Thursday, November 1, 2012

Marine Corps Marathon 10/28/12

Marine Corps Marathon - wow. I had many people tell me "this is the best event you'll run in...words can't really describe how great it is" and they were right. Washington DC, the monuments, the

We signed up for the Runners World Challenge. Basically it just got you fun amenities - a weekly e-mail fro Bart Yasso with tips and pointers; a training plan (if you wanted it), on-line communities/groups for support (never even looked those up), special packet pick up at the Expo (great - no line to wait on), a strategy session (probably the best part), pre-race tent with food, drinks, private bag check and port-a-poties (that made it worth every penny), post race 'party' at the Artisphere (basically a meeting room in a neat building where they had free massages, food, drinks, tables, music, and your bag waiting for you). All in all, it just added to the great experience.

At the Expo you went through security and bag search (it is DC), and met the group at the RWC (Runners World Challenge) location. The magazine editor was there, David Willey, Bart Yasso, Jen (who e-mailed everyone and was a go to coach)....they talked to us about the day, got us all excited and pumped up. A neat experience. We walked around, waited on a loooong line to Brooks to buy a visor (for me) and cap (for Tim). Waiting on line someone noticed my Ultra Beast green shirt - Lisa, who ran the team UB. Fun!!! We talked Ultra Beast, marathons, etc....she was so happy and told me how she was carrying a flag with her charity group for the entire marathon. Wow, very impressive. Ran into two other guys (from FL, can you believe it) who also had Spartan shirts on and we chatted with them for a bit. You meet Spartans everywhere!

The race strategy session that afternoon was great. Amby Burfoot, Boston champion, reminded us to go out slow. Talked about how you want to burn fat first, not glucose, and if you go out too fast you'll burn the glucose first (which is bad). Go out easier than you need to so you burn fat first, and save some glucose for the later miles. Remember to fuel your body on the way. Forgetting (or being too tired, or too out of it) to take a gel, or whatever, can be the difference between petering out and PR'ing. Great advice. The race director, Rick Nealis (20 years of service as a Marine) was there to give us pointers, let us know about the course, and tell a ton of fascinating stories (the guy can TALK). He talked about stealing Oprah from the Chicago marathon (which was to be her first) to come do MCM. After all the organizing and planning that took, he was offered a job from Oprah's team. He talked about the race in 2011, how when running past the Pentagon you could hear nothing but footsteps. It was that solemn. We learned how they go over Arlington National Cemetery with heat sensors overnight to check for people; how they had divers in the water (because the race goes over bridges) to check for explosives; how the logistics of a huge marathon itself is hard - imagine doing one in the Nations Capitol. He told lots of fun stories, had everyone laughing, and answered every question that came up. We learned that the Marines that work with him race day (carrying stuff, guarding, etc) all have to be 6'4" - and he makes them carry big heavy stuff just for fun. :) The Marines that give out the medals? They are all 2nd Lieutenants, and it's nice for them to hear 'Thank you Lieutenant", so I made a mental note not to forget that race day. He also said "please, don't get upset when they call you Ma'am. They are trained to say Sir and Ma'am; ladies don't get upset" (that was funny). Rick said that the Marines are usually not allowed to accept hugs, but on race day they are (not sure if that was a joke or not but I made a second mental note about that). 

Race Day!

We stayed at the Key Bridge Marriott (thank you Facebook, reading posts from former marathoners and looking at corse maps helped me pick this hotel) which ended up being the location that the Runners World team was staying at too! We were up and headed out around 5:45 and sure enough, Bart Yasso, David Willey and walking out the door right in front of us. We just followed along, since we had about a mile walk to the start. We walked toward the Pentagon and right alongside Arlington National Cemetery. Such an amazing sight. You could see the Washington Monument lit up in the distance. We walked through the starting line area, to the Runners Village where the RWC tent was. A few quick speeches from Bart and David, some resting and Port-a potie use, and we were off to the start line. The weather was cool but overcast, no rain yet. Some wind, sure, but nothing horrific. 

