My mileage took a decent step down last week from 95 to 80 miles, and it will go down again for the next week. For the past week, I’ve had a nice feeling the past three months of training are starting to snap in to place. My legs are cooperating, and I’m hitting my pace for every workout. I’ve banked a bunch of hard miles and long runs. Now is the time to concentrate on not screwing up the seven days between now and Boston.
To build a little more confidence ahead of two big races, I set a few PRs in the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler yesterday. The course was shortened by a half mile because of an incident before the race, but I still set a few new PRs of my own for the 5K (19:33), 10K (39:30) and 15K (59:57). And I blew away my 6:36 pace goal with a 6:26 average per mile.
I’ve felt more energized over the past week than at any other time during the training cycle. Even after a rainy 15-miler through the cherry blossoms last Wednesday, my legs still felt like they could have kept going for at least 10 more miles. I also have concentrated on eating a little healthier this month. I’ve cut out most sweets and have tried to limit myself to one glass of wine a day or nothing at all. So it looks like I’ll start Boston at my goal weight and with many more miles and hard workouts than I’d ever thought I could run.
Here’s the plan for the next week that I’m going to try to not screw up.
Monday: 8 miles easy
Tuesday: 10 miles moderate pace
Wednesday: 10 miles: 6 miles easy, 2 miles at marathon pace, finish out easy
Thursday: 7 miles easy
Friday: maximum of 45 minutes
Saturday: 10K shakeout
Sunday: shakeout with Bart Yasso
Monday: Boston Marathon
Once I get through Boston, I’ll start to focus on recovery and time goals for Big Sur. Right now, given my training and the forecast, my best guess for time goals is:
The last three weeks of training have really kicked my ass. I can’t remember a time when I was ever so excited about running and exhausted at the same time. These three weeks aren’t the highest-mileage weeks I’ve ever put in (they’re close), but each one has included at least one hard workout. Those hard workouts make a huge difference. They’re the reason I can’t wait to head out the door most mornings, and they’re the reason I’ve started sleeping eight hours a night.
Now that most of the hard training is done, for the first time in my running life, I’m looking forward to a taper. Maybe I wasn’t running to my full potential before, so I wasn’t ever really tired enough to want a long taper. But after yesterday’s final long run and after a nice brunch, I came home, sat down on the couch, and felt that warm, completely drained, buzzy feeling. That’s what the training is supposed to do. My legs need some time to recover before three hard races. And I’m excited to let that happen.
Here are my top five runs from the last three weeks. This stretch has coincided with an intense time at work (multiple product releases, boss was gone for a week), and I’m even more psyched I’ve been able to train at this level with so much else going on.
5. 17 miles with Michael through Richmond
Michael and I were both tempted to stay home and work all weekend, but we decided to get away for a nice overnight trip to Richmond. I got great advice for a potential long run route, and Michael drew a makeshift map. Off we went down Monument Ave. and along some trails. This was my second long run for the weekend, and I was happy with the time on my feet.
The day before the Richmond run, I went out for 16 miles with five at half marathon pace. That ended up being 6:53, 6:56, 6:51, 6:37, 6:37. This run was a huge confidence builder because I’d just run a half marathon the week before and wasn’t sure if my legs were back yet.
3. Cardozo speedwork: three different sessions
Session 1: 6:37 and 6:28 miles as a second run
Session 2: 6:35 and 6:28 miles as a second run, though I felt like I was dragging
Session 3: 5K time trial with 6:29, 6:24, 6:26 miles. And on this particular Tuesday, I ended up running 22.5 miles total. That day was ridiculous.
2. 24 miles with last four pushing the pace
I ran my favorite loop around D.C., Virginia and Maryland, through some nasty wind. The last four miles were around 7:00 pace, despite some nasty gusts. This run lets me know I can push the pace after mile 20 in a few weeks.
1. 20 miles on the W&OD
This run legitimizes the idea that the I’ve improved my fitness in the past three months. With a head wind through the first half and a great tail wind pushing me in the last miles, I ended up running 20 miles at 7:21 pace. The week before Boston last year, I ran 14 miles at 7:35 pace and felt like I was really peaking out.
I’m dropping in an update on how training has been going. I’ve dealt with ups and downs, but my overall fitness is noticeably better. For most of January and February, I ran around 90 (usually 93) miles every week. I layered in two speed work sessions most weeks and a second run on Tuesdays. I also added a second longer run most weekends. My legs seemed to be able to handle the increased stress, especially if I took an easy day on Monday. In D.C. we had the coldest February in years, so my training went inside for about a quarter of the time. The roads were simply too icy to go outside some days.
