Saturday, October 31, 2009

Continually humbled by the marathon

The marathon is truly a humbling experience in so many ways.
First of all, the training is humbling. There are times throughout the months of training where it's hard to remember why you're doing it; getting up early, through colds, a cold, bad weather, bad times, etc.
Marathon day itself is humbling. A lot of obstacles come up on marathon day. Digestive issues, heat, cold, wind, hills (both up and down!), and the body's ability to handle being on the road for hours. But you push through it all in order to cross that finish line. There is so much joy at that point, a feeling which I'm trying to hold onto almost a week after Marine Corps.
Hand in hand with that joy is the other physical response; pain. It seems so obvious, but your body really takes a hit during the marathon. In the days that followed the marathon, I clung to the banister for dear life as I tried to go up and down the stairs; legs wide apart and groaning along the way. My face would contort stepping off the curb, for my quads were screaming at me at that point, although I'm sure the people around me could not understand why this seemingly simple action was so hard for me.
Of course, you can't just stop moving after you cross the finish line. A few days after the marathon, I climbed on the treadmill to walk. 30 minutes later, I had walked 1.75 miles at 17:08 pace - more than twice as slow as my marathon pace. But it still felt like work. Yesterday, I finally hit the road and ran 3 miles. 3 easy miles were not as difficult as I thought. It felt good to be running again. I went slow, which was good. The first mile was excellent. The second mile was uphill, which normally isn't that hard, but I could feel it today. And that's okay; I took it slow. The final mile was good - felt relieved that I got through it. Tried to do my normal 20 lunges. I did 2 and almost fell over, haha! So, not quite there yet. But today I did 4 miles, and 10 lunges, so making progress there. And that is humbling; to do a workout that is usually basic and effortless, and to have it take a lot more work.
The recovery is humbling. I normally spend hours on Saturday running. Today was less than 40 minutes, but that was all I was capable of. That's the humbling factor of the marathon.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Banner Marathon: Running the MCM and BQing