Walking to the start with thousands of other runners, everyone chats and smiles. We passed a  DC officer in full gear who raised his gun (with red light beam thingy) and yelled "YOU ON THE BRIDGE - MOVE!" Guess you were not supposed to be on the bridge by the starting line that morning! Everyone kind of looked at each other and nervously laughed. I said "I might need that guy at mile 20 to keep me moving" (I sure did!)

Waiting at the start, the speeches and music was the best I have ever experienced.

The Warrior song by Hard Corps - wow, just wow. Just what I needed to get pumped up!

The race itself was amazing. The first 7-8 miles was interesting - some inclines, a few radical (but short) downhills, leaves on the road (beautiful), tons of spectators, fun signs (Paul Ryan already finished!   I'm tired too from staying up all night making these signs!), and aid stations manned by Marines. There was a turn around area at mile 13 - and headed back, through mile 16, the wind got me. I was getting tired. I had hopes for this race - not sure why, my training was iffy and my pace was way off for months, but I still had hopes - and I was slowing down. Never stopped until I hit a water station at mile 22 - and made the fatal mistake of going for the first Marine I saw for the cup. I AWAYS go for the cups in the middle of the station, or the end (it's way less crowded) but this time I messed up. Maybe it was intentional - I was tired, I know you get stuck and end up having to walk around/out/away from other runners.....who knows. But I walked. Then I started running (jogging, at this point, let's be real) and my hips said "No thanks, we do not like this". I felt like someone tightened the screws in my hips way too tight - I had no swing. Looking back, I know I drank enough (grabbed the Gatorade on the course and not just water) but I forgot my calories. My body just needed more fuel and I didn't give it enough. I'm not happy with my time at all, but I'm ok. Specific numbers and times and comparisons I'll save for a different post. I finished in 4:16 which again, is sucky for me. Faster than Nashville, sure, but there is a hugs difference between "I PR'ed" and "I ran a 3:50" I could care less about place, or PR  - what was the time? It's a hugely personal number - my fantastic race (or my sucky race) could mean jack squat to someone else. It's MINE. My daughter's kindergarten teacher used to always say to the kids "I want you to do YOUR personal best." What my best is might not be your best. But try to do YOUR best. I think about that a lot.

The Marines lining the finish line were amazing. They were all clapping and cheering. You crossed the line, and there they were, all lined up as you made your way to get your medal (it seemed like a long walk for some reason!). I made a point of shaking every hand that I could. I just walked down the line and said "Thank you, thank you, thank you" for every "Great job Ma'am; nice job', etc. It made em feel so good. Got to the Marines handing out the medals, and he said "Thank you for participating today Ma'am" and put the medal on my neck. I said "Thank YOU Lieutenant. I heard you were allowed to accept hugs today." He said "Is that right?" and I said "Yes, so I need to hug you" He laughed and gave me a big hug, and then I turned to the Marine next to him and hugged him too and said "Thank you for your service!" They were smiling, but it really made MY day. I saw one person who had a picture of his mom on his shirt, with Angel wings on it. He was crying  and the Marine said "She is very proud of you, Sir" (so incredibly touching). Got my picture taken at the Memorial, and walked off to find Tim at the RWC room/meeting area/building (how to describe it? I don't know). 

Walked through the finish line area, the family meet up area, and headed to the building (right by the UPS baggage claim trucks, not really far but it kind of felt like it). i was walking up the steps and was recognized by Amby Burfoot (!!). He ran up to me and asked how I was, did I need anything, showed me where to go (it must have been the pink visor he recognized or something. Everyone involved with the RWC was fantastic and made you feel very special). I walked in and got my bag, and went to get a massage. Waited for a therapist to free up (no line which was incredible, but had to wait for one to free up) and ended up with the editor again, David Willey. He asked how my race went, and we talked about half marathons vs full ones, how they are so different, what to do differently, etc.... it was really great. I felt like everyone there just wanted to listen and hear your experience and help in any way. Fantastic stuff. Tim was sitting on a bench right next to the guy who was ready to massage my legs. He ran a 3:18!!!!! Unbelievable. Incredibly fast. That's 7:30 pace people - really, really hard to do for 26.2!!! SO proud of him!