A viral infection sidelined me for longer than I’d like. I felt in a total funk for about a week. I shook the initial fever, vomiting and chills in about 36 hours, but I wasn’t able to get past the worn-down feeling for about a week. I kept up 10-mile Tuesday with a fever and extreme nausea. It wasn’t pretty. I went to Dallas to visit my family and escape the snow-covered trails, but I was too sick to finish my second long run. In hindsight, a light week probably wasn’t the worst thing for my body. I convinced myself that I was actually dealing with overtraining symptoms. Overtraining and this nasty viral bug have the same symptoms. The doctor reassured me it would pass. It did.
I ran a sub-par marathon in Austin and had extreme stomach issues around mile 25. They persisted on my cool down run. I did make a handy map to keep track of these kinds of incidents, however. (You’re welcome.) I know I shouldn’t complain about a 3:16 marathon on a hilly course in warm weather. But I know I’m capable of running faster, and I wish my body could have cooperated that day. I also ran 84 miles that week, which amounted to a tiny taper. In reality, just a few years ago, I would have been ecstatic to put up a time like that. It just wasn’t my day.
In the middle of a speed work session, my treadmill broke on what was the coldest day of the year to that point. That seems bad. I put on four layers and finished my run outside and felt entirely bad ass for doing it. Bonus: I was on day 364 of my yearlong warranty. The treadmill is fixed now.
Answer to the too cold to run outside question is apparently if it feels like -4°.
I set a 27-second PR in the half marathon this week. The PR came on a nasty rainy day and on a hilly course, so I felt pretty good about it. My previous PR was in perfect conditions on a flat course, so this was a noticeable improvement for me. And it was a few weeks after that awful viral stomach bug, so I might have still been a little weak. Still, progress.
Finally, I settled on two goal races for 2015: the Hartford Marathon in October where I’ll try to break 3:00 and a low-key 50K in North Carolina in July. The goal of the 50K is just to finish upright.
Sometimes you start to feel like you’re closing in on those big, crazy goals you set for yourself. Like maybe that ultramarathon is doable. Maybe running (racing?) two marathons in a week is possible. You might break three hours this year after all. It hits you in the middle of your long run, when you’re knocking out marathon-pace miles on tired legs. It hits you when you look at your training log and see week after week of totals you never thought you’d get to.
The last time I felt myself getting faster was about two years ago when I inched toward 70 miles per week. I can certainly look back through my training logs and see good weeks scattered over the last two years, but I can’t remember this exact feeling. In April 2013 when I wrote about getting faster, I said what worked for me was basically running more and incorporating speed work in to my already high-mileage weeks. But back then I didn’t realize how much room I had for improvement. I took another five minutes off my marathon PR and took seven minutes (!) off my half marathon time. Hell, maybe I don’t realize how much farther I can go even now.
The last week of January was probably the hardest training week I’ve ever run. It included ice and freezing temperatures most days, too. I know there are more of these in my future. After seeing the results, I’m sickly excited about them. On Sunday afternoon, I felt legitimately exhausted. I didn’t run 100 miles (only 93), but I ran faster, harder miles than I ever would have scheduled on my own. It looked like this:
Monday: Easy 8-miler and a gym workout for about an hour and a half. It was just starting to snow, but the pavement was clear. Easy meant 8:30 pace.
Tuesday: 10.7 miles in the snow with YakTrax in the morning. Another 6.3 miles on the treadmill in the evening.
Wednesday: 12 miles with speed work at Hains Point. Temperature was in the low 20s. Miles at 6:54, 6:36, 6:38, 6:34, 6:41, 6:41.
Thursday: 10 miles at 7:45 pace.
Friday: Easy 10K at 8:30 pace.
Saturday: Half marathon race on an awful, icy trail. Finishing time (1:29:09) is less than a minute off my half marathon PR. Warm up and cool down for 18 total miles.
Sunday: 22-mile long run. I could only manage an 8:28 pace after the race.
I never would have planned a long run the day after a race in my old training plan, but I now have confidence that I can at least finish a long run the day after a shorter race. It just might not be pretty. I think slower runs like these, combined with speed work (see Wednesday) are why I’m seeing real gains. I’ve also started taking easy runs seriously. By not running at a sustained 7:40 pace, which I used to feel like I needed to hold just to feel kind of fast — by just taking that pace up another 30 or 45 seconds, I’m able to save my energy for the harder speed workouts.
