Ironman Countdown

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

MCM Race Report: Finish What You Start

I had all these plans to write this update, to tell you about how I PR'd (personal record) my second marathon; how it was a glorious day full of victory and happy running....  but that didn't quite happen.   I finished my second marathon ever, taking each and every step along the way, and that ended up being enough.  I'm actually really happy about that.

The thing about doing any race for a second time, is there is the hope and expectation to do better than the last time.  I am definitely faster than I was a year ago, and my training runs over the summer all seemed to point to a PR for MCM.  But sometimes, it's just not your day... despite the best laid plans.
my race bib

On Friday, I took the day off from work, and went to the race expo.  I got to pick up my race number, and my free race gear.  As all runners and triathletes will tell you, a good race shirt sometimes makes the whole thing worth it.  This year's MCM shirt is, um, well its TERRIBLE.  I mean look at it!

Its a tech mock turtle neck!  It's shit-brown in color (sorry for the swearing Mom & Dad, but that's the only way to describe it).  It has some horrible logo on it!  Just awful.

much better!  (and prettier!)
However, at the race expo, there were lots of other goodies to behold.  Brooks, the running company, had a whole store full of beautiful MCM logo'd shirts and hats and jackets.  I had my hands on so many things, all fun and pretty.  But I settled for a hat, a t-shirt, and a very cool running jacket that will see lots of use.

Marine Corps Mascot!
The expo was lots of fun.  The Marine Corps pep band was there, putting on a mini-concert out front (and I developed an immediate crush on the trombone player, even though I am probably old enough to be his mamma).  There were lots of vendors with fun race gear and samples and running outfits.  It was so hard to exercise financial restraint.  I do love pretty running skirts!!!!


perfect weather!

I woke up before 5 a.m.  I started my rituals of making coffee, putting on my race gear, filling my water bottle etc.  I had decided days ago to dedicate my race to my friend Stef, who is battling ovarian cancer.   She is an amazing runner, and I know what she is doing is tougher than any marathon.  So, I wrote her name where I could see it, to remind me to be tough and stay strong.

I ended up leaving 15 minutes later than I had planned... I seemed to be having a "nervous stomach" just as I was getting ready to leave!   I had to drive a half hour away to College Park to pick up the Metro, and take the train to DC and the start line near the Pentagon.

Top of Green Line, to the bottom where Yellow/Blue meet at the Pentagon

getting nervous on the Metro!
I had to switch trains once, from the Green Line to the Yellow Line, at the Fort Totten stop.  Everything was still going o.k., despite my late start.  Until I got to Fort Totten.  The Yellow train.... the dreaded blasted Yellow train... I (and about a dozen other runners) waited 25 minutes for that train to appear.  So now I was 40 minutes behind schedule.

A side note:  for those who don't know, I am TYPE A about being on time.  I get nervous and upset if I am running late.  I hate being late.  Well, now I was late.  My stomach, which was already in knots for some reason, was a mess.  I am also a bit neurotic as an athlete, but that's "normal" among most marathon runner and triathletes I know.

I got off the train at the Pentagon, and still had about a mile walk (with all the other runners on the train) to the start line.  I had to check my bag (full of warm dry clothes for afterwards) and pee one last time.  The race started officially at 7:55.  By the time I was in the runners village from the train, it was 7:52.  Not good.  I heard the cannon for the start... I used the port a pot, tried to ignore my rumbling angry stomach, checked my bag, and rushed towards the start line.
here's the cannon at the start that I never saw!

I had wanted to be with the 4 Hour and 4:15 Hour pace groups.  In the sea of humanity, I missed all of them, and was at the very back of 30,000 RUNNERS!  Oh dear god!  I started jogging down the opposite road, passing the slower paced corrals, trying desperately to find my pace group.  I ended up passing the starting line, but on the wrong side of the road, and eventually had to hop a concrete barrier to rejoin the runners (scraped up the whole back of my leg).  Instead of calmly focusing, I was feeling frantic.  And it was so crowded.  I couldn't find my stride.  I was just kirking out.

