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Monday, February 20, 2012

Race Recap: 2011 Marine Corps Marathon

I had mentioned before on my blog that I was training for my first marathon, but I never ended up telling you how it went - well, it went GREAT!!! I am including here a VERY LONG race recap that I wrote a week after my race in November. Personally, I LOVE reading race recaps, especially if I am considering running that specific race. If you are interested in running the Marine Corps Marathon, registration is open March 7th. Register THAT DAY in order to get a spot. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a message!

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Maybe this is YOUR YEAR!


Saturday, Day Before the Race

Oh my, the nerves I had. I felt like everything I did to myself that day would have some sort of repercussion during the race. I was terrified I was standing too much or eating too much spicy mustard, or not drinking enough or drinking too much. I was nervous that the marathon would hurt so much that I wouldn’t be able to run. I was nervous that I wouldn’t hit my goal (5 hours) and feel disappointed in myself. I was nervous that I wouldn’t fuel correctly. I was SUPER nervous about my clothes, especially since the forecast was colder than I was expecting. I was plain nervous.

We (my sister, niece, bro-in-law and husband) headed out to the Expo in the late morning and arrived around 11:30, along with many many many other people. I thought I would have wanted to soak in the energy at the Expo, but in all honesty it was so SUPER crowded and overwhelming, that I didn’t want to stick around. I am sure there were fun things to see at all the exhibits and maybe even some free stuff, but the Expo made me feel very non-confident in myself as a runner. I felt like everyone looked more prepared than me, or better looking as a runner than me (aka smaller). I was being too self-defeating and I knew I needed to get away from that.

After that, the rest of the day went pretty fast. I had a terrible sandwich from Cosi for lunch and then I treated myself to a cup of hot cocoa in the hotel room while I watched TV. For dinner, I had some bruschetta and a bowl of spaghetti and meat sauce from Luigi’s (which was PACKED with runners and families!). I decided to not get lasagna since I didn’t want to risk having so much cheese. It was probably a good idea! I went to bed at 9:30pm and slept well!


Getting to the Start

I woke up at 4:15am, drank about 3 cups of water, and then went back into bed until 4:30am when my alarm went off. I was planning on meeting my sister in the lobby to have breakfast (bagel and almond butter) at 5:30am and then leave the hotel by 6am. Since Dan was in the hotel room with me, I couldn’t listen to music to pump myself up, so I got onto Facebook. I eagerly devoured people’s words of encouragement that so many had written on my wall.

For the mid-40s run, I ended up wearing my spandex shorts, a tank top and a zip up long sleeve shirt for my running gear. I also put on workout pants, another short sleeved shirt, a sweat shirt, two pairs of gloves and a wooly hat for warmth.

We left the hotel at 6am and even though the start time was at 8am, we STILL cut it pretty close. The crowds were just incredible! You would have thought that all of DC were running the marathon! The walk from Pentagon station to the Runner’s Village (where the bag drop and porta-pottys were) was a miserably long, cold and dark mile. I cursed it, but it was probably a good warm-up for my legs because of how unbelievably cold it was, even with the millions of layers I had on!

Once we got to the Runner’s Village, we checked our bags and then I needed to fill up my fuel belt and then go to the bathroom. I almost lost my sister because we didn’t stay with each other. If you want to run with someone – stay with them! There were way to many people to just say “meet you at this lamppost,” especially when there were a dozen lampposts around me. Luckily my sister found me while she was waiting in line!

I ended up ditching most of my outer clothes and put on a garbage bag for warmth right before we lined up. I kept the gloves and hat on for the first few miles. I chose to do this in the Runners Village rather than at the start line because I knew it would be too crowded to try and situate my clothing. The garbage bag kept me surprisingly warm!

Finally, with about 10 minutes to spare, my sister and I moved close to where the 5 hour pace group was. At this point I was SO READY to start running, mostly just to warm myself up! My sister was nursing a knee injury, so she wasn’t able to try for a Sub-4 hour race so she decided she would run the whole race with me! I was sad for her goals, but selfishly I was so happy! I knew having her run with me would help me feel 100000% more confident in myself as a runner. And, in all honesty, I was just really happy to share my experience with her.

Miles 0-4

Went the gun went off, I was SO EXCITED and wanted to start running immediately, unfortunately there were thousands (no exaggeration) of runners in front of me and it took a long time for us to move. As soon as we crossed the starting line I remember being giddy and smiley and wanting to cry all at the same time. My sister and I kept looking at each other and laughing, I was so excited. These first miles were a blur to me. According to the course elevation profile, we were going up for most of it, but I literally don’t even remember that. I do remember wanting my feet to stop being numb, shedding pieces of my clothes, and running VERY SLOWLY. I also remember that it was pretty crowded.

Miles 4-9

I LOVED this part of the run. I saw a huge group of my friends and Dan around 4.5 and I was so excited I started jumping up and down! They had lots of awesome posters and were screaming my name. Seeing them gave me a good boost of energy for the beautiful but QUIET run along the water, during which I only heard the shuffling of shoes and labored breathing. This was the first time I ran a race without immediately putting on my headphones, and I was enjoying these sounds and silences. At one point, a woman who was running and holding the American flag, started singing God Bless America. Listening to her sing while running alongside Marines in one of the most beautiful and patriotic cities in America gave me goose bumps.