How do you describe adequately one of the best days of your life?
It may sound silly or like I'm exaggerating, but running in the Marine Corps Marathon was one of the greatest days of my life. I'll start from the beginning (it is a little long, but then again, so is the marathon).
I fell asleep by 9:40, and only woke up twice during the night (and fell asleep again quite quickly). I woke up two minutes before my alarm went off at 4AM, which I took to be a good sign. I was up and ready to go. I stretched, ate, and then hopped on the metro, which the only people on it at 5:30AM were marathoners, which only happens every so rarely. The walk from the Pentagon Metro to the Runner's Village took about 30 minutes, so I'm glad I had brought an iPod and could just listen to pump-up music on the way (and listen to other people chatter). I first bumped into Eileen, who I met at the Parks Half Marathon in September, and it was wonderful to see a familiar face and get a hug on a morning when I was quite nervous. At the Village, we met up with a lot of people who posted daily in the MCM forum on Runner's World, so it was to meet the people who I write to every day. We took a picture (see here) and talked for a bit until it was time to get ready. The announcers were saying all morning that we had the best weather in MCM history (50, sunny, little to no wind) and I believe it. It was a gorgeous day.
I took my spot in my starting corral and waited. I met a nice guy named Bill, and we decided to run together and pace each other (we couldn't find the pacers). Then, the starting cannon went off. Which was anticlimatic, because it went off, and then we walked for a few minutes to the starting line. But then we were off (look for the pink visor)! I was so glad I bought the arm warmers, because I was still cold at that point (although they came off around mile 9). The first few miles were a few seconds slower than marathon pace, but is supposed to happen; you are warming at that point. But by mile 4, we were hitting our stride and on pace. I feel bad, because Bill was such nice company, but we lost each other at mile 16, and I don't even know his last name. But we were good for each other for the first 16! Anyways, the hills were not bad, (even though the map makes them look like Everest) especially because I had practiced on much harder hills. The crowd support was great, and there were times when were on our own on the path, but that was okay, it was good to have some quiet and an introspective moments. Anytime the crowds were out, though, they were awesome. There were bands, great signs, and lots of cheering, which is always nice to hear when you have to run 26.2 miles. Going through Georgetown was gorgeous, the leaves changing, and even the Hoya mascot was out to cheer us on. At mile 10, I heard Sarah yell out “Go Vanessa! I'll see you at mile 16!” I was glad to find her, because I knew she would be coming to jump in at mile 16. That was good motivation for me at that point, because I just myself, “only 3 miles to the halfway point, and then 3 miles to Sarah after that.” We hit the halfway point around 1:49, which meant we were right on pace. The next few miles went by more slowly, and I was starting to feel tired. Not bad, but just tired. I saw my parents around mile 16, which was wonderful.
Having Sarah jump in at mile 16 was a breath of fresh air. Because she hadn't run at all, she had fresh legs, great enthusiasm, and that was just what I needed. She held my gatorade bottle for me, and said “You don't need to talk; I'm just going to talk at you for the next 10 miles.” She even at one point yelled for people to cheer for me, which is always nice to hear. But she just kept repeating phrases like “You're looking strong” “You look relaxed” “You're handling this very well” every so often. She would also pick out certain runners and say that we needed to pass them. When she jumped in, I was about a minute behind from my Boston goal. And that was a scary thought; I hadn't really set any other goal for the race other than to qualify for Boston. I couldn't really think about that, I just had to keep going. However, I just was petrified that I would miss the qualifying time (3:40:59) by 20 seconds, which would be devastating. But Sarah knew I was slightly behind and she knew what to do to help me make up for time (which is pretty hard to do late in the race). We ran around the National Mall, and after that Sarah said “We're leaving DC for good now.” Mile 20 was the big bridge, and all I could think at that point was “when will I hit the wall?” At this point, Sarah was telling me “It's just a 10k left. Now, you can use all of those speed workouts that you've been doing to pick up and pick others.” So, I reflected on my speed training at that point, all of those times I went to the track for mile repeats and 800s. Picked up a little bit. Then we had 5 miles to go. Then 4. Then we got into Crystal City, which had lots of music and spectators. Then she said, “Only a 5k left.” Now, a 5k on its own is very fast. But, not after 23 miles. But I knew I was only going to run for less than half an hour at that point. Then 2 miles. 2 miles is nothing, right? Sarah kept repeating all of her mantras, and started to add “You're going to get your qualifying time and you are going to smash your PR.” Then 1 mile. Then Sarah started to say “Can you hear that? That's the finish. You are so close.” I didn't really have many coherent thoughts at this point. That was something different from the last marathon. The last time, I was very happy and bubbly and smiling at everyone. This time, I was very focused (which my parents said that was how I looked) and driven. This was serious. Sarah jumped out (because she wasn't registered, so she wasn't allowed to finish) with .2 to go, and yelled “Go!” At that point, I just dug in, found the last bit of strength I had, and charged up the hill. Relief set in when I could actually see the finish.