The first three miles are basically uphill, and all I kept doing was trying to "catch up."  I was behind my pace already... and my brain would not shut up!  I was only 4 miles in, and I was not feeling my normal calm happy feeling. I managed to "catch up" to the 4:15 pacers, but really worked to do so.  Not smart.
The Course Map

I saw my big(gest) brother John at mile 5 near Georgetown.  Perfect timing... I needed this.  I was so excited to see him, and that did wonders for me.  He even made a sign for me so I could find him.  And I got to hear his voice and his yell, which just filled my heart.
My oldest brother, Johnny!

I finally started to settle down a little, and realize I could still PR but just not have my super-good-day time. At mile 7, I ceremoniously ripped off the pace bands I was wearing, and decided to just let it go.  I needed to calm down, and just be in the moment.  Despite this decision, my brain still kept at me, periodically yelling about pacing and goal times, about being late and not finding my stride.  I kept yelling back, "Let it go!  Just calm down!"  I probably was muttering out loud!

My sister appeared on the course around Mile 11, and that was a total surprise! She's so good like that, and I got a hug from her.  It took those four miles to really quiet my brain, and I was starting to feel content with slowing down a bit and just being happy with this slower pace than I had planned.

And then it happened:  my stomach really started hurting.  Cramping up.  To the point that I was having trouble ignoring it.  I kept telling myself, "just get to the halfway point at Mile 13, and we'll see where we are."   Mile 12 to 13 goes down to Haines Point and is known as the Solemn Mile or "Run to Honor" mile.  It is dedicated to fallen service members, and they ask runners to honor that while they run.  The wind was whipping around, and there were families of the fallen holding American flags.  There were placards depicting the photos of the fallen.  It was so moving and beautiful.  That helped me re-focus on something other than my stomach.

I made it to 13, and I knew I was in big trouble.  I needed a bathroom.  Found it.  But the problem with stopping in a race like this is the legs cramp up and its hard to get moving again.  I lost my pace, but tried to just keep going.  I came out of Haines Point at around Mile 15, and saw my brother and sister again... and found another bathroom.  And then I had to walk.  HAD TO.  It just sucked.

I texted James and Tricia, and then my sister and brother.  I told them what was going on, because I had slipped so far off pace that I knew they might be worried.  I also just needed to tell someone before I could admit it to myself.  My body was betraying me.  I was so angry at this point.  So disappointed.

And I had a DECISION to make.  I could just quit and walk away, knowing it wasn't my day, or find the strength to simply finish.  Just finish.  I was hurting, and angry, but I knew how furious I would be if I walked away completely, even though that was the easier choice.  So, I decided to just keep going.  One step at a time: walk, run or crawl. 

It's hard to stay in a race and finish, when you are feeling so negative.  I kept looking at the other runners who were wearing shirts in honor of fallen military family members; I kept seeing active military runners.  I was thinking of Stef, of my friend Vickie, of others who would love to be outside enjoy this gorgeous day in Washington, D.C.  It was was beautiful... the Marines presence, the crowds of supporters, the triumph of the marthoner.... that all helped.  I walked a lot.  I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.

And finally, finally... there was the turn to "charge the hill" to the finish line.  The Iwo Jima monument.  I made it.  I got my medal put around my neck from a Marine (and I got all choked up) and got my finisher photo.
what a gorgeous finish line!

My brother went all the way back to Northern VA for me, so he could drive me back to my car in College Park, and I wouldn't have to take the Metro home.  It was so kind, and so sweet.  Big brothers are pretty awesome.

I had so many messages of congratulations via text and Facebook.   I let that sink in, and I realized that even though mentally (and physically) this was not my best day, I still did a marathon, all 26.2 miles.  And I can still wear my new MCM gear with pride (even the ugly brown shirt), as a finisher!

finisher's medal:  always earned, never given

The race photos were just posted.  I was happy to see they caught me smiling in several, and one that made me laugh outloud.  Enjoy!

I'm looking for a port-a-potty?

best finish line I can imagine

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Marine Corps Marathon: ACCESS GRANTED!

