Race Report – San Francisco Marathon

Finish time:  5:00:05

Splits:  2:32:48 (half); 2:27:17 (end)

Total elevation gain:  1684 feet

Placing:  4098 out of 6544 (overall)

2907 out of 4194 (male)

549 out of 744 (male division)

Goal 1:  Finish and have fun (yes)

Goal 2:  Under 5 hours (no)

Goal 3:  Beat Baltimore (no)

 

 

If you told me at the beginning of training that I would run a five hour marathon in San Francisco, I’d probably guess that it was a terrible race.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  This was one of the most fun, stress-free races that I think I’ll ever run.

 

This marathon was the most laid back culmination of a lot of things:  on a large scale, training for my first marathon after Mini was born, and on a smaller scale, running after just a great weekend with friends.  The race came right after making a major career decision.  It came with uncertainty all the way up until the night before the race, where I went to bed thinking I’d run the half, and woke up with a “fuck it” attitude to run the full anyway, even if it was going to be slow.  For no other reason than (1) someone told me after Mini was born that I’d never run a marathon again and (2) I knew that running the half while watching others finish the full would just make me mad at myself.

 

During training, I developed a vague plan for the race.  Before the marathon, I threw it all out the window.  No rituals or routines, and it made the race feel weird.  I didn’t watch Castaway the night before.  I didn’t take a Sharpie to my arm to write out my race-pace plan, I didn’t listen to any of the music I listened to during training.  In fact, I forgot my headphones at home and I didn’t listen to any music at all during the run.  The night before races are usually spent with me in a contemplative and relaxed mood to get my mind right; the night before this one was spent with me out with friends in the Mission.  And I don’t regret any of it.

 

The only tradition that I did keep was to run with a purpose, to dedicate to my run to someone or something, this time it was to all the folks whose messages I have read on the Smart Patients kidney cancer blog–the success stories and the set backs, all the fights that people on there were going through, this marathon was dedicated to that.

 

 

At the end of the day, I just got up and ran.  With a plan to run slowly.  To run-walk the race so that I could just complete it and let Mini see for the first time that her dad finished.

 

PRE-RACE

 

Aside from having to travel across the country to run this, it actually turned out to be on of the most convenient races that I could run.  Jess, Mini, and I were out in San Francisco for a vacation, which was kind of built around this race, but also just a summer getaway for us with an excuse to travel a long distance with Mini.  We flew in on Tuesday night and left on the Monday after the race (marathon was on Sunday).  After an AirBnB on Tuesday and Wednesday, we moved over to a friend’s apartment for the rest of the weekend.  He was out of town and let us crash there while he was away.  He’s such a great friend.

 

His place is in the Marina neighborhood, literally steps away from Fort Maison, where the race expo was held.  One of my other friends and I walked over there on Friday to grab my bib.  At this location, there was an SF event later that evening , a food truck festival called Off the Grid.  So we went to the expo and stayed for Off the Grid, hung out with our friends from DC and our friends from Michigan/NYC.

 

On Saturday, we planned a picnic out in Dolores Park, and I made sure to keep hydrated during the sunny day.  I won’t lie, I also had a beer or two, still not knowing if I’d drop to the half or still run the full.  I was about to drop to the half simply because the training had fell off in the last weeks, and I didn’t want to attempt to jump out at the full and destroy myself (and thus not be helpful for Jess and Mini as we left the next morning).  Saturday was mostly spent relaxing in the park.

 

The marathon was on my mind, but kind of in the back of my thoughts.  My main priority was hanging out and spending time with friends.  Jess and I got back to the apartment at around 9:30pm, we put Mini to bed (I say this so nonchalantly, but I fully understand how incredibly awesome it has been to have such an easy four month old baby who we can take to freaking San Francisco and still have her sleep perfectly fine during the night), and I laid out my clothes for the next morning.  I tried to continue my Castaway movie tradition, but it was already late, and I started to watch a bootlegged Russian version on YouTube that just wasn’t doing the trick.   I went to bed telling Jess that I think I’m going to run the half.

 

RACE DAY

 

Before the start

The marathon had an early start, 5:30am, so I got up at 4 with an intention to leave by 4:30.  When I got up, I decided that I was going to run the full after all, and decided that I was going to run it at an easy pace.  I looked up a run walk technique (something I never tried before), where you run for five minutes, walk for one minute, rinse and repeat.

 

So, grabbed my stuff and my water bottle and GUs and Ubered down to the start line.

 

The start was at the Embarcadero.  It was pretty crowded–word was that a record 27,000 people were participating in the running activities, the full, halfs or shorter runs.  I snapped this photo before the gun:

 

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By the way, I looked up this dude’s number–he’s from France and beat me by almost an hour.  Looks like he was ready to go too.

 

Start of the race, miles 1-4 “run-walk and gotta pee”

11:09 min/mile; 11:07; 15:05;10:42 (note, tracked on my watch with auto-stop, so it’s not going to add up to the finish time)

 

The race starts at the Embarcadero and the first four miles go up to North Beach and west across the Marina to the edge of Presidio, running through Fisherman’s Wharf.  As mentioned, I looked up a five minute on, one minute off run-walk technique that I was trying out for the first time.  In hindsight, it might have been way too conservative as when I finished the race I felt like I had a lot left in the tank.

 

I started off fine, though it did feel weird to start walking just five minutes into the race.  I felt like people around me were probably thinking “WTF, five minutes in and this guy’s walking, he’s done.”  But I quickly got over that because, whatever, everyone’s running their own race.

 

At about mile 1.5 I had to pee really badly.  We ran by some port-a-potties that were set up for the race but that were locked.  I guess they were there for the finishers.  That was a bit of a mind fuck, and then for the next 2.5 miles, all I could think about was how I needed to go.  I finally got a bathroom break at mile 3, and it shows with the 15 mile split.  I ate my first GU, grabbed some Nuun at the water station and moved on.

 

Jess and Mini met me at mile 2 since the race passed literally right by our friend’s apartment in Marina where we were staying.  It was before 6am, so Jess was a trooper for getting Mini up and ready to see her dad run the very earliest stage of the race.

 

Miles 5-8 “foggy as hell and absolutely stunning”

10:57; 11:10; 11:00; 12:43

 

This part of the route goes across the north edge of Presidio and over the Golden Gate Bridge.  During the morning, it was really foggy, and the temperature was in the mid 50s.  It was so foggy that you couldn’t see much in front of you.  We were steps away from the Golden Gate Bridge and I couldn’t even really see it, let alone the bay in front.  I knew that Karl the Fog is notorious in SF, but I was surprised to see it so thick.

 

I’ve run across the Golden Gate Bridge once before, at night during a work trip a few years ago.  I basically did it just to say that I did, and it was after an evening of a few drinks, which I strongly recommend against.  So I don’t really remember much of it.  This time was different.  The bridge is actually a bit of a climb.  According to the GPS, it’s about a 250ft climb over a mile and a half, starting at the base at Presidio.

