Tuesday, October 28, 2014

2014 Marine Corps Marathon Race Report

I really wondered, while the Marine Corps Marathon was happening, how I'd title this blog post, or what the theme would be.

This, except it explodes.  Oh, and then its phone battery dies like 10 minutes after turning it on.

Because, as it turned out, I had a LOT of time to think about it.  While I'd been honest with myself that I couldn't break 4 hours this year, I still felt strong (I was wrong), and figured I'd have --easily-- 4:15 in me, at worst 4:30.  So I was in a darn good mood showing up to the Pentagon race morning.


Seriously, everything went like clockwork from the moment I woke up.  I got a decent amount of sleep, I had a reasonable breakfast, I went potty (over and over, because THAT'S WHAT WE DO), and even got to the Metro with tons of time.  I rode the Blue line "around the horn" from Capitol Hill, because I knew Metro stations in the middle of the city would be crazy.  Everything was just moving, and I was in full, "Let's do it" mode.

Flea is kinda wearing compression socks, isn't he?

Still, I did have a nagging feeling that something had gone wrong.  As my Metro car filled up, a woman, standing, looked around and said, "I hope everyone remembered their deodorant this morning."
Oh, FFS.
I sat there, thinking about things like icebergs, cool temperatures, and generally not sweating.  I figured, "Well, today was destined to have at least one snafu, so that's outta the way."  Little did I know that this would literally become the least of my problems in a few hours.


Again, keeping with the theme of everything going AWESOME AND ACCORDING TO PLAN, I got through the security line quickly, got the usual pre-race 22 Too Many photos taken, checked/stored my phone with UPS, and even found a relatively short porta potty line towards the starting area.  Everything was going really well, almost businesslike.

Dane on my right arm...

... and the standard 22 Too Many display on my back.
I had my nutrition plan in place, and, despite not having a pace band, I knew that if I generally ran comfortably, I'd be ok with my finish time.  I estimated that my paces would generally float between 9 minutes and 9:30 for the race duration, which would put me right around 4:10 at the finish (perhaps even slower than that as I planned to have fun along the way).  A nice time for a no-pressure race. If anything, I was actually excited to hit 20 miles.  My last two marathons had me blowing right through 20 miles with almost no recognition of "The Wall" that we all work through.  I was more than a little interested to see how I'd fare this year.


BOOM!  Off went the howitzer, and off we went.

Miles 0-1, 1-2, 2-3

9:18, 9:52, 9:27

These were of course crowded, but it was generally not that hard to navigate traffic.  I knew these miles were hilly, and I just wasn't going to worry about pace here, other than going too fast.  Smile and wave, smile and wave, thank the Marines.

Miles 3-4, 4-5

8:49, 9:45 (gel)

We hit a downhill, and then hit Georgetown, which is generally the first festive area of the race beyond the start.  Mile 4-5 also included my first stop for a drink, a gel, and a salt tablet.  My paces were a little wild so far, but I still was quite calm about the day, and still was having a good time smiling and thanking the Marines.

Miles 5-6, 6-7, 7-8, 8-9, 9-10

9:06, 9:01, 9:05, 9:27 (gel), 8:56

(Through 10K at about a 9:20 pace)

Along the way, I spotted Victoria, an accomplished triathlete, giving out candy corn a little past mile 7, near the turnaround.  I screamed hello to her (I'm actually not sure she recognized me), passed her, and then, quite inadvisedly, turned back around to take a handful of candy corn.  Protip:  Don't turn around, or even look behind you when you're running a marathon.  There are a LOT of people back there, all running AT you.

Anyway, I have to admit.  I was feeling good.  Everything about today was building confidence in me that my prior experience running marathons, and this race in particular, was paying off.

Sensors detect hubris.
One thing I should NEVER do is have confidence in myself.  About ANYTHING.

Confidence is the devil.

Miles 10-11, 11-12, 12-13

9:03, 8:56, 8:54. 