Since I knew I would be doing an Ironman in 2015, I figured I should keep up the distance training, and sign up for another marathon in 2014.  I was so impressed with MCM, after watching Shethir last year, that I thought that race would be a great fit.  It is fairly close to home (no travel/overnight expenses) Plus, Shethir had decided to run it again, so we'd be there together!  Flat course, great crowd support, scenic, city of my birth... Marine Corps Marathon, here I come!

MCM is now a lottery marathon, that is you don't automatically get in, just by signing up.  However, if you run the Marine Corps 17.75K race (about 11 miles) in April, you get an automatic entry into MCM in October.  In other words, pay money to run 11 so you can pay again later to run 26.2!   So, I ran the 17.75 with Shethir on April 11, 2014.  It was held at the Prince William Forest Park down near Quantico, VA.  It was a gorgeous morning, and probably one of the hilliest races I have ever done!

We were just a little excited to get our "Marine Corps Marathon Access Granted" passes!  So cool!

Access Granted, b*&$#es!

too excited?

let the insanity continue!
 And so, beginning in June, I started training all over again.  I used a slightly more "advanced" program from Hal Higdon, just to see how it would work for me.  Last year was all about building mileage; this year I worked some pace runs and speed work into the routine.  The summer humidity is a tough obstacle.  And finding time for longer runs can be challenging with the children and work and life (thank you James!).  The worst run this season came at the beginning of September.  We had so much going on at home that weekend, that I had to get up at 4:30 to get this 18 miler done... and it was so HOT and HUMID, even without the sun.  I was in a bad place mentally from the get-go, but trudged through it miserably.  I don't do well with heat, especially Maryland full tilt humidity heat, generally, but once it gets into my head, I'm just a wreck about it.  I beat myself up, "why am I even doing this?" and other trash talk.  Then I bring it back to neutral (usually several hours after its over), and remember I still did the miles.  They may have been ugly and all over the place, but it got done.  The work got done.  On to the next one.

nifty graph of my mileage over the last six months

 But as the weather got cooler, that work in the summer seemed to be paying off.  And here we are, days before the marathon already!  I am looking forward to the race expo on Friday and seeing Shethir and some other friends.  I am excited for Sunday.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Making the Marathon Decision

A friend from work (who is running her first marathon in this weekend! GO LIZ GO!) read this blog, and was surprised to discover I had only run my first ever marathon last year.  She seemed to think I had done several and was a crazy long distance runner with many years under my belt.  This both tickled me pink (that I give off that kind of vibe) and cracked me up.  I still don't think of myself as a runner, let alone a marathoner, most of the time.  I know that sounds silly, but I have found so many of my friends and Swim Bike Mom team members are similar-minded.  Even though I personally believe that if you run, no matter your pace or distance, with any consistency, you are a runner.... I don't apply that to myself.  Someone will have to psycho-analyze that sometime.

Anyway, this all got me to thinking about why I chose to run the Baltimore Marathon last year.  I know I had been thinking about it over the last several years, and over a bottle(s) of wine with James at some point in 2012, I finally said this thought out loud... but how did this all happen?

You see, somewhere in my late 20's/early 30's, I was so busy:  getting married and having my babies, buying a house, working.... I sort of lost a piece of myself.  I didn't really notice it had happened, what with the busy-ness and all.  But right before I became pregnant with Julia, I finally noticed the weight I had put on, and how I really didn't look like myself anymore. I finally let myself really feel this sort of inner anger and discontentment that had been rumbling around, when I should have been totally fulfilled with my work and my family.  I took a long hard look, and had a moment of total honesty with myself.  I had lost a part of me that was only for me.  I needed to get healthier and find that part of me that answers only to me, that takes pride and happiness in something just for me.  It is sort of hard to explain, but I basically needed to regain my sense of inner peace.

I started running again after I had Julia in August 2011.  At first I use to just "power walk" with her in the stroller when she was a few weeks old.