My next race won’t be a PR. It’s the Austin Marathon a week from today. I have no hopes of running a PR on a hilly course in the heat after four consecutive 90+-mile weeks. But I will probably set more aggressive goals for Boston and Big Sur.
Starting this week, I took a big, scary step toward becoming a better runner. Hiring a coach and, more importantly, putting my training plan in someone else’s hands is probably the most significant change I’ve made to my running since I decided to train for my first marathon.
I didn’t make the decision lightly. I hate not being in control of my life running plan, so giving over my training plan to someone is not something I would do on a whim. I wouldn’t ask someone I didn’t trust or respect. In early 2014, I’d been approached by one coach via Twitter, and I hated the experience. He looked at my mileage and goals and told me he could help me break 3:05 but only if I cut my mileage in half and agreed to take full rest days. His attitude about what was right for me and his cavalier statements about the Right Way to Train instantly turned me off. I ran a 3:02 in October by following my own training plan.
Last month, I altered my training plan to stretch for a 100-mile week. The week before the 100, I’d run 90 miles. I’m not foolish enough to think I could keep up this kind of mileage without getting hurt or that regularly stretching for 100 is a good idea. But I do know I can push harder and run faster and that my goal for Boston 2 Big Sur should be more than just “to finish.” I need a little guidance.
So after much deliberation and some budget calculations, I decided to ask Michael Wardian if he had any coaching openings. Mike has run all my goal races (Boston, Big Sur, Comrades), and he understands my goal to run every day. He *gets* my Ten-Mile Tuesday streak absurdity, and he’s worked that in to my schedule. He agreed to take me on, and we’ve had a great first week. Hearing from Mike on a daily basis has been a dream. This week, I’ve run faster speed work than I would ever put on my own schedule and pushed my middle long run miles more than I would have on my own. This week’s weather in D.C. has been horrendous, and I still managed to head to Potomac Park for some mile repeats when it felt like 0 degrees on Thursday morning. I might have wimped out and given myself another treadmill day if I wasn’t accountable to anyone else. On Saturday I tried two new things: an organized group run in Alexandria and I ran a part of the Mt. Vernon Trail I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. See? New things! Out of my comfort zone.
I’ve thrown out my self-guided training schedule for Boston 2 Big Sur, but I’m sticking with my build-up races. We’ll see how this change pans out. With a week of hard training behind me, I think putting my training in a competent professional’s hands was a great decision.
This year was my highest-mileage year so far. I set 10K, half marathon and marathon personal records, I made it through a celiac disease scare, and I started treating food as fuel. I even was stung by a bee and kept up a quick pace to finish my 20-miler in all kinds of pain. I’ll count 2014 as my best running year yet, but I know I have a ton of work and bigger plans in store for 2015.
Total distance: 3,968 miles
Rock ‘n’ Roll USA (3:07:09)
St. George (3:02:21)
Marine Corps (3:16:26)
Age group awards: 2nd Female 30-34 in Rock ‘n’ Roll USA, 2nd Female in Roosevelt Run 5K, 1st Female 30-34 in Erie Half Marathon, 1st Female 30-34 in Battlefield Half Marathon
Top five runs
Paris in the Bois de Vincennes: Imagine losing yourself in a prototypical Parisian park on a beautiful late summer day. Michael and I ran along the Seine to get to the park and realized my planned 14-miler would have to end unless we could navigate our way back using the Metro. We took a (good) gamble and put in another eight miles in the Bois de Vincennes park. The park had enough trails, roads and even wood-chip paths for many more miles.
Boston Marathon: This year’s Boston was particularly emotional after the 2013 bombings. The spectators came out in full force, and running it helped put an emotional bookend on the events of that day.
St. George Marathon: Any time you can shave five minutes off a marathon PR is a good running day. St. George is a beautiful race that I highly recommend to anyone looking to set a PR and enjoy beautiful scenery.
Catoctin Mountain Park: A simple 10-mile loop we read about in Run Washington turned out to be one of the most challenging, punishing runs of the year. I loved it, even though giant bugs kept swarming Michael and me as we ran.
Wild Rivers Recreation Area: In May I found myself running on the roads right before a massive wind and rainstorm in a random recreation area in the middle of New Mexico. I was able to stop to look down in to the Red River gorge. I saw no other runners — no other people except one elderly couple in their RV.
Best running discoveries
Caramel macchiato GU: This flavor of GU makes me look forward to fueling mid-run. It tastes like coffee and caramel and sex, unless it’s frozen. Then it tastes like caramel.