Marine Corps Marathon - my new favorite most inspirational race. The Ultra Beast still hangs on as my favorite overall event - being part of the first one ever, having no clue what was in front of us, the people, the terrain, etc etc etc - but for a road race experience? I don't think I will ever be able to compare ANYTHING to this. It's on the top of every list for a reason. This one I will do again. Tropical Storm Sandy - well, we had a crazy trip home (flights cancelled, hours spent trying to re-book with airlines who had no idea when things would re-open, rinding a rental car, driving west and then south in rain, wind and then snow, only to fly home from Charlotte on Tuesday). Loved every minute of this one (ok maybe not miles 22-25, but that's to be expected) :)

Friday, October 19, 2012

May All Your Hills Be Downhill

"May All Your Hills Be Downhill"

This may have been the start of everything.

Tim and I ran the Nashville Rock n Roll Country Music Marathon in April. Coming off a great half marathon season - 4 in between 1:42, 1:40, with my PR in January at Disney, 1:37:40. I was ready to head into full marathon training feeling ready, confident. I followed a great plan put together by Tim's training partner (Ironman, cross country and track coach for 15 years, triathlete, duathlete, this guy knows his stuff). I felt properly prepared for a good first marathon.

Then we experienced Nashville. Nashville is full of hills, Rolling hills. Constant hills. It was considered a heat wave the weekend we were there, but being from hot humid FL I never gave this a second thought. We went to the expo happy, talking to everyone, ready to go. We met the artist who created the official race poster - and when we got a copy signed, he wrote "May all your hills be downhill". I thought it was great.

Long story short, I ran a 4:21. Miserable. Not a horrid time for many people, but horrid for me, for how I prepared, for how I SHOULD have raced. What I was capable of racing. 3:50-something was the goal. 4:21 was embarrassing. I felt it by mile 13 - I knew I was in trouble. I ran, jogged, walked, shuffled my way through the end.

May all your hills be downhill.

To make myself feel a little better, I applied to the Ultra Beast. Send in your race resume and 3 sentences on why you think you should be accepted. I talked about my 14 half marathons, my times, my ugly full marathon, my black belt training, being a mom, etc much as I could fit into 3 sentences while trying to be witty and sharp. 10 days later I heard that I got in. Yes! The $250 entrance fee was the easiest pmt I have ever sent - no question, I was doing this.

May all your hills be downhill.

I have told the Ultra Beast story. 2nd big race in a row that did not end the way I planned. What was going on with me! I have honestly not felt great running. Sure I was and am doing good long runs, did my 1000 lunges in a ten mile run, hills, carried sandbags, more miles, Yasso workouts, tempo runs.....but nothing feels good. I have had a handfull of runs where I feel good and strong and fast. Otherwise it just feels like so much work. I keep thinking, this should be easier. This should not be so hard at this point. I am being advised that it's the humidity, the heat, kids are in school so I can't run till after 9am (which means it's HOT). Still. It's frustrating. I feel old. I'm 0 for 2. I finally realized, wait, I'm over the hill. It's all downhill from here.

May all your hills be downhill.

I think I was jinxed. "May all your hills be downhill." Of course! Now I am over the hill, and it's all downhill from here. Tomorrow I am running in a 5k that Tim decided last minute that we should do (his company is the title sponsor for the event, and we were just going to volunteer....but he thinks I need to see that I can run and it will be a mental boost for me. I am afraid it will be just one more notch on my "you suck" list). Marine Corps Marathon in 8 days. My goals are to feel good. Not great - you need to feel like you are working hard and putting out some effort - but I don't want to be miserable and frustrated and sad. Here's hoping for downhills that help you speed up a bit - not the ones that signal the end of the journey!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ultra Beast 2012

Things I do not want to forget.

(I am by no means a writer. I have two friends that are published authors and wish I had their skills. This is for me, so I can remember the day and some details (although I know I have left out so many as it is!!))

I had a very disappointing first marathon. Four years of running, constant improvements on my time, training effort, everything.....and the marathon got me. 4:21 when I should have been under 4 hours.  I have reasons, excuses, but regardless, it was a hard blow. To make myself feel better, I applied for entry to the Spartan Ultra Beast.

