MCM Musings (Part 1: I haven’t even started running yet.)

Holy shit, I ran a marathon. Sorry for the language, but that’s what I keep thinking and what I kept thinking along the course of the 41st Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC on Sunday, October 30, 2016.  Holy shit, it’s freaking hot out here. Holy shit, that’s a lot of people. Holy shit, is this a hill at mile 2? Holy shit, people keep leaving me messages! Holy shit, that’s a lot of cups. Holy shit, that’s The Capitol. Holy shit, it’s hot. Holy shit, my toenail just fell off. Holy shit, that was hard. Holy shit, I did it.

I got up a little after 5:00 a.m. after a crappy night’s sleep. I got dressed, had half a cup of hotel room coffee, used a wooden coffee stir stick to smear peanut butter onto a cinnamon raisin bagel (it was all they had at CVS) and tossed it, along with a banana and some Cheerios, into my clear plastic gear check bag. Then I continued to check and double checked my gear check bag, trying to make sure I had everything I would need for the day. Flip belt. Water bottle and holster. Headphones. Ziploc baggie. Kleenexes. Target bags. Shot blocks. Sandals. Pretzels. Cliff bar. Sunglasses. Dry shirt. Metro card. Money. Hotel room key. Trail mix. 5:45 a.m. Let’s do this.

I took the elevator to the lobby and joined the throng of other runners who were walking from various hotels to the shuttle stop just a block away. I could see a line of 9 or 10 nice chartered buses all in a row with some Marines in uniform standing next to them. Score. I’m in the right spot. I saw a short line near the parking garage next to the shuttle stop. I figured I’d hop right in the back of that line and then hop right on a bus. Nope. Underground line fake out! That short little line I saw from a distance snaked its way down and all throughout the parking garage, engaging a tiny flare of panic as I kept walking and walking, trying to find the end. Turns out the Marines and their well-organized fleet of plush chartered buses had us moving in no time. I waited maybe 10 minutes underground and soon boarded a bus to the Pentagon, with Mike from Savannah, GA, who was running his first marathon, and thousands of other runners.

It was a quick ride over to the “Runner’s Village”,  where we disembarked and then walked the half mile or so to what is really just a series of parking lots with hundreds of porta potties, a few wedding reception tents, and a sound system featuring a way-too enthusiastic-for-6:15 a.m. announcer yelling over techno music.Getting through security was a breeze. It seriously took me 30 seconds (and I totally ditched Mike from Savannah, GA because I didn’t have the energy for more small talk). I guess last year security was a nightmare with 2 hour lines, broken metal detectors, and people missing the start of the race.They got that fixed. So once inside the porta potty pavilion, I got in line for a bank of just a couple that were kind of out of the way. This was a great move. I waited mere minutes; it was not stinky, and there was TP and hand sanitizer. Score.

Then it was time to stake out my piece of pavement for the hour plus wait until the start. Ugh. I settled on a spot near some chain link fence so I could have something to lean up against. Turns out the fence was to separate the VIP area, where those who paid extra at registration gained access to a large tent and a “private” set of porta potties that weren’t accessible to the rest of us regular bib bums.  I spread out my Target bags and set up camp. I slowly choked down my breakfast despite not being hungry. I tried desperately to resist passing the time on my phone because I didn’t want to waste any of my precious battery life before I got onto the course. I didn’t want to waste precious energy trying to socialize with strangers either. And I wanted to save my podcasts to listen to on the run. So I just sort of sat there and stared. Alone with my thoughts. Like in the olden days. Just waiting and doing nothing. I tried to take it all in and marvel at the magnitude of the event, or be present and appreciative and meditative and zen-like or whatever. But mostly I just wanted to get this show on the road.

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Using precious battery life to post a selfie to Facebook. The VIP’s are behind this fence.

Announcer guy was really into it and finally started calling for people who were planning to go sub-three hours to start heading to the starting line. Sub-three marathoners? These are not my people. Not even close. With the scary warning emails they were sending about the anticipated high temperatures, I figured I’d be doing well if I finished sub-five. So I stayed on my Target bag for a while longer.

