Marine Corps Marathon: Whatever it Takes!

October 28, 2007
So there we were at the Marine Corps marathon expo 2 days before the race…Jen was stuffy and barely breathing and I was still limping from my injury at the Steamtown marathon 3 weeks prior. Definitely not in the shape we had envisioned when we signed up, we had both mentally prepared for the fact that dropping out of the race was a real possibility.

Then we saw it: the most gorgeous medal ever. Shiny silver Marine Corps eagle, globe, and anchor attached to a beautiful navy blue ribbon with details that confirmed it was, in fact, this year's medal. Agreeing that we had to have it and deciding that crawling wasn't necessarily that embarrassing after all, we confirmed our motto for Sunday's race: "WHATEVER IT TAKES".

On marathon morning, Mom, Trey, and I met up with Jen and her folks to metro to Arlington National Cemetery for the beginning of the race. Lining up to a cold and windy starting line, Jen prepped herself with Vick's vapor rub and I resisted the temptation to "test" my hurt heel with a warm up. If the gun went off, I knew I would go into "fight" (instead of "flight") mode.

After the gun, we had 8 full minutes until our area started advancing forward. I purposely started with the 5+ hour group, not really knowing what kind of time to shoot for. With "WHATEVER IT TAKES" written on my back, I began the first mile with almost no pain and I knew immediately that I would not have my first DNF (did not finish). I saw my support at mile 2 and gave them a thumbs up so they knew my heel would be okay.

The elevation course map made them look scary, but the early hills in Rosslyn were a joke (of course, it helped that I had trained on these exact roads). The real scary part came at the first water stop, when the Team in Training coach shouted "stay together" and 20 people around me slammed on their running brakes. The vivid memory of slipping and falling at a Steamtown water stop came rushing back…I didn't fall, but I came close. Water stops have now replaced clowns as the odd thing I am really freaked out by.

We swung back towards the memorials, past Kennedy Center, around the backside of Lincoln towards the White House and then past the Washington Monument. The crowd support was incredible! I hit the 10 mile marker at 1:32:43.

Looping back around the Capitol, I saw my support (including Trey, who looked really hot!) and gave them another thumbs up. At the half, I was at 1:58:53...I only know this because of the splits they e-mailed me, though. I really didn't care during the race. I was focused on picking off the runners ahead of me, one by one.

Somewhere between mile 14 and 15, a HUGE stabbing pain began in my injured heel. I slowed down…the pain was even worse. You will not believe me when I say this (I'm not even sure I buy it myself), but when I sped up it felt MUCH better. As if I "ran it off", by Hains Point it did not hurt at all. At all! AT ALL! At 18 miles, I clocked 2:39:51.

Waving goodbye to the District and heading into my now hometown (1 year on Nov 1!) of Crystal City, where the crowds were deep and loud. After the turnaround at mile 22 (3:15:05), we went past the Pentagon to the 25 mile marker. A gradual incline during the last mile, topped off with a super steep .2 mile sprint to the finish just seems unfair…but as if they could read my mind's focus and heart's desire, the announcer had the crowd chanting "UNDER 4! UNDER 4!". The hill, as well as any pain I had at that point, did not matter and I finished with 3:51:41- a (very!) negative split!
Looking stunning in her signature Cardinals hat, Cox also finished strong. After the race, we took tons of pictures with our gorgeous medals ;) WHATEVER IT TAKES!

All I need to know about running, I learned at Steamtown

October 7, 2007
"Whether they go up or down, hills are tricky"
I usually slip in and out of expos, allowing myself enough time to pick up my race packet, register my chip, and complain about the free shirt ("why isn't it moisture wicking? Man, I wish it had long sleeves...!"). This time, I attended a presentation of the course by the race directors. I was aiming to qualify for Boston and felt like this race would be "the one".

The Steamtown marathon has a reputation for fast times, mostly due to the 955' net elevation drop during the first half of the race (which is exactly why I chose it). Most of the advice surrounded running an even pace on the downhill, even holding back a bit, to avoid quad burn out. That made perfect sense to me.

"Expect the Unexpected"
We started in Forest City, home of the cleanest port-a-potties on Earth- port-a-potties at races are typically really disgusting. Rather than a gun, the huge BOOM of an authentic civil war cannon signaled the start to get us moving! A very narrow, extremely steep 2-block downhill began the race. This is the sort of grade that necessitates constant braking (i.e. "marathon shuffle") or else you'll twist your ankle before the race even really begins.