(Through 13.1 in 2 hours and a handful of seconds)

This section included Hains Point, which many people dislike, and I happen to love.  The Marines have moved this section to much earlier in the race (it used to come after the Mall, and made for a bleak, bleak stretch when combined with the bridge at 20-21).  Now, it's much earlier.

Also, the wonderful folks at Wear Blue: Run to Remember adopted that mile, and the effect was sobering to see all the memories.  I'm a crier.  I cry a lot.  So of course I teared up for this stretch.  Maybe I'll wear blue next year too.

Anyway, I hit the half mark, and noted that my watch said I was running for 2 hours and  something number of seconds.  I was going too fast, or at least faster than I'd planned, as I was now looking at about a 4:01 finish.  It occurred to me, briefly, that if I actually sped up, I'd be matching last year's race almost segment by segment, and I might surprise myself.

One thing, though:  I just needed more drinks.  The Gatorade/water stop was right past the Half, and it was a zoo.  The 4-hour pace group came through as I was there (I'd earlier seeded myself a little ahead of them to avoid the crowd I knew would surround that pacer), and I was utterly swamped. Seriously, the pacer must have been leading dozens of people, all of whom were clinging to him.  I get the desire.  I do.  But it was hard to get going again.  I had to stop completely one or two times to negotiate the crowds blowing through the water area, and just couldn't get my gait for this first mile of the second half.

Miles 13-14, 14-15, 15-16, 16-17, 17-18, 18-19

9:54 (gel), 9:17, 9:23, 9:51, 10:06, 14:26 (two stops for photos)

This is the last happy section of the race for me.

Immediately after restarting at 13.1, I knew something was up.  I'm not sure if it was coming to a complete stop a couple of times, or just sheer confusion at what to do, but my mind was quickly losing a grip on this race.

It happened.  Just like that.  I'd been cruising literally right up to the Halfway mark, but now I was losing my focus and speed (although to be honest, my Garmin was giving me slower numbers than the lap paces I'm seeing now that I have my data).  I knew my Half split, but I wasn't able to rely on mile-by-mile splits during the race.

I pressed on to miles 14 and 15, fairly sure I was keeping them faster than 9:25, but I already knew things were crashing.  I was baffled.  I was SO baffled, I unfortunately missed Kim, from Kim Runs Miles with Smiles, despite her really well-thought out ways to find tracked runners.  I went right by her and her crew, completely missing them.

I felt like I was running towards oblivion.  It turns out, I kinda was.  My pace was slipping badly at this point, inching up around 10 minutes per mile.  No bueno.

At mile 18-19, I stopped twice to hug loved ones, and got this photo taken.  I'd said each time I stopped that (1) I was in trouble, and (2) that something happened at Hains Point, but I had no idea what was going on.


I want to emphasize that as I ran/walked up to the Mile 19 marker, I was looking at an overall 9:30 pace, and my Garmin had measured me at 19.2 miles, so not GREAT tangents, but not awful either.  But timewise, I was looking at an estimated finish of 4:10 to 4:15 or so.  Still, something else was going on, and I didn't know what it was.

As I made my way to the Mile 19 marker, I  . . . stopped.  I just stopped.  I turned off my Garmin, and reset it.  This was now a different race.  

Actual footage of me bonking.
This race was now about completing a 7-mile journey with virtually NO energy.  I was done.  I actually ate SPORT BEANS given out to me just before the mile 19 marker, because at this point, I was prepared for ANYTHING that might help.

Yes, even a fucking shaman.
7 more miles were left in the race.  That's a distance which roughly constituted how far most of my mid-week runs were this year, but 7 miles seemed like going to the moon at that moment.  I was in utter disbelief that the wheels had so spectacularly come off the bus.


Having said that, all I could think of was getting finish MCM number 5.


I had to press on, so I did.  I ran/walked my way to mile marker 20, and then immediately walked the entire length of mile 20-21.  I ran/walked the entire rest of the course.

