Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Race Report: Marine Corps Marathon

Marine Corps Marathon - October 31, 2005
Chip Time: 6:08:09
Pace: 14:01

Executive Summary: A perfect day for a Marathon! I met all 3 of my goals! 1.) Have Fun - 2.) Beat the 14th Street Bridge 3.) FINISH!

The rest of the story: (Might want to get a glass of water or coffee)

Last year I chose to defer my Marine Corps Marathon entry because I wasn't able to put in the quality training that I thought necessary and I did the 8K race instead. As I watch the Marathon start that day, I called my boyfriend Jim from the start line and said "I want to do another marathon!" In that moment I decided that i would run the 2005 Marine Corps Marathon. Just 4 months later I was diagnosed with Malignant Melanoma and put on track for two surgeries and a year of chemotherapy. A lot of my race plans changed except for my goal to finish the Marine Corps Marathon. I simply refused to take it off my schedule for another year.

Following my successful Army 10 Miler of 11.4 miles I was pretty confident that I had what it took to show up on race day for the Marine Corps Marathon. A long run of 16 miles about 3 weeks before the marathon confirmed that. At a 2/1 run/walk pace, I felt as though I could have continued on for another 10 miles and was upbeat and happy. Now it was time to focus on the logistics of making the day successful.

My oncologist is a runner himself and he gave me a wonderful gift a week before the Marathon. 10 days off of my chemotherapy treatments (shots 3x a week). It would give my body a chance to recover from some chronic anemia and give me an a little something extra on race day.

The other logistics of race day were lining up my "pacers" for the race. Earlier in summer I had asked my friends and fellow triathletes Keri Hadley and Nancy Toby if they would be willing to pace me in the first 20 miles of the marathon. I knew that not only would I need help keeping motivated to beat the 14th Street Bridge cutoff but that it would also be good to have somebody with me in case something went wrong with my nutrition or general health.

A fellow athlete, Jim Bruckart, offered me his bib for MCM because he was not going to race that day. This would allow Keri and Nancy official access to the course with me. While neither of them would wear a timing chip, they would have a bib on and were willing to help me go the distance to reach my goal.

PACKET PICKUP: What a zoo! I went to the DC Armory on Friday, early afternoon to try to avoid the crowds and ended up in line for 35 minutes to buy a key chain and two Brooks Tech-Tees as gifts for Nancy and Keri. There were people everywhere!! You don't really get a sense of what a race of 30,000 runners really is until you wander around the expo with a couple thousand of them.

RACE DAY: I got up around 6AM, had my typical race breakfast of PB&J and brought a banana for the "wait". I jumped on the metro at 7AM and was at the Pentagon by 7:30AM. Keri and I met up pretty quickly and wandered towards the holding area for the gold wave. This year the Marine Corps was having two separate start waves of Scarlet (8:15 AM Start) and Gold (8:45AM Start). The majority of the racers (18,000) were in the Gold wave so their were plenty of people to watch while we waited to line up in the corals.

The weather was PERFECT! High 40s to start and clear skies with a high of 65 and winds 5-10 miles per hour. Could it get any better??

Upon the boom of the Howitzer, the Gold wave was off and running. There were no start coralls for the Gold wave so I suspect that is the closest that I will ever be to the front at the start line of a Marathon again. The crowd was enormous. I have never run in such a big group before and took advantage as much as I could.

In the first 5 miles there was no getting away from the crowd but that worked to our advantage with the early hills. There was no way to avoid the draft (not that you would want to avoid it) and the crowd simply carried you up the hills. Keri and I did our best to stick to the intervals plan of 2/1 right away. As the watch would count down we would move to the left or right and out of the way of as many people as we could. Even so, we still had to do some passing and their wasn't much elbow room.

In general, even with so many people, everybody was in pretty good spirits. Lots of laughter and smiles and the occasional "Mooo!" At one point we passed under one of several overpasses and I let out a loud "Woohoo" and was met by a chorus of "woohoo's" back from several runners. It was a good day to be out with 20,000 people running a marathon!

Keri was a blast to be with! She was the peppiest person at the Marathon. This was her first time being at a race this big and she was soaking it all in. It was fun to see her so pumped up for a race that she was only running part of. Her enthusiasm was easy to soak up and I took in all that I could.

Overall, Keri's role was to watch the mile splits and keeps us at 13:00-13:00 minute miles and my role was to make sure that we stuck to the interval plan and kept my nutrition on track. I was planning a GU every 3 miles and 2 Endurolyte caps every hour.

Keri did an excellent job of keeping us on track and keeping me occupied. Whenever I started to get a little distracted, i would ask her to tell me stories and she obliged by telling me how she met her husband and was quick to point out where we were and remind me to look at the great sites the Marathon has to offer. At mile 8, Keri reached her longest run ever and we did a little cheer! Every mile after 8 was a new PR for Keri!!

At mile 10 we met up with Nancy Toby and she took over the job of pacing. Nancy's challenge was to keep my gently slowing pace under 14:00 miles for the next 10 miles and to get me over the 14th Street Bridge before the official cutoff. When we came to Nancy, I was in desperate need of a Port-O-Potty stop to empty my bladder. We stopped right around Mile 11 and I took 5 minutes (waiting in line of course) to use the Port-O-Potty. It was entirely worth the wait!!