In spite of the downhill I managed to keep things in control with a 7:55 first mile. At the bottom of the first hill, a surprisingly large and enthusiastic crowd welcomed runners. Do they bus these people in just for the marathon?? Surely they can't all be local residents...!

"Slow and steady keeps you in the race"
Along the course, the scenery was was like something out of a beautiful autumn watercolor painting. Through mile 8 we had a steady decline- people were flying down the hills! Using an incredible amount of self control, I averaged 8:20 miles until we got into the town of Carbondale, which ended the drastic decline. In the coming miles, I would pass almost all of the runners who sped past me during the early downhills. I was on pace to BQ.

"Computers are about trying to murder you at a water stop"
Last week on The Office (ironically set in Scranton), Michael Scott drove his car into a lake because he was too focused on his GPS. In a weird twist of fate, I slipped on a cup and puddle of Gatorade at the mile 10 water stop and fell down. Shaken and embarrassed, but certainly not hurt, I got right back up and continued to run. It wasn't until mile 13 (1:48:30, still on pace for BQ) that I realized the distance on my Garmin still read "10.05 miles" and only the time function was working. I had relied on my Garmin perhaps too much during training, so this was a definite setback.

The next few miles were on the Rails to Trails path: a beautiful, tree lined dirt trail and really cool environment for a run. The surface was a bit tricky, causing me to lose some time, but a welcome exchange for the scenery and mental lift.

"Never never never give up"
Knowing I have to average 8:23 min/mi to get a BQ I am now 3 minutes behind goal. Mentally this is disturbing, but I don't recall a moment where I thought, "you won't make it." I had thought for awhile that this would be "my" race and held on to the hope that I could make up the time somewhere.

Somewhere between miles 21 and 23, I started shutting down physically. I just didn't want to run anymore. It hurt. My quads were now feeling the early downhills, my right calf was screaming, a dull ache began in my left foot, and the "squish, squish" of the water in my socks assured me that blisters were inevitable.

As if the physical pain was not enough, the course began uphill sections between miles 23 and 24. Thank God my Garmin wasn't working at this point…I don't even want to know what pace I was slow grinding! At mile 25 with 3:38 on the clock, I remember thinking, "if I run this last mile in 2 minutes, I will still qualify for Boston." I know, right?! Seriously, my fastest HALF mile ever was 2 and a half minutes…I was in high school…talk about holding on, even when there is NO hope.

When I turned the corner with about a quarter mile to go, I could see the finish line but I already knew I was not fast enough to qualify for Boston. I didn't even have a PR. It was the longest quarter mile I have ever done. Through tears, anger, and frustration, I reached the finish line in 3:49:49.

"Mother nature has an interesting sense of humor"
From the race directors on Monday, Oct 8:
"Yesterday was by far the hottest Steamtown on record. To give you an idea of the impact heat can have, our median finish time yesterday was a full 10 minutes slower than the average for our first 11 years. We also treated more runners in our medical area than ever before."
Enough said.

"Excuses are for losers"
I used to love to tell my interns, "Don't make excuses. Excuses are for losers, challenges are for winners." Now I know how annoying that must have been...

I don't think I am a complete failure, Sunday simply was not my day. I won't blame it on the water stop fall, the course, my Garmin, or the weather. Sunday just wasn't my day. The Steamtown marathon marked state number 10 in my quest for all 50 states + DC. As we were walking from the finish line, Trey told me "You have 40 more races to go. I'm sure one of them will be Boston." He's right.

Kentucky Derby Marathon

April 28, 2007
There are definite advantages to being an experienced marathoner. You know what type of pain and fatigue to anticipate as well as how to pace yourself. I cut 35 minutes off of my time from my 1st to my 2nd marathon largely for this reason. For the novice, it's easy to let your ego get the best of you early on and run beyond your means....which is exactly what I did at the Kentucky Derby marathon, despite it being my 9th race.