Miles 19-20, 20-21, 21-22, 22-23, 23-24, 24-25, 25-26.2

11:xx, 16:xx (walked entire mile), 14:xx, 14:xx, 14:xx, 15:xx, 15:xx, 15:xx

Those XX's aren't there because I'm embarrassed.  I simply don't care to get the exact numbers.  And I didn't care while I was run/walking the stretch anyway.  

She seems like not a good person to watch a marathon.
I was blindsided by what was happening to me.  I didn't care about the winds which kicked up, right where The Running Weatherman had said they would be, I certainly didn't feel the heat everyone spoke about.  I just shuffled and sulked for 7 miles, doing my best to thank volunteers along the way.


In Crystal City, during an out n' back portion of the race, I spotted M, of ReadEatWriteRun, and stopped both for a hug and a quick chat, which included me telling tell her something had gone horribly wrong, but that I wasn't quitting.  I pressed on.

There isn't much else to tell about this section.  I watched the 4:15 pace group pass me, then the 4:30 pace group as well.  Lots of people asked about Dane, the Marine I was honoring for 22 Too Many, and I was happy to tell his story.  So that was a good thing.

I even smiled a bit for race photos.

Ok, no I didn't.
Also, I know people mean well, but seriously -- to the random guy in (I think?) a "tapout" shirt, telling someone who is walking in a race to start running really is not the best use of your oxygen.

Finally, mercifully, came the moment when we hit the Mile 26 marker.  Marines lined the final hill; I tried to slap the hands of as many as I could.  As I charged dragged shuffled my way to the finish, I held up one hand, fingers spread wide, I called out, "FIVE FINISHES!" and gleefully stomped onto the timing mat.


It was over. The single worst marathon in my life, after having my fastest one here just a year earlier.

I of course ran the gamut of emotions, and both family and friends did their best to put things in perspective for me:

I do love this song.

They're lovely.  And I kept reminding myself that for some people, just FINISHING a marathon is a total bucket list item, or even such an intimidation that they won't attempt it.  I needed to suck it up, and just deal with having an awful race. 

Because, above all else, I was now exempt from the damn lottery.  Next year, come lottery time, while people are sweating the results, I'll be all ZFG.

There's one final touch on this race report, which is of course, running for my 22 Too Many Marine, Dane Freedman.  The medal they placed around my neck will go to his mom, along with a condolence note, and a promise to keep sharing the story of Dane, William Dale, TJ (Theodore Johnson), and William Busbee, who were my prior 22 TM honorees.

I guess this photo is a reminder to myself is that having a bad race doesn't seem like really that big of a deal.  In fact, because of the generosity of Rose, from Rose Runs On, Dane's mother will know that many, many people learned of her son's story.  That counts for plenty.  And you can damn well be sure I'll be back.

See you out there for other MCMs.

Race by the numbers:

Top 47% overall

Top 55% (ouch) of both all men, and men in my AG.  So bottom 45%, if you will.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Marine Corps Marathon goals - Why Five, not Four, is a magic number this year

Last year, I didn't waste any time announcing my support of the Marine Corps Marathon organizers' new entry lottery system.  I'm sure the Marines were thrilled that I supported the idea over the old "race to register" method, and that I'd blogged about it that very day.

Anyway, I raged on an on about why the lottery was a good idea starting in 2014.  So of COURSE I entered it.  And, sure enough, didn't get in.

Wow, and I didn't even know I OWNED a petard . . .
But, I was later contacted by the BAMF Rose Runs On, who HAD gotten into the MCM.  It turns out she was unable to race due to injury.  A few text messages later, we used the MCM website, and she transferred me her bib, resulting in this oh-so-happy e-mail: 

Note:  Rose recovered from injury far smarter than I did, so I suspect we'll finish together a different year!
Now comes the question -- what do I do about a goal?  I made no secret last year of my desire to run a sub-4 hour marathon, and the (800 meter) lengths I went to reach that goal.  