Beet juice: I read a book by Matt Fitzgerald that recommended beet juice before races to help improve performance. It seems to work pretty well, though the placebo effect might be in effect a little bit. Either way, I’ve incorporated beet juice and smoothies into my diet this year, and I’ve noticed myself feeling fuller longer.
Oiselle Scantron bra: I’ve slowly swapped out my old sports bras for this model. It provides just the right amount of support for a smaller-chested lady like me, and it doesn’t chafe on my chest. That’s what I want from a bra.
Strava: If you’re not on Strava — either the free or paid version — you should be. Strava’s most impressive feature is its segment tracking. I can tell how I’m trending on segments and courses I run often. It also lets you compete against other runners for course records.
Hire a coach: Having a coach in the new year will be huge for me. I’ll say more on this in the next few weeks. I have big goals with Boston 2 Big Sur, breaking 3 in the marathon and running my first ultra, and I think a coach can help me get there.
Listen to my body more and play the long game: In my 90- and 100-mile weeks, I typically push pain aside. I need to remember that I’m going to be a runner for the rest of my life. My body needs to last a while. I should remember to work in recovery weeks with high-mileage weeks. For every three up weeks, I need a legitimate down week.
Eat fewer sweets: Ugh. Sweets and liquor are the reason I’m not five pounds lighter. I’m resolving to cut out sweets and stick to wine during the week for the month of January. That should be easy, right?
Arrive at the Boston starting line healthy: This will be tough with high-mileage weeks in February and March, but if I listen to my body, I can get to Boston and Big Sur in good shape. That means I’ll have rested legs, a good base of mileage, speed work, and I’ll be ~126 pounds. That’s when I feel my best.
Choose races strategically: For the past few years, I’ve fallen in to a pattern of throwing in races because someone has a spare bib or because they sound interesting. I love to race, but if I’m going to throw in fun races, I don’t have to race them. I should use them as building blocks, which is what I intend to do with my first race of 2015 in 10 days.
I kind of wildly deviated from my training plan this week. It happened last week, too. Last week’s scheduled 68 turned in to 90, and this week’s scheduled 89 became 100. At some point in the middle of the day Thursday, I started crunching mileage numbers. I was feeling pretty good, even though I was nursing a holiday-party-induced hangover. My legs felt fresh, even after an unscheduled 90-mile week last week, and I wasn’t too cranky or sore.
To prepare for my first ultramarathon (Comrades 2016?) and to have a shot at running well in both Boston and Big Sur in April, I’ll need to increase the amount of time I’m on my feet. Last time I was close to a 100-mile week was in July when I was training to try to break 3:05. Then, going past 90 felt like a massive undertaking. This time I decided that if I felt overly sore or sick or awful, I would give myself permission to back away from the goal.
One-hundred is certainly a nice, round number. I think my training has come to a point where I can handle running this much, as long as I’m careful. With that said, running many miles may or may not lead to my ultimate goal of breaking three hours in the marathon. But if the elites and the coaches say it works, and I’m able to do it, I have to give it a shot, right?
The 100 idea sounded like a good, albeit fuzzy, plan on Thursday. It still seems like going for a higher-mileage week was a fine choice after 15 miles Friday, 23.5 miles Saturday and another 8.5 miles on Sunday. I won’t be doing it again for another month because for the first time in years, I’m legitimately exhausted during a training week.
Over the past few days, I’ve had a lot of time to think about how this kind of training feels. It’s a different feeling from the 80s I now regularly run. Here are 10 things I learned during my high-mileage week in no order at all. I’m sure these ideas apply to weeks when I’m not in running overdrive, but they’ve been more noticeable this week.
Multitasking makes fitting in miles easier. I already was decent at answering work emails on the treadmill. This week, I perfected the timing of the treadmill run/farro dinner. Hell, I wrote the draft of this post on the treadmill.
Don’t underestimate your need for water. The one thing I tend to skimp on after a run, and even during a run, is water. Drinking water during cold-weather runs is also hard to remember because I’m not immediately thirsty. But the thing that makes me feel better later in the day is drinking a lot of water. I swapped my normal glass of white wine for water most nights this week. That helped.
Really don’t underestimate your need for sleep. Because my runs were longer than normal, I needed to be up earlier than normal. My muscles also needed time to repair themselves. Usually I’m lucky to get seven hours of sleep. This week I got eight most nights except Saturday night when I had a lot of trouble falling asleep.
Be prepared to blow off social events. I manage to fit in most outings during a normal week. This week I blew off: work holiday after-party, drinks with coworkers three times (!) and staying for more than one drink at a birthday party.
