With this past weekend's first attempt at true back-to-back Marathon's behind me I've finally had a bit of time to relax, and reflect. In case you didn't catch my Testing the Waters blog post or handful of Facebook posts last week, the idea was a test on how prepared I am at this moment for the upcoming World Marathon Challenge in 2018 by running 2 Marathons over the course of a weekend with some geographical separation. In my mind the closer I can simulate the experience of running a Marathon, then sitting relatively cramped for several hours while travelling to the next Marathon destination and while having to rest/recover (including hydration/nutrition), the better prepared I'll be to handle it during the Challenge.
My paramount goal for this test was simple: complete the races, regardless of clock-time, injury-free and learn as much as I could on where I need to focus the next 10 months. What? No time goal? Who am I kidding: I'm a runner! We are obsessed with time, right? Yes, I did have a secondary goal of trying to complete each of these Marathon's as close to 3:30 as possible. Why 3:30? If all goes well, I'm hoping to average as close to 3:30 as possible in the WMC. It's a pace that will undoubtedly challenge me over the course of 7 days, but in terms of my current fitness and training is reasonable.
With the foundation laid, here's how it all went down! I'll warn you - grab your favorite beverage, a snack and a cozy spot. This is a long one!
My cousin Jenna (who graciously gave up her weekend to chauffeur me - thank you!) and I left around mid-day bound for Dumfries (just South of Washington, D.C.) where we'd crash for the night at my Aunt Barb's house ahead of Saturday's Marathon. We stopped along the way at the One City Marathon Health and Wellness Expo to grab my bib for Sunday so we wouldn't have to stress getting back by a particular time on Saturday. I was over the moon to see my bib which the awesome folks at Flat Out had custom printed for me that read JP RUNS THE WORLD with bib number 777! Sweet! The weekend was definitely off to an upbeat start.
After a few pit-stops and dealing with Friday traffic, we finally arrived around 5:30pm where I immediately started getting dinner ready. I actually went fairly light with a large salad with grilled chicken and roasted potatoes. I don't like feeling stuffed on race morning so I generally don't eat a heavy meal the night before and save the for two or three nights out.
After eating I went immediately to getting my race gear ready and my breakfast laid out for the next morning. I knew it was going to be cold so opted to go with a long sleeve base layer with a short sleeve over, shorts, gloves, hat, compression sleeves and my Saucony Type A's. This typically does me well down to the 20's which is what was forecasted for Saturday Morning through most of the race. I prepared one 24 oz. toss-away bottle with 200 calories of Tailwind that I'd consume through the first 14 miles of the race and set one additional 200 calorie pack aside to carry with me. Finally I laid out 2 packets of instant oatmeal with a bowl and spoon, banana and a cup for coffee (my typical pre-Marathon breakfast). When it comes to race morning: I don't want to have to think about anything other than getting dressed, eating and getting out the door.
It wasn't long after that I headed off to bed knowing 4:30am would come quick and all the sleep I could get now would help me not only for Saturday's race, but Sunday as well.
As is always the case on race day, the alarm came just as I seemed to really get to sleep! "They" always say get the most sleep you can two nights before a race because the night before you're not likely to sleep much. This was definitely the case for me as my nerves were just a bit elevated knowing I had 2 long days ahead of me. All of the prep. I had done the night before paid off. I got up, got dressed, ate and we were out the door by 5am headed to the Rock 'n' Roll Washington D.C. Marathon. After arriving I had a quick walk down to the Information Tent as they generously allowed me to pickup my bib race morning. I cannot tell you how much I appreciated this! It saved hours of time and energy not having to drive to D.C. the day before.
7am fast approached so we made our way down to the start line. A few moments after arriving I saw Mike Wardian was just finishing up his warm up routine and making his way to the Corral so I took the opportunity to introduce myself, ask how he was feeling after an astonishing set of Marathon's in this year's WMC, and catch a quick selfie! Just the night before my good friend Steve Speir's suggested I run with Mike and get a few pointers but this would have to do as Mike is a bit too fast for me! Hopefully we have the chance to catch up later.
As the clock wound down I took a moment to collect myself and channel the nervous energy into positive thoughts on what an awesome experience I was about embark on. I don't take for granted how fortunate I am to be able to do some of the crazy stuff I do and this definitely ranked up there! I knew to have a successful weekend, I needed to find every opportunity to create positive moments that would keep me moving forward. And just like that, BANG the start gun went off and we were under way!
To be quite honest, I don't remember too much about the first 11 or so miles of the race. I was feeling good, my legs felt good, and everything was well under control. The chilly temps (lower 20's with wind chills in the teens) made it easy to chew away at the miles a bit under my goal pace and I didn't bother stressing it. I do have two distinct moments I remember well. The first was a section of the course along Rock Creek Parkway. Man was it beautiful! There were no cars, no city sounds: it was just a serene Winter morning with crystal blue skies and the pitter-patter of runners feet. Not too long after I realized holy cow: it's cold! Both of my hands started to sharply ache I suspect from the moments we ran into the piercing wind and then they'd thaw a bit when we were fortunate to be shielded. Mental note to bring hand warmers next time!