 

As I entered the bridge, I remember thinking how it was a disappointment that it was so foggy, that it would have been cool to be able to get the bay view from the bridge.  This is what it looked like when I snapped a picture during my walk break:

 

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It felt like we were just trusting the route as we ran into the fog, but really, we could have been duped into running into a different dimension altogether, and we would have never known.

 

As we got close to the end of the bridge, I overheard someone, probably a native San Francisco runner, say “sun’s out, about to get beautiful.”  And man, was she right.  Towards the end of the bridge, we exited the fog, and almost instantaneously, as if running through a gray wall, the fog lifted and the scene was just stunning.  Blue skies with the view toward Sausalito and the Bay.  It honestly was one of the coolest run views I’ve had–the juxtaposition of running through the dense, dreary fog, opening up into this amazing bay view, and then turning around and running right back towards the fog again.

 

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I got across the bridge, stopped for another gel and headed for the run back.

 

Miles 9-12 “annoying hill and big downhill”

10:17; 9:47; 11:25; 13:28

 

The route exits comes back over the Golden Gate Bridge and then heads over to the western edge of Presidio, right along the water.  However, after exiting the bridge, there’s an annoying 70 foot, half mile hill that kind of catches you off guard.  Running across the bridge was a little slippery, so I was kind of out of any sort of groove, and then the hill showed up.

 

I actually went a little faster during this part.  It was the one time where I felt annoyed at taking the easy pace.  I sped up for miles 9 and 10, but then held myself back again, remembering the reasons for why I decided to take it easy:  (1) I didn’t want to burn out and be useless after the race; (2) I was running the race with the intent to finish it; and (3) I was kind of ad-hoc-ing my plan enough to begin with, so don’t try and go completely off the reservation.

 

After climbing the short hill to Presidio, there was a long downhill segment, almost a 200 foot drop in half a mile.  I actually found that part to be a little challenging, just because running such a steep down hill taxes your legs in different ways.  The end of mile 12 takes you between Lands End and Richmond, just down to Golden Gate Park.

 

Miles 13-16 “Golden Gate Park for days”

 

10:43; 12:44; 11:34; 11:18

 

Mile 13 enters Golden Gate Park from the north.  Here, the first half marathoners split off and headed to their finish line, and the full marathoners face the depressing split “to the right” when the course bifurcates.  I remember this before on the DC Rock n Roll marathon, the first one I ran back in 2015, where the course split between the half and full plays some mental tricks on you.  I was going slow enough to get over it pretty quickly, but still, it was funny running by the half finish area when you were only half way done.

 

These four miles are beautiful and quiet.  There isn’t much crowd support in this segment.  In actuality, there isn’t too much crowd support in the first half of the race, which is totally understandable given the bridge segments and the early start.

 

This segment, though, had a few rolling hills which were tough, even while running slowly.  The first is about a 100 foot climb for a mile, followed by a 100 foot drop for a mile, and the second is about a 200 foot climb over two miles.  That second one is tougher.  You have the second half folks joining around here, and the full marathon folks are starting to slow down.  It’s still a beautiful portion of the run, but the isolation and quiet of the park, together with that relentless hill and 10+ miles still to go, it’s a pretty lonely part of the run.

 

Miles 17-20 “I don’t care at all about my time anymore”

13:47; 12:21; 11:22; 12:19

 

This part went through the eastern half of the park.  By this point, I was ready to see something else, as we’d be in the park for about 8 miles by the time the segment finished.  I decided here that I didn’t really care about how I finished, even beyond the five-on one off-plan, I just wanted to finish without killing myself, so I was very liberal with the run-walking.  I took a gel somewhere here, maybe even in the previous segment and hydrated up well at every water stop.  I figured, since I’m running just to finish this, I’m going to take it easy, “enjoy” it (as if that’s possible 20 miles into a race) and I did just that.

 

Miles 21-24 “plenty left in the tank”

9:30; 9:50; 12:03; 9:21

As I was doing the run-walk method, I decided (somewhere around mile 14 or so), that if I still felt fine at mile 20, I’m just going to go to the end.  Part of holding back was because I didn’t want to cramp up before then and kill my race, as I feared it might base on how my long-ish training runs went.  And if I got to mile 20 feeling fine, I figured that I can just push a faster pace for a 10k like I’ve done many times before

 

When I got to mile 20, I felt great.  My legs felt fresh, and I felt like I could hit the last 10k fairly hard.  So I picked it up at mile 21, where you exit the park on Haight (close to Ashbury) and head east towards Mission and Dogpatch.  The miles here felt great.  I slowed down at mile 23 to chat with friends who were so kind enough to come outside and cheer me along.  I talked with them, about the race and whether or not I regretted hanging out the day before for so long (which I absolutely did not).  After a few high fives, I continued on to the last 2.2 miles.

 

Miles 25-26.2 “finish up strong”

9:23; 9:48; [1:46]

Every time I have entered the last 2.2 miles of a marathon, I tell myself “finish up strong.”  I originally got this phrase from a classic rock radio station in South Carolina.  When I was growing up, FM 102.3 would play songs at around 4pm as I drove home from school, and they would always end the afternoon segment with a song to “finish up strong.”  I adopted the phrase when I went to college, using it as a mantra for taking finals in my Electrical Engineering courses to try and finish the semester with a bang.  When I was studying for the LSAT, a friend and I would say that to each other as we took practice tests, to remind ourselves to avoid fatigue and attach the last the test sections with vigor.  Every now and then, I still say it to myself, whether I’m at the end of a crazy gym class, finishing up a tiring day at work, or wrapping up a long run.

 

So, finish up strong, that’s what I did, from Dogpatch up north past AT&T park and back to the Embarcadero where we started.  I felt great and ran hard through the end.  When I got to the line, I actually heard the MC call out my name, which was kind of cool and has never happened in the prior races.

 

Post-race

I grabbed my medal, some free water, bananas and muscle milk and looked for Jess and Mini who were waiting for me at the finish line.  I was so excited to see them after finishing this run.  We snapped some priceless pictures:

 

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Shortly after seeing Jess, we met up with our friends who met me at mile 23.  They biked down to the finish to meet up with me, which I just appreciated a whole lot.

 

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Afterwards, we grabbed a quick bite to eat, said goodbye to our friends and headed back to the apartment.  That afternoon, our friends from Michigan/NYC came over to hang out, and then we grabbed dinner with my cousins.  A nice end to a great morning and great trip in general.

