Monday, October 26, 2009

A 26.2-Mile Sibling Rivalry at the Marine Corps Marathon

I finished. Long ago, when I accepted that I wasn't going to keep pace with my sister after the first step, my goal was to finish and I reached that goal. 26.2 miles is a long way to go, no matter that my sister finished an hour ahead of me. Only in the last few hours have I started to understand the magnitude of this accomplishment.

A great bonus for completing this marathon was the full acquittal for all those things I quit when I was younger. Had I known I'd get a free pass for a marathon I would have ran one sooner! My father and mother told me I was forgiven for the following:
  • quitting karate in 3rd grade after two weeks because the Cosby show aired at the same time (yes, there was a time before Tivo);
  • quitting the trombone after three weeks because my buddy got a shiny new one;
  • after my dad asked me why I didn't tackle someone in a 5th grade football rec league game, I said, "well, I'll just wait for them to come to me";
  • overly dramatic tales of woe at three sleep away camps due to spectacular homesickness;
  • never playing a game of little league baseball because I always thought the ball was going to hit me and I have trouble following fast moving objects (even those going 40 MPH);
  • only raking Fall leaves when my dad was looking my way, otherwise laying low; and
  • quitting an etiquette class because I wasn't winning the "random" prizes.
Notice a quitting trend here? It ended on Sunday.

Pre-Race Morning
After three bananas, three egg whites, and 40 ounces of the water, I joined my sister and a friend we made the night before as we made our way to the Eisenhower Metro station. Everyone around me had run at least four marathons and were quite encouraging that the hardest part was done, meaning the training. Easy for them to say.

We made our way to the starting corrals in total darkness and waited in the cold for two hours until it was race time. Because we had arrived so early we got to enjoy unused porta-pottys that actually had toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Such a luxury! As the sun rose, so did our excitement as a member of the "Jersey Boys" show sang the national anthem. I took the NJ connection as a good sign. I was looking for all the positive earmarks I could find.

And We're Off!
With the blasting of a howitzer the race started; about 10 minutes later we finally crossed the start line. One step over the line I was tied with my sister, one step later she was gone in a flash; not to be seen until the family linkup after the finish. I was on my own. It was up to me to run this race, control my pace, and listen to my body. I kept telling myself, "you've trained for long runs so this is just another long run," albeit with water stations every two miles and closed roads for my route."

No turning back at the start!

Miles 0 - 2: Everyone, pee on the side of the road!
As I started my run, it felt like a roller coaster with the seat belt arm already down. I knew it was going to be a great ride despite my worries and I couldn't quit now. After leaving Rosslyn, we ran through some wooded areas which allowed several runners to turn them into their own bathrooms. Even a few female runners found some hidden places; I was certainly impressed with their ingenuity. 1.5 miles in I was ready to ditch my long sleeve shirt and conveniently found a charity collecting such clothes and tossed it their way.

Miles 3 - 4: I Flashed Women and They Laughed
These were the prettiest miles of the course because of the peak color changing in the trees. Is there a better drive in the DC area than the GW Parkway in the Fall? More wooded areas meant more pit stops for runners who thought nothing of leaving their marks. At mile 4 we would turn left onto the Key Bridge. 50 yards before I figured this was the last spectator-free wooded area and decided to become one of those runners.

I went off-road and took care of things with no runners around me. Only after I was finishing my business did I notice two female runners farther up the hillside doing the same and giggling. I thought it was in my direction and I wanted to yell, "It's shrinkage! It's 40 degrees in the morning!"

Shrinkage is not just for laundry.

Miles 5 - 9: Yep, Georgetown was Built on a Hill
A little after mile 5, I began my intervals of five minutes of running and one minute of walking that would carry me throughout the race. This Georgetown portion of the race went along Canal Road which only reminded me of how crazy it was for me to drive a 22' Penske moving truck along the way. Around mile 9 we were offered orange slices. I wanted no part of them as I wasn't about to mess with my racing diet at this point. Running through a road of orange peels left our shoes with super traction. I'm just happy I didn't have to worry about banana peels.

Miles 10-11: Familiar Faces and Tears of Joy
I was really hitting my stride (haha!) at this point. The crowds were great and I was so very familiar with this part of the course.  I saw my parents just before hitting Hains Point. After running 50 feet from them I turned around and saw my dad hugging my mom with tears in his eyes. For the first time all race, at least one drop on my face wasn't from sweat.

Cue the inspirational music.