I don’t know what time it was when I finally decided it was time to leave my homeless encampment on the pavement. At this point I did briefly visit with the man sitting next to me, who had run 19 Marine Corps Marathons before, but was actually doing the 10k that day instead. His race didn’t start until 9:00 a.m. and he was there already!! Wow. When I asked him if things had gone more smoothly this year as far as security and getting there and whatnot, he said yes, but that with this race, “It’s always something. There’s always a glitch.” He said sometimes the finisher’s chute, sometimes the start, sometimes security, etc. There’s always a glitch. So with that less than encouraging thought reverberating in my skull, I headed off to the squadron of UPS trucks that were ready to haul my gear to the finish while I tried to haul my rear to the finish. Found truck 16 and handed off my bag. Got in line for one last potty stop. This line was considerably longer

img_1331And then more walking to get to the starting line. Because why not? So a stroll under a bridge and down the road and…Holy shit, that’s a lot of people. And where do I go?  Guess I’ll just follow these folks. Are we filling both sides of the road? Yep. Ok, we’re moving. Go with the flow, Tiff. Ok, so now I’m passing the 4:30 pacer over there on that side of the road. Dudes are just peeing over there, huh? And now I’m cruising past the the 4:00 pacer over there. This doesn’t seem right. Why do we keep moving up toward the start and the other line over there is standing still? Am I in the right line? Those people look serious. I look like this.

So there’s no way I could have tried to line myself up in the “correct” corral or whatever at that point. There weren’t corrals anyway. Just yellow banners with finish time ranges on them that really didn’t apply and I still don’t know what the hell happened, but there were 2 starting chutes. Race started with a flyover and then the cannon fired at 7:55 a.m. I crossed the starting line at 8:10 a.m. And I felt tired already. Here’s a link to a quick video of the start of the race. https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fcsnma%2Fvideos%2F1319977268036456%2F&show_text=0&width=560” target=”_blank”>

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Course Support

Here’s the Fitbit data from today’s long run. Can you spot the miles where I needed to “call” for help? Yep. Miles 11 and 12 were rough.

I was stupid. I didn’t enough breakfast before I got out the door today. I just couldn’t stomach it. That, combined with the fact that I didn’t get as much sleep as I normally do, and my legs were already kind of shot after a long Friday of homecoming shenanigans (where I had 20,000 steps without even working out that day) and a Saturday night of chaperoning a dance (another 17,700 steps),  I hit a rough patch at like mile 10. My stomach started gnawing at me, the course was hillier and hillier, and though I had plenty of water, I had already eaten my way through my energy chews and was fading fast. I felt like doo doo. I started walking and thinking about how far I had to go to get home. I was just so stinking hungry. I texted Dan a plea for nourishment along with a dropped pin of my location and he and Otto came to my rescue with a banana, granola bar, and water. I love those guys. I felt bad because I had kind of worked my way through the rough patch by the time they found me, and was feeling ok again, but I definitely still needed the food. It kept me from completely bonking. I will never leave home with an empty fanny pack again. I really should know better by now. Also, my friend Allison, who is running the Berlin Marathon next weekend, was nice enough to put a cooler filled with icy water, Powerade and pretzels at the end of her driveway, which I was able to access around miles 3 and 14. And I got to bump into her and her husband who were out for their run, so that was a nice boost too. I ran my fastest mile at mile 15 because the stretch of  Donahoo road that leads to home doesn’t have any sidewalks and there was so much traffic coming at me that apparently I was speeding up. I just wanted to get away from the cars. After a shower, some fluids and food, I ended up feeling really pretty good, though not as great as my last 2 weekend long runs have been.

 

Last weekend was my 13 mile Tour de Piper, where I ran 6.5 miles around the neighborhood, ran over to the middle school for the start of the Community Festival 5k, did the 5k, and ran home. A car load of middle school cheerleaders hopped out of an SUV at one point and started cheering me on, apparently thinking the race had already started, but really I was just some lone nut, wearing a bib number, and out for a neighborhood jog. I told them the race hadn’t even started yet and they seemed disappointed and got back into their car.