Your body will hurt, but in a different way. You might be familiar with that post-marathon soreness where you hobble around like a feeble old person and can’t take stairs for days after a tough race. That slight aching in your quads and calves during a high-mileage week is like a toned-down, dull, throbbing version of that. But it kind of creeps up on you when you’re in the middle of some important meeting. I’ve never had that kind of constant mild background pain before.
When you run, you zone out much faster. Usually, I spend the first five miles of a run concentrating on my form and really feeling the road. It seems like every beginning step is moving me closer to loosening up. Normally that doesn’t happen until at least 30 minutes in. This week, I slipped in to the loose, clear zone within the first five minutes of most runs. I wish the first part of the run could always give way to that feeling.
My relationship with hunger changed. This week, it seems like my body took about 30 extra minutes to let me know it was hungry, and when it did let me know, it was kind of a “Meh, you can probably eat now.” I feel like I should be hungrier, and even if I do eat, I can’t seem to get full.
I keep losing track of which shoes I wore last. I tend to meticulously cycle through shoes over the course of a week so I have a nice balance of mid-weight trainers, bulky shoes and lighter ones. But I kind of gave up this week and started just choosing a pair that wasn’t still sweaty.
Two-a-days are helpful if you can swing them. Honestly I can’t imagine running all these miles at once. I also don’t like running in the dark, so most of my miles in the winter have to be in the morning. And I’m lucky enough to have a treadmill at my house for evening easy runs.
OMG you’ll never stop doing laundry. See the two-a-days item. Most days, I would pull clothes from the dryer, put them on and start my run.
Next week I’m planning to scale back down to the mid-70s, which should feel nice. Between now and then, I’ll be taking a long nap.
When you register for late autumn races dazed by the heat of summer, you don’t really remember that early November in Virginia might be a little chilly. But Friday night and Saturday morning had temperatures below freezing in northern Virginia. I’ve only run in tights once this season, and I wasn’t excited about wearing them for this race, so I braved the elements and went with shorts and a short-sleeved shirt and arm sleeves. That meant I had to jump up and down at the start line to keep warm, which is exactly what you want in a race.
We stayed in Winchester in a hotel not far from the race. Winchester is about 90 miles from D.C., and I didn’t want to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to cut it close getting to a half marathon. Parking lot attendants quickly guided us to a parking spot in an open field (uh, part of the battlefield), and by 7:15, I’d picked up my bib, cutesy zipper gear bag and technical shirt. This was the inaugural year for this race, a fact I learned about an hour before running the race. Typically, I don’t sign up for first-year races because they might end up like a big hot chocolate mess. Except for a few minor kinks, overall this was organized well.
On to the race. A cannon blast from the battlefield kicked off the race right on time at 8 a.m. I passed a few slower runners right at the start, but the timing signs helped people seed themselves correctly. The course is a little strange — it goes out for half a mile through a neighborhood and then returns through the starting area to the back side of the battlefield, behind a barn and down a gravel trail. You end up returning through the same area 11 miles later.
I passed a few female runners after a rough patch on the course around mile 2. Then, for the next seven miles I was pretty much alone on the road, back in my head with the occasional spectator yelling something nonsensical. My past few races have been either heavily attended (St. George) or had a lot of spectators (Marine Corps and Army Ten-Miler), so I’ve had something to distract me from the pain of running. The scenery in the fall in Winchester and the horses and hills in the distance are pretty, but it’s not enough to take your mind off the fading dots of people in front of you or the hill ahead or the maybe pain maybe in your right foot maybe ouch. Relay handoff areas were scattered every three or four miles, so those runners provided a nice cheering section.
This course is hillier than it looks in the race elevation profile. The race emails say the course is moderately flat. That’s a lie. Miles 4 through 6 are almost all uphill. There’s a rewarding downhill stretch near the end, but you have to run over a cross-country-type road in the last mile.
I finished as the seventh woman and 27th overall out of about 600 people in 1:30:36. This is about two minutes slower than my PR from Erie a few months ago at the beginning of the race season. I caught a woman in front of me when I accelerated at mile 10. Around mile 9, I thought if I could keep a 6:40 pace or so, I could gain on her, which I did. Then the course turned back to the battlefield, and I missed the unmarked turn. That threw me off, and I ended up behind her. Boo. I’ll still count a 1:30 on a tough course two weeks after my second marathon of the season as a great time.