Right around mile 11 I saw Jenna and Barb. It's always good to to see familiar faces during a race! I spent a few seconds saying hello then and off I went. The half way point disappeared behind me then came mile 14. That's when in the snap of a finger things went from being great, to questionable. This is good time to segue-way for a moment and talk about my weeks leading up to this past weekend. Back in January I had an awesome 96 mile 6-day adventure (recap coming soon) in Costa Rica, promptly followed by the Run Until You Drop challenge in February where you run each day's number in kilometers or miles (I opted for km) without pause. I ended up covering 291 miles over the month with the longest week being 108 miles. So it goes without saying my training nor tapering were exactly conventional and I wasn't particularly fresh coming into these 2 Marathons. But in a way that's not a bad thing. If I could get through 2 Marathons on tired legs that's certainly convincing. Anyhow, back to the race!
At mile 14 something in my right hip/glute region tweaked. And I was almost instantly relegated to a walk. At the moment all kinds of thoughts entered my head. Would I be able to finish the race like this? Was this going to jeopardize the next day's Marathon? Should I keep going and risk something more serious? I've never DNF'ed a race. So it's in my blood to keep moving forward and that's what I did. I attempted to get back to a jog and the first few minutes were not pleasant. My entire leg felt as if it was going numb. But after a few minutes (thankfully) the flare-up settled down and I was able to get back to it. Through mile 18 I went through a lot of ups and downs. I would go from feeling ok to feeling quite sore and tight. I figured out certain camber in the roads we were running on aggravated it more so I abandoned the idea of running the tangents for reduced pain.
From mile 18 to the finish of the race was really a test of determination. Quite a bit of these final miles were hillier or with a frigid head wind. Honestly this was one of the coldest runs I think I've ever done and pants would have been a good idea. My legs felt like they were in a meat locker and the nag in my right side wasn't making matters any better. Up until around mile 18 I was on pace for around a 3:23. Knowing my secondary goal was a 3:30 and to give myself the best shot of finishing the race the next day, the smart move was to back it down. I went into run/walk mode for much of the remainder of the race, keeping 3:30 in my cross hairs. Fast forward and RFK was directly in front of me, along with the finish line! I don't care how many Marathon's you've run. The finish line is always a welcoming sight! As I saw the clock from afar it read 3:29:xx so I turned the final corner and executed the JP finish (ask Steve and Howie for the details) and as I crossed the finish line: 3:29:25.
Mission accomplished! Maybe it wasn't the prettiest finish but considering the thoughts that had been going through my head an hour and a half earlier I was extremely happy. I seemed to have gotten my nutrition right as well and only ended up needing around 300 calories for the race. Largely, I felt good! However there were still a lot of lingering thoughts on Sunday's race and those answers would come less than 19 hours later.
Not longer after the race had ended we headed back to Dumfries to clean-up and get packed to head back to Hampton Roads. On the way out of town my parents met us for lunch at the Ornery Public House in Woodbridge. I enjoyed a delicious IPA, burger and fries along with the great company! It's always good to see the folks, even if just for a bit! I was still hungry and had a bit of a sweet tooth so we made a quick stop for gas where I grabbed a donut! I admittedly have a weakness when it comes to Boston creme donuts! But what the heck I just ran a Marathon a little indulgence is OK, right?
The trip back to Hampton Roads was quick. I rested and propped up my legs as much as I could but stayed awake. If I was hungry, I snacked (healthy - nuts, RxBar, yogurt, etc). I really just tried to listen to my body as much as possible as once you figure it out, it tells you what it needs. After we arrived in Newport News we quickly unloaded and head out to dinner as it was already close to 6pm. We opted for a Vietnamese place nearby where I had a delicious (and familiar) rice vermicelli bowl with three skewers of protein packed goodness. This is a little heavier than I'd normally eat but I was quite hungry and wanted to make sure I was refueled. We returned to the house and I went through the same ritual as the night before again getting all my race gear and pre-race breakfast laid out. I knew it would be a "bit warmer" so basically went with the same setup and my Merrell Bare Access 4's (which have a bit more room in the toe box just in case my feet swelled more than usual).
My hip/glute was bothering me on and off all afternoon - certainly tighter after sitting for any length of time. I popped on my compression tights, took every opportunity to roll with my Pro-Tec Orb ball and stretch my hips. Really that was all I could do along with a little bit of praying that I could work through it the next day.
Luck have it, I picked the one weekend our clocks move forward so knowing we'd lose an hour, I was in bed by 9pm.
As Groundhog day would have it: the alarm went off at 4:30am! I woke feeling remarkably well rested. I'm not sure if this was actually from sleeping well or just from the race day adrenaline. Immediately I could tell my hip/glute was fairly sore and stiff. I hit the ball and stretched right away. I was dressed, nourished and out the door by 5:15am as it was just a short trip to the One City Marathon finish where the shuttle buses that would take us to the start were waiting.