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The weekend before that was earthquake day, and I ran a really fast (for me) 14 miles down at the Mill Creek Streamway path. Also, Beth came to stay with me and we got to go to Lawrence and see amazing college friends and it was one of the greatest weekends I’ve had in a really long time for reasons I don’t have time to go into right now because I’ve already written too much as it is and am in full-blown run-on sentence mode.img_1122

At some point I’m thinking of trying out a supported group run. I love the idea of someone else putting out water and Gatorade for me on a marked course. What I don’t love, is the idea of getting down to the KC Running Company Store in Leawood by 7:00 a.m. on a Sunday in order to join up with said group run, so I’m not sure if that’s going to happen.

41 days until the Marine Corps Marathon!

83 days

The Marine Corps Marathon is 83 days away. I guess that seems sort of close, but not really. I haven’t had to ramp up my mileage and start “really” training yet. That’s one of the great things about being a back of the packer and having a “finish injury free” goal instead of a time goal. This summer has just been about maintaining a basic level of fitness, which is pretty boring. I guess that’s why I haven’t felt the need to blog for a while. I’ve been getting up to run at 5:15 a few days a week all throughout the summer (with the exception of the week I spent at StuCo camp depriving myself of sleep and stuffing myself full of pizza). I’ve also been taking long walks while Otto was at his speech and occupational therapy appointments, eating more vegetables and less sugar, and I started going to a yoga class. I really enjoy the yoga, even though I struggle to do many of the poses. My sweet husband bought me my very own yoga mat after I ended up with the smelly one from the pile of gym mats a couple of times. It’s tough to relax into your child’s pose when you’re deeply inhaling the stale scent of sketchy stranger sweat.yoga memes

I drove out to my trusty trail and ran 10 miles yesterday and felt pretty good. It was my first double digit run in quite a while and I consistently clocked 10 minute miles the whole way. The first 4 or 5 miles were rough, and I had my doubts about doing 10, but something clicked and my body settled in, pushing past the suck, as it has so many times before. Lots and lots of bikers out on the trails yesterday. I’m not sure if they’re training for something in particular or if the Olympics is inspiring people to get out or what. I ran past the lake in Shawnee Mission Park and was shocked at how many people were out so early on a Saturday morning. Parking areas were packed. Paddle boarding, kayaking, fishing, biking, dog walking, running, it was a great day for activity and people watching (and since it’s been raining for most of the day today, for once I chose wisely). I saw a dude bicycling in a helmet that covered his entire face, like one designed for riding 4-wheelers or dirt bikes, so that made me chuckle. And there were a pair of ladies desperately trying to save a night-crawler from the path before a pack of bikers ran it over, which I thought was sweet. After months of solo, desolate, dark, early morning runs, it was nice to see other people out there with me, especially runners, even though our interaction was minimal. I’m signed up for the Kansas City half marathon on October 15th, which is 68 days away, and two weeks before my full marathon, but now I’m feeling like I should sign up for a couple more fall races and use them as the first 13 miles of a long run. While I hate paying money to do a long run, there are a lot of advantages to doing so. Clearly I’m craving some running camaraderie.

I go back to work this week, so I guess I should get my training calendar together before I get swept up in a flurry of back to school activity. Here’s to doing race research.

Blazing Speed

I got a new PR at my race today! (That’s a personal record, people.) I never get a PR. Mostly because I run really consistently and consistently slow. Over the past few weeks though, for whatever reason, I’ve been feeling good and picking up the pace a bit. (I even clocked a sub nine-minute mile a couple weeks ago. For real.) So when my half marathon running buddy ended up in a boot and unable to run and chat with me for today’s ScoutStrong Challenge race at the Kansas Speedway, I decided to run a little faster if I was feeling good.

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I set up at the start line behind the 2:10 pace group but ahead of the 2:15 pace group. My last 3 half marathons in the fall (on back to back weekends, I might add) were all around that finish time (2:16:46, 2:12:57, 2:09:33). It was really chilly and windy this morning, like low 40’s at the start, and I stupidly ditched my long sleeves while we were still in the Speedway infield. But despite being a bit cold, I felt really good. I picked up the pace after mile 8 over in WyCo park. After mile 10 I caught the 2:05 pace group and ended up passing them around mile 11. At that point I was feeling like it would be possible to get a PR because my previous one was 2:04 something.