Mile 12 took us past the front of the Capitol Reflecting Pool and I was treated to Nancy's dancing skills as a local high school band played "Tequila",. She was dancing all around and brought a smile or two to many other runners.

Not long after we hit the 1/2 Marathon point, I confessed to Nancy that I wasn't feeling so great. While I was keeping on track with nutrition my stomach was starting to feel "sloshy" and full. Nancy declared that Mile 13 was the "PUKE" mile and to go ahead and let it go if I would feel better. I told her that "I really didn't want to "puke", could I have another option?"

"Sure!! Take another Endurolyte sodium tablet and let's see if that helps."

So I did take another and by Mile 14 the stomach problems had passed. For the rest of our time together thru Mile 23 Nancy really kept on top of me, asking me questions about where we were, keeping me talking to access my awareness and suggesting more Endurolyte tablets when I started acting confused or slow to respond.

All through the day, the first and most important goal was to "Beat the 14th Street Bridge" at Mile 20. The Gold wave had approximate 5 hours to beat the bridge. The challenge is a combination of keeping your pace up over 14:00 minute miles AND making the most of the 4 miles before the bridge out on Haines Point. Haines Point is part of the National Parks and is a lonely, beautiful 4 mile stretch of land that pokes out over the Potomac River. It is hard for spectators to get to and normally has at least two miles of head winds and two miles of tail wind (if you are lucky enough to get tail winds).

As Nancy and I started the loop around Haines Point, she got right down to business. She told me that I had to work hard to keep my intervals up for the next four miles. If I could maintain our current pace, I would beat the bridge with a good 20 minute buffer and then if I wanted to, I could walk the entire mile on the bridge but I had to be strong now. I took Nancy's coaching to heart and worked as hard as I could to stay on track. As we passed the mid point of Haines Point (by the awakening) we ran into one of Nancy's running friends, Ron Horton, who was running the Marathon and pacing a friend to his first Marathon finish as well. Ron took a great picture of Nancy and I and we all exchanged "Good Luck" wishes for the finish.

As the Mile 19 marker came and went, I began to realize that I was going to do it! I was having a fantastic day, I was still feeling strong and Mile 20 and the bridge were less than 14 minutes away. We saw Jim and Keri just as we exited Haines Point and I gave them a big smile and a thumbs up! We turned right twice and Nancy said to me, "There it is Holly, we are about to get on the 14th Street Bridge."

The scream of joy that came out of me at that moment was long and loud and honestly the most cathartic noise I have made in my life. It came deep from inside me and it made me feel alive and victorious and happy. I was going to finish the Marine Corps Marathon, in spite of cancer, in spite of treatment and because I chose to believe it was possible and was willing to ask for all the "help" that I might need.

Nancy and I tooled up over the bridge past the 20 mile marker and into the heat of running on a highway overpass. That was a LONG mile but soon we were over the bridge and on our way towards Crystal City and Nancy's car. At Mile 22.5, Nancy handed me her bib number and gave me a gentle shove.

"Don't even stop, keep going and if you have it in you, you might be able to go Sub 6:00.."

I passed the 23 mile mark in 5:20:00, with 5K left to go, I honestly didn't have any interest in going Sub 6:00. The goal for the day was simply to beat the 14th Street Bridge and finish the marathon and have fun while doing it.

The last 5K were hard in one respect: It seems that all the fellow runners around me were done running. Most had resigned themselves to walking the last 5K so it took a lot of effort to keep myself on my intervals. Where ever I could in the last 5K, I took advantage of the downhills, knowing that the last 2/10 of a mile to the finish were a sharp uphill 100 foot climb followed by 100 feet of slight uphill.

The crowds in the last mile were awesome! I didn't try to run the whole thing because I wanted to have fun on this day and not "sufffer" so I walked the steep hill and slowly jogged in the last 100 feet with a huge smile across my face, knowing that somewhere in the stands were Keri and Jim and they were cheering me in!


When race day was approaching I thought about putting a quote on the back of my shirt that read "I have Cancer, what is your excuse?" It was kind of my "defense" to all those people who might see me moving slowly on race day and "judge" me. What I finally decided was to not wear anything that would draw attention to me at all. I just wanted to be "another runner" doing her best to finish the race.

We each approach races with unique challenges and specific goals. On this particular race day I acknowledge that I couldn't do it alone so I asked my Dr. and my friends and my loved ones to help me reach my goal and I had the perfect race day!!! I couldn't ask for a better life than that!

Keep Living STRONG!!


Cliff said...

Great weather, great race, great friends to run with.

I love your quote idea. I want to get a shirt with the front saying "Cancer free since '91" and the back saying "God did not give me a new liver to sit around. Tri ON!!"

I might get it for my b-day next year.

Dawn - Pink Chick said...

Just awesome Holly. Love the quote.

Mica said...

Awesome report! You ROCK!

jeanne said...

Just awesome!!! You must have passed me a few times! What a thrilling report, and you have some terrific friends--just like I do! I'm inspired, all over again!