The Marine Corps Marathon
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Oh my, the 33rd Marine Corps Marathon is over and yes, I finished. What a beautiful journey. I am beaming from the best feeling ever... ranking up there with my wedding day and the birth of my two babies. Wow!
My goal was to complete the 26.2 miles: 1) without walking (slow down to drink only); 2) beat the bridge closure; 3) not injure myself along the way; and 4) remember to look around, take it all in and enjoy the scenery and crowds. I of course knew that there would be fellow runners who would finish in the top 100 and runners who finished in six-plus hours. I simply wanted to fall somewhere in the middle.
My approach to completing the race was simple: "move forward... don't fail." The quote was captured from "The Quitter" by Gene Thibeault. The poem was shared by team member Steve Scharf after the Sunday, September 14 Parks Half Marathon and I thought it was appropriate and catchy. The words "move forward don't fail" stuck with me. I must have said it a million times in my mind over the course of the 26.2 miles.
I trained for this event with Montgomery County Road Runners Club (MCRRC) from April 2008 up to race day. I am grateful to MCRRC for the quality training. In particular, I thank my pace group leader Phil Magno for sharing his experience and his steady pace. It amazed me how closely he could keep us on the pace he set for the run without a GPS watch. He knew his body and rhythms. I am learning how to listen to my body and gauge my pace, but I am not quite there yet and still rely on my watch. I have a Garmin GPS thanks to my boss, Lorna Donatone, and former boss, Susan Plenert, and would frequently check my GPS to test Phil. Phil rocks! I must share my thanks to my Hard Times Café 5:00 a.m. morning gang... Joyce, Phil, Enid, Shirley, Mimi, Cheryl, Maureen, Marianna and all the other ladies I couldn't list.
Goodness, 5:00 a.m. is really early - but you all made it fun, and the pressure to get there on time because I was expected helped me to log the required base miles. MCRRC helped me realize my dream and complete the Marathon. A lot of work goes into running this program and Andy Steinfeld and Lori Kaleikau did a fabulous job... thank you! I can't say enough good things about them and the rest of the Pace Group Leaders. I am blessed to have met this fantastic group of people who motivate and inspire newbies like me. Again, thank you!
I won't lie, training on many days was difficult. There were bitter cold spring mornings with pounding winds and driving rain that screamed for me to sleep in. There was one special July training run planned at the Mormon Temple. It was soooo hard! I struggled... I was one of the last to reach the top of the hill, but my team members were there to cheer me on. Just as I thought, "how many more times are we supposed to do this?" the sky opened up and torrential rain blasted my aching legs. Thank the heavens! The run was cut short.
For those who know me well, you know that I love the summer time. But the heat can break you down (Parks Half Marathon on Sunday, September 14 was brutal; I ran 2.30.) There were 90-plus degree Wednesday night track runs when Mother Nature taunted me, "come on out here if you dare!" On the occasions I missed my morning run I would wait until the sun set, strap on my headlamp and start to pound away, one mile at a time.
The next day, I would listen to the weather report to figure out when I could do it all over again (I don't run in the rain). I thanked God every morning I was blessed to listen to the birds sing and to the pounding of my own heart. Or to watch the sun come up with the world waking around me. No matter what happened the rest of the day, that time was perfect and I was happy. Every run, no matter how long, easy or difficult, taught me that I could push myself beyond limits I never, ever dreamed. What's great about running is that it's a forgiving sport. I learned that every run won't be the best ever and there will be times when you feel awful, times you want to stop and times when you just feel slow and heavy. But, tomorrow promises a new day and a chance to enjoy better runs ahead.
Okay... the Marathon!
I'll start with the negatives first. One, I was furiously cleaning the house on Saturday morning so I could rest in the afternoon, and I walked my good knee into the coffee table - aarrgghh! And two, I experienced the ultimate runner's nightmare... I almost missed the start. My bedroom alarm clock does not adjust for the new Daylight Savings date, to fall back on November 2 - and yes, it reset automatically on Saturday night. I thought I was on time. I walked into the kitchen at 6:19 a.m. and I thought it was 5:19 a.m.! I was screaming at the top of my lungs, "What time is it?" I called the 411 Operator for the time and was horrified. I immediately turned into a screaming banshee. Then, poor Walker makes a wrong turn en route, so my anxiety exploded into sobs of "I'm going to miss it!" and screams of "You said you knew how to get there!" Somehow we wound up at Ft. Myer, and you can't simply turn around there - we had to get out of the vehicle while they searched it from hood to trunk. I still don't know where I was exactly, but I jogged down hills and through muddy construction areas to the start of the race. I did make it to the start corral, with a minute to spare. So much for my planning and so much for the plans to hang out with my friends in the Hospitality Suite, take photos, stretch, etc. I had slept all of three hours because I was anxious and excited, and the day was starting off all wrong.