I pushed and pushed and when I stopped my watch after the finish line, I saw 3:39:xx (and change, I couldn't quite see what it said). That's a Boston qualifying time! Just pure joy set in at that point – I had pulled through and made up for time and qualified for the most prestigious marathon in the world (other than the Olympics). I just smiled and couldn't stop. I got my medal from a Marine, was congratulated, then set out to find my parents. I bumped into Sarah first and we just hugged and yelled, I was so happy. My parents popped up two minutes later and more hugging. Here's a picture with me and Sarah (she has the pink top on). Just joy at that point. I was so grateful that Sarah helped me with my race – she made a major difference.
I then went to the massage table for my free massage. I had 2 people working on me, which felt great. Soreness had already set in at that point, because even turning over on the table was painful. But the massage was great.
We then went to the metro to go home – but it was so packed that we had to wait a while. On the ride back I sat with a couple other marathoners, and it was fun to talk about our shared experiences. The metro was filled with marathoners and their families. We got back, grabbed a quick lunch (I wasn't really hungry – which sounds weird, but I just didn't have an appetite yet. Don't worry, I was taking in a lot of water and gatorade). Then I showered (felt so nice to clean up) and tried to take a nap. Of course, this proved to be impossible. I was way too excited, and could not sleep. I had a ton of messages (online and the phone) from friends who had tracked me all day and congratulated me on my race. So, I called a bunch of my friends (most of whom I left babbling, excited voicemails). I did get a hold of Jenny, who actually saw me finish by watching the streaming of the marathon online! I was very touched that so many of my friends and family spent the morning glued to the computer tracking me and my splits. We talked for a while, and I was excited to tell her all about it (particularly because we had a pact: if I qualified for Boston, she would train for a marathon too). So, she got a play by play description of the marathon, which was great to share.
I could not sleep; I was just too wound up. I did lie in bed for the afternoon, but just chattered away on the phone the whole time or watched old episodes of The Office. My parents apparently could sleep, because they took a nap at the hotel. They then picked me up, and we went out to dinner (Uno's at Union Station) to celebrate. I got a steak dinner (with an awesome skinless baked potato) and a Blue Moon beer. Now, I don't drink a lot, and I don't abstain from alcohol during training (although I cut it out in the days leading up to the marathon), but wow, that tasted good. The whole dinner was fantastic, and it was great to just be with my parents (whom I hadn't seen since mid August) and celebrate. We just talked and laughed the whole time. At one point, a whole group of people wearing the MCM shirts and their medals walked into the restaurant. So I went over to their table (I know, I love talking to anyone, even if I don't know them). I told them I was glad to see I wasn't the only one wearing my medal to dinner, and we exchanged stories about our day. I had a great time with my parents at dinner – it was just so fun.
The official results were posted when I got back:
Overall time: 3:39:55
Overall place: 2061/20936
Gender place: 359/8280
Division (20-24): 51/753
I fell asleep by 9:30 – the day had finally caught up to me. Although I woke up at 4AM the next morning and was up for a bit (and concerned that I wasn't going to fall back asleep), I eventually turned over (which was hard to do) and fell back asleep for a few hours.
It is pretty painful to walk around, go up and down the stairs, or even climb into bed. But, I cannot say this enough: it is so worth the pain. I am just ecstatic. I saw Peter the Guard this morning, and he just gave me the biggest hug, and told me that he had been praying for me all weekend. He is so sweet, and I was so happy to give him good news.
I'll add more pictures as they come in, but this is what I have so far.
Thanks to Mark Remy from Runner's World for including me in his daily blog on Monday! That was so cool!
It truly was a great day. I'm going to “bask in my Boston glory,” which was what Sarah said to do. I think I'll be doing that for a while. Thank you all for your support and wishes.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Expo, Shake-out run, and reflections about training