 

The SF marathon was probably the most fun of the four marathons that I’ve run so far.  A lot of this had to do with my attitude going in.  At least three of the four marathons had a great atmosphere (the exception being the first marathon, which was more a function of a the 43 degree rainy day than anything else).  But for SF, easing off on the time and pace took a lot of pressure off, and I could just sit back and enjoy running through the city.  I had my share of doubts coming into the race–I had heard mixed things about the course and the overall atmosphere.  But I highly recommend it for a city run.  The early start dissuades some of the city support in the early segment that might otherwise be there (5:30am vs. the usual 7am or 8am starts that I’m accustomed to), but that is offset by the beauty and the experience of running across the Golden Gate Bridge.  The park is a little long, but it’s kind of nice to have that solitude too, it makes the run memorable with your own thoughts.  Maybe I felt that way, though, because I ran without any headphones or music.  The crowd support picks up in the second half of the race, an as you wind your way through the finish, it just increases exponentially.  The energy at the finish is enthusiastic as you’d expect from a major city run.  It’s a really hilly run, more than I expected, which is odd because I expected it to be really hilly.  But I’d never run that elevation gain before, so I guess you don’t know until you do it.  So it may not be a race to target for a PR (or maybe it should be for that very challenge), but I’m very glad to have picked this one.

So, yeah, five hours isn’t exactly a world record time.  But sometimes it’s fun to just let go of expectations, routines and rituals and have some fun.  We went to San Francisco and had an amazing time with great friends, and I capped it off with completing marathon number four and crossing California off my list.  Couldn’t ask for anything better than that.

 

 

Race Report: 2017 Lawyers Have Heart 10K – PR!

Finish time:  51:10 (PERSONAL RECORD!) 

Placing:  492 out of 1694 (overall)

389 out of 917 (male)

127 out of 264 (male division 30-39)

 

I'll remember this run as my first (and hopefully not last) PR since I really started keeping track of my races.  I now realize how great a feeling it is to hit a PR on a race.  I kind of went into the race teetering between pushing for a personal best or pulling it back and just running a steady 6.2 miles.  My marathon training schedule called for a 6 mile run that day, so it would have worked alright if I just ran at a steady pace.  But I had missed a good number of runs earlier in the week, and the morning of the 10K, I decided that I was going to go for it.  I was pretty happy with the end result, though I still do have ambitions of breaking 50 soon.

 

PRE-RACE

 

The race had a 7am start, and I was too busy with work during the week to pick up my race bib on Friday so I had to plan to get to Georgetown at around 6:15 to get everything set.  Last year, I ubered down there and barely made it on time.  This year, I decided that I would actually run to the start line, mainly because I decided that I was going to try for a PR, and I figured that I could use the easy warm up before the race started.  After a 5am wake up, I decided that I'd actually run from my common starting point in Potomac Park near the Lincoln Memorial instead of running from our condo.  So I drove down there at around 5:30 to do the 1.5 mile run to Georgetown.  It was an absolutely beautiful morning, and I snapped this beauty on the way to the race.

 

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I made it to the start line, grabbed my bib, warmed up a bit and just kind of hung around until the start.  Here's a picture towards the water of other runners getting ready before the run:

 

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Miles 1-3

 

9:15 min/mile; 7:54; 7:50

 

My previous PR was 52:06 at this same 10K back in 2015.  That amounts to about a 8:24 min/mile pace.  So my plan going into this race was to use the first mile to warm up at around 9ish min/mile and then hit every other mile at around 8:15 and I should be able to break it.  In hindsight, this was too conservative.  That first mile is always tough, especially in a race when you're bobbing and weaving, but I do wish I would have tried a sub 8:30 throughout to get to an under 50:00 end.  As you'll see, that first mile was the only one that was over 9, all others were right around 8, and I think I could have sustained starting off faster.  Once the first mile ended, I decided that I'd just pick it up.  I threw away my "under 8:15 goal" and put it in my head to stay under 8 mins the rest of the way.

 

Miles 4-6

 

7:52; 8:02; 8:05

 

I slowed a bit on the back half of the race especially after some of the hills towards the end of the course.  I started feeling pretty fatigued right around mile 5.3 or so, and had to mentally tell myself to push through that last mile to get to a PR.

 

Miles 6-6.2

[2.11]

 

For the last mile or so, I was trying to pace with this dude who was running right along side me since mile 4.  He seemed to be doing just fine, and I had delusions that if I stayed with him and sprinted the last quarter of a mile or so, I could maybe break 51.  With about 0.3 miles to go, he took off and I tried to stay with him, but he just got ahead.  We weren't racing each other or anything, in fact, he probably had no idea that I was using him as a pacer, but in any event, following him actually pushed me to finish strong.  I crossed at 51:10.

 

POST-RACE

I got my medal, which was actually pretty cool this year compared to years past, and sat down in a grassy patch to cool off.  By then it was about 8 am, and it was starting to heat up a bit into what would ultimately turn out to be a 90+ degree day.  I wandered the area and ran into some former colleagues of mine from a previous employer.  It was good to see them–we caught up for about 15 minutes or so, and then parted ways.  I walked back the 1.5 miles to my car parked near the Lincoln.  It was a nice walk, I made a conscious effort to turn off my phone, put away my music and just enjoy scenery and be in the moment.

 

It was a fantastic morning for a 10K PR.

Race Report: The Capitol Hill Classic 10K

Finish time:  59:06

Placing:  1069 out of 1934 (overall)

667 out of 919 (male)

291 out of 373 (male division)

 

Even though at first glance the numbers don't bear out a memorable run, this was probably my favorite race I've yet to participate in because I ran with Mini.  I was debating back and forth the day before on whether I should run with her.  I've gone on a few short 5 mile runs with her before, and she's pretty content until near the end, where she goes from zero to sixty.  I was afraid that she would start getting uncomfortable or hungry near mile 4, and I'd have two miles of a screaming baby to finish off the race.  But I also realized that this would probably be the only stroller friendly race that I could run this year, so I should give it a shot, which I did.  And I was glad to do that.

 

Mini slept for most of the time, and when she wasn't sleeping, she was quietly observing the world around her.  It was a great feeling not just to run 6 miles with her, but to run a race with her.  Can't wait to continue doing this one over the years.

 

PRE-RACE

 

I was a little paranoid about getting there in time to do the same day packet pickup, find parking, get situated, etc.  The start was at 8:30 at Stanton Park.  Jess and I got there at 7:30 and waited in the car.  It felt a bit early at the time, but pretty soon parking started to fill up, so I'm glad that we did.  Jess fed mini at right around 8, and we headed over to the start line at around 8:15.  There were a few thousand people there.  The weather was perfect for running.  Mid 60's and cloudy with no humidity.  I did some stretches and took a few pictures before lining up in the back with the other stroller runners.

 

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Miles 1-3

10:17 min/mile; 9:38; 9:20

 

The first three miles go around the US Supreme Court and down East Capitol to RFK Stadium.  It was pretty crowded in the beginning, and it was hard to get into a rhythm until about 1.5 miles in.  I was curious to see how difficult it would be to jockey for position with a stroller while running a race, and it was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be.  It's a lot more difficult to shoot through gaps and to find open spaces to pace on.  This may be just symptomatic of the beginning of this race (or any race), and also symptomatic of the 10K distance.  I imagine a less crowded half marathon  would give you plenty of time in the back half to hit your stride.  Regardless, I was just happy to get going with Mini, I wasn't too concerned about time.

