I last left you as I got dropped off at the airport where I said farewell to my parents. My flight was Friday at 730pm, which I also knew was the same flight as my friends Melissa and Sara. Melissa would be running the MCM also, and I was really excited to just be in her presence for this flight. Melissa is an amazing runner with more passion for the sport and for life than most. While excitement and happiness just exudes from her, she also has the ability to calm you and put things in perspective for you. At a time when I felt my life and mind were a little chaotic, I was looking forward to the energy and advice she always provides. Bonus: they were seated right in front of me on the plane!
One episode of Modern Family and a half episode of Amazing Race later and we had landed. (Side note: I love Jet Blue) I hopped on a shuttle and within 5 minutes I was at the hotel. Shower, a little chatting with my roomie Ryan, and in bed by 10pm. Perfect!
The next morning (Saturday) Ryan and I went downstairs and had the breakfast buffet at the hotel. I carb loaded like a beast, taking in a bagel, croissant, and a banana. Ryan and I took some time during this meal to chat about racing, and more importantly: mental strength, creating our own limits, pushing past expectations, etc. I don’t know Ryan real well. I met her through a mutual friend and proceeded to train both her and her husband at mission FITNESS. However, since I have met her I see a progression in her that excites me. She just recently ran a half marathon PR at 1:49:04 and her Instagram post read “If someone told me a year ago I’d break 1:50 this year I would have laughed. Feeling on top of the world with this PR”. My brother has gone out of his way to text her, post about her, etc. Matt and I have even talked about her privately. Why? Because she is starting to GET IT and it is such a beautiful thing for us to see when people make that transition. And as Ryan and I chatted about runnIng and racing and what it stands for in life…we both started to cry. THIS IS WHAT RACING IS ALL ABOUT. THIS IS WHAT PUSHING YOUR LIMITS IS ALL ABOUT. It makes you grow not just as a runner but as a human being. Ryan was not “on top of the world” after that PR because of a medal she got or a time on a clock. She was on top of the world because she worked, sacrificed and pushed herself to do what she never thought she was capable of doing. And isn’t that LIVING? After being in this industry many years I can see a direct correlation between what people do when the gun goes off and what they do in every day life.
Ryan started throwing out times she would be happy with and I told her, be careful what number you throw out there because the mind is a powerful thing. I can’t tell you how many times I have mentally envisioned clocks at the finish lines or race scenarios and they have happened exactly how I pictured them. I think this talk was what Ryan and I both needed. And watching her shed tears describing her feelings about running made me CERTAIN this girl is just getting started in this sport. She is starting to understand that we are all capable of SO MUCH more than we settle for. So why don’t we set those goals higher? Why do we stay in that comfort zone? Because it is scary as hell to set big goals and it takes A LOT OF FREAKING HARD WORK AND DEDICATION. However, those who dare to push to that next level can get chills and shed tears at simply thinking about racing and success.
I then headed to the Expo to pick up my Bib and Race Packet. I proceeded to shed more tears. Marine hands me my bib. Cry. Marine hands me my shirt. Cry. Marine calls me Ma’am. Cry. I’m telling you, the Marines, man. They get me. The rest of the day/night was uneventful. Carbs. Water. Below Deck Marathon on Bravo. Carbs. Water. Gatorade. Race day outfit decisions. Motivation videos which led to more tears from Ryan and I! Ha!
5am Sunday morning. Wake up. Stuff a bagel down my mouth with eyes still closed. Change into race outfit. Shove a banana down. Head to the start. We decided to walk since it was about a mile. Once we got to the security Ryan decided to use bathroom, so we wished each other well and went our separate ways. I waited in security for about 45min-1hour. By the time I got to the runners village it started to rain. I was cold as hell and wet. I found a large tent and huddled with hundreds of others as I sat down on the concrete, resting my legs. At this point I had been walking and standing for nearly 1.5 hrs. It was about 7:20am with a race start of 7:55am. I tried to entake Generation UCAN but ended up losing half the powder as I tried to pour it into a water bottle. Poor planning. Lol. At about 7:40am I used the bathroom one more time and made my way to the start. It was insane. So many people. I walked and weaved and walked and weaved until I found the 3:25 and 3:15 pacer.