Nobody told me to turn at mile 12. I’ll forgive a lack of clear course markers most of the time. I wouldn’t expect a race with fewer than 1,000 entrants to even mark every mile, really. But please just tell me where to turn on the course. I ran about 15 seconds out of my way and had to double back to get back on the course.
Funky out and back course to start. Maybe I was just mentally thrown off by this weird way to start. It seemed like the race didn’t get really started until we crossed back through the start area. To be fair, people would have probably tripped all over each other in the off-road part of the course if we hadn’t spread out early.
Almost no crowd support. About 11 miles of the race had no spectators. I did have one woman in a lawn chair in her yard yell to me that I was “halfway there” around mile 4.5. “That is a lie!” I yelled back.
Odd sign-up process. Frederick County put on this race. I remember about five screens in the signup process on the government website. And I had to enter my educational information.
Nice scenery. The leaves were turning, and the hillside views were quaint. This race actually reminded me of one of the first half marathons I ran back in 2006 in Sedalia, Mo. It winds through large stretches of farm land and finishes in a small city.
Great weather. Yes, it was cold. But when I started to feel my feet after the first mile, the weather seemed almost perfect. It wasn’t windy, and it wasn’t yet cold enough for frost to form on the roads.
Technical race shirt and bag. The small race shirt was a little large, but a technical shirt is always nice.
Post-race food. Standard bananas, Gatorade and bagels were, of course, at the finish line. This race stepped it up with chicken sandwiches and pumpkin crumb muffins too.
Course: lollipop thing
Terrain: roads and some stupid terrain
Website: It’s down right now, but Google Frederick Battlefield Half Marathon
The Marine Corps Marathon varies its route slightly each year. I’ve run this race three times — in 2008: 4:13:31, 2009: 4:04:05 and 2010: 3:40:43. I’m certainly looking forward to returning to this course and knocking some significant time off my 2010 course record. While I haven’t run this exact route, I have run most of these streets for my training runs, so I can imagine what to plan for in the race.
Start through mile 2.5: warming up with a hill
Runners line up along Route 110, which is actually part of the Army Ten-Miler course. The first mile until the Rosslyn area is going to be pretty congested, even if you’ve lined up correctly, so plan to run easy. Mile 1 will include some construction funkiness on parts of Wilson Blvd., so tread lightly. Once you’ve made your way through that mess, you’ll be hit with the race’s major hill through mile 2.5. After this initial mess of dodging and weaving, take time to relax. You’ve made it through the crappiest part of the race until mile 20.
Miles 2.5 through 5: crossing to Georgetown
Notice your legs starting to warm up through miles 3 and 4 as the crowd might start to thin out. If you’ve paced it right, you will be able to cruise down the slope at mile 3 and use your energy to propel yourself across the bridge to greet the crowds in Georgetown. Spectators here fill the sidewalks, and they’re actually pretty loud for such an early hour. Take this all in because you’ll need to remember the crowds later in the race. Around mile 5, you’ll head down the hill away from Georgetown and under the Whitehurst Freeway.
Miles 5 through 9: out and back on Beach Drive
After a funky series of turns, you’re on Rock Creek Parkway and almost to Beach Drive. This is my favorite part of the course because I run it during training, and I love seeing the fall trees. Some hearty spectators might show up along this part of the course, but they’ll need to walk to get to their cheering positions. Mostly, this is a flat-to-rolling stretch where you can make up some time you might have lost getting into a groove during the first few miles. Also, there’s a great out and back opportunity to size up the competition and wave at any of your runner friends at the turnaround.
Miles 9 through 12: along the water, monument viewing
This is the time to begin to take in the touristy parts of the race — the Kennedy Center (you’ll go under it), Lincoln Memorial and Jefferson Memorial are all along the course here. Plan on another cheering section near the Lincoln Memorial and expect to see people from the same crowd around mile 16.5. This section is remarkably flat, though it might be windy near the water.
Miles 12 through 15: Hains Point
Personally, I enjoy running Hains Point. I know some people who hate not having a crowd and hate the wind. To me, Hains Point is a known quantity because I run it every day. If you’ve never run to the tip, just remember that the course’s halfway point is just short of the big turn. And you’ll definitely be able to tell when you’re at the turn. If you’re bored out here, look across the water to see planes taking off. One year, I remember seeing a lone spectator around mile 14 who was playing a guitar all by himself. Loved that guy.
Miles 15 through 17: out on Independence
Again you’re running through scenic, typical D.C.-looking streets. If you have fans cheering for you, I recommend having them try to see you around the Lincoln Memorial and again shortly after mile 16. Or an easy place for multiple viewings is along the Mall between miles 17 and 19, where fans can walk across the Mall for two views. The 16-mile turnaround point is another nice chance to see your competition.