That previous PR was set at an absolutely miserable race, the Gobbler Grind, at Corporate Woods the year it was 14 degrees, none of the volunteers showed up, there were virtually no water stops, and the ones that existed had frozen cups of slush instead of water. So I ran fast, without stops, in an attempt to end the misery and felt absolutely sick afterwards. Like bordering on hypothermia with serious nausea and never wanting to run again.

That was not the case today. Was I tired? Yes. Did I run faster than was comfortable for me? Yes. Was I breathing heavily? Yes. Was I cursing the length of a NASCAR track? Yes. Were my hip flexors screaming at me? Yes. Were my calves tightening into tiny balls with every step? Yes.  You betcha. But I also passed a couple people on that last lap of the track and I saw Dan and Otto, Otto looking so cute in his hoodie and Royals cap near the finish, and after I slapped him a high five, I finished in 2:03:53! Hooray! It felt horrible and awesome at the same time. Pretty much perfectly encompassing what distance running is all about.

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My parents, bless their hearts, tried to make it to the finish, but couldn’t find their way to the infield in time. You know, on account of my BLAZING SPEED! They met us back at our place and treated us to breakfast after I showered.

The race was finishing up as people were arriving at the soccer stadium next to the Speedway for the funeral of a KCK police detective and Piper resident who was shot and killed in the line of duty this week. It was both sad and uplifting to see all of the police officers and motorcycle dudes with flags, lining the streets in the area where the service was held. I did not know Detective Lancaster or his family, but obviously his death has had a huge impact on our community. Even that doesn’t sound right or do it justice. I keep trying to write something here and I can’t come up with anything that doesn’t sound like the same old cliches and time-honored platitudes that everyone rolls out when these things happen.Thoughts and prayers are great. Moments of silence are wonderful. Changing a profile picture and posting words of support for people in uniform is a perfectly nice gesture. Somehow it doesn’t seem like enough though, does it? But what do we do? I guess that’s how lots of people feel. Helpless, sad, angry. Really freaking angry. This has shaken people to the core. A bad guy with a gun shot a police officer in broad daylight. Somebody’s daddy. A good guy. It’s just not right. Kids are scared and asking tough questions. Teachers and parents are trying to comfort these kids and help them work through all of the feels. Families are reminded again of how dangerous the work these guys do really is. Neighbors are wondering how the street they live on will ever feel the same.  It sucks.

So my personal victory today is somewhat tempered by the public tragedy and it’s helping me to continue to keep things in perspective, appreciate my health, appreciate my friends, and my family, and just keep on running.

Urban Adventure

One of the goals I set for myself for training this time around is to try some new things. This includes but is not limited to: new tracking gear, new routes, new podcasts/music, new speeds, running with people, running on a track, running barefoot, strength training days, etc. So far I’m checking things off my list. I found a new podcast I like called “How Was Your Run Today?” and get the sense that I’m one of 20 listeners. I’ve been spending two mornings per week in my basement doing squats and lunges and dead lifts and donkey kicks and push-ups (on my knees) and whatnot. It’s annoying that these don’t really register on my Fitbit as activity. And I ran last weekend with one of my speedier friends, Teri, who met me for a good chunk of my hilly 8 mile run.

This weekend I decided it was time for a new route, and a quick Google search told me there was something called the Heritage Riverfront Trail that started right here in my very own Wyandotte County. It would take me just as long to drive to that trailhead in downtown KCK as the one in Johnson County where I typically run, so armed with my Google Maps, and 8 ounces of blue Powerade in my waistband I set off for my long run starting at Ann/Armstrong Avenue in downtown KCK. I ended up driving smack dab into a 5k race that was happening, something about Strawberry Hill judging by the participant t-shirts, and I learned this is the name of the neighborhood where I would begin my adventure. Some of the volunteers at the 5k thought I was a runner in the race going the wrong way, which looking back now, was a pretty accurate assessment of how I felt for much of my run.