Spoiler alert:  I did it in 3:59, with a rather dramatic ending.  But, I'll say it right now:

I have zero -- none -- nada ability to break 4 hours again.

Totes serious.  I'm not even kidding.


I am heavier than last year, and I haven't focused on speedwork the way I did last year.  Please know this -- I do not have any pace bands, goal bands, or whatever.  Because, as you might recall, there's a larger race I have less than one month after THIS one:  

So really, despite all the silly GIFs, my penchant for dick jokes, and generally downplaying my ability to do anything well (except fail), I really have to focus on the important things this year, and breaking the 4-hour mark for a marathon again isn't one of them.

What I care about this year, as far as the MCM is concerned, is this little number:


Why is the number 5 important?

For the Marine Corps Marathon, if you've finished FIVE of them, you're forever exempt from the lottery.  That's it.  You can just register and run it.  No matter where I am in life, no matter where I'm living, I will know that I can point to DC in late October and say, if I wish, "I've got the MCM as a race option this year.  I can go there and run it."

Plus, you get PATCHES!

No, not him.
You actually get PATCHES.  You become part of the Marine Corps Marathon Runner's Club, and you get a cool little patch every 5 finishes.

How freaking cool is that?!
Very freaking cool, just so we're clear.
I have been more focused on JFK, not MCM.  I just really wanted to "check the box" and reach MCM #5.  I want to be a "member of the club."

The point is that I have to, this year, focus on what's important.  And this year, it's about checking a box, and checking my ego at the start line.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Humpback Whales in HD -- Maui Whale Watch

Everybody loves whales, right?  Well, except for the Japanese:

That's kind of a quote, not hyperbole (see the below video!)

Whales are majestic peaceful creatures, amazing to see up close.  I mean, let's face it, one of the BEST Star Trek Movies involved Humpback Whales.  Just LOOK at those two old beasts (and the whales behind them):

Looks otherworldly, right?  (Talking about Shatner's hairpiece, not the whales)

While visiting Maui last winter, I had a pretty epic Whale Watch.  During previous trips to Maui, my whale watch trips usually involve a boat just slightly larger than a Coast Guard cutter, which means we are nowhere NEAR any whales we see, and people jockey like crazy to get just the right angle. 

This past trip, however, I was was lucky enough to go out on a VERY small craft, with less than a dozen people on it.  Here's a pic (I think the craft's name, "Great White," is Pidgin Hawaiian meaning "easily punctured.").

After the pre-launch safety briefing ("don't fall off") was done, it was time to go.  I was VERY self-conscious about being By-Himself-Guy, so I did what I do best:  Blather.  On, and on.  Fortunately, I blathered to just the right people, each of whom, like me, had checked into the dock/boat on FourSquare, so we "met" each other.

The people I met turned out to be a fantastic couple. The guy reminded me a lot of Matthew Lillard; he was tall, had a great laugh, and was both very sharp and friendly.  I don't have a specific celebrity for his wife, but she was kind, friendly, yet had this badass aura to her, which for some reason really reminded me of Liz Phair.  I'm a Liz Phan, so that's a good thing, even if she and Liz don't necessarily resemble each other.  They were both athletic, and very enthusiastic about this trip.  It was almost like they WEREN'T expecting to get upended and reduced to chum (SHUT UP IT COULD HAPPEN).

They had GoPro cameras with them, and made some amazing videos of the "whale fight" (I'll get to what I mean by that) going on underneath/around our little raft, and uploaded the videos.  While I was making sure at all times I had one entire LEG attached to the benches of the craft, they were hanging off the sides at times, getting shot after shot, and epic video footage, seemingly oblivious that we were in the middle of the ocean without a tiki bar in walkable reach.