My good friends Roy, Howie and Jenny had already arrived and Ally was just a few minutes behind. We made our way to the shuttles and along the way ran into Stacey, Shelly and Tracy who were making their way to the relay exchange points. We boarded the shuttle and about a half hour later arrived at the start. It was warmer than the previous day, but it was still darn cold for March (in the low 30's)! HRT had buses staged at the start to keep us warm (thanks guys!) so we made a quick transfer and waited there. Julia joined us as she waited for her leg of the relay, and Lisa Davis (whom just completed 7 Marathons on 7 continents in 7 days just earlier this year and I had the pleasure of meeting just a few days prior)! After holding out as long as possible, we made our way to the start line. Ryan and Mike were warming up in the elite area, and Howie and I joined Bill, Greg and James in the Corral and Shawn and Marie were nearby supporting us as we waited anxiously for the start gun. I took a lot of comfort and encouragement in knowing that I'd be seeing a lot of friendly faces throughout the course of the day whether cheering or running.
And without fail, BANG! We were off. That pondering 19 hours earlier if my hip/glute was going to be an issue was finally answered. The first half mile was slow, and painful. But after 5 or so minutes had passed things started to loosen up a bit and settled back into a familiar cadence and pace. My legs certainly felt a bit sore and fatigued. It felt kind of like I was at mile 20 of a Marathon, with 26 miles to go. But by in large, I was OK! Howie, Greg and I ran together for the next 7.5 or so miles. We saw Renee being awesome as usual cheering on everyone right before Greg (who was running the relay) left us. Now it was just Howie and I, with the finish line set in our sights.
A great time for another quick segue-way! One of our infamous Thursday beer school nights back in December I brought up this great idea of Howie pacing me. I'm not entirely sure he was on board. But I think I caught him at a vulnerable time just before his 100-miler so he agreed. Just about 2-weeks ago, well after Howie and Steve killed the 100-miler, Howie had a revelation that One City wasn't a month away but only had 2-weeks to be ready! I don't care what anyone says: running a Marathon is never something to be taken lightly no matter how well trained you are. I am so grateful to have a friend like Howie to share those miles with and be part of such a big adventure in my life. Thanks Howie! Back to the race!
Mile 10 came and I was starting to feel a bit of a low coming. Then it dawned on me: I wasn't at mile 10, I was at mile 36.2! And just like that I had found a way to dig myself out of the hole. At the halfway point stood Steve and Ally's Mom cheering everyone on. When mile 14 arrived I had just finished my bottle of Tailwind and really started feeling hungry. Howie gave me a Honey Stinger waffle and that really hit the spot. Marie was nearby encouraging me to get moving so we walked out of mile 14 onto Mile 15 then got back to it. At this point the lows were really starting to become a bit more frequent. The mental and physical fatigue of the weekend was settling in. I was doing my best to break the rest of the race down into manageable chunks to keep my spirits up. Water station to water station, half a mile, a tank (yes, a tank!), or a mile marker. Meanwhile, Howie was singing. I was trying my best at this point not to laugh because it hurt so much! I needed that though.
The last 5 miles of a race were a grind. I was feeding off Howie's encouragement that the finish line was getting closer and more importantly I was getting closer to having finished 2 Marathons in just over 24 hours! The last relay exchange point brought much needed cheers and by this point I had settled into a run/walk but had Howie monitoring the time because I knew we were in the vicinity of 3:30 and that motivated me to dig deeper (that and getting orders just before mile 24 from Roy)! Side note: whoever had the Pepsi stand just before mile 24 - brilliant! Mile 25 came and having seen this sight in my previous 2 One City Marathons, I knew all we had to do now was run straight and take a quick right and the finish line would be right there! I think Howie wanted to be done as much as I did so he really pushed to keep running. Just before the final turn we saw Dai whom snapped the picture of us you see to the right. Finally the last turn came and the emotions set in. I had staved off a few moments in the prior 26 miles of overwhelming sense of accomplishment but the finish line was right in front of me and I couldn't any longer. Howie asked for a JP finish, and so I didn't want to disappoint! I fed off those emotions and in we came right at 3:33:30. I don't think anyone noticed but I was really a bit of a mess for a few moments! The enormity of the events that had transpired, and how they transpired all settled in at once. And I was damn proud of it.
We waited for the rest of our friends to come through the finish and then the celebration began! Everyone had a successful weekend of racing and it was just awesome!
This first big test on the road to the World Marathon Challenge was a huge success! Not only did I finish and for the most part injury-free, but I managed to come darn close to my time goals as well. I also have at least a bit of an idea what it's like between races in terms of how I might feel and how I should approach rest and recovery. All of this is encouraging and the experience invaluable. I feel like I just need to keep doing what I'm doing and keep finding new ways to challenge myself and grow. And that is a great place to be.
A huge thank you to all the volunteers, citizens, race organizers, staff, vendors and officials that stood out in the frigid conditions this weekend supporting and cheering for us runners! Also thanks to Competitor Group and Flat Out Events for putting on great and well-supported races this weekend! Finally, thanks to all of you! Your words of encouragement, high fives, cheers or even simply reading my story are humbling, and more motivating than you'll ever know. You are awesome!