Miles 12 - 15: Like Pulling a Thorn From the Lion's Paw
I was warned that Hains Point would suck thanks to the lowest amount of spectators on the course and lots of wind. While there were few spectators, there was no wind. It was a tight fit along the road, but we managed. Just after mile 13 and the water station, I felt a pebble in my right shoe. I tried running with it, hoping that it would move out of the way, but it didn't. I briefly step aside and tried taking my shoe off, but figured it wasn't worth the trouble. A 1/4 mile later the pebble wasn't an issue. I saw my parents shortly thereafter.

Miles 16 - 18: What Happened to My Left Nip Guard?
I got nervous when I saw the mile 16 marker. It was at mile 16 in my last long run that I hit the wall, hard. I limped my way to reach 20 miles that time when my goal was actually 22. I busted through mile 16 with surprising ease. I did a nip guard check. Right one, yep. Left one, nope! Uh oh.

Somehow at some point somewhere my left one came off. Without any backups I had to move forward. Only later did I find out that it fell to my belly button, surely doing a better job of stopping any minor friction cuts down there. Thankfully I was wearing a blue shirt that hid any, umm, bloody evidence that I wasn't protected on my left side.

Miles 19 - 21: I Fought the Wall and I Won
After completing the route up and down the mall, that took the shape of a male body part definitely not suffering from shrinkage, I saw my parents and sister's boyfriend as I made way over 395. My quads were on fire. They weren't too bad when I ran, but my one-minute walks had me checking to see if my quads really were smoking.

At mile 21, my calves tightened or gave out, maybe that's one and the same. I tried walking only to stumble a bit as my calves didn't want me running anymore. If I ran a certain way I felt a shot of pain through my groin. Yep, my lower half wasn't having any fun this day. I pushed forward and made myself run. Mind over matter in the truest sense.

Miles 22 - 23: The Longest Mile
I reached Crystal City knowing my pain threshold would be tested all the way to the finish line. I turned onto Crystal Drive and began the longest mile of the race. With runners running on the other side of the road I knew the turnaround point had to be soon, but it never came. The street was lined with colored flags that were nice at the start, but an annoyance at the end.

I kept seeing a flag over a hill thinking that it had to be our U-turn only to be disappointed time and time again. It was tough not knowing how far I had to go before I could run on the other side of the road. Eventually I made the turn, through a driveway no less, and had two miles left to go.

Miles 24 - 26: I Won't Quit on Myself
I really wanted to walk for longer than one minute, but I kept telling myself I'd be wasting the great running I had done earlier in the race. And quit for what purpose? Because I'm mentally fatigued? This was no time to quit in what might be my only marathon. I dug deep and pushed forward, thinking of a few select folks who are in worse shape then me and could only dream of having "quads on fire" as their biggest issue.

Mile 26.2: A Goal Realized
I turned up the Iwo Jima Memorial hill, ran by the grandstand, and put my arms up at the finish line. It was awesome. Two blood blisters were well earned this day.

Post Race: Wobbling Like a Wobble Toy
I swayed a few times as I reached the finisher medal line. With the medal around my neck, I sought out water and any food within reach. Cheerios and more water gave me balance after 10 minutes of leaning on a pallet of boxes. I waited as the massive crowd made its way up and over to Wilson Boulevard. In what seemed like miles away, but was only a few blocks, I found my cheering section in the Family Linkup as planned.

Oh I know this feeling now. Walking downstairs backward helps.

Hugs and kisses were given, more great pictures were taken by my sister's boyfriend, and tears were shed. I ate a Chipotle burrito and we waited in a fast moving line to enter to the Rosslyn Metro station. My sister received a Marine Corps music CD, we got our finisher coins, and my face was covered in salt, glorious marathon salt.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

14 Hours Until the Marine Corps Marathon

So here I am, less than 14 hours from the start of the Marine Corps Marathon and my stomach's doing somersaults full of butterflies. I'd love to have some great thoughts about all of the training and support I've gotten. How do I capture my thoughts about training for six months for something that will take me six hours to run. Errr, more like walk.

Maybe something about how it's all about the journey, or "it's about the climb" (thanks Miley Cyrus), but really it is about finishing. How I got back in shape and lost more than 20 pounds. How it's gotten me to exercise when I didn't want to. How it's given me massive amounts of self confidence that I can do what I want when I set my mind to it. Dare I say it, I have discipline.

How I can't believe I'm even at this point, on the cusp of running 26.2 miles. It seems like just last week when I was happy to run 40 minutes without stopping. I'm still flummoxed to think the Army 10-miler was a warmup run for me. I still remember calling my parents announcing I had broken double digit mileage, peaking too early, for the first time back in the Spring.

At first, I wanted to run this race because of sibling rivalry, but I quickly learned this was about me. I'll never match my sister's time (Vegas odds have her finishing 90 minutes earlier) nor her race count (this'll be #6), but I will match her will to finish. I want to do this for myself, I need to do it for myself, and I will do it for myself.