 

Miles 4-6

9:32; 8:55; 8:48

After RFK you go along the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail.  It's a nice running path for sure, but definitely narrow.  I had resigned myself to not worry about passing people–after all if I was that concerned about time, I should do the race without a stroller.  I stayed with a few other people who were running with strollers, and was really impressed by one woman who was pushing a double at the same speed as me.

 

Once I got through mile 4, I was able to see some daylight, and picked up the pace.  There's a minor hill at 2nd Street NE, but Mini and I were able to handle that alright.  Once we got to mile 5.2, I told Mini that we're going to cruise a little faster for that last mile.

 

Miles 6-6.2

[2:36]

 

Not much to talk about here, just a sprint to the finish.  A friend who finished before me jumped in with me and ran the last 0.1.

 

Post-Race

 

After the race ended, I collected a bagel, banana and water bottle.  And snapped my first ever post-race selfie with Mini:

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Jess and I went to Eastern Market with some friends for brunch, and hung out there for a bit before heading home.  Overall, it was a fantastic race, and I was super proud of Mini for sticking with me.

 

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Race Report: The George Washington Parkway Classic Ten Miler

Finish time:  1:29:53

Placing:  1552 out of 4483 (overall)

962 out of 1848 (male)

163 out of 272 (male division)

 

This race rivals the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler, and I will be running it every year when I am able to.  I registered for the race on a whim.  I saw a post about the run on a running website, and I had never heard of the race before.  The last minute registration came at a steep price, $89, and I wasn't quite sure if I wanted to pay that kind of money to run ten miles by the Potomac when I was perfectly ok to do that on my own for free.  I convinced myself otherwise, though, mainly because I read good things about the race online and also figured that I'd give it a shot.  The worse thing that could happen is that I'd run ten miles and be out 90 bucks with a lesson learned.  So I bought the entry and then became even more reluctant when the weather forecast was showing a morning set at the mid 40s with steady rain.  Great.

 

Turns out that the weather forecast was wrong, and the race weather was beautiful and perfect.  Low 50s, no humidity.  Knowing what I know, I would do it even in the rain.  It's a relatively quick course, from one historic site to another, on a tree-lined road just miles outside of DC.  What's not to like?

 

PRE-RACE

 

The interesting thing about this race, what drew my eye to it, is that it's an end to end run.  You start off at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and you run ten miles on the GW Parkway along the Potomac River to Old Town Alexandria.  There are three bus loading stations (in Alexandria and Arlington) to take you to the start line.  The buses run from 5:30am until 7am, depending on the location.  If you miss one of the buses, you miss the race.

 

Being an amateur, I decided that I'd choose the bus shuttle that was closest to the finish line, which was on Fairfax Street in Alexandria.  That way I could just park my car there and I wouldn't have to Uber there and back (and avoid any crazy uber surges).  Great idea, right?  No shit it's a good idea, that's why everyone else decided to do this.  One of the variables I was not accounting for was how many people would be running.  Even if there were a couple thousand, I figured, how long could the wait to get down there be, especially if there are three different pick up points?  Well, there were more than a couple thousand, there were almost 4500 people running this race, and how long could the wait be?  Pretty damn long.  The shuttles ran from 5:30am to 7am, and the organizers (Pacers Running) indicated that the best bet to get on a shuttle without a wait would be to board by 6:15.  Of course, I ignored this advice and decided to just get down there by 6:40.

 

I've said this before, and I'll say this again.  The time it takes getting to the start line of a race moves by at warp speed.  That plan to arrive an hour or 90 minutes before a start quickly erodes and before you know it you're hurrying to get to the line.  It wasn't quite dramatic with this one, but that law certainly proved itself again.  By the time I got to Alexandria, it was about 6:35, but parking in the garage took forever.  And when I got up to the line for the bus, it was wrapped around a city block, several hundred people deep. I randomly ran into a friend from law school, but didn't stop to chat because I was worried that I'd be left behind if I didn't get in line.  It ended up not being too much of a problem, it seemed like everyone got on one of the buses.

 

While in line, I chatted up another runner.  His name was Peter, and while in line and on the bus we talked about a lot of things, from running, to technology, to having kids.  He was a really nice guy, and it's people and conversations like that which bring me back to events like this over and over again.  During our ride on the bus, Peter said something interesting–a book he was reading was describing how early humans would run together in groups on the savanna.  He made a good point:  why is it that we would pay a bunch of money stand in a line hundreds deep to get on a bus and be dropped off ten miles away, just so we can all run back to where we started?  We started talking and postulating that it must be something primordial about our biology and psychology, that we would do all this just to run together in a group, even if we don't know any of the people with whom we are running.

 

We got to the start line, Mt. Vernon, and Peter and I parted ways.  At the start, there were tons of people heading to the bag check and stretching out.

 

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The race started right on time, 8:00am.

 

Miles 1-4

 

9:14 min/mile; 9:01; 8:57; 8:45

 

I don't really remember much mile to mile, but I'll try my best here.  A lot of the run scenery looked the same.  What I do remember is that the first mile has a pretty decent size downhill.  In fact, looking at my run analytics, you go from 95 feet to -25 feet in that first mile.  This course was fast and a good amount of downhill or flat running.  I think I stopped for water once during these four miles.

 

Miles 5-8

 

9:03; 8:44; 8:52; 9:02

 

The climb ascends a little during this stretch, but it's nothing crazy.  It goes back up to about 50 feet above sea level.  I don't really have too much that I remember here, except that starting at mile 5, I decided that I'd try and go for a sub 9 min/mile pace (sub 90 minutes).  When I've been in better shape, this wouldn't be that big of a deal, but pushing a pace like that would be the fastest I've run since baby Asha was born.  I figured, what the hell, let's keep it at or under 9 and see what happens.

 

Throughout the race, I was convincing myself that the hardest miles would be miles 7-9.  That was kind of true, but I think that was more psychologically than anything else.  When I hit mile 7, I told myself that mile 8 would actually be the hardest.  When I hit mile 8, I told myself mile 9.

 

Miles 9-10

 

9:01; 8:43

 

When I entered mile 9, I wasn't really thinking about my sub 1:30 goal.  I had stopped in the previous segment to get water and I figured that it cost me enough time to just miss the mark.  I wasn't dead set on getting that goal, so I didn't give it another thought.  When I got to mile 10, I looked at my watch and did some fuzzy math to realize that I'd be close.  So I decided to pick it up a little and just see where I was at when I got close to the finish.
As the finish line approached, with about a 0.15 miles left, my watch hit 1:29.  I knew I could break 1:30 if I just turned the jets on for the last tenth.  I did that (or tried to) and was able to finish across with 7 seconds to spare.