I have run two Spartan Races in Miami along with a Hurricane Heat. Great events.8-9 miles, fun, challenging obstacles to test your strength, with great athletes who become friends. The Killington Vermont Spartan Beast is their signature, end of the year, championship event. Spartan headquarters is in Vermont, and this is the hardest, longest course they do all year. This year they added the Ultra Beast - basically two full laps of the Beast course. Over 26 miles. There would be time limits, cut-off times, expectations of all out effort. You have to apply to gain entry - your race resume, and three sentences as to why you think you deserve to be included in the first ever Ultra Beast. “What the heck” I thought. It wouldn’t be a tragedy if I didn’t get accepted, but boy would it make me feel better about myself if I got in!

When I got the e-mail saying I was accepted, I was thrilled. Got Tim on board to do the regular Beast (no small feat in itself) and come with me. Training started, adding lunges to long runs (100 after every mile) and working with carrying a sandbag at our local park (the old dump from 30 years ago that they turned into a park. Our only ‘hills’ here in South Florida).

Fast forward to the 22nd. Vermont is beautiful, it’s cold, it’s fall. Sunny, but cold. How would I handle cold? How would I handle cold and wet? There would be swimming, trenches filled with water to wade through, barbed wire crawls with hoses wetting you down. I thought I could handle it well. I was used to running in awful hot humid weather -  and anyway, you warm up as you run. Easier than being too hot and getting dehydrated (or so I thought). Then I heard rain was expected. Hmmm, not sure how I felt about that but ok. The day started out beautifully - sun was coming out, it was about 45 degrees, but it looked great. I had my drop bin all set - change of clothes and shoes, food, water, etc. I’d get through lap 1 and freshen up (warm up, dry off, eat) before heading out for lap 2.  We brought my bin to the drop area, signed the board, found Brent and were ready to go.

That's me, 1st column, 14th name down

Boy I look happy here! 

Off we went. Decided that strong but conservative was the way to go. No injuries, that was important. Get through lap 1, feel good, power through lap 2. Lots of talking, laughing, enjoying the terrain, scenery, obstacles, the challenge that was in front of us. We felt great. Strong, capable, taking things calmly. We hit the three trenches, got soaked, hit the wall, did the over under through  walls, climbed up up up, went through the woods, carefully managed the steep downhills and continued to laugh and laugh as we went. 

Getting back together after a barbed wire crawl. Still smiling. Ready to head up the ski slope!

It looks nice and warm but notice the volunteer to the left. Long sleeved jacket with the hood up. Hmmmmm

This was fun while trying to climb up a trail!

The barbed wire crawls were crazy. Uphill, rocky, hoses spraying us. It was cold and miserable but fun. Barbed wire was very low so hydration packs had to be taken off and tossed in front of us as we crawled. Then through the muddy trenches again, up the hills, carried cement blocks, climbed cargo nets, and probably 15 other things. Headed down to the 3-4 mile mark, which was right back by the beginning. I made the rope climb! Yes!! Hit the bell and yelled a little with excitement. Fell off the horizontal wall and missed the spear throw. Shoot. The slippery wall wasn’t that slippery - but they DID soap up the rope, which was probably worse. I was lathering up and soapy for a few miles after that one.

That's waist deep water under the ropes. Made this the first time through and yelled to make sure everyone saw me, I was so happy!!

Then we hit the bridge. Swim out to rope ladders, climb up, then grab the first of 5 ropes dangling from the underside of the bridge. Tarzan swing between the 5 ropes and hit a bell. Well, the water was about 40 degrees. Just trying to move my limbs and swim was hard, and while I tried, nope, I did not make the swing. Swam to the side, did my 30 burpees. I shivered and had chattering teeth for miles after this one. So hard. More climbing, more crazy stuff - it’s hard to remember it all.  More barbed wire, tractor pull (cement block thingy attached to a heavy chain we had to pull up and around), sandbag carry, sled pull, rope traverse (again over really cold water). More barbed wire uphill crawls. Memorization task (Golf 439-1800...I'll never forget).