Yesterday I went to the Healthy and Fitness Expo at the Washington Convention Center to pick up all of my pre-race stuff (i.e. racing chip, t-shirt, and bib number). I didn't have to wait in line at all – yahoo! There were the usual vendors there: Nike, Asics, Addidas, etc, as well as lots of companies offering sample food and drinks, which meant I certainly got all of the vitamins and whatnot that I needed for the day.
But the cool thing for me was that that I got to meet and speak to Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run Boston and to work her way down from a 4:20 to 2:51 marathon over the years. She wrote Marathon Woman, which is one of my favorite books, and she has turned into one of my big role models, both as a runner and as an innovator. While I was waiting for her, to finish up a radio interview, I met her husband Roger Robinson, a runner and writer as well. He was really nice and introduced me to the MCM race director. Anyways, when I first met Kathrine (and yes, that's how her name is spelled – her father forgot to put the “e” in when he filled out her birth certificate), she gave me a big hug. We talked a bit about running and the marathon, and she gave some good advice. Not in the pace sense or tips about hydrating, but about the bigger picture of running. She also signed my book and wrote,
Here's to a matter what, it's a victory already and the results are magic. Go for it!
K. Switzer

She asked me if I understood what that meant, meaning that training is a victory of itself, and the results are the successes in life itself. While it sounds a little cheesy, I feel like we would actually get along really well if we got to work together. She was really nice, and I hope that I can meet her again. It was very exciting and good motivation.
Today was my shake-out run with a few of the editors from Runner's World (including Mark Remy, Jennifer VanAllen, and Bart Yasso) and people doing the Marathon Challenge. Met some good people and we did a really easy 3 miles around the National Mall.  It felt and it was nice to slow and just chat and relax. People were from all over the country, and it was fun to chat and hear how everyone's training went. Bart was nice and treated us to Starbucks after, so we just hung out and chatted for a bit. The editors also gave some last minute advice, as well as water and Gatorade, and the new issue of Runner's World! So that will be fun to read today/tomorrow as I lounge and get ready.
It is hard to believe that the marathon is less than 24 hours away. Since July, when my official training started, I have put in about 600 miles of running in order to prep for tomorrow. I have been looking forward to this day for so long, and now it is almost here. I remember standing in July and October 25th seemed so far away – I could not wait. Of course, in a marathon and in marathon training, patience is not a virtue – it is a necessity. So I reeled myself in and took my training one week and one run at a time. I cannot convey enough my gratitude to everyone who has supported me throughout this process. Whether it's been an e-mail or note, or friends who let me go on and on about training or sent me letters of encouragement, or my family who has always supported me, it has been wonderful, and I am so grateful.
With less than 24 hours to go, the name of the game is eating/drinking/stretching/resting. I will be taking it very easy. My parents get in in a few hours, and I cannot wait to see them.
Tomorrow is going to be great. The weather is going to be perfect, the course is gorgeous, the leaves are changing, and I am ready to go. I have done all I can to prepare for this. Tomorrow is the victory lap, and I cannot wait!

Monday, October 19, 2009

6 days to go...

I am in the final days of tapering before the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday. I think overall, I've been more calm during this tapering season than I was in March for my first marathon. Certainly, I've been more fortunate during this season as far as staying healthy. But, I do think that's more than just being fortunate; I've been smarter. I'm stretching a lot more then I did, I'm resting more, and really doing everything exactly by the book.
This week I am more nervous than I've been in the past two weeks, but I think at a reasonable and manageable level. I think it's perfectly natural to have some pre-race jitters, considering the four plus months of preparation, and the 26.2 miles ahead. However, I'm fortunate that I have schoolwork and work to do to keep me occupied. I have a paper due on Wednesday (a book review on monastic charters in France), so I'm plugging away at that.
I have made it into the pool a few times, which has been great. Yesterday the water was cold, and the walk back from the pool was colder, but I must admit, swimming is a nice form of exercise. Six months ago, I never would've said that - I used to hate swimming. But, it's turned into a great form of cross-training and a way for me to relax while working out.
On a serious note, I do want to comment about the 3 runners who died in the Detroit Marathon over the weekend. I was very saddened to learn about it, and my heart goes out to their families who are mourning on what should have been a joyous occasion. I had a few friends bring it up at lunch today when we were talking about my marathon on Sunday. They weren't trying to stop me from doing it, but they did want to make sure I was aware of it. It is scary to be a part of a sport in which people die, but it needs to be said that this happens in other sports, not just in the marathon. I have every intention of being careful on Sunday; my body's needs always come first when running and I act responsibly when I run. I know that those runners were as well; but this is just something that happens - people do die at young ages, even when in excellent shape.
On that note, I am going to go and take care of my own body. I had salmon with my lunch, which is good for me, I stretched this morning, I've drank a lot of water, I ran 3 easy miles, all for the greater good.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Making the transformation into a Hardy Runner