 

POST-RACE

 

I collected my medal, my boxed treats and a muffin from the welcome area, and decided to head back home.  I considered hanging around for a while–it was a beautiful morning–but I was eager to get back home to see Mini.  Also, I didn't want traffic heading out of the parking garage to slow me down.

 

I did really enjoy this race too.  I imagine taking Mini here too, as she gets older.  There was one guy I saw on the ten mile route who was running with a stroller (faster than me, I might add), so I'll have to look into how to set that up next year.

 

Some pictures from during and after the race:

 

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Race Report – Rock ‘n’ Roll DC Half Marathon

Finish time:  2:13:26

Placing:  6274 out of 12953 (overall);

3180 out of 5214 (male) 

660 out of 1007 (male division)

Goal 1:  Just run the race (yes)

Goal 2:  Avoid missing the birth of your baby while you're running the race (yes)

Goal 3:  Run an impromptu half in 18 degree weather (yes)

 

This half marathon was completely impromptu.  I wasn't on a training regiment for it.  I thought about signing up for it back in December, but I quickly wrote that off given that our due date was less than a week away from the race.

 

Then, literally the day before, I saw some post online about it.  I decided to call up a friend and see if he was up for running it with me.  I figured that Jess was not showing any signs of going into labor, and I would just play it by ear until race morning.  If Jess was feeling fine, I'd go down, run the race and come back home, all the while with my phone on me nervously checking any text or alert that I received.  Turns out that she was feeling just fine that morning, so (with her approval) I decided to pull the trigger and go down there.

 

Sometimes, it's just fun to run a race without any expectations.  It's liberating to go out there and just run along, enjoy the crowd, and get it done.  This race felt good.  Especially good since it was the last race I'd run before become a father.

 

PRE-RACE

The week leading up to the race was a mixed bag in terms of weather.  The early part of the week was pretty average, mid 50s.  Then it shot up to the 70s before taking a plunge.  The day before the race, it was about 30 degrees, and the morning of the race, it barely hit 20 with a windchill that ultimately dipped to 18.

 

I mistakenly read the start time to be 7:30am instead of 8:30am, so I got up much earlier than expected, at 5:30.  I couldn't really go back to sleep, and so I kind of just hung around until 7:45 before heading out to meet up with my friend Robs.  We got to the start line right around 8:15.  It was still cold as fuck, but we managed to keep warm.

 

We heard the National Anthem, and then we were off.

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Miles 1-4

10:46 min/mile; 10:20; 9:32; 9:47

The first four miles went from 14th and Constitution, down to Foggy Bottom and back to the Lincoln.  We kept a pretty light pace through it, spent most of that time warming up.  There were a lot of signs with jokes on Government, Trump, Alternate Facts, Russian hacking, etc.  Classic DC run.  Took this picture at an underpass.

 

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Miles 5-8

9:47; 10:15; 10:48; 10:33

 

The next four miles are probably the hardest of the course.  From the Lincoln, you go back to Foggy Bottom and then up Rock Creek Park, ascending a pretty big hill near the National Zoo.  It's a good workout, definitely warmed me up.  After the hill, you run over to Columbia Heights towards Howard University.

 

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Miles 9-12

9:53; 10:31; 9:24; 9:45

 

We picked up the pace for the last section of the race.  From Howard, the course goes to the Reservoir and then down North Capitol and over to H street.  The sun came out during this part and actually made the race kind of hot.  Either that or the three layers of clothes that I had on.  This part of the race felt really good.

 

Miles 13 to end

9:10; 2:58

 

The last part of the race goes down to RFK stadium, the hollowed shell of the one-time home of the Redskins.  Robs and I were trying to book it to the end for the last mile, but on our way to the end, a woman fell down in front of us and we stopped with other to help her up.  She was ok, but she was a little older, and her fall looked a little nasty.  We finished with a decent end split though.

 

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Post-race

 

Robs and I collected some swag, and headed back to the Metro.  Surprisingly (not really), it felt really cold again when we stopped running.  I felt a little more grateful for the folks who lined the streets to cheer people along.  The crowds weren't as big as they were when I ran the full marathon in 2014, but given the weather, I was actually surprised with how many people did show up, both to run the races and to cheer the runners along.

 

So all in all, it was a good race.  I'll definitely do it again next year if I can.  It's an super easy race to get to, and I run along a lot of these routes anyway.  And even though it's weird to pay money for a race that I kind of run by default in training, it's nice to have a consistent local race to go to.

 

The only shitty part about the day was the Metro ride back.  It took me like 45 mins to get home when I'm only like 2 miles away.  Part of that is because I have to transfer lines, but in the days of Uber/Lyft, I can pay the same amount and get home a million times faster. This is the main reason why I've taken only like 3 Metro rides in the last two or three years. Then again, there were probably a lot of people from out of town, so having Metro as the option to get a far way in and out of the city isn't half bad for them (so long as Metro runs efficiently, a big if).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Race Report – Baltimore Marathon

Finish time: 4:41:35

Splits:  2:11:05 (half); 2:30:30 (end)

Placing:  1385 out of 2354 (overall);

880 out of 1371 (male);

149 out of 205 (male division)

Goal 1:  4:45:00 (yes)

Goal 2:  PR-4:32:04 (no)

Goal 3:  Under 4:00:00 (no)

Inevitably, during a marathon you'll ride some ups and downs.  Figuratively and literally.  Months of training eventually distills to a day or two of meticulous planning, and you head out the door with your gear in place, your nutrition plan down to a T, and your splits mapped out down to the half mile.

But, as Mike Tyson once said, everyone has a plan til they get punched in the face.

The Baltimore Marathon was exactly that.  Maybe all marathons are like that.  I don't know.  I've only run through three of them, and one thing that I've inevitably found in my limited sample size is that regardless of your goals, somewhere along the way there is a significant chance that your plan will go sideways.  Finishing with your head held high is as much about how you deal with these setbacks as it is about you executing your plan to perfection and hitting your goals.  For me, I got whacked with a haymaker on miles 22-24.  Here's how it played out.

PRE-RACE

Even though I drive from Baltimore to DC every day for work, I decided to get a hotel room near the race the night before.  I didn't want to be stressed at 5am fumbling through the dark to figure out where all my stuff is only to get stuck in traffic and to miss the start.  Also, Fleet Week in Baltimore coincided with the marathon, and I knew there was going to be a ton of traffic.

I spent the evening before mapping out my plan.  I outlined earlier that my "reach" goal was to finish with  PR under 4:32, and my "basic" goal was to finish under 4:45.  Deep down, though, I felt like I could really push it this race.  I missed some long runs towards the end of training, but my runs generally felt great.  So I put it in my mind to really try for 4:15.  My plan was to get through the first 9 miles in 90 minutes, and then run the rest out at somewhere between 9:15 to 9:30 a mile.  For nutrition, I was planning on eat 3-4 gummy packs every three miles and half a pack at mile 13 and a cliff bar at mile 18.  For hydration, I was planning to stop at every water stop, alternating between water and Gatorade.