Julia, 2 mo. old, ready for one of our walks
 Then I started by adding one 3 mile run a week.  Then 2.  By the spring 2012, I was running 2 or 3 afternoons a week, right after work, but only for about 3 miles at a clip.  I did a 5K, and signed up for a 10K.  I did another 10K in the summer, and did a sprint triathlon in the early fall.  The wheels started to turn.  I wanted to challenge myself.  When I have a race/challenge in front of me, it makes me so motivated to go train and run.  My inner-athlete loves to race.  And that inner-athlete kept whispering to me:  "You did 6 miles, why not more?"  That inner athlete is a smart chicky, and I was so glad we were on speaking terms again.

Like most people who run or tri, I also happen to have some real life heroes, cheerleaders and "coaches."

My older sister, Marianne, is a really good triathlete and runner.  I have always admired her, watching her, "as a grown up," continue to race and exercise.  She's done several marathons, many triathlons, and is a yoga devotee.  She has always been my cheerleader in everything I do, and is one of my heroes as well.
Mare & me, Dewey Beach Tri 9/13/14

And then there's Tricia. Tricia the Ironman.  Tricia the marathon runner.  Tricia the encourager of insanity.

after my first ever 20 mile run, Sept. 2013.

In late 2012, I started to run with Tricia more and more.  Our children are in daycare together (and might get married, or kill each other).  And we work together.  She is the person I confide my racing dreams and goals to first.  So on one short run together in the fall, I told her I was thinking of stepping up my triathlon distance and doing an Olympic race (.8 mi swim/25 mi bike/6 mi run) at the Columbia Triathlon.  "DO IT!  DO IT!" says Tricia.  A few weeks after that, I told her I had been contemplating a marathon and asked her if that was just crazy?  "DO IT!  DO IT!" says Tricia.  She said more than that, on both occasions, and was full of wisdom and advice.  But basically, she just cemented what I knew already, that I could do it!

Add to that, in October, 2012, I had signed up to run the Marine Corp 10K with my dear friend Shethir.  We've been friends for 25 years.  Shethir lives in Northern Virginia and had also gotten into running, after she had her second child.  Because we live too far apart to run together or do many races together, we specifically chose this one in DC, sort of a middle ground.  We even got matching tanktops from our alma mater Elizabeth Seton HS.  I think we both run for a lot of the same reasons (i.e. our sanity) so it was such a meaningful race for me, to run it with her.

Shethir & me at the Iwo Jima monument
The MCM 10K is held on the same day/time as the MCM itself.  During our run, Shethir mentioned that running the MCM was on her bucket list.  I told her that I, too, had been seriously considering a marathon, but I wanted to run the Baltimore Marathon since that is my hometown race.  We looked at each other and said "Let's do it!"  We thought it would be perfect:  she could come cheer for me at mine, and two weeks later I could cheer at hers.  We even pinkie swore we would sign up and do our first marathons in 2013.  There were no witnesses to that oath, but we stuck to it!

I am a fairly type-A person; I love schedules and routines; I am a planner by nature.  All of these traits were well-suited for marathon training.  I had my running schedule mapped out for the summer of 2013, and, one by one, ticked off each session.  I hated it during the hot humid summer months, but loved that when September came around, I was able to run 20 miles.  The slow build of miles over several weeks really works.  I used a beginner program from Hal Higdon (available online and FREE!), who is a force in the marathon world.  Working in the runs around my job and my family's schedules was very manageable.  There were some challenges with that, but basically I was able to fit everything in, with little inconveniencing to James and the kids.

On October 12, 2013, I ran the Baltimore Marathon.  It was so amazing.  I was just super happy and excited.  As promised, Shethir and her son Gabe, came to cheer me on, sporting a giant poster cut-out of my head, so I could find them.

Cal Ripken's 8, prior to the start
mile 7, St. Paul Street
I saw my work-friend Jen (mile 7), my sister (mile 11); Tricia (mile 14); my mommy-friend Jen with her family (mile 15); and my Dad, Jack and James (mile 16).  I started sobbing running towards the finish line... not exactly conducive when trying to breathe but couldn't be helped!  It was just such an amazing experience, from training to the medal at the end!

Gabe, Shethir & my giant Irish head

Team Pinkie Swear!

Shethir, around mile 10
And two weeks later, I watched Shethir run her first marathon at the Marine Corp Marathon.  She did so great, and I was totally overwhelmed by the amazing crowd support.  When you finish, a Marine puts a medal around your neck.  How humbling is that?