For years, the only time I ever ran in the rain was during my middle school cross country days, because we had to. When I was off and on with running, the rain was certainly an excuse for me not to run. Or just go to the gym and use the treadmill.
Now, I must admit, on Thursday and Friday I used the treadmill when it was cold and rainy. But, that was more because I don't want to risk being outside too much before the marathon.
But today was the last double digit run before the marathon, and it wouldn't have been fun to do that inside. So, even though it was 43 (35 with the windchill) and rainy, I bundled up (it's amazing what the pink jacket and running tights can do) and headed out. This was the first run of the fall season where I could see my breath, and the first run where gloves were also needed (which I kept taking off and on throughout the run). I actually don't mind the cold, and I'm sure growing up in Rochester, NY has something to do with it. The rain is a different subject, but since I had a repellent jacket on and a hat, I couldn't really feel the rain.
Normally, I see at least 60-75 runners around DC when I do my long run on the weekend. Today, I think I only saw 25, tops. And all of the other runners were dressed like me, with black tights and jackets, all bundled up. There was definitely a feeling of solidarity, because we were the ones actually out there running. I know we must've looked crazy to some people for being outside, because a year ago I thought those who ran in the rain were crazy. But, now it seems that I've made that transformation into a hardy runner!
The rain was a good thing, because it motivated me to go a little faster so I could go home and take a hot shower. I ran my 12 miles at about 8:45 per mile and felt really strong at that pace. It was a great last long run before the marathon, and definitely good for my confidence during the taper. Plus, there is something fun about splashing around in the rain, doing what others won't attempt to do, and burning off 1000+ calories in the meanwhile (that makes me look forward to my dinner party tonight all the more)!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Running into Fall, National Gallery

I think it is safe to say that fall has finally come to DC. I wasn't convinced on Friday when it hit 80 degrees, but today it was definitely fall weather.
I had 5 miles scheduled today, so I ran into the city and to the National Gallery (certainly my favorite museum here). The leaves have started to change and there was a noticeable drop in the temperature. Woo! What a relief. I hadn't been to the National Gallery since May, so it was time for me to check in and see the new exhibits. Two quality exhibits: "The Art of Power: Royal Armor and Portraits from Imperial Spain" and "Judith Leyster." The Spanish collection was well-put together - the armor was beautiful and they had some enormous tapestries as well. Judith Leyster was one of the first big female artists during the Baroque era (I've attached her self-portrait, and her work was a good collection as well. They also have on loan "The Beffi Triptych" from 14th century Italy (I'm attaching an image of that too), which was gorgeous. I was so happy to spend some quality time there, looking at the art, uninterrupted by phone or the call to do homework (I got all of my reading done last night). I really love art and art history, so it was my treat for the long weekend to spend some time at the gallery. So I got to combine two of my great loves today: running and art!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

2 weeks to go...