The night before was pretty chill.  I got to the hotel and waited for Jess to take the train up from DC.  I turned on HBO and watched Cast Away, which I forgot how great of a movie that is, and grabbed some dinner.  When Jess made it in, we planned out where she was going to meet me during the race–miles 13 and 25.

RACE DAY

Before the start

I got up at 5am, showered up, got dressed and headed out to M&T Bank Stadium (aka "Ravens Stadium").  The morning was pretty chilly, around 50 degrees, which was about 20 degrees below the coldest weather I ran in during training.  No worries though, I came prepared with an ugly orange zip up that I planned to toss a mile or two into the race.  I made it to the designated parking at Ravens Stadium without issue.  In fact, I was pretty early, and crazy enough I ran into someone I knew from college that I hadn't seen in over ten years. Small world, indeed.  I got to the start line at around 7, and the full marathon race (and relay) started at 8.  So I kind of putzed around for a while, did a few warm up strides and lunges about 30 minutes before the start and hung out waiting for the signal.

Morning before the marathon:

morning

One thing I gotta say, it's cool to hear the National Anthem before the start of every marathon, and this was no exception.  Standing outside Camden Yards, one of the iconic venues in sport, hearing the National Anthem that was written about the defense at Fort McHenry just a few miles away, pretty cool.

Starting line, Baltimore Marathon:

start-line

Start of the race, miles 1-4 "all good"

10:50 min/mile; 10:51; 10:52; 9:46

The first four miles went fine, just as expected.  I've said this countless times before, but it takes me about 3.5 miles to warm up.  Regardless if I'm running 6 miles or 16, my body just seems to be plodding along for those first 3.5 miles until I get into a rhythm.  I ditched my ugly orange zip up at around mile 2, and I was starting to feel good.  Race day temperature warmed up a bit to the mid 50s, with low humidity and clear skies.  It was an absolutely beautiful morning in Baltimore.  The first four went north from Camden Yards up to the zoo.  It was mostly uphill–according to the my GPS data it was about a 300 foot climb for the first four miles or so, which is kind of crazy to start a marathon.  I made sure to hold back early, and I was aided in that effort due to the large crowd of people.  It actually helps to have a lot of people around you, it prevents you from rushing out of the gate.   The crowds were decent during the first four miles.  There weren't too many people along the path, but those were there were excited to see the runners come through their neighborhoods.  The Baltimore Police were encouraging as well.  It seemed like most officers made an effort to cheer along the runners, and that was great to see.

Miles 5-8 "easy downhill"

9:39; 9:43; 9:37; 9:28

The uphill climb in miles 1-4 ended at the zoo, and the next four were an easy down hill.  I picked up the pace initially to 10 min/mile, but decided to bank some time and let the hills carry me down.  It was cool to run through the zoo.  At one point, there was this zoo employee that was standing out there with a penguin and another with a parrot or something that was making this crazy monkey like noise when everyone was running by.  Or maybe those noises were actual monkeys.  I'm not quite sure.  Regardless, we ran by some smelly horse stables, and exited the zoo and into Druid Park, over to Johns Hopkins, and then down to Charles Village heading towards the Harbor.  A few people stopped in Druid park behind some trees to take a leak.  I always think this is a funny site–in the last three marathons I've run, we've run by a park during the early part of the race, and you just see a bunch of dudes standing there peeing behind trees.

There wasn't much crowd support in Druid Park, but it picked up pretty significantly around mile 8.

Miles 9-12 "another day at the office"

9:30; 9:28; 9:25; 9:36

Miles 9-12 were the most familiar ones to me.  This segment was pretty flat, and I moved on in my plan to try and hit the first 9 miles in 90 minutes.  I was right on target, hitting mile 9 at 90 mins, 16 seconds.  I was feeling pretty great at this point–I felt like I held myself back significantly during the first 9 and was executing my plan (including my nutrition and hydration plans) to perfection.  These four miles took us from Inner Harbor down, around Key Highway to our offices at Under Armour.  This segment was such a confidence booster just because I am so familiar with it.  I've this route so many times during work–in the morning, during lunch workouts, after work, and even during some "run meetings" I've had with co-workers.  It was cool to run by the UA HQ and just really great to see the presence and energy that the company showed up for the runners.

The crowds during this part continued to be amazing.  Just a ton of local support, a lot of families and children were out to watch us go by and to high five us.  The power of a high five is undeniable.  Something about high fiving a complete stranger that you'll probably never see again, it gives you positive boost.  It remains, for me, the absolute best part about running a marathon.  Something about how for those several hours, strangers are just out there to help and encourage each other.  It's so different from everything else we hear in the world.  You get the experience that in a real, tangible way, we are all in something together, whether you are running or not.

At around mile 11, I saw this guy who seemed to be slowing down.  I decided to run by him and chat him up.  I could see on his bib that he was running a full, and I was thinking that if I could lift him up for a little bit, maybe someone will lift me up when I need it.  He was a nice guy.  He was a graduate student at Johns Hopkins originally from China.  Like me,  Baltimore was his third marathon, his first two being in Beijing.  We chatted a little bit about the Beijing race and then nerded out a little about material science and electrical engineering courses.  We wished each other luck, told each other to stay mentally strong and then parted ways at around mile 12 or so.

Miles 13-16 "wife power-up"

9:47; 9:17; 9:30; 10:01

Miles 13-16 felt the same as the previous four.  The segment was relatively short, the crowd support was absolutely electric, and it just felt like a great day.  Having hit my 9 minute 90 goal, my plan for the rest of the day was to stay between 9:15 and 9:30, and see if I could get close to that 4 hour 15 minute finish.  This segment went back to Inner Harbor and across Fells Point to Canton.  Jess was waiting for me at mile 13.5 and seeing her gave me a big motivation boost.  It's funny how you can look forward to seeing someone so much, even though I had just seen her earlier that morning.  Running is so much about psychology, and just knowing that there are people rooting for you can be enough for you to tune out the devil on your shoulder and keep pushing.  I gave her a smooch, and went on my way with an extra bounce in my step.

Just past half-way:

half-way

I was still feeling good about my pace by this point.  I felt like I was holding back, but was happy with how I was pacing myself.  I knew that there were some serious hills on the back half of the course, and though I never ran them during training, I was anticipating a serious climb ahead and wanted to have enough gas in the tank to slay them.