Miles 17 through 20: last of the District
Soak in the cheers from fans along the Mall, and check out the Capitol building. I like to use this as a marker to decide whether I want to really go all in for the rest of the race or take it easy. This, of course, is before the terrible bridge and Crystal City, which can be spirit-crushing. My most important tip for the entire race is to take the water at the 19-mile stop. You need all the help you can get to make your way across the 14th Street bridge.
Miles 20 through 22: 14th Street bridge
I can’t imagine anyone likes this part of the race. A runner’s likelihood of hitting the wall around mile 20 combined with the barren stretch of highway might make you feel like you’re running a completely different race. The race writeup on the Marine Corps site is laughable: “From Miles 20 to 21, runners will cross over the 14th Street Bridge and the scenic (ha) Potomac River as they head back into Virginia for the last 10K.” You can’t really see the river over the railing. Many people will slow down here for the first time. Don’t be one of them. Power on.
Miles 22 through 24: Crystal City
Mentally, I think I’m pretty good at convincing myself I can make it across the awful bridge. I’ve run this stretch at least 10 times in other races, and I know how desolate the bridge can be. But the Crystal City section, which, theoretically, with all the crowds and colors, should be a great confidence booster, is never where I want to be or what I want to hear. At this point, I would rather be alone with my thoughts. And to make matters worse, you have to make your legs stop running in a straight line TWICE for this stupid part of the course through a damn parking lot. The Crystal City crowds are trying hard, and I appreciate the support. I just want to power through the last few miles at this point.
Miles 24 thorough 26.2: desolation and a hill to the finish line
Here, as you exit Crystal City you feel as if you’ve been rounding the Pentagon for about 10 miles before you see a finish line. This year’s course is a little different from past years because there isn’t a weird loop onto the final stretch of highway. You take an access road to hop right back on Route 110 where you started, though at this point, you’ve probably forgotten when and how you even started. Look left for the finish line at the US Marine Corps War Memorial. There’s a lame hill to get to the finish, so if you’re even remotely close to your time goal, do not count on making up time at the very end. That hill is nasty.
It seems like we signed up for the St. George Marathon a year ago — like this race has been on the calendar for an abnormally long time. In reality, I think we put in for the lottery in April or May, maybe. It was shortly after Boston, and Michael and I both had that kind of euphoric marathon high that gets us in trouble because we sign up for another race before the pain of the last race has fully set in. I’d heard from friends and in running blogs that the course could be fast if you knew how to run it. But I’ve never had a crazy PR at a fall marathon, and I thought I wasn’t great at downhill running. My stretch goal for the race was to try to break three hours. We drove the course Friday. Even in the car, the hills felt intense. Honestly, I didn’t think my quads could handle that much pounding.
We woke up at 4 a.m. to be to the bus loading area in downtown St. George by 4:45. I remember thinking that people didn’t seem to be getting on the buses quick enough, but it didn’t matter to me too much because I wouldn’t have a problem getting to the start with plenty of time. We got on the bus around 5:20 and made it to the start line right around 6 a.m. The last buses were supposed to leave at 5:30, and I guess I should have realized they weren’t going to make their loading cutoff at that point.
As we got off the bus and turned toward the porta potties, a crazy headwind hit us. The campfires at the start line were blowing smoke downwind, and people were legitimately shivering. Just hours before, I was worried about overheating. I considered running in a sports bra. Instead, I grabbed a space blanket from a volunteer and headed to the fire. The wind would be at our backs for the race.
My secret race goal was still to try to break three hours, but the course was intimidating. The wind might help, but some serious uphills in the middle miles (I say 7 through 12, but Michael swears they stopped at 11) could slow me down. And I wasn’t used to running at more than 5,000 feet of elevation, so for the first half of the race I might be short of breath.
We were ready to start the run at 6:45, but around 6:40, an announcer told us the race would start late because the buses were not all at the start line. Michael and I shared my space blanket for another 15 minutes and shuffled around nervously while we waited for the buses.
A little after 7, another runner sang the national anthem, the wheelchair runners started, and we were ready to go. I fell in with the 3:15 pacer quickly. The pace felt slow, and my feet were numb from standing in the cold. My legs were a little stiff. My first mile at 7:18 ticked off a little slow, but I tried to not let it get to me.
