearly enough water. In training I used a handheld water bottle, so I probably should have just stuck with that for the race.
Miles 4-6: 9:41, 10:31, 9:51

We ran through Georgetown and onto the out and back on Rock Creek Parkway. I am sure it was beautiful through here, but I was distracted by tightness that turned into pain in my left butt (piriformis). I have had tightness in my right piriformis before, but never my left, which is why it was so concerning to me. I noticed that the road we were running on was cambered, but in the opposite direction of the roads that I usually run on. I run facing traffic, so the road slants down to my left, but this road slanted down to my right. And it was a pretty steep angle. My left leg is longer than my right leg, so when I run facing traffic, things even out, but with the opposite camber of the road, it exacerbated the leg length discrepancy, resulting in left piriformis pain. The camber evened out in a few spots, and the pain and tightness went away, only to come back when the road tilted again. I decided to just run through it and see what happened.
Miles 7-9: 10:14, 10:26 (very crowded at the turn-around), 10:17

The next few miles were uneventful except for seeing a spectator with a giant pumpkin on his head. Not on top of his head, he was wearing a jack-o-lantern over his head.
Miles 10-12: 9:52, 10:17, 9:55

We reached the halfway point, and I tried to figure out what my actual half split was. The clock said 2:24:xx, but I wasn’t sure how long after the starting cannon that I actually crossed the start line. I had my GPS set to show pace and distance, and somehow it didn’t occur to me to just click over and see my elapsed time. In my confused state, I decided that a PR was out of reach, and that’s when all of the stress and exhaustion of the previous week hit me. From this point on in the race, it was all I could do to keep from crying. The disappointment of not PRing when I thought I could, the increasing pain in my piriformis that I thought was costing me the PR, I was just a mess mentally. I tried using the mantra “relentless forward motion” to re-focus myself, then I switched to “just keep swimming” which is something that my most awesome friend Victor has said to me before. Just after the halfway point I stopped to stretch my piriformis, which helped a lot…for about a mile. From that point on, I stopped every 1-2 miles to stretch my piriformis. Every time I stopped it got harder to start back up running again.
Miles 13-15: 10:47, 10:42, 10:50 (the slowdown begins)

I knew my family would be spectating somewhere on the mall, and that kept me going for the next few miles. Our Semper Fi Fund team, Never Again, made team t-shirts and gave them to our family and friends so that we could identify “our” spectators out on the course. They were bright lime green, so they definitely stood out. I saw our captain’s family at one point and yelled out “never again!” to them. It turns out he did the same when he passed my family. I can tell by my splits which mile I saw my family because I clearly sped up! I ran over to the side of the course and gave them all high fives: my dad, my mom, my sister, and her husband. Seeing them gave me a burst of energy and kept me going.
Miles 16-18: 10:49, 9:59, 11:00

I wouldn’t see another split in the 10s for the rest of the race. By now I was stretching every mile, sometimes twice a mile, just so I could keep going. We were past the mall by now, running back towards Virginia and the finish. This stretch of the race included a grueling section on a highway bridge that seemed like it would never end. We actually drove over this same section of highway the next day, but it wasn’t quite as long or grueling in the car.
Miles 19-21: 11:03, 11:27, 12:05

We then ran through Crystal City where there was a lot of crowd support. Some spectators were giving out free beer, and I seriously considered having some, but they were all the way over on the other side of the street, and it just seemed like too much effort at that point. We ran over a bridge taking us back toward the Pentagon, and I was concentrating on the ground in front of me, telling myself to just keep swimming. I was so focused that I didn’t realize that I had passed J.P. I heard him call my name, and I turned around, startled, because I figured he had already finished. He told me that his hamstring popped at mile 20 (it turned out to be his calf), and he was hobbling toward the finish. I stopped with him as he stretched and walked for a bit, then we picked up back running. J.P. had to keep stopping to stretch, so he told me to keep running to break my PR, but I told him that went out the window at the halfway point, so I was going to run with him the rest of the way. We started this together, we were going to finish this together.
Miles 22-24: 11:36, 12:04, 12:32

We made our way toward the finish line slowly, stopping to stretch and walk and to punch a street sign (J.P., not me). Our GPSes clicked past 26 miles, then past 26.2 miles, and the finish still wasn’t in sight. We passed where we started the race, so I knew we were close. We finally saw the mile 26 marker ahead and decided to walk until we hit that, then we would run it in from there. Whoever designed this course was a masochist, because there is a very steep hill up to the finish line. J.P. was cursing the whole way up that hill, and I was saying, “This doesn’t feel good at all,” to no one in particular, when we looked up to see the finish chute. He grabbed my hand, and we finished together with our arms in the air, so happy to finally be done. We shook hands with as many Marines as we could on our way to get our medals, and again I had to hold the tears back as a Marine put a medal around my neck and then saluted me.
Miles 25-26.73: 12:36, 13:18, 8:46 (a whopping 10:54 pace)
Finish time: 4:51:04

Mission accomplished
Mission accomplished

We got our pictures taken in front of Iwo Jima, which is huge in real life, and then J.P. visited the med tent where he learned that it was his calf that he had pulled and that he was massively dehydrated. They gave him fluids, we grabbed our bags from the Semper Fi tent, and we made our way to meet my family for lunch (which was the most painful uphill 3 block walk ever). My brother had finished in 4:19:xx, which of course made J.P. vow to do another marathon since he was running with my brother until his calf went, so he knows he could have run a 4:19 and now he has to beat my brother. I of course was already planning my next marathon too.

I checked my GPS after the race, and it turns out I hit 26.2 miles in a time of 4:44:46. That would actually be a small PR for me (I ran NYCM in 4:45:11). So why did I think a PR was

Chuck, J.P., and I proudly display our medals
Chuck, J.P., and I proudly display our medals

out of the cards at the halfway point? Because I couldn’t figure out that I actually hit the half in 2:17:09 and that if I ran even a little bit of a positive split that I would still PR. I should not be allowed to do math while running. That’s one lesson learned.

Another is that I need to do more MP runs during training, because I honestly couldn’t tell how fast or slow I was running during the race. I am terrible at pacing even during training, so I need to get a handle on that. The one thing I was happy with though was that I ran my own race, stayed in the moment the whole time, and didn’t let what someone else wanted to do impact what I needed to do. So that’s a win.

I learned that my body really doesn’t like reverse-cambered roads. There’s not much that I can do about that. I know that it definitely affected my gait during the race, because I am sore in places that I’ve never been sore before.

But now that I know my body can handle the rigors of training again (if not the heat of the summer), I am ready to find my next marathon and plan my training schedule. I have plans for strengthening my core (my race photos aren’t pretty) and my calves (they are the most beat up part of me) before jumping back into any training. I am considering a spring marathon or maybe a spring half and a full in the fall. All I know is that there will be another marathon for me in 2014. And it will be a PR.