Yay for practicing with the sand bag at the dump!!!
More cold water. 
This was harder than it looks.
I can't even tell you where this was.....somewhere in the 6-7 mile range maybe?

 Then came the mile straight up the side of a mountain. No real trail, just bushes and rocks and roots and the occasional Spartan flag to mark the path. Crazy hard. People said it was 45 minutes to an hour getting up this one mile stretch. Hardest climb I’ve ever experienced.

Getting to the top, there were a lot of “Thank God!” comments happening. Until you turned the corner and saw the rope climb....again. Ouch. I think I asked Eric “What do we do? Rest a bit, or just go for it?” People were drinking, evaluating the ropes, climbing them, and I wasn’t sure if I needed a minute to recoup. he aid “Just go for it” so up I went. AND HIT THE BELL! Yay! Unfortunately letting go to hit the bell put too much stress on one hand and I slipped down, ultimately to face plant into the haybales on the bottom. Somehow my chin landed right between two bales - and my arms were spread eagle at my side. I took a second to evaluate myself and yelled “I’m ok, I’m ok...I’m not hurt!” Got lucky there!

Nice trail. Or non-trail. Thank you roots and saplings for helping us up!

Oh yay! Another rope climb
Conferring for a bit about strategy. Or maybe I was just blankly starring at Eric in exhaustion, it's hard to know.

This was crazy fun!

Downhills (crazy, out of control, slipping, bear crawling occasionally it was so steep) a cargo climb over rocks, and more, until we made it through the first lap. Lap 1 done!! 

Lap 1 done, we ran to transition/drop area. Got to our bins, started changing shoes, socks, etc, and eating a bit. Tim was done (for awhile) and he stayed with us and made sure we were ready to go back out. Some were done at this point. I don't blame them. It was cold. We were wet. We knew heading back out meant getting colder and wetter. Also, we realized we were slow on the first lap. To make the time cutoffs, we'd have to get to the 11 mile mark by 7pm. It would be dark, storms were kicking up, 7pm was the limit. If we made it past that point by 7 we could continue on, but the course would be closed at 10pm. It was not looking good, knowing how long it took us the first time. It didn't matter. We were not giving up. Tim was talking to us, saying are you sure, it's freezing, are you ok, do you have enough fuel, etc etc. I was very quiet, as was Brent. Tim said later I wasn't really making eye contact. I was basically saying f*&^ off, we are going. And we were off.

2nd lap we had company for a few miles (we always had company, but this time out it was I think 5 of us for a few miles, then 3 of us, and then just me and Brent to power through to the cut off). First up, the trenches ...again. I said "I can't hurdle these" and all I got was "yes you can!". I quickly told myself "...just like TKD...." At tae kwon do I occasionally have to tell myself "Don't think, just do it" when I start second guessing myself and my abilities. No, I can;t jump and spin like that. No, I can't break a board that high up. My instructors ALWAYS tell me to stop thinking too much, and just let my body go. It knows what to do. Stop letting your brain stop you. So I just said to myself "Don't think, just do" took a few steps back and ran and leaped over the first trench. Hands were outstretched, waiting to help me but I did it. I jumped it. Everyone was so helpful. A wall was too high for me to grab the top? I always had a boost. Brent never minded helping me. Everyone worked together when someone needed something. Holding a rope tight so a fellow racer could get a better grip - done. Holding the cargo net taut so it was easier to scale? Done.

Then of course, the laughing and jokes kept me going. I never heard  "Are you f8%$ing kidding me?" as many time as I did Saturday....well, probably ever. It was hysterical. Things we did the first time through I completely forgot coming back on it this time. "Where did this come from? Really?" "Cindy you walked into the barbed wire last time, remember?" Oh, that's right. Crazy. We talked of bionic people made of titanium and how we were jealous. Possibly willing to eat children to gain some of the viper blood by osmosis.

