2015 Marine Corps Marathon Race Recap

Picking up my bib on Saturday afternoon at the Expo Center and smiling with Marines in what is unarguably the most AMAZING uniform in the Armed Services – Dress Blues.

The alarm went off at five in the morning on October 25, 2015, five hours after we had set it. It was my intent to be in bed by 9:00 pm, but circumstances that were out of my control prevented me from having eight hours of sleep. We didn’t get to bed until midnight because we had to pick up my sister’s luggage from another hotel room where she stayed with a friend the night before. She was supposed to stay with us for the weekend, but a six-hour delay from Alaska Airlines on Friday caused us to arrive in D.C. at 10:00 pm versus 3:45 pm. When we arrived on Friday night, we only had the energy to grab a bite and call it a night due to exhaustion from three hours of sleep from the night before.

Three mile shake-out run the day before the Marathon with the Oiselle Volee team. From left to right: Dana, Erica, Courtney, Simone, Caitlyn, and Prianka. My daughters joined in on the photo-op. Following our run, we had lunch at Vapiano where I met more of the amazing group of women that make up the Oiselle Team.

Even though the race was not starting until 7:55 am, our alarms went off at 5:00 am because we were told by the race organizers to be there two hours prior to the starting time. We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Crystal City, which was about two stops away from the starting line with public transportation (Metro). The Metro stop was about .7 miles away from the hotel. Initially, we were going to take the Metro, but opted against in when we learned that the Hotel Shuttle was dropping off runners at the shuttle stop the Marine Corps Marathon had set up. With only a guava pastry in our stomachs, my husband and I shared the Hotel Shuttle with half a dozen more runners and headed towards the shuttle area.

Seventeen years after I joined the Marine Corps, I had the opportunity to meet up with a long lost friend. Carlos Taja, though younger than me when I was an adolescent, was very influential and a constant source of positive strength in my life. He is now married to Vanessa who I also had the privilege to meet. Carlos lives in Virginia, and sent him a message that I wanted to see him as soon as I find out I was going to be running the Marine Corps Marathon.

We arrived to the Marine Corps Marathon Shuttle stop around 6:00 am and the lines, though long, were moving very quickly. Three big buses at a time bused us from the entrance of the Crystal City Metro Stop to the Pentagon, where every single runner and spectator had to pass through a metal detector – yikes. Apparently, this was the first time the race has done this, and because there was rain, it cause the metal detectors to malfunction and therefore created a backup, leading for the race organizers to extend the finish cutoff an extra 20 minutes. Standing under wind and rain made for a very cold experience, and I could only think of how sweaty I was soon going to be once the race began to not let it bother me. Though the line was moving slowly, we made it to the starting line with about a half hour to spare. There were plenty of portable bathrooms, so no waiting in massive lines. My husband, who graciously offered me his hoodie while we were waiting in the security line because the rain and wind picked up significantly,pried the hoodie off my cold and wet hands dropped off his hoodie and wallet in the bag drop-off area. The Oiselle Volee team was supposed to meet for a pre-race picture next to the last UPS truck, but I figured I was late did not get a chance to partake in the pictures. I found out after the race that many of the Oiselle runners were stuck in the security line.

Bright eyed and bushy tailed in the Marine Corps Shuttles as we made our way to the starting line. My husband was smart enough to bring his hoodie, while I opted for arm sleeve warmers. I didn’t want to do bag check and thought I would be comfortable enough considering it was supposed to be 57 degrees. I did not take into account the wind and rain.

It was still raining at this point and continued to do so until maybe sometime after the race began. Honestly, I cannot remember. The rain was a slow drizzle, although it was enough of a drizzle to make one damp. A major pet peeve of mine is runners not lining up in the correct starting corral. It was very obvious there were hundreds, if not thousands, of runners who were trying to get to as close to the starting line as possible and had no regard for the MASSIVE YELLOW SIGNS that had respective finish times written times on them. While I am well aware I should NEVER judge a runner by their physical appearance, when a group of runners in front of you tell you they hope to finish around the 5:00 hour time frame and they are standing right next to the 4:15 – 4:20 corral, then you cannot help but let out a long deep breath to prevent from ruining the moment. My uptight state of mind soon changed when I looked up to the sky and saw parachutist with garrison flags! It was absolutely amazing and the adrenaline in my body soon kicked in. Cannons went off, I consumed a second packet of Sports Beans, and I crossed the starting line a little after eight minutes.