Turns out the internet was sort of right. There is a wonderful (though VERY industrial) trail that takes you from downtown KCK over the river and into downtown KCMO, but it’s either not finished yet, or not marked well enough for idiots like me, or I just couldn’t find the rest of it, but I learned there’s a HUGE difference between bike “path” and bike “route”.

When my nice, smooth, wide bike PATH ended after only a few miles, I followed the signs for bike ROUTE and had an interesting urban adventure. The plan was just to run 5 miles from my car, turn around, and run back. For this reason I was nervous about turning too many corners down streets I didn’t know, or taking a bunch of twists and turns. So I followed the signs and enjoyed the sights of warehouse after warehouse, loading docks, and blocks of chain link fenced lots down near the river. I saw some Weird Stuff.

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Antique shop in a not-so-picturesque part of Kansas City.

After my last glimpse of the river, I trotted through  City Market where people were just starting to show up to go do farmers markety type stuff. I got to see the new KC streetcar cruise through, marveled at all the trendy loft apartments, and envied the people strolling along with freshly brewed cups of what I’m sure was only the finest, localist, free trade, organic, perfectly blended coffee. Ah, just a hint of pretension.

From there I continued on the bike ROUTE, losing the sidewalk I had, and sharing the road in the bike lane with Saturday morning drivers. It was at this point I realized I was no longer on any part of the trail system, but I decided I was just going to press on until the voice in my ear told me I had gone 5 (ish) miles. The further I ran, the more interesting things got. Looking closely at the map of my run now: I did the Intercity Viaduct bridge to Madison Ave, to Woodswether Rd., to  3rd Street to Cherry St., which turned into Independence Ave., which I followed the rest of the way and which was basically a ugly highway with cracked, uneven, trash lined sidewalks that ran along sad, run-down apartment complexes, businesses with bars on all the windows, lots of bus stops, and a variety of aromas that seemed out of place for that early on a Saturday morning (curry? fish?). When I got to Prospect Ave., I remember thinking, “People get murdered here,” and since I was at the crosswalk, I turned around and headed back. I don’t mean that to say that I felt unsafe at all or that I’m under the impression that people get murdered on Saturday mornings before 9:00 a.m., but my vision of Kansas City was becoming a bit clearer. I don’t get out much. And as I ran back through the throngs of people that were now out and about in City Market, I thought about how I don’t really feel like I “belong” in either place of the city I had just experienced. I’m not a City Market person, nor am I an Independence and Prospect Avenue person. When I neared the actual trail again, I saw something pretty cool: a whole mess of kayaks on the river. I’m not sure if this was a special race or event, or if people do this on a regular basis, but not something I see every day.

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Kayaks on the river.

So all in all, I guess I’m glad I ventured out to a different part of the city, allowing myself to get a bit lost in the process. I should probably do more urban runs in preparation for the marathon that I will be running through a big city. It was more mentally draining to have to think about traffic and sketchy footing and broken glass, and crosswalk lights and hipsters with coffee and the inmates outside of the MO DOC Kansas City Community Release Center (still trying to figure out the naming of that place) and the lack of water fountains or bathrooms. I’m not sure I ever got into a “zone” because of all of the sensory input, but I spiced things up for this weekend anyway, and even picked up the pace a bit for a few miles.

Beyond the Suck

I had 4 great things happen this week (that were running related).

  1. A co-worker and friend was kind enough to write me a training plan for my fall marathon and spend some of her precious planning time talking to me about running in D.C. (and running in general) since she has run the Marine Corps Marathon before (along with 9 others!)
  2. I got our flight to D.C. and hotel booked, so there’s really no turning back now.
  3. A different co-worker and friend texted me after running one afternoon this week and said that after talking to me she felt “inspired” to run farther than she usually did. Yay!
  4. I got some new water bottles that may end up changing my hydration game at last.