We celebrated over brunch a few weeks later, wearing our medals the entire time!
spoils of war

I even went up to Philly in November to watch Tricia do her marathon for 2013.  I made a sign so she could find me, involving a photo of our adorable children.  She PR'd, and had a great race!!!

2013.  What an inspiring year... no wonder I decided to do my Ironman around this time... I was surrounded by positivity through racing!  Strong, amazing, supportive women... mommies who work like me... ordinary people doing extraordinary things!

So needless to say, I have found my inner peace, that part of me that had sort of been missing.  I think all mothers go through this at some point.  And running or triathlon may not be the answer for all of us, but it has been for me.  It was such an amazing journey last year, so I knew I would do it again this year.  My inner-athlete has awoken, and I can't wait to see how far we go!

Monday, October 6, 2014

38.1 Miles in 30 Hours...

20 mile run + 15 mile bike + 3.1 mile run = TIRED MAMMA!

Fall is here my friends.  While I do love the summer (the beach, our swim club life, long sunny days), there is something to be said about leaves changing and cooler temperatures.  For me, especially as a runner, the fall means NO HUMIDITY so I don't feel like I am going to die after even very short distances.  Fall weather is a runner's best friend!

This weekend marked my last "long run" before the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) on October 26th.  I had one 20 mile run left.

Ironically, my sister and "niece" Kelly offered to take my lovely adorable always-well-behaved children to the beach this weekend.  Without me or James.  I actually didn't believe her. Our text conversation was something like:

  M:  "How does this weekend look?  I'd like to take the kids to   
       the beach."
  me:  "Just the kids?  You mean MY kids?
  M:  "Yes your kids.  Thought it would be fun."
  me:  "You do know they are nuts, right?"

But sure enough, the plan was made for her and Kelly to pick them up Saturday morning and spend the day/night in Rehobeth.   They had a blast!
Happy beach babies with my beautiful Kelly

I got up Saturday at o'dark thirty to head up to the Northern Central Railrod (NCR) trail in northern Baltimore County to get in my 20 miles  If you have never been to this particular trail, it stretches from Ashland/Hunt Valley all the way north across the Pennsylvania (Mason-Dixon) line.  It is pristine in its beauty and clean-ness.   It is flat, shaded, and goes right along the Gunpowder River.  For a long distance runner, it is a perfect setting.  There's even a few port-a-potties along the way, and a really nice clean bathroom with water fountains at mile 7.

When I started, it was still pretty dark outside.  But it got lighter pretty quickly.  It was a cloudy breezy morning, which is actually ideal for me as my Irish skin does not breathe well in warm humid conditions!

I discovered audiobooks for these long runs, just something different from music and my playlists.  I have already listened to "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand this year, which was amazing.  And I am currently halfway through "Me Before You" by Jojo Moyes.  I love it, and it really helps me to zone out and pass the time.

The Gunpowder River and the road less traveled

So many people I know say "How can you run 20 miles?" or "I could never do that."  Believe me, I never thought I could either.  But marathon training builds pretty slowly, and next thing you know, you are doing it!  I have found, at least for me, that I can wrap my head around doing 5 miles.  So I run it like 4 x 5 mile runs.  After each 5, I stop for a minute or two, and eat something (like those runner gels) and drink some water.  The halfway point is huge to me, mentally, because I know I will always have less miles left than what I have already done:
half way!

 I also like having something to look forward to.  At mile 15 for example, I treated myself to this:

I also get this crazy feeling of accomplishment  when I look at my watch and see what I've done.  I mean, I can EAT anything I want! (See calories burned at the bottom)  If you haven't caught on yet, food is a major motivator for me!

I stopped for a bagel sammie and a ginormous Diet Coke before heading home.  I had almost forgotten the kids wouldn't be there, and James was actually out running a Zombie 5K with his best friend.  So I got home to an empty quiet house.  I took my ice bath (I am a HUGE believer in this... even though I hate it with the fire of 1000 suns) and showered.  And then, I simply laid down on the couch.  I got to watch Food Network and play on the iPad... without interruption... for about three hours.  It was glorious!