This sight will uplift anyone’s spirit. As soon as I saw them in the air, I was overwhelmed with pride and gratitude.

Weaving, passing, bumping, and pausing, definitely happened the first 8-10 miles of the race. Even when I tried to pick up the pace, it was physically impossible given how many people there were on the course. There were people walking around mile 5, before the half way point. The water stations, which were the stations I was most concerned given the amount of runners, allowed me to pass runners because it opened up the course like the way Moses parted the seas. I will admit though, the water stations were well stocked, and they were not as congested as I envisioned them to be. Should I ever return to run this race, I might not wear the hydration vest, which I wore to the race because I was worried about water.
My husband, who is less uptight and was doing the Marathon to accompany me, tried to engage in small chat with me, pointing out different monuments and sights, but because I am not someone who likes to talk while running, I really did not pay attention to what was going on around me. In fact, after the race, my husband made a point to say, “Remember we ran past this” and my answer was always, “I don’t remember seeing this.”

Running past the Washington Monument. I vaguely remember this moment. I think I briefly looked at it after my husband pointed it out and then I moved along. My rationale was I would get a chance to admire its beauty once I was done with the race.

There were four memorable moments that will forever stand out and that it was impossible for me to forget:

1) The Blue Mile, during mile 12, which was made up of 1) the Faces of the Fallen posters and (2) American flags (each draped with a black ribbon, bearing the name of a fallen military member) held by volunteers. It was very solemn, and there were faces of young men, faces of older, men, and faces of women. On the last picture, there was a lady who was kneeling and was sobbing. It was very emotional, and only reminded me to be grateful.

2) The Bridge, just before mile 20. There were drums playing, and my heart was thankful. My body felt great, and aside from my feet who were in pain (my feet are the WEAKEST part of my body), I was feeling physically strong and there was no cramping anywhere. I decided to pick up the pace and saw that I was averaging under 9:30 minute miles, enough to be well under 4 hours and 20 minutes. However, my Garmin and the Mile Markers were not in sync, with my Garmin reading I was .5 miles further than the mile markers. Apparently, this is the bridge where runners who do not meet the cut off time, which is the pace of 14 minutes per mile, are picked up and taken to the finish line. My husband and I beat the bridge!

3) Mile 24 – This is when it all hit me. I was exhausted, and the idea of stopping to walk and stretch crept its way into my head. There were runners all around me who were bent over backwards trying to reach their toes. Runners who were squatting and stretching their hips. Their were runners standing one leg and holding the other leg bent back touching their butt. There were runners sitting, runners crying, runners walking, runners who were limping, and runners who had lost good running form. I was the latter, and had to start talking to myself to prevent myself from stopping. “You are supposed to be tired Luisa. You are supposed to be uncomfortable Luisa. You’ve run 24 miles Luisa, are you seriously going to start walking with only 2 miles left? You will look back and regret it if you walk. You are stronger than you give yourself credit for Luisa. Finish strong Luisa. Believe in yourself Luisa. Walking will only prolong the race.” And so I kept moving and shook off the temptation to stop.

4) The Finish Line – I did not care to study the course prior to the race. With all of the worrying that occurs prior to the race, I figured being ignorant about the course was one less thing for me to worry about. However, I did know there was a hill at the end of the race, but that was all I knew. Yes, that was a hill. It was not fun at all. It hurt really bad. It slowed me down significantly. and it made the finish line seemed so far. My watch said I was well past 26.2 and I was mentally and physically ready to be done. The hill zapped me, and if it wasn’t for the fact I heard my name and FINALLY SAW the FINISH line, I would have stopped and collapsed right there.  I WAS DONE!!

This picture was taken AFTER the race and on our last day in D.C. I remember learning about this in Boot Camp and dreaming about visiting the Memorial some day.

Four hours and 13 minutes according to the Clock, and 4:08 minutes with 26.69 miles according to my Garmin. My husband crossed the finish line 5 minutes later, and he had logged 27 miles according to his GPS.
The medal was absolutely beautiful. We were asked to keep moving so that the finish line would not be congested. Even though we finished at the IWO JIMA Memorial, I never saw after the race. Water seemed a while to get to because they were not handing it out right after the finish line, but there was plenty. Instead of a space blanket, we received a red paper-like jacket, which I did not use because I was actually pretty hot. We got a box of food, which I did use because I was starving (I wish I could tell you what it was), and after more walking, I got to the portable potty and got to empty out my stomach (starting bothering me around mile 24).