So I talked to my “inspired” friend about always having to battle through the first couple miles of a run, until my body finally gets on board and realizes, “Oh, I see you’re not stopping and we’re seriously doing this for awhile.” I mentioned that I suspected what stops some people from sticking with running is that they never push past the suck. There’s no way I would have kept running if I always felt the way I do for the first 20-30 minutes of heading out–yes, some days it’s sooner, other’s it’s longer. But the moral of the story is: I always have to push past the suck. I guess if running consistently for awhile has taught me anything it’s that some miles (or some whole runs) are just going to suck. But there are other times when you break on through to the other side (yeah!) and it doesn’t suck anymore. And that’s where it’s totally badass. Sometimes it takes several alternating patters of running/walking/running/walking to get there, but eventually you can move beyond the suck.

The game changer:

Flipbeltwaterbottlegamechanging bottles

These potentially game-changing water bottles come from the fine folks at FlipBelt. I bought a FlipBelt at a race expo a few years ago (before it was called a FlipBelt) and never really used it. It’s a cool design, just a tube of fabric with like 4 openings that let you slide in your phone, ID, gels, keys, or whatever. I just never really ran with it. I prefer the fanny pack I guess. But then I saw these bad boys show up on my Facebook newsfeed (thank you, Mark Zuckerberg, for selling my data to the right people) and knew I needed to try them. I bought both the small and large size and took the big one out for an 8 mile test run today. I froze some water in the bottom half because I figured having it snug up against the sweaty small of my back would make for lukewarm liquids in no time. Preliminary verdict: not too shabby. It was sloshy and loud once I took my first swig, and isn’t all that flattering to the backside, but it does stay in place, and I didn’t want to murder anyone or rip it off halfway through my run. Those of you who have read this blog for a while know that this is major progress. I have yet to be able to find some kind of hydration belt I can tolerate. I see in the picture that Biker Dude has the bottle in front, which I guess is another possibility, but that would mean putting my phone in the back and re-configuring headphone cords, but I’m open to whatever works. Being able to have water/Powerade on the go this summer will mean I don’t have to plan my runs around places that have drinking fountains or drive a cooler out to a spot on my route and then retrieve it later. Yes, I realize that I am completely geeking out about $20 water bottles, and I’m totally ok with that. If they will keep me properly hydrated through my summer training, they’ll be worth every penny.

My next race is the Scout Strong half marathon on May 14th at the Kansas Speedway, hence the 8 miler this weekend.

Oops, I did it again.

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After a particularly lazy spring break filled with garbage food and garbage TV (and many hours spent holding a puke bucket for a sick kid), I started toying with the idea of running another marathon? Why? Because thinking back to finishing a marathon made me feel good about myself. Pretty much the opposite of what I felt over spring break. In the running world there are some “bucket list” type races out there that get a lot of buzz. Grandma’s, the one I did last summer, is one of them, and rightfully so. The Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. is another. It’s billed as “The People’s Marathon”, meaning it supposedly caters to first timers and people of all ability levels. It runs past picturesque monuments. It’s staffed by Marines in uniform. There’s an entire mile lined with photos of fallen soldiers. It’s patriotic. There are skydivers at the starting line and cannons and pomp and circumstance out the wazoo. It’s the one Oprah ran, so you know it’s gotta be good.

A quick check of the race website informed me that the entry to the Marine Corps Marathon, or MCM, is done on a lottery system. Oooh, very elitist. I like it. So I figured, what the heck? When the lottery window was open, I threw my name (and credit card number) into the virtual hopper and didn’t really think too much about it. I didn’t bother mentioning it to my husband. I didn’t know how many slots there were. I didn’t get too excited about it. I didn’t think I would get picked.

Smash cut to this past Thursday afternoon when I check my email and see one congratulating me on my entry into the 41st MCM (and informing me that the non-refundable entry fee had been charged to my credit card). Shit just got real. So October 30th, 2016, 2 days before I turn 35, I will be running 26.2 miles with 30,000 other runners in our nation’s capital. So that means the blog is back, baby.

I had a pretty crappy, sluggish, lots of walk breaks, lower back achy, why did this seem like a good idea, 7.5 mile run this morning. The thought of training through the summer for my first-ever fall marathon is not something I can really wrap my mind around at this point, but I will get there. Tortoise style, like always.