The Marine Corps Marathon is 2 weeks today, and other than schoolwork, it is the main thing on my mind. The excitement is building, especially as more info about the marathon (such as features about it in magazines, ads, etc) becomes available.
Yesterday, I ran 15 miles. It was a good, long run. I felt nice and strong and comfortable with the pace. My only challenge was the wind (around 20mph), which was especially evident going over the bridges. This was a time where being petite was not in my favor; I felt like I was just getting pushed around, and certainly had to fight and work harder. But, come marathon day there will be other people out there who can help take some of the wind and it won't just be me taking it all in. I was happy, overall with how it went, and it did raise my confidence a bit (I was a little dissatisfied with my 21 mile run). This next week of running marks another decrease in my mileage. This past week I ran 45 miles, and this coming week I will run 32 miles in total. I am also done with weight lifting for this training season. It's important at this point to just let those muscles rest and recover. I am going to take this week to get in the pool and swim the time I would've spent lifting/running. I know my body will appreciate the non-impact aspect of the pool, and my muscles always just feel relieved when I get in the water.
Today was the World Half-Marathon Championship and the Chicago Marathon. Because of I was able to watch them both, even though they took place in London and Chicago, respectively. It's incredible to think that the elite men can run 13.1 miles in under an hour. The women's race was cool too - the winner broke away about halfway into the race, and just ran on her own for the majority of the race. This was pretty interesting: the second place woman was drafting behind her, and the winner kept gesturing, as if to say "Stop drafting! Get in front, do the hard work I'm doing for a while" The second place woman would do it for 30 seconds, then tuck back behind the winner. The winner was clearly not pleased by this, but it was really fascinating to watch the two of them interact.
The Chicago Marathon was great to watch. Sammy Wanjiru was out to break the world record, and had a few pacers out there with him for the first half, and boy were they going at a fast clip. One of the pacers even fell back - he couldn't keep up. Wanjiru did not break the world record, but he broke the course record (by 1 second) and so in addition to the $75k prize for winning, he won an extra $100k for breaking the course record. Talk about a payday! And he is using all of the money to help his family and village in Africa, so good for him for earning so much money. While none of the American women made it to the podium, 3 women made it to the top 10, including Deena Kastor. I was so happy that she made it through the marathon and was able to push through everything (she broke her foot in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Marathon). Watching 45,000 people go through the race was just awesome, and definitely helped to pump me up for my own marathon.
2 weeks to go! It's definitely a bizarre feeling at this point to look back at all of the training behind me. I remember early July looking at all of the training ahead of me and October seemed forever away. Now I'm standing on the other end of training and looking back. Maybe this is a stretch, but you really change over the course of marathon training. Your attitude and mentality changes, your lifestyle changes, and your body transforms as it learns how to go faster, push harder, and run longer. There are still 2 weeks to go in my preparation, but it does feel good to look back and observe the progress I've made. It's necessary too, because it reminds me why I keep going out there every day. 13 more days...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Made it to the taper!

I ran 21 hot and hard miles on Saturday, and finishing that was the mark of the end of the monster month of training. What a month - I ran almost 200 miles in that big month of preparation, including 2 races. That 21 mile run on Saturday was hard. There were about 9 miles of hills (which were much harder than the hills I will tackle in the marathon) and it was getting pretty hot (at least in comparison to the weather we've been having). I'll definitely be looking forward to the aid station in the marathon, when I can just grab a cup of water from someone to throw on my head (versus Saturday's run, when I went to grab water from a drinking fountain and it was empty! I threw my hands in the air in exasperation). The gatorade I had with me was fine, but I just needed a little more than usual. But, I got through the run. I did take it easy for the rest of the day on Saturday. I just stayed in bed and read some of my medieval books.
I really think that by staying off of my feet for almost the entirety of Saturday afternoon/evening, it made a major difference in how I felt on Sunday. Going up and down the stairs on Sunday, I couldn't even tell that I had run 21 miles the day before. I also did a lot of reading (2.5 medieval books - phew!), which meant taking it easy yesterday as well.
I felt very relieved to have made it to the taper. This point seemed so far away, especially when I was running 50 miles a week. I am very excited about resting and cutting back in mileage, even though I'll only be running 3 miles less this week. Still, I'll be taking it easy and only doing a long run of 15 miles on Saturday. Only?! A year ago I could only run 4 miles at a time, and now 15 miles doesn't seem so bad. What a difference a year makes...
Today, I could feel the 21 mile run when I set out to do 8 miles. Was sore, but pushed through it just fine.
I received my sports massage today. To say that I feel loose is an understatement. It felt wonderful to get such a forceful massage, and to have someone work for an hour on all of the kinks, knots, and trigger points that have built up in my legs, back and arms during the course of marathon training. I left the center feeling so physically loose...I cannot remember the last time my shoulders felt like this. It was worth every cent, and while I can only afford to do this once per marathon, the therapist did a magnificent job. I do think this has helped undo some of the effects of intense training.
It's time to relax, rest, and recover. Of course, this is opposite of my medieval training: I have lots of presentations this week. But, all will be well. Too bad there is no taper in grad school...