The One-of-a-kind medal, which is now my FAVORITE medal, my running bib, and my Garmin.

The MARINE CORPS MARATHON was by far the best marathon experience I ever had. It wasn’t just because I PR’d by more than 30 minutes since my last marathon (Portland Marathon in 2011), but because I once ran in the Marine Corps uniform, and I took for granted. At the time, I never knew how much running would change my life. Running felt like a punishment and I wanted nothing to do with it once I got out in 2002. I am glad I never gave it up though. The best part is, my running journey continues. OORAH!

I had the MOST AMAZING support group while in D.C. My friends Oscar, Doris, my sister Beth, and my friend Danny, all childhood friends flew from Miami to D.C. to cheer for me. Doris even designed custom made shirts for every one to wear at the finish line. I have been blessed.

No What-Ifs

Four more days! Those are the amount of days that stand between the Marine Corps Marathon and twenty weeks of training. While there are a few runs here and there that still remain, my marathon training for the most part is done.

My last twenty mile run was completed two weeks ago, and like most of my long runs this cycle training, it was arduous. My husband, who is also running Marine Corps Marathon, accompanied me during the run and we both faced headwind going uphill and battled 84 degree temperatures. With the exception of my last long run this past Saturday (14 miles), every single one of my long runs was filled with some form of adversity. If it wasn’t the scorching summer temperatures, it was the smoke-filled skies from burning forests. Thus, while I am completely elated with the upcoming race, I am exhausted and ready to go on a run for the sake of running and not for the sake of training.

It would be disingenuous of me to pretend like I am not stressing about what my performance will be like. There are so many different scenarios playing in my head right now of how the race is going to play out and go to great lengths to reign in scenarios that involve a negative and or self-defeatist attitude. Aside from really having a strong race, I would like more than anything to enjoy the race. Because I have never been to Washington D.C., and because of my service in the Marine Corps, the significance of the this Marathon is more than just completing 26.2 miles. As I sit here and exhale the heaviness of uncertainty, I really would like to look back on this journey years from now and remember it with a sense of fondness that will uplift my spirit.

During the 26.2 miles, I would like to reflect back on just a few of the various moments along my running journey that have lead to the starting line. Hopefully, these moments will help me cross that finish line feeling proud and knowing I gave it my all without ever looking back and saying, “What-if?”

This picture was captured in the Fall of 2013. My second daughter had turned 1, and I was just done nursing. Despite running years prior to this point, I felt like my running journey was starting from scratch. There had been so many life changes up until this point, and I made a personal commitment to start running and put forth my best foot forward.

You just gotta love Race pictures. This picture was taken in March of 2014. It was my first 1/2 marathon in over two years. It was such a wonderful experience despite the look of pain painted on my face.

Mother’s Day May 2014. This was supposed to be the race to test whether I could pull off a 1/2 marathon in under 2 hours. I came 26 seconds shy with a time of 2:00:36.

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August 2014 and I finally attained my goal of running a 1/2 marathon in under 2 hours with a time of 1:57. This was also my first time racing as part of the Oiselle team.

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February 2015. A surprising half-marathon PR! Without even making an effort to PR, I clocked in 13.1 in 1:50 and shaved off 7 minutes from personal best.

If only I understood the importance of strength training at a much younger age, I would have started decades ago. Now that I know how much of a big difference strength training makes in my life, I make sure to do at least two days of heavy lifting throughout the week. Pictured is one of my favorite lifts – front squats.

Rupturing my plantar fascia was less painful than the disappointment of not being able to race Eugene Marathon four weeks out. I remember how hard I cried and the giant tears rolling down my eyes after so much training. It took almost a month for me to shake off the heartache. This feeling of defeat and impotence will be my biggest source of motivation to fight the demons of negativity throughout the race.

Twenty mile run and a culmination of twenty weeks of training. Inhale….exhale….

Tapping into the Unconscious

Something was awry in my marathon training. Not in the marathon training schedule, but in the performance of every single one of my runs. Since my last 20 mile run over the Labor Day weekend, every single one of my runs have been sluggish, laborious, or just straight out unpleasant. There were a couple of long runs where I even questioned whether I wanted to go through with the marathon and couldn’t comprehend why on Earth I was putting myself through this. It wasn’t until this week that it became clear to me why. First though, let’s take it back to where my conscious struggle began.