I also found that my amazing sister had left me a present.  She got me my very own Triathlon Backpack!  Take a moment to add this up:  she took my children for a getaway AND leaves me a present.  I should be buying her gifts after a weekend like this!  I love her!

Its so cool, and has room for bike shoes, running shoes, goggles, swim gear, clean clothes, towels, water bottles...  I love it!  I had been borrowing my friend Tricia's for awhile, so it is wonderful to have my own

James and I got to go out for dinner and a movie.   I had a magnificent burger and fries at Red Robin, and it was not lost on either of us that we had no children and yet went to a child-centric restaurant!  Then we saw "Gone Girl."  I highly recommend it, though read the book first.

On Sunday, I had registered for a sprint triathlon in Rock Hall on the Eastern Shore.  I had sort of forgotten about it, and had certainly forgotten it would be on the same weekend as my last 20 mile run.  Rock Hall is such a pretty venue, and sprint tri's are so fun, so I just decided to suck it up and go.  Plus, one of my Swim Bike Mom Ambassador Team (SBMAT) mates, Holly, was going to be there as a volunteer.  Holly, ironically, lives in the same neighborhood where I grew up!  Small world.

So, once again at o'dark thirty, I crawled out of bed and started to get ready.  Um, it was COLD outside.  Like COLD for real.  The race was not due to start until 9 a.m., so I was hopeful the sun would warm things up a bit.  Off I went, headed to the Shore.  It was beautiful outside... the sun was rising just as I was crossing the Bay Bridge:

I knew the water temperature in the Rock Hall Harbor was about 74, which is fine for me.  But the air temperature was very chilly.  I was a little nervous about that.... because I hate being cold and wet at the same time.  Once I got out of the water, I knew I'd have to brave the Shore headwinds in wet clothes.... brrrrrrrr.

Jumping into the water was the hardest part of the day for me... I can't stress enough how much I loathe the combo of wet/cold.  I was in the last swim wave with the Athena category (aka women who are over 160 lb.... we get our own category since we have more to carry around.  The male equivalent are called Clydesdales, for over 200 lb.).  I couldn't stop shivering once I jumped in, while treading water, waiting for the start.  I had a stream of expletives running through my head about the cold.  But then the horn sounded and off we went.  It was a 750 meter swim (about a half mile) which went from one side of the harbor to the other.  On the side that runs parallel to the Chesapeake, it was very choppy and rocking!!!  But I finished well, and ran to the transition area.  I pulled on a long sleeved shirt, my lucky beaded bracelet from Jack, helmet and shoes, and off I went.

15 miles of biking on pancake flat Eastern Shore roads.  Sounds easy and uneventful, until the headwinds start.  That was tricky, but I felt smooth and consistent.  I am not a strong biker by any means, but I was pretty happy with this leg.

After the bike was the final three miles of the run leg.  I was tiring at this point.  I ran the last mile pacing another Baltimore girl, Karen.  We had been staying pretty even with each other, then decided to just join forces and finish it out together.  My last mile would have bombed but for her.  Thanks Karen, whoever you are.

I got to meet SBMAT Holly before the swim started.  I saw her after the swim and before the run, cheering "Swim Bike Mom!" each time.  Since I was by myself, it was so great to hear her!  After I crossed the finish, we chatted a few minutes, and then I lost sight of her when I went to get clothes in the transition area.  By that point, my whole body started shaking from cold, so I trudged back to the car so I could get out of my wet clothes and into dry sweats.  (They frown on public nudity at these races for the record). I think I missed Holly altogether at that point, so I didn't get to talk to her as long as I would have liked.  But Maryland is not so big, so I know there will be other opportunities!

a little history

proud to finish my Team Nate races for the year!

 I was super happy with my finish and my time, especially given how tired my legs were.  And I even got a special "Swim Bike Run" medal that is a bottle opener... so useful!  Set Up Events puts on great races!

All in all, a fantastic weekend of training and racing.  Oh, and the ORIOLES SWEPT THE TIGERS, in case you missed that cherry on top!