Miles 17-20 "shits about to hit the fan"

10:13; 10:30; 10:21: 10:56

Let me tell you, the back half of Baltimore is no joke.  Miles 17-20 were hard.  Really fucking hard.  It's not so much that the hills are really steep.  Rather it's that the hills are slow grind that's relentless for many miles.  The initial 300 foot climb in the beginning of the race is tough, but it's over after 4 miles, and it's followed by a downhill for the next 4 to 6 miles.  The overall climb between mile 17 to 20 is "only" about 140 feet, but it's a motherfucker to deal with 17 miles into a marathon. Also, the crowds thinned out slightly at mile 17, but only temporarily, as the crowds through miles 18-20 were great.  This segment went north from Canton, through the Milton-Montford neighborhood and up to Clifton Park.  Admittedly, I know nothing about these areas of Baltimore, but there were a lot of local folks on their front steps to watch us come through.  And there were a lot of little kids that were just happy as hell to high five anyone that ran by.  Word to the wise–try to high five a kid when they are out there cheering you on.  Even if you're tired, the joy on his or her face is worth it.

At mile 17, there was this super energetic runner that was trying is best to pump everyone up.  It was great.  He was such a positive guy.  Kept on yelling out phrases: "let's go, we're going to finish this together, we're going to encourage each other, we're not going to stop, we see our prize up ahead, there's a glory that no one can take from us when we finish, it's a beautiful day to be alive, we're alive, we're healthy, we're here"  I really liked that dude.  I was getting too winded to stay with him, and I could tell that he was in good shape to finish strong, but as he was blazing towards his finish, he was trying his best to lift everyone up.  My favorite line is when he'd pass people in the crowd and ask them if he should stop or if he should keep going.  Everyone seemed to love that.

As far as the running went.  I told myself to keep going strong.  I was remembering what that guy I ran into at mile 12 said–you have to stay mentally strong.  I thought back to my training, and in particular two days.  Once when I went for an 11 mile run on a 111 degree day in the summer and once when I went for a 5 mile run after lifting weights for an hour.  Both of these runs were brutal, but I did it to train for this race. I put in some hard work, and this is where I needed to run strong.

I'm proud that I got through these hills without taking a break.  I also held myself back because I knew I'd need some more gas in the tank to finish up once the hills were done.  When I got to mile 20, I actually felt great.  My body wasn't really tired, and I wasn't out of breath.  Even though I slipped my pace, I was ok with it to finish fast.  And a PR was within reach.

Around mile 17 or so, all three races converged–the half marathon, the full marathon and the relay group.  I snapped a picture of this, which looked way cooler in person than here:

Mile 17ish:

mile-17ish

Miles 21-24 "punched in the face"

10:56; 11:26; 14:18; 16:14

Mile 21 starts at the peak of the monstrous hills of miles 17-20.  The segment involves a flat, but surprisingly difficult 1.5 mile loop around Lake Montebello before heading east to the Baltimore Museum of Art and then to Charles Village.  It's a mental challenge because the loop is so large and mostly exposed to the sun.  When you enter the loop, you already see people leaving it.  Bastards.

I started mile 21 feeling ok about finishing strong.  I had just finished the killer hills, and though I wasn't that familiar with the rest of the course, I knew that the worst of the hills were over.  I still felt pretty strong and was confident I'd be able to climb back up to a sub-10 pace.  I entered the lake loop, and the first signs of trouble started to manifest.  I felt a small twitch in my right calf, but decided to run through it.  When I crossed mile 22, I decided to stop briefly and see if I should stretch it out. I wasn't really sure what I was doing, and I didn't do an all out stretch or massage.  For some reason, I felt like if I tried something crazy it would lead to some untended consequences, like another muscle cramping in a weird way.  Plus, I was still able to run along and thought that it might just be a funk that I'll overcome.  I slowed down my pace at the middle of 21 and 22 to see if that would help.

Then, it hit me.  Really hard.  It started when I took a step on my right leg and my right calf just started experiencing some serious muscle spasms.  I had to stop my run immediately, made it over to the side and tried to do a stretch on the curb.  It didn't really help at all.  I could still walk, but I was limping badly.  I looked at my watch and did some math.  By the way, doing even the simplest math 22 miles into a race is nearly impossible. I had to count to four using my fingers.  At the beginning of mile 22, I was about 3 hours 45 minutes in with 4.2 miles left.  Other than this damn cramp in my calf, I was feeling really good.  My hamstrings were tight and my quads were getting pretty sore, but I had plenty of energy to get through.  I did some naive calculations and figured that if I walked for half a mile, I could push a 9:30-9:45 pace to the end and still finish with a PR.  Oh, how wrong I was.  I walked that half mile, and tried to restart my running.  After a few strides, though, the muscle spasm came back harder than the first time.  This was somewhere between mile 22 and mile 23.  It came back so hard that I almost fell down, and I was worried that I wouldn't even be able to walk to the finish.  I was afraid that my calf would fully cramp up and having experienced that after the Marine Corps Marathon last year, I knew that I'd be done if that happened.

At this point, I started to tear up just a little.  Not because of the pain, but because I was thinking back to all of the training I had done and that I was going to end the marathon like this, feeling great but hampered down with this stupid cramp.  Mentally, then, it started to become more than just the marathon.  I was thinking back to everything that happened to me this year, the lowest lows to the highest highs, from my mom's cancer diagnosis and everything with that to Jess and I expecting our first child.  How running and training for this race was the one thing that gave me a sense of control over all the craziness in the world around me.  And that it was going to end like this, with me definitely not PRing, with me walking to the end, or worse, probably not being able to finish the race despite all the work.  I walked that next half mile pretty dejected and beyond frustrated.  I had planned everything, and then the plan fell apart.  What was the point of training for six months, to run in all the places and types of weather over the year, for it to end like this.  I was pissed at myself.  I put my hands on top of my head, in the infamous "surrender cobra" pose, and just kept walking.

But then, somewhere around the end of mile 24, things started to feel a little better.  Not much, but I no longer felt like I wasn't able to finish.  I was still disappointed, but I decided that I'm not going to let this set back fucking define how I'm going to finish this race.  I picked up my walking pace and then shuffled into a slow trot.  And then something happened that I'll never forget.  I was trotting along on the left side of the road, near the curb on West 29th Street heading toward the left turn to North Howard street.  There was this guy standing in the crowd.  He looked approximately my age, and he was one of many people cheering people along.  I was slowly approaching him, and as I came to him he looked me dead in the eye and said "you got this, trust me, you got this. you're going to finish strong. keep going."  I don't know what it was, whether he saw the disappointment or struggle in my face, but for some reason, the way he looked me directly in the eyes and spoke to me, someone that I had never met before and someone that I will probably never meet again, he gave me encouragement and it lit a fire underneath me.