Now, with their permission, two of their videos in this blog are here for you to watch, along with some photos we all took.  But first, let me tell you what you're going to see:

Cast of Characters:

1.  Some fatass in a Washington Nationals shirt (um, hi)
2.  Our friendly Denver Couple
3.  A very vocal couple at the front of the boat, who'd been out a day or two earlier
4.  Our Captain Leanne, a fantastically fun lady who knew exactly where to take us
5.  Her deckhand, who was also a marine biologist (Dr. Fred Sharpe of the Alaska Whale Foundation) who was absolutely losing his shit over what we were seeing.

6.  A nice lady named Melissa, who somehow got a hold of a plastic model of a humpback whale, and tended to just lean over the side while the whales fought, holding it in the water (note: you can see her do this below in the "long" video around the 5:40 mark).  I'm not sure if Melissa (the lady) thought the whales were going to spot it, and swim over to it.  (I mean, if they DID, they might think we'd shellacked some whale embryo with a coating of plastic, which could SERIOUSLY piss them off)

That's it.  8 (eight!) people on a little boat.  When we got out there, there were literally more whales around us than there were people on the dingy boat.


Runners don't look like krill, right?
What happened:

It's fair to say that when I woke up that morning, I'd never used, much less heard the term, "Whale Menstruation."  It was discussed a LOT on this trip (well, it was mentioned at least 2-3 times), after which I think I blacked out, or just kind of went numb to the discussion of whale vaginas and the Things They Do.  Dr. Fred was particularly interested in any of us spotting (ha!) "Menstrual Plume," which sounds like the WORST Yellowstone Park visit EVER.

Anyway, there was a female whale, whom we later named "Melissa," (after our fearless embryo-wielder) and she was, according Dr. Fred, possibly experiencing a visit from the equivalent of Whale Aunt Flo.  Whatever was going on, this brought many MANY male whales around.  What do male whales do when a female whale is, um, (metaphorically) craving chocolate and crying a lot?  They fight.

Dr. Fred called this "a cage match."  The whales would bump into each other, do something called "jaw claps" (where they bring their head out of the water and vigorously open/close their mouths, but also blow bubbles while they're in/out of the water.  I have some of this on a couple of Instagram videos, but the males were being ROUGH with each other, at least as far as whales go.  In this video I shot, at roughly the halfway point, you see one of them with his head out of the water, clapping his jaws and blowing bubbles.

Hint -- you can see more of videos and pics at my Instagram account -- I promise if you follow me, there will be no sephia-filtered pictures of food!

So, what did Melissa (the whale) do?  Easy.  She found a shield.


As in, she went and hung out UNDER our inflatable raft boat.

This prompted the males to circle our raft and fight.  Generally, they bumped, slapped, and otherwise just made a lot of noise towards each other, doing the WORST peacock imitations ever (or the best they could do, considering their lack of feathers, and weighing 8,000 times more than the colorful birdies).

How close were they?


That's part of our raft in the lower right corner.

(Not pictured:  Tai absolutely crapping himself)
Periodically, Melissa (still talking about the whale, not the lady) would poke her head above the water, performing what is called a "Spy Hop," or just "blow" her whale snot spray at us.  The misty water (this is true) often caused a rainbow to form in her exhaled water spray.  Because, as we decided, NOBODY WOULD BELIEVE THIS WAS HAPPENING.  Then she would dive back under our raft:

Anyway, the producers of these videos, our Denver pair of "Matthew and Liz" were EXTREMELY adept at getting shots.  Matthew would lean into the water, plunging his arm/camera into the warm Hawaiian water to get some of these shots, while Liz was standing HOLY SHIT UP ON THE THING OR WHATEVER THAT THING IS GET DOWN FROM THERE HOLY SHIT.  Meanwhile, I'm holding my iPhone up like a dork, proud of myself for shooting video in Landscape instead of Portrait mode.