My goal was sub 3:20 and I was disappointed to find out the night before there was only a 3:15 and 3:25. My plan was to start between the two and see how I feel. Drop back or run ahead after a few miles. However, once I settled between them I quickly saw that there were many people up there that did not belong. I was told by a buddy who had run it last year to move up a coral because the start is so congested and it is a huge hassle. So, I made a game time decision to start up with the 3:15 pacer. I knew on a dream day I was capable of that time. After the National Anthem and precision sky divers landing as they held the American Flag, the CANNON went off. Within the first mile I almost went down twice, getting tripped up in others legs. This game of slowing, speeding up, swerving, etc lasted a good 8 miles. It was nuts. Mostly because I was determined to stay with the pacer. Not behind him, but next to him! Mile One he announced he had just done a 62 mile ultra race and the Ice Age 50. That was the sign I needed. This was my dude. So, we chatted about trail running, ultras, elite mind training, etc. He also did Cayuga 50 in 2014. The miles were ticking by easily. I felt great.
Before I knew it we had hit the Blue Mile (mile 12) A mile dedicated to the fallen soldiers, their pictures lining both sides of the street. After that, family members held huge American Flags high on both sides of the street. This mile was what this race meant to me. How could I complain of aches and pains from running when these soldiers died fighting for this country? How could I think about how hard this was when the sight of thousands of Marines reminded me this is nothing. My Dad shared some stories of what he went through at boot camp, and these Marines have experienced more hurt, pain and struggle than I ever will in a marathon.
After battling in my head for miles whether I should stop to use the bathroom or not, I decided at about mile 14 to do so. It was all I could think about and I needed to enjoy this race and finish strong. A quick pit stop and a sprint and I caught back up to Nick, the pacer. At about mile 18 I started to battle whether I should push ahead on my own. The distraction of being with a group made the miles pass so fast, but I also felt like I may be a little too comfortable. At times I felt I was holding back, and I didn’t want to finish this race knowing I had more in me. So, I took a chance and ran ahead. The next few miles were low 7’s and it still felt OK. Then we hit the bridge. About a mile of running across the bridge with no spectators and no scenery. This was tough. Finally back into Crystal City where there was spectators everywhere. At about this point I did my fastest mile: 6:57. This is probably my proudest part of my race, as I vowed to break through this mental “wall” everyone creates..and that I did! Mental training people…do not overlook it. Do not spend so much time prepping the physical and neglect the mental. The physical is capable of more than you could fathom if you get that head right!!!
Mile 25-26.2 was definitely the hardest for me. It seemed to drag on, as it brought you away from the crowds and onto highways with what seemed to be always a slight incline. Then the crowds started back up to make you think it was over. At this point my watch read 26.4 and I was just ready to be done. But no. Turn a corner and then go up a STEEP MOTHER F’IN hill. So this “hill” I heard about is really a hill, huh? Just. Mean. I crossed the finish line in 3:13:36. I beat my goal of 3:20 and even my dream goal of 3:15. But guess what number floated in my head all race…..3:13. Like I said, careful what you think about.
A Marine put a medal around my neck and I waddled my way back to the hotel. I was reunited with my phone and I had 16 texts from people who were tracking me. I can’t tell you what this meant. Because every time I stepped over a time chip on the course I told myself that someone was out there getting updates and I wanted them to see me get stronger with each update. There was one person I knew was getting updates and that was my brother, Matt. Every time I crossed a checkpoint I created a conversation in my head that he would have. 10k point: “uh oh, is she going out too hard?” 13.1 mile: “ok, she’s on pace for a 3:15” 30K: “holy crap, she’s getting faster” And just like every race I run, what motivated me was that text I would receive from him when it was done. Because while I run for myself and what it does for me, he is the only one that really gets it. In many ways he is my other half in this journey and to make him proud means the world to me. And guess who was the first one to text me? “Holy Shit!! 3:13. So proud of you!….” He wrote more, but I will keep that between us. But guess what else he wrote?? He got chills and maybe shed a tear when he got the finish text, picturing me crossing the line and seeing that time. Because he gets it. He gets the sacrifice. The pain. The dedication. But more than anything he gets what it feels like to see that time you worked so hard for and how it changes you as a person. And he gets what it felt like to do that in front of thousands of marines.
I ran that race not only for the Marines, but with my childhood heroes motivating me. My father, my favorite Marine. And my brother, who is a big reason why coming back to CT often is a necessity. Because those many miles we ran this summer in the trails meant the world to me. Those miles were not only where I gained my physical strength, but where I became mentally tougher. He is my favorite training partner and I need to keep progressing so we can one day cross a finish line together. Boston Marathon, Marine Corp Marathon, Vermont 50….whichever one. That would be my dream. And I can picture it. So that means it’s going to happen!