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.