I met up early with Natalie, who was doing her 4th half, to ride out to the start. Iroquois Park, home of gorgeous views, would host our first 6 miles. Having been told by one of the pacers that there were "only 2 hills on the course, one at 3 and one at 17", I was shocked to discover the entire park was a series of winding hills. I had not trained for them, but I like hills and perhaps ran faster because of them. 10K 49:28 (3:25 marathon pace)

Running through Churchill Downs during mile 8 was the coolest part of the race: twin spires, grandstands, manicured lawn, and horses warming up beside us. The terrain had evened out at this point and although my legs didn't feel any punishment from the earlier hills, I still hadn't found my "groove" to set into a comfortable pace. And who decided on blue powerade? Blue??! Was the race director absent when that decision was made? 15K 1:14:09

Still running WAY faster than I knew I should be, I could feel a blister forming on the arch of my foot. Knowing I would see Trey at mile 20, I called to request vaseline and blister cushions. As it turned out, he was not able to get a cab back from the start and had to come into the city on foot! Armed with nothing but a course map, he would end up walking close to 10 miles (portions on the interstate) before it was all that is a loyal spectator! 25K 2:06:12
Somewhere around 17, I started vomiting blood. I'd love to blame it on the blue powerade, but I think my system was just in shock from running so hard. When I finally saw Trey at 21 and told him, a medic overheard and asked if I needed a ride back (DNF? I don't think so!). I'm pretty sure he walkie talkied his entire staff and said, "the girl in the blue is about to go down!" because they paid close attention to me for the next few miles. I probably needed it, too...I was really slowing at this point. 30K 2:35:03

Mile 22 took us on a bridge over the Ohio river and into Indiana (no, this does not count as my IN in 50 states) for a lap in the Hoosier state and back into KY. At mile 24 I made a deal with myself: if I could finish the last two miles 1. without stopping to walk/cry/vomit and 2. alive, I would not run another marathon until the fall. No "pick up one" here or there this summer. I would take a real break. This was it for awhile. 26.2 miles 3:46:09

Am I mad at myself for crashing and burning? Missing Boston qualify by only 6 minutes? Ruining my negative split streak? No, no, no! Kentucky was a gut check, yes, but overall a great race! I'm glad I went out too fast. Now I know what it feels like! I am no longer a stranger to the pain and fatigue that a 8 minute pace offers. Now if I can just hold that pace during the second half...I'll have to wait until October, though!

B& A Trail Marathon

March 17, 2007
You know that feeling when you're all, "I know I forgot something!"?! Well I had it the entire drive to Severna Park, Maryland for the B&A trail marathon. Clif blocks? Check. Hammer gels? Check. MP3 player? Check. Lipgloss? Check. Propel? Check. Tylenol? Check. I went through this list a bajillion times before I finally realized why I couldn't shake the feeling...I forgot my watch. And the race was in 20 minutes.

According to the locals, the closest Target/CVS/similar was more than 15 miles away. The only thing they weren't selling at the expo was, you guessed it, watches. Now I know I said I was "running not racing" this one, but COME ON- a girl needs her split times!

After getting some looks to kill when I asked my fellow runners for the time (one woman even asked me "why?"...uh, I don't know. Maybe because I'm in a race!) I decided to just focus on running. Many of you know how competitive I am as well as how intense I can be during a needless to say, a focus on only running was a "first" for me!

The miles flew by. I got lost in my music (read: sang out loud with hand motions and everything). I took in the the scenery. I gave thumbs up to spectators and high fived all of the kids. I pondered Gu versus Hammer, course changes, UNC/Duke rivalry, and the freezing point for lipgloss with other runners. Before I knew it, we were at mile 20!

The only split I do know is the half (13.1): I was at 1:56. So a 3:45:09 finish definitely solidified my streak of negative split (second half faster than the first) races. 3:45 is also my new PR and, to be honest, I didn't think it was going to get any better than the 3:54 in Chicago! Turns out I didn't even need a watch to run a great race...!

To celebrate the finish, I signed up for a massage and took advantage of the post race feast the Annapolis Striders provided all 300 marathoners. Imagine my surprise when, face down on a massage table, I heard my name called for overall finishers during the awards ceremony...I was the 4th female overall and 2nd in the 25-29 age group! No lie, they called it and I looked up and screamed, "shut up! I'm Suzy Holt!"

Why have I been avoiding small races all of this time? Packet pick up is seamless, registration is half the cost of big races, start is not at all chaotic, crowds thin out within the first few miles, and a 4 hour finish can get you an age division award!