Old School Race Report – Marine Corps Marathon 2015

I don’t really have a race report here because it predated my blog.  Just a screen shot of the course from the 2015 MCM marathon and the splits from that day.  I’ll try to summarize in a few sentences what I remember.

 

Miles 1-4

10:26 min/mile; 11:56; 11:19; 10:46

 

Miles 5-8

 

10:54; 10:33; 11:04; 10:45

 

Miles 9-12

 

9:59; 9:46; 10:07; 9:55

 

Miles 13-16

 

10:32; 10:27; 9:45; 9:59

 

Miles 17-20

 

10:37; 11:21; 10:20; 10:57

 

Miles 21-24

 

11:04; 12:48; 11:59; 12:59

 

Miles 25-26.2

13:18; 12:42; [12:00]

 

Race memories

 

This part is going to be a stream of conciousness, things that I remember, but not really when or where in the same organized way as the others.  I ran this race after having a mild stress fracture which sidelined me for seven weeks immediately prior.  I still maintain that running this race was a terrible, egotistical decision.  I’m lucky that I did not get hurt.

 

PRE-RACE

I metro-ed (to which stop, I don’t remember) and walked to the start line.  There was a power outage that caused a very massive back up.  Instead of passing through regular security, Marine volunteers had to hand wand everyone through, which took forever.  Missed the national anthem, air show and parachuting guy.

 

RACE

 

My memory comes in fits and starts.  I remember running nice and easy through Rock Creek Park and feeling pretty good.  I picked it up right around mile 9 and carried it until about mile 18.  I was foolishly optimistic that I’d be ok carrying that pace.  When I hit mile 16, I remember thinking and kind of yelling out loud, “10 more to go.”

 

At mile 18, I knew I was hitting the wall.  I stopped running for the first time right on the bridge.  The rest of the race would be this start/stop mess of a run.  My boss, who is in the marine reserves, was at the race that day working with the VIPs and he was planning to meeting me at the finish to give me my medal.  I texted him at mile 22 or so, telling him when I thought I’d finish.  He wrote me back telling me to pick it up or that I’d be fired!  Sadly, I ended up not seeing him at the finish line.  I crossed during a 30 second window where he wasn’t there.

 

At mile 23, I remember someone handing out donuts to us.  At mile 24, my hamstring felt like it was going to give way.  I turned to the person next to me as mile 25 finished and said to her, “let’s finish up strong.”

 

After I crossed the finish, I walked around Iwo Jima to find Jess and our cousin who also ran (and finished way before me).  We walked back to their place and I cramped up really badly.  It was the first time I’ve experienced not being able to lift my leg off the ground–my muscles were just done.  I had to crawl my way to the shower at his place.

 

We went and got some Bonchon wings, and then Jess and I drove back to our place.  Her family was in town visiting, so we spent time with them afterwards.  I was gimpy the whole time, but still proud to have finished marathon number 2.

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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 – 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:

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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.