This is where I'm going to go off on a tangent.  There is so much goddamn negativity we see in this world.  Turn on the news and all you read about is this shitty world we live in where people treat each other like garbage.  Tune into news coverage this election year, and our body politic reflects back to us a distorted and crappy version of ourselves, and then we are told that we have to believe it, that we have no choice.  It's exhausting to feel like we have to resign ourselves to be only self-interested.  But then there are moments of clarity that come along and you realize that we're not always the shitty people that we're told we are.  That when you strip away contexts in which people interact, there can be moments where people are just there for one another.  During this run, we went from Camden Yards to West Baltimore.  We ran through neighborhoods where people can live in completely different worlds and can have completely different grievances or perceived grievances aimed at them by society.  But throughout the race, you felt that at least for a moment, when you passed someone on the street, you were happy to see them and they were happy to see you. Baltimore had great energy in that way, from start to finish, and I fell in love with this about the city.

This guy, who gave me the encouragement that he did, it was one of those clairvoyant  moments in my life.  That there are times when you can lift someone up, and you can be on their team, even if you don't know who in the hell they are.  It doesn't take anything away from you, and it can cascade and amplify as someone accepts that from you.

Anyway, I thank you stranger, for giving me the boost when I needed it.

Miles 25-26.2 "finish up strong"

10:38; 10:58; [3:09]

I was on a high heading when I started mile 25.  Yes, the pace was still slow, but damnit, I was going to finish this race running.  I pushed down Howard Street towards Camden Yards.  Jess was waiting for me between mile 25 and 26, and I wanted her to see me running while I came by her.  I had sent her a text during my crappy miles and I told her that I was probably going to walk the rest of the way.  It was a proud moment for me to be running towards her instead of walking. Seeing her there just amplified my energy to finish up strong.

Mile 25:

end

Post-race

I collected my medal, grabbed a bunch of snacks and water, and found a spot on the ground near a tree where I sat and waited for Jess to meet me.  I sat there for a good 20-30 minutes, and we walked around the village at Camden Yards.

medal

When we got in the car to leave, my left calf cramped up really bad, but Jess was able to stretch it out for me.  When we got home, we ordered a pizza and just relaxed at home all day.

Overall it was a beautiful day in Baltimore and very well organized.  I finished this marathon in 4 hours, 41 minutes and 35 seconds.  I didn't PR, but I did hit my basic goal of finishing under 4:45.  But you know what, it was a great race.  I learned a lot about myself. This race was a perfect microcosm for the last year I've had.  I hit some significant set backs and had some down days, but there was no way in hell that  I was going to let those moments control how I respond.  It's not about getting punched in the face, it's about what you do to fight through it.  I couldn't get what I wanted in Baltimore, but I got what I needed.

Old School Race Report: Rock n Roll DC (from March 2014)

The other day, I found an old write up that I put together after my first marathon.  I figured this would be a good thing to add here.  So without much ado, here were my thoughts about one week after I ran my first marathon (the Rock n Roll DC Marathon in March 2014):

I just finished my first marathon yesterday. It was an incredible experience.

-About the race. The race was in DC, and my friends and I (also first timers) decided that it would be nice to run a race in "spring weather" even if that meant training in the winter (versus training in nice weather and running on a potentially cold fall day). That didn't work out too well. On race day it was low 40s and raining a lot. So it ended up being training in the very cold and racing in the really cold.

-Route distance. I mapped the race on two separate GPS devices (my phone and my Garmin watch), and on both of them, I had distances over 26.2 miles. On my phone it said something like 27.8 and on my watch it said something like 27.3. Not sure if that's the GPS or if the course was a little long, or both. Side note, I recommend buying a GPS watch for the race. It was nice to be able to look down and see my pace, distance, etc. I felt like that kept me going.

-Overall experience. Marathons are fucking hard. Even if you've been training diligently for them, they are to be respected. You've read it a million times on here, but I'll restate it. It's better to start off much slower than your training pace than to go too fast. My training pace was between 8.5 and 9 mins/mile, and I ran the first mile at an 11 min pace, and worked my way up to a 10 min mile for pretty much the whole first half. I found this one article that was helpful. Don't have the link (it's a runners world article) but the gist was this: for your first, don't get caught up in a specific pace, instead, watch your breathing. (A) For the first 14 miles, you should be in a happy zone–run like you can hold a conversation with someone next to you without heavily breathing. I know, this can sound like a long distance to take it easy, but it pays dividends. (B) Starting at around mile 14, start to go fishing. That is, pick up your pace to the point where you're not running terribly hard but that if you were to have a conversation, it would be one breath at a time. Then select runners who started out ahead of you, lock in on them, and slowly reel them in to pass them by. On the back end of the race, once you start passing people, it's unlikely that they will get back to you, and it's a motivation boost to know you have gas left in the tank. (C) For the last 2+ miles, finish strong.

The above advice served me well. I will say this, if you have to pace yourself in the happy zone for longer, do that. And the wall is fucking real. I didn't hit it, but I came pretty close. You get to a point where you feel like you can't move anymore. It's nothing like I've ever experienced. Every step is hard, and when you look at your watch and see you have 4 miles left (keep in mind, you've run this distance five times over at this point) it feels impossible. Like literally impossible. That you'll have to stop where you are, and you'll never be able to go home, and you'll have to live the rest of your life in that spot. If you've trained, the race is fine up until mile 20 or 21, then it gets REALLY hard for the next 2-3 miles. Seriously, they are the hardest miles you've ever run in your life. I read that a lot before my race, and I believed it, don't get me wrong, but I couldn't possibly have imagined how difficult those miles are. You have to be mentally ready for them, and you have to tell yourself to keep going, even if it's at a slow trot.

-Post race. It's an incredible feeling when you finish. You have this mix of absolute elation and total exhaustion. I'm not an overly emotional guy, but I shed some tears. Almost uncontrollably. Your body is just so damn tired, and your emotions of finishing are all over the place. You (hopefully) will have family and/or friends there to support you. Strangers will high five you. It's such an incredible feeling.

I don't know any tips for avoiding this, but I was BARELY able to walk immediately after the race. My legs were locked up. My ride home was probably 200 yards away from the finish line, and I was absolutely sure that I wouldn't make it there, despite just having run 26+ miles. So read into tips on how to combat that post-run freeze up.

Would I do it again? Probably. Finishing the race didn't fill me with this "I loved this, let's do it again!" feeling, but the feeling of accomplishment was so worth all the training. When I finished, it was a mixed bag. I can see how people stop after one, and I can see how people run marathons for the rest of their lives. For me, I'll continue to run. Half marathons will be "fun" races now, and I'll get really serious when I'm training for a full marathon.

-Race advice. ENJOY IT! I was smiling through most of the race, you should do. Strangers with signs will be clapping and cheering and high fiving you. When you pass them, clap, cheer and high five them back. They are out there to support people they don't know (and maybe some they do know), and they aren't getting a medal at the end. Yes, you've run 26.2, but if you are like me, the support you see from people is down right inspiring. So thank them, and thank the volunteers–you share your accomplishment with them.

-Final thoughts. It's your first, and now I know why everyone says to not worry about the time or pace or anything like that. Just focus on finishing and enjoy it. Other races will be for worrying about that stuff.