Ok, let's get to their HD videos.  They made two.  The first is their "best of" portion of the whale watch trip:

This next video, if you REALLY love you some humpback whales, is the full version of the whale watch trip until their battery died.  I'm (surprise!) wearing my red Washington Nationals shirt, and wearing my Road ID in case we capsized and I had to swim back to Maui (or Molokai if it seemed closer): 

An epic fun day.  

People would almost never believe it happened, but thanks to these two videos, we have a leg (fin?) up on proving what happened out there on a low-populated winter afternoon off the coast of Maui.  And now we've all had the opportunity to discuss whale menstruation.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

2014 Race Report Table of Contents

I uploaded a LOT of race reports all at once.  Why the delay?  Because it seemed EACH race had something that was a callback to an earlier one, or it was a harbinger of a future race development.  I realized, as I did each race, that there was something connecting them, so it would prompt me to go back and revise the reports to incorporate points.  Meanwhile, time ticked by, and I wanted to upload the reports.

It's going to be too spammy and/or cumbersome to upload each report, so this post is a quick Table of Contents to them.  If you want to read them all, I'd love that.  But, in case you don't, I've included a short link and synopsis of each race, so you can see what's what.

I'm cool like that.  But each race report has some cute pictures, so maybe peek at them?

George Washington Parkway Classic 10-miler:  My first race since the 2013 Richmond Marathon. I was slower, fatter, less trained, and generally ran it not-too-smart.  But I hung out with friends post-race, and actually enjoyed myself.

Spring Backyard Burn ("BYB") 4-mile trail:  My first trail race, something I'd signed up for with an eye towards prepping for the JFK 50 miler, before I'd thought about the terrain.  Much concern about tree roots, rocks, and basically anything alive on the trail that wasn't another runner.  Ran it very cautiously, but had a good enough time out there. See pics of me fat.

Public Service Employees 5K:  I don't know what prompted me to sign up for this one, because I was ALREADY over-racing this year, and was still PLENTY overweight compared to last year.  I ran it well enough, but didn't push it as hard as I could towards the end, only to discover that I'd missed a PR by less than 10 seconds.  I did get a great finish photo though . . . .

Herndon 5K:  My daughter is an alumni of a school in Herndon, and asked if I was going to run it like I had previously.  I told her I wasn't sure.  A last-minute reading of a re-tweet of a Mark Twain quote inspired me to drive out and run it.  I ran it hard for the first mile, then settled into last year's pace for the remainder of the race, and earned a 5K PR.

Lawyers Have Heart 10K:  A rare, "trash the race organizers" report.  Pre-race, a complete disaster.  Like, a fucking train wreck of logistics.  Awful and unprofessionally run pre-race by the organizers.  For the race, I stuck to my pre-determined pacing plan, and came out with another longtime quest conquered, a sub-50 minute 10K.  Then there was more logistical train wrecking, quickly followed by (many) mimosas at brunch in Georgetown.

Potomac River Running Twilight 4-Miler:  Almost the total opposite of Lawyers Have Heart.  Incredibly well-run pre/post race, and then I basically crapped the bed DURING the run (I hate Twilight races, and had a bad one here years ago).  I missed a pacing mark towards the end, and once again ran with tons of energy left in the tank.  I had no plan, and just ran, making up strategy on the fly.  Big fat Fail, but I had beer post-race, and it was delicious.

Annapolis 10-Miler:  Lots of "throbbing groin" jokes.  An incredibly difficult course, but it resulted in a PR. Oh, whatever, like you're even reading after "throbbing groin."  Screw it.  Meepzorp banana beach ball fartknocker.  See? You're not even reading this part.

Reston Perfect 10-MilerA more difficult course than Cherry Blossom, but easier than the dreaded Annapolis EKG course.  And, as it turns out, my second fastest time for a 10-miler ever.  Running is a weird sport.

Ok, there you go, the links to my Spring & Summer race reports.  Why work?  Have fun and take a few minutes to read my drivel instead.