Seven Weeks Out

After I did my 20 mile run in the Oregon Coast, I had a 16 mile run scheduled for my long run. Woke up on the morning of Saturday September 12th and I had ZERO motivation to run a mile let alone 16. For the most part, I’ve always found the long slow run exciting because there really is a feeling of runners high that occurs within me. On this particular day though, I was apathetic to everything and anything related to running. And so, instead of completing my run early in the morning like I typically do, I waited. And waited. And waited. I found every excuse in the book to postpone my run. It wasn’t until I exhausted every single excuse in the book of runners who procrastinate that I reluctantly put on my running outfit, my running shoes, my hydration vest, sunscreen, and visor. While I have proclaimed many a times how much l love running when it’s hot, the temperature at the time was 90 degrees despite the fact it was already 5:30 PM! I tried to shake off the funky mood I found myself in and thought perhaps it’d be gone after a couple of miles, but the temperature wasn’t dropping and my mood only got worse with each progressing mile. And because my body can’t seem to function properly when I’m in a negative state of mind, my pace got increasingly slower. With both the mind and body being in cahoots to sabotage the run, all I had left was shear will and determination, but it was definitely inferior to the voices of negativity that gained control of my body. Despite the fact I made a strong attempt to move faster and faster, my body felt like heavy lead and the setting sun that accompanied my vexatious run brought darkness in such haste that I felt like I was standing still while everything around me was spinning. It took two hours, fifty-nine minutes and nine seconds to complete this run. At that point, it was the most taxing run I had ever had on my training schedule.

I got to experience this spectacular sunset during my painful 16 mile run.

Six Weeks Out
It should have been a given that my body was not going to be able to complete 18 miles, but I knew that if I at least did not attempt to run them, I would go to bed with the “What if” feeling. Dumb! Dumb! Dumb! I should have listened to my body when it said, “I don’t feel good at all. I just want to sleep and rest.” After fighting it out for two hours, thirty-six minutes, and eight seconds and only having covered 12.67 miles, I waved the white flag and accepted my body could no longer continue. While I was disappointed, I was also extremely relieved. This was my third straight day of hacking up a lung on very little sleep and a lower intake of calories from feeling so sick. After my husband picked me up, I ate a light meal, took a warm shower and went straight to bed. I slept for almost ten hours, which is 3.5 hours more than I sleep per night!! Looking back on this, I really should have stayed home and allowed my body the opportunity to recover. Lesson learned.

Not with me the force was.

Five Weeks Out
I was given a second opportunity to complete the 18 mile run I was unable to complete the week before, and while I was still not 100% (because I failed to give my body the proper rest), I was actually able to complete the full 18. I was slower than I cared for, but the goal was distance, so I consider this a win.

 

I got the opportunity to run a new route and I really liked! There were some pretty amazing views!


Four weeks Out

This week marks four weeks left of Marathon Training. I wrote on my running journal how disappointed I have been with my performance this training cycle and how I am having voices of doubt questioning my ability to complete 26.2 miles within a specified amount of time. So I went back and looked at my previous training runs for Eugene Marathon [ that I never got to fully complete]. That’s when I saw it! It was at seven weeks out that I started feeling an uncomfortable dull pain on the arch of my foot. Thinking it was completely acceptable to feel pain while training for a marathon, I dismissed it and continued with my schedules runs. My last long slow distance mile was an 18 mile run, and I ruptured my plantar fascia five weeks before Eugene Marathon. My next scheduled run was supposed to be a 16 miler, but I never got to it. This is when it became clear to me I was subconsciously worried about the final weeks of marathon training given my previous experience. Because it was such a heartbreaking experience to have trained so hard only to never even make it to the starting line, my mind was in a heightened level of anxiety, and the anxiety manifested itself physically in my runs.

A little flexing after a speed workout.

The GOOD NEWS
I have made it farther into this training cycle than I did for Eugene Marathon, and while I won’t feel like I will be safe to sing victory until I at least get to the starting line of the Marine Corps Marathon, I think it is safe to say I have gotten a monkey off my back. Have you ever experienced anxiety triggered by a past event that has impeded you from performing at your maximum level? How did you overcome your anxiety?