I've learned about motivation when the running gets tough. I know who I'll think of to keep me going when I hit the wall and curse ever signing up for this event. I know what they went through, still go through, and will go through long after I cross the finish line. What ails them makes my complaints weak in comparison. As if running is so tough to deal with.

I've learned the ways of those crazy running people who think nothing of long runs on a weekend instead of staying in bed for a few more hours. I've learned the rules of running and how to wave to other runners because we both know what we're going through. I've learned the value of nip guards, body glide, a GPS-enabled watch, and replacing shoes every few hundred miles. I've learned how to manage blood blisters, busted toenails, and shin splints.

I've learned how to be a runner and in 19 hours I'll join 0.1% of the population and learn what it takes to be a marathoner. I guess those are my thoughts the night before the race.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Field of Screams (Olney) Got No Screams Out Of Me

Ever wanted to go on a scary hayride that was neither scary nor on bales of hay? Then checkout Field of Screams in Olney! Seriously. This $10 experience was beyond atrocious. I must have been spoiled going to Markoff's Haunted Forrest a few years ago. Markoff's was spectacular, Field of Screams was craptacular. Sure a trail should be scarier than a hayride, but shouldn't a scary hayride be scary?

Let's breakdown how this Haunted Hayride of Hemlock Hill stole my money.

I should have known this wasn't going to be so great when there seemed to be chaos just signing waivers and buying our tickets. Could they be any more disorganized? After waiting in line for a bit, we came to this corral of sorts where we had to work our way to the waiver table and then make eye contact with one of the ticket sellers. Just poorly designed all around. Again, Markoff's was nice and orderly.

We walked across a lacrosse field to get to the hayride line, nevermind we were told the wrong direction to walk. FYI, telling us to walk toward the concessions area does not put us toward the hayride. We waited in line for about 15 minutes, during which only one hayride came by. I thought it was odd that only one hayride would be running, but chalked it up to being only 8 PM.

We began to board and take our seats, not on bales of hay as you would, you know, do on a hayride. Nope. We sat on wood benches whose lumbar support felt like a nun hitting me with a wide ruler, over and over again in the small of my back. Sure, I've never spoken to a nun, let alone been hit by a nun's ruler, but this night made up for that. The floor of the sitting area had hay on the floor about 4 needles deep. I was lucky to have any hay under my feet. I chalked this up to having a lot of kids at that hour pushing hay off the cart.
I grew up nowhere near a farm, but even I know a hayride equation requires 1 part John Deere tractor, 1 part cart, and many parts hay. We're not talking nuclear algorithms here yet Field of Screams got this wrong.

We finally get rolling and enter a dark trail with trees on either side making for a dark ride. Oh boy...time to get scared! Unfortunately, as you enter this trail you can already see the end 20 feet away. While we bounced through the "scary" scene a guy in camo fatigues was apparently getting attacked by someone or something. Bad character choice. My defenses were up for the rest of this ride.

Who the hell has a solider-like person getting attacked these days? What the F are these people thinking? That's not scary; it's stupid, messed up, and asinine. Scary events are meant to use people and semi-human stuff so there's zero connection to that zombie getting its head taken off or seeing Freddy Krueger lose his arm. Having a soldier get attacked is really poor taste.

Peeved by that decision, we exited the 40-foot, not-so scary trail and made our way along the baseball outfield fence. It's an odd choice for a hayride path, but I thought maybe something scary would come from the other side of the fence or maybe people would jump at us from the dumpsters on our right. Nope. All that happened was brighter and brighter lighting as we traveled toward the parking lot.

That's right, our hayride was interrupted with a parking lot crossing.

I couldn't believe we really were crossing the parking lot. Maybe we're being taken to a scarier part of the ride and that trail was a teaser? Sure, I'll chalk it up (again) to that, but whatever sense of scariness buzz we had going was squashed when we dealt with cars and people in full light. Why have us queue on the other side if the action happens on the other side of the property?

A REAL haunted hayride in Philly is where we needed to go.

We made our way around some old looking house that's dark. Here we go, time to get scared! Maybe someone was going to run out of the house and scare us. Maybe there'll be scenes in the windows. Nope. Nothing. We continued up a small incline and turned around trailers and a barn. On the way a 9-year-old girl saw someone hiding next to a tree and said, "You're not scaring us because we can see you." If you can't scare her, then get out of the haunting business.

Our hayride parked itself in front of the barn where some strobe lights showed someone cutting someone or something with a chainsaw. It was a decent effect. Not scary, but something interesting. The bar had been set so low I was looking for something to hang my hat on.