I had to tell myself to let it go, it will get better, and it did. The temperature at the 8:00 a.m. start was about 50 degrees, with an overcast sky: ideal running weather. My race strategy was blown so I had to think things through quickly. I wasn't with my Team and I had no Pacer. Fortunately, I did bring my GPS.
Miles 1 - 9... were great. I vibed off of the energy of the spectators. But I was told over and over and over "do not start out too fast, no matter how great you feel," and I had to remember that running fast now will not give me time in the bank later...this approach will work against me. And, because it takes me three to four miles to warm up well, control my breathing, etc., I decided to maintain 12 minute miles for at least the first three or four miles. Then I'd speed it up to at least an 11:30 minute/mile pace until hopefully mile 15 or 20 and see what I felt like then. I felt energized. My stomach began to calm a bit. Thanks to the suggestion of fellow FTM participant Scott Lee I'd had my daughter write my name on my arms and thighs. And Wanda Walters suggested pinning my name to my shirt... I heard my name over and over again... I'm doing it baby! Oh yeah, I saw Wanda Walter between miles 6 and 7 and my friend Eric Ovedovitz at Hains Points (thanks Wanda and Eric).
I have run four races so far: 1) Rockville 5K, November '07; 2) Columbia Club Challenge 10 Mile Challenge, February '08; 3) Pikes Peak 10K, April '08; and 4) Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, April '08. I have learned a few things: try to sty in the middle of the pack, watch out for the spitters (yuck!), watch out for the sudden-stoppers (tying your shoe in the middle of the road...why??), watch out for random elbows and for the head phone wearers who can't hear you say "excuse me" or "runner back."
Remember to enjoy this Muriel...there will only be one first time Marathon experience.
Mile 10... I was still feeling pretty good. Again, my goal was to simply FINISH, but because I was feeling so great I began to think foolish thoughts like "I wonder if I could qualify for a Finishers Medal?" What did I read about it? It would be great to wear it to work tomorrow, sort of like Show & Tell. I was feeling sort of lonely. There were 30,000 people there, but I wanted my team, my friends. I cheated, folks... I pulled out my music. I know that headphone use is against club and race rules, but I was soooo lonely.
Miles 11 - 15... I zoned out. Sang songs, pretended I was Mary J. Blige... talked to myself... thought about what yummy dessert I was going to enjoy later. Wow! So many spectators cheering us on... calling my name, this is great! I am glad I have my name written all over my body... the spectators are cheering hard for me. They seem genuinely excited for me.
Mile 16... I saw my Coach Phil Magno. What a pleasant surprise. I really had hoped to see my family but no luck. Walker (aka my husband, aka Michael, aka daddy) has been my biggest cheerleader. He is blessed with a gift to say just the right words of encouragement at the right time. I have shared with many of you that I think his ministry is sharing the good word with those who need the right word, at the right time... perhaps to those in life transition, incarcerated or homeless. I needed his push and spirit to stay on pace. Plus, unless I was injured, he wouldn't allow me to punk out to the pain. I would never hear the end of it.
Mile18... What? Huh? Where am I? What was that poem again? I don't remember anything about Mile 17.
Mile 19... Forget the Finishers Medal! It's probably cheap looking and would just collect dust anyway. I don't want it. I want this to be over. Where's my mom? I need my mom. I want to enjoy her yummy meatloaf and Peach Kugen pie. The pain in my toe has moved beyond tingling to downright throbbing. I can't loose the same toenail again... that's sooooo not cute! Why am I doing this? I swear it feels like my feet are bleeding... I am scared to look down at my shoes.
Mile 20... Our team shirt says "26.2 miles... Never a Doubt." I don't know right now. The pain in my body was talking to me, LOUD. I have really strong legs but they feel like spaghetti noodles, and I couldn't feel my hips, quads, calves... all over aching The PES Anserinus injury (fancy term for tendonitis) was begging me to stop. I needed to slow down, but not walk. If I stopped to walk I knew I wouldn't run again. Move forward don't fail. I've run 20 miles three times during our training so I know it's hard but darn it, this is REALLY hard. I have been trained to avoid hitting the wall, built my base, and sharpened my running ability. But the wall is right in front of me! For the life of me, I can't remember a single word I heard, or read. I can't remember one positive thought shared or training reminder. It would suck rotten eggs if I stopped now. I almost forgot about my "Ya Gotta Believe" bracelet (the mantra of the late Tug McGraw, the New York Mets baseball great), which a very special friend shared. It's a very special gift and it worked! I felt better instantly -- at least for the next few minutes. I wanted to make my Coaches proud.