We found walking sticks to help with the climbs and descents. Cue The Jerk references to not needing anything....except this stick. Things got quiet. The barbed wire crawl just about broke me when I saw the water still going. I was so cold.  Coming back down to the trenches covered with barbed wire, then the rope climb, horizontal wall (again)  I may have even suggested taking out a volunteer with my stick.  I hated the thought of going waist deep into the water...again.  The trenches covered with barbed wire....I looked like one of my kids climbing the doorframe up to the ceiling. I had my hands on one side and tried to walk my feet/legs along the other so I wouldn't get wet. It kind of worked.

At this point we were back near the starting point, where we could have taken a 'dignified exit'. We decided not to. We knew we were against the clock and it did not look good.  I struggled up the rope climb (which I had done twice at this point), got to the last knot and stopped. I could not get my legs to pull up. One more knot, and I could hit the bell. I couldn't do it. I was terrified of falling down into the water (we saw someone do it - scary hard fall). It broke my heart to give up and slide down. 30 burpees. Then I hit the horizontal wall - got to the last hand hold and could not get my foot on the last spot. One handhold away from that bell. I tried to throw myself at the bell as I went off, but I just missed it. I actually threw my hands up at the volunteer as if to say "Come on!! I was an inch away!!!" but only got a shake of the head. 30 more burpees. Brent was so gracious to wait and even jump down and do burpees with me. Off we went again.

Through the trails, up up up, around, cargo net (the vasectomy obstacle, the volunteer told us. The net was straight up and down, not your usual inverted V shape. Much harder to get over). Cement block carry, then Barbed wire crawl. Time to put the headlamps on.  May have cried a little at the cold water we were crawling in AGAIN. Took a moment to put a long sleeved shirt on, and we trudged on.

It was getting dark. Hard to see trails, hard on the downhills, hard to see signs directing us which way to go. We got quiet. I mentioned seeing a unicorn. Thought we saw snowflakes. The rain started. We made it to the tractor pull (cement block like thing on a chain) and the poor volunteer just looked at us. "Hey guys, you doing ok? You need anything? Food, fuel?" Brent gave him the "We're great!" and I couldn't even form words I was so cold. I wanted to steal his jacket, but the poor guy looked cold himself, standing there in the rain. he knew we were not making the cutoff. I think it surprised him when Brent just trudged up and picked up the block and headed up with it. I grabbed one and followed. Brought them back down, and the guy said "It's only another mile or so to the next stop." He may have said hang in there, keep it up, I don't know. We kept on.

It's pitch black, it's raining, it was scary in the woods. Back up a ski slope. I got very quiet. Brent would peek over his shoulder at me and say "You ok?" and I'd just nod. Then he said "We need to eat something. What have you got?" I said I couldn't eat, I wasn't hungry, etc. He said "You need to eat to keep your body going".  I fished out my baggie of peanuts and ate them while he had a Cliff Bar. he was right, it helped. We kept going. I could not stop shivering. He did everything to keep me motivated. Said to think of one of my running routes; something that was a mile long. We talked about how we could understand how people just kind of give up when they are lost in the wilderness, in the cold. We finally round a corner and can see the area where the traverse/sandbag carry/sled pull were.....the 7pm cut off location. It was 8pm. All that was there was a Spartan truck with it's headlights on, waiting for us. We got in, sat; defeated, cold, wet, miserable. Sad. Happy to be warm. Waited for another group of 4 to come in, then got on a bus and headed back to the start/festival area. Only TRUE regret of the day - leaving the walking sticks in the back of the truck. I wanted to take that thing home, epoxy it, put the date on it, etc.  I HATE that I left it behind. Hate it.

We found Tim, found Shannon, said our goodbye's and headed out as quickly as possible to dry off and warm up. Race was done. No pictures with the Gladiators, no fire jumping shots over the finish line.

That makes for a big old DNF. I prefer to say PFC (pulled from course). We tried. SO many things we could do differently next time - shorter time in transition, less burpees (for me), but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. No Ultra Beast medal or Ultra Beast t-shirt. DNF. My first. Did I love every minute of it? You bet. Was it the hardest thing I've ever attempted in my life? You bet. 12 hours on the course. 12 fun, hard, entertaining, challenging, fantastically awesome hours. I'd do it again in a heartbeat and can't wait to do so!!! Team Redemption 2013!!!!!!!