The next stretch of miles until the Veyo hills were faster than they should have been. I could feel my quads starting to warm up around mile six — way too early for a marathon. Michael and I were running close to each other through somewhere in the middle of the Veyo hills. I guess living in Mt. Pleasant for this training season and forcing myself to finish hard up the hill on Harvard or Irving paid off because I was able to easily cruise past a lot of people on the biggest uphill. After the Veyo hills, I felt relieved that the hardest part of the course was behind me. Most of the middle miles are a little fuzzy, but I do remember the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen during a race somewhere around mile 16 or 17. I tried to take it in as I was shuffle-stepping my way through a cavernous downhill section.
Around mile 18, a few guys next to me said they were trying to qualify for Boston with a 3:05. At that point, I said I was just trying to not run the same damn 3:07 I’ve run for three marathons. One of the guys asked me what was stopping me from running faster than a 3:07, to which I replied that I didn’t really know, and I thought about that question for a few miles. I tried to turn to tell him that I thought it was probably because I’m terrible at tapering, but he was gone. Then the road started rising to meet my feet (not normal) instead of my feet hitting the road (normal). I kind of freaked out mentally because my hallucinations usually start around mile 23, and they don’t usually last that long. This seemed early. I turned off my music to try to concentrate on my breathing and to give myself a pep talk, which, you know, was probably just gibberish at that point. A motorcycle drove by, and I swear it revved its engine and instead of hearing a purr, I heard Michael’s voice saying, “Aaaaah-man-dahhh.” I saw a bird flying really near an overpass and then I tried to remember the name of the thing that flew too close to the sun. Then I worried the bird would eat me. I think the mental fog passed around mile 20.5 when I had an orange from a child. I think it was a child. I don’t even know. Some benevolent thing gave me an orange. I kept going. My pace was, remarkably, still fine, but the road looked a little squirmy.
Thank god I kind of knew where I was on the course and could focus on the approximate distance to the start line around mile 21. I started to calculate that I could break 3:05 if I ran even an eight-minute mile. An older man ran up beside me and said, “You know [pant pant] we can run a [pant] eight-minute pace …” and I said, “And still run a 3:05?” “Yeah! Let’s do it.” At some point I said we would need to slow down to hit 3:05, and we laughed. Then I sped up, and he told me to go get ‘em.
The last few miles take you through St. George where the crowd support increases. With the exception of a cheering section around mile 17 or so, most of the course has no spectators. That’s fine because the views are top-notch.
I kept a decent pace for the final miles, thanks in no small part to the gentle downhills. My overall pace was a 6:57. That number is the one that sticks with me. That’s faster than I ran 5Ks when I started running.
Next up is Marine Corps in three weeks. My quads have three weeks to come to terms with what happened. I still want to run a sub-3:00 marathon, but that will have to wait until next year — maybe Boston?
Late start. After all the race reviews I’ve read promoted this marathon as being so well organized, I expected that the school bus situation would have been better handled. Nobody likes their race morning spoiled by bad planning, especially someone else’s bad planning.
Cluster of a bag check. I finished the race and gleefully (OK, maybe I was still hallucinating) trotted over to the bag check area. The time was 10:07. My bag didn’t come off the baggage truck until 10:47.
Water and Gatorade order switched at some stations. All the aid stations were stocked, and the volunteers handed out fluids well. But! The race literature made it clear that Gatorade would always be first and water would always be second. At some stations, this was reversed. At the LATER stations, keeping the two straight is especially important. I really can’t think straight at that point, and if the order is reversed, I’ll think I’m crazy.
Beautiful views. This was certainly the prettiest course I’ve ever run. I can’t do it justice with descriptions or photos. You must run this race if you have the opportunity. I’m looking forward to Big Sur taking over as most beautiful next year. For now, though, I’ll put this race at the top.
Downhill course. The gradual downhills took several seconds off many of my miles, I have no doubt. The downhills also trashed my quads, but I’ll take that.
Well-organized expo. While the expo wasn’t huge, it was an easy-in/easy-out experience.
Decent SWAG. The goodie bag had a long-sleeved tech shirt that was a little over sized (oh well), a cute drawstring bag, trail mix, corn cakes and a random book about reaching your full potential. I threw that away.
Campfires and space blankets at start. Nobody wants to stand around in the cold darkness for an hour waiting for the race to start.
Misters at the finish line. Directly after the finish line and before the chute to get race medals, a genius set up a line of spray misters. The temperature at the finish was probably around 66 degrees, but the sun was blazing. A little bit of coolness helped.
Course: point to point
Terrain: well-kept roads with massive downhills and surprising uphills in the middle miles