We kept looking around for people and saw characters approach from the white shirts! Hello! The easiest color to see in the dark is white so why are they wearing them? I smiled and laughed instead of being scared. Other people came out of the trailers being chased while two people came aboard with chainsaws blaring. Nobody was about to wet their pants.

A scary hayride that's never completely in the dark? Epic failure. There are even videos telling you how to make a hayride.

Thankfully we moved on. It has to get better, it just does. I'm looking for one good moment where I'm scared. I get scared easily so it's not asking for the moon. We turned beyond the barn and headed back across the parking lot for the second scary buzzkill of the night. We went back along the baseball outfield and through the trail. Nothing scary to be seen, heard, or felt. What a letdown.

I kept thinking it was the end, but there was one more stop in the cornfield. Ok, maybe this is it. There might be people jumping from all over that we actually can't see beforehand. I'll finally get a jolt of excitement. Nope. We pull up to four or five people on crosses (offensive, no?). Some master animatronics thing pretends to tell us a story about them living again. The trouble was the system sounded like a Metro station announcement or the Muppets' teacher, take your pick.

Of course the people came off of the crosses and tried to spook us. Others did come from the cornfield, but because the hayride uses this to make U-turn and needed a lot of room, we saw them between the corn and the hayride. We left the cornfield and returned to the start. The line was now 5x as long as before and I felt bad knowing they'll be really disappointed.

I won't speak for the haunted house, haunted trail, and haunted corn maze, but if Field of Screams can make a scary hayride a complete waste and disaster, I see no reason to be confident of those other attractions. The hayride didn't follow a "tree line of haunted woods." It followed a blueprint for the worst hayride ever. Scary hayrides can be scary. This one wasn't so don't go.

Markoff's is MoCo's choice for scary times forever and for always.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Breaking News: I didn't set the men's record at the Army 10-Miler

It's not that I didn't want to set a record. I ran at a moderate pace to ensure I'd finish and be able to walk tomorrow, but it wasn't enough. The men's record is now 46:59! 47 minutes into the race, I was coming up on mile marker #5. Even if I had a 5-mile head start he'd still blow by me. The women's winner also set a record taking 55:25 to complete the course. Just incredible.

A record registration of 30,000 runners with 23,000 of them finishing makes this the largest 10-miler in the country. Take that Philly's Broad Street Run!

This was the first race that I felt confident that I'd finish. Normally I start ultra slow because I fear that I won't have enough in the tank to cross the finish line, but with my marathon training, I sheepishly saw today as an easy run. I can't believe I would ever think of a 10-mile run as an easy run. I feel fine now and don't anticipate any soreness tomorrow. Go me!

Just a walk in the park in perfect race weather.

For the first time I felt like a legitimate runner. As if I belonged in races beyond 5 kilometers. I wasn't the newbie running 9-minute miles for the first 3 splits and burning out by mile 4. I was in complete control of my pace. I only walked for 2 minutes while I downed a Cliff Shot Block pack. The rest of the time I zigged, zagged, and enjoyed the scenery.

All hail black cherry chewy electrolytes and caffeine.

The route was great, as any DC race is guaranteed to be. Organizers had plenty of water and Gatorade on the course; however, the food selection was weak at the finish line. A Kashi trail mix bar that parched my throat, cinnamon raisin bagels that had all of 6 raisins, and muffins that were far to sweet for a post-race snack. I just downed a few bananas and. One Army tent offered pulled pork sandwiches, but I wasn't about to eat that after the race. Plus the line was very long.

Speaking of lines, there needs to be a better way to place the porta-potties. The portable johns faced each other meaning their lines backed into each other resulting in plenty of chaos figuring out where one line started and another one ended. It didn't help that we were all downwind of them.

I've come a long way since my longest run was on an NES Power Pad.

The only other issue with today's race was the great whiffs I took from cigarettes along the course as we came down Independence Avenue. People, when you're watching a bunch of oxygen-deprived runners, please don't throw your smoke in our faces. Just stand a few feet from the curb and we'll get along just fine.

Being sponsored by the Army, starting and finishing at the Pentagon, and having the race lead by wounded warriors, I felt weak complaining about a sore ankle when I walked around in my running shoes. It was empowering to run among double amputees and a blind veteran (Lt. Castro (sp) finishing in 84 minutes!). I was simultaneously saddened by the challenges in their lives, but also in awe of their wills to move forward.

I dare you to not be inspired.

Running by the Kennedy Center and cheering an amputee as he called out marching steps with his guide brought goosebumps. Seeing wheelchair-bound veterans hand pedal with the same grit and determination that they brought to the Army was just awesome. The constant "HOOAHs," bands playing the Army fight song, and cheering crowds willed all us to the finish.