Mile 22... I don't think I can keep running... what was I thinking? How much longer? I want to walk. Where's the bus? What story could I tell Walker that would be believable and allow me to stop now and save face? When I race again, I will not wear my GPS. I kept looking at it and I didn't like what it said... not the miles completed, the distance ahead, the pace - no good news was on that watch. I think I was good to finish at 5:00 if I had maintained my pace, but I sort of fell apart just after Crystal City; there were sooooo many people walking and it weighed me down. I looked at the GPS and I was at 13:59 pace! I was nearly walking myself, but I felt like I was running at a 9 minute pace.
Okay... dig down...find your right attitude...it's not like you to be so negative...get it together Muriel...at least force a smile. I can't smile. I tell myself, "Remember that there are people who wish they could be out here now, Muriel."
Miles 23 and 24... People keep shouting, "you're almost there!" I want them to shut up! I am very appreciative of the spectator support, but stop telling me I am almost there! How far is "almost there" exactly? How many more steps EXACTLY? If I ever volunteer at a race and am assigned close to the finish I will NEVER, EVER say "you're almost there."
Mile 25... I know I will make it at this point but where is the DARN finish line??? I look down at my Ya Gotta Believe Bracelet. Mental note: remember to put this gift away for safe keeping.
Mile 26.2... What's with the .2 anyway? I have to remember to look up "why 26.2 versus 26 miles?" Okay, and the last .2 was up hill... why? That was simply mean. Anyhoo, Lord I thank you! I was given the strength to finish under the power of my own feet and I am still standing (not completely upright, but my feet are on the ground). Who would have thought just one year ago that I would be out in public, sweaty, stinky, with no makeup and feeling ecstatic!
I've learned many lessons about my body, my attitude on life, about other people. But, the single most important lesson I hope to always remember is to be flexible and adapt more easily to snafus. I almost allowed the alarm clock mishap to ruin my Marathon. The best laid plans simply have to be rewritten sometime. I frequently say "no worries," but do I live it?
I thank my husband for again being my biggest supporter. He drove me to every Tuesday, Thursday & Friday 5:00 a.m. run (so I could sleep a few more minutes or finish dressing in the car). He cheered me on - "looking good baby!" - from the bleachers at the Wednesday night track runs. He was as excited today as I was nervous. I thank Miss Mychal and Maxwell for tolerating me when I ranted like a lunatic about them moving too slowly because "you're going to make me late to practice," or "stop drinking my Gatorade and eating my Fig Newtons!" I thank Max for doing his homework on many Wednesday nights at MC College track bleachers, often in the dark. I thank Miss Mychal for her patience when I was late picking her up from volleyball practice because I decided to do just one more mile.
Thanks to Michael Acuna for the many kind words and helpful information he shared based on his personal experiences as an ultramarathoner. I thank my parents for always acting interested when I constantly chatted about my latest run, the craziest thing I saw while out, or my latest ache. I appreciate my work friends Audra, Kennedy, Elfrida, Michele, Denise, Navlet, Joe and Susan for indulging my chatter about my running, MCRRC, or whatever running related thing that crossed my mind. I thank Barb Kaplan, Coach of the 5K Program. Barb was funny as heck, and played mind games and trivia that distracted us as our mileage increased. Barb encouraged and pushed me just enough each week that she made completing that very first race on November 4, 2007 possible.
I have had to remind myself many times to temper my zeal to share my appreciation of MCRRC and the training. I understand that not everyone I chatter away to shares the same excitement about my first this or first that. I don't want people to see me in the hall and go the opposite direction because they're afraid I will share yet another running story. But back to my thanks...I thank Orman Jones, Claude Dean, and Kenn Khiu for their results-driven Boot Camps/H.I.T classes. I am stronger and fitter because of the cross training. I thank Michelle Davis and Denise Young for being great friends and supporting me along the training journey.
For those whom haven't tried it... I'm telling you... running is addictive.
I ran because I am blessed to be able to run. I ran for those whom can't. With your generous support, we raised $630.00 to benefit the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund. Oh yeah, and I received the MCM Finishers Coin and Medal I dreamed of early in the race. What I didn't know is that everyone receives both! Tee hee! Whatever, I will display both keepsakes proudly.
I finished at 5:16. My official Team goal was to simply finish but I had a secret desire to finish by 5:30, so I am more than pleased.
Chasing the runners high,
P.S. Please say a prayer for my little brother Nyles. He is an Infantry Marine serving in Akashat, Iraq and we want him home soon, with his right mind, with his whole body, and the beautiful spirit he had before he left. I want him home to run with me in 2009. Semper Fi!