Around mile 8.5 I got to see my group of friends again, did some more jumping and screaming, including telling Dan I loved him a billion times, and then ran through Georgetown. I loved these miles! They felt easy, I felt really strong and I was finally getting into a groove.

Miles 9-15

As soon as I started to recognize this portion of the race, specifically the loop around Haines Point, I inwardly grumbled. I HATED this part of the Cherry Blossom 10 miler and I wasn’t looking forward to running it again. Luckily, I had my sister with me this time.

At mile 13 and the halfway point I couldn’t believe we had completed a half marathon. I was still physically feeling good, but I was nervous about our pace. My watch said I crossed at exactly 2 hours and 30 mins, so I knew if I continued to do what I had been doing, I would finish by my goal time. We had been going a nice and slow pace for most of it and one that I believed I could continue to do. But I was nervous about the mystery of the last six miles. What if I hit the wall? What if I need to walk for half a mile? I knew that it was going to be hard to hit my 5 hour goal.

At one water spot, a woman stepped on the back of my sister’s shoe causing her bad knee to buckle a bit. After that, I noticed my sister becoming quieter, which is VERY unusual for her when we are together, and she was limping slightly. I was worried about her, but I didn’t want to say anything.

Miles 15-20

These miles make you run around the Mall and by the Capitol, and they are probably the best miles of the entire race. These are the miles that make you proud to live in such an amazing country. These were really great miles for me in regards to time, but hard for me as well because my sister and I split up at mile 16. After running through too much pain, and not wanting to hold me back, she told me she needed to stop. When we passed the 16 mile marker she looked at me and said “10 miles! Is that easy for you?” “Yes, it is actually!” “Alright, just 10 miles. You got this! You look really strong! You can do this!”

And I really 100% believed her, so I gave her a quick wave and ran on and boy did I run FAST. I somehow managed to forget all memory of the past 16 miles and ran like it was a new race, a 10 mile race. I flew around the mall. The crowd support around these miles was SPECTACULAR. I weaved through people, blew past water stops (I had my own fuel belt) and felt PUMPED.

Now is also a good time to mention that I think running with the fuel belt was one of the best decisions I made. I was able to skip many water/Gatorade stops and food stations. I took my Gu every hour, just like I used to do during my training. I stopped every once in a while to refill my bottles, but it wasn’t often. I just made sure to drink from my bottles every time I passed a water stop. This was helpful for my time, I am sure, but it was also helpful because I HATED stopping. It hurt to stop because it hurt so much to start up running again. I probably walked about a minute total of my run, which may sound crazy to some, but it worked for me.
Thanks Marathon Foto!

Miles 20-26

Going into the race, I was really nervous about these last 6.2 miles. People always tell you that
this is when you hit the wall or mentally break down, and I didn’t know what to expect. I knew if my sister and I weren’t running together then I would have my music to get me through, but I wanted something extra. I wanted Dan right beside me. The night before, I handed him a tiny post-it note pad and asked him to write a little note for me to read at each mile marker starting at 20 and ending at 26. Pulling out my secret notes at each mile was a HUGE emotional boost, and I know it helped me find the courage to keep on running and pushing myself.

I saw Dan and my friends again right before the 20th mile marker and I excitedly shouted at them that I was almost there! I couldn’t believe it! Since I made it to the bridge, the awful bridge where cars instead of spectators share the road, I finally decided to listen to my music. This definitely helped me ignore the fact that more and more people were choosing to walk on the bridge instead of run.

Oh, did I tell you the bridge is also a slight incline?

I made it past the bridge feeling strong and headed into Rosslyn. Now, no offense to Rosslyn here, but I wished our scenery on those last few miles were not of Rosslyn or of the highway, or of the AWFUL LOOP they made us do from mile 22-24. The last thing I needed to see near the end of a race were runners who were closer to the finish than me. The worst part of that loop was that I didn’t see the 22 mile marker, so the 21st mile felt like FOREVER and I started to get disheartened. Finally when I saw the 23rd mile marker at the turn around, it hit me: I had ONLY a 5K left. Just a 5K.

I knew I had to give it my all, and I really really felt like I was. Those last miles were grueling. My lower back was killing me, my legs were feeling heavy, my stupid earbuds kept popping out of my ears, at one point I thought my Ipod died and I even got frustrated with runners in front of me who were slowing down.

There were so many points in the last 3 miles that I wanted to start sobbing because I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this, and the best part of it was, I knew I was going to hit my goal and then some. Every time I started to think about it, I started choking up, literally, and couldn’t breathe! I yelled at myself to keep it together, no matter how much I wanted to cry in awe, I needed to hold it together until I didn’t need as much lung capacity! The last few miles I ran with my mouth open, in this constant state of surprise, like I was saying “OMG I am doing this, Oh!”

My mantra through those last couple of miles was “You Got This.” I kept thinking that over and over again, especially when it hurt. After the race was over, I realized that it was what my sister told me before we stopped running together. I like that she was with me the whole way through, even in my head.


I saw my friends again right before the 26th mile marker. Dear friends, I was so happy to see you although I’m not sure I showed you, because smiling was not happening. I knew the worst was coming. I knew all about that hill up to the Iwo Jima memorial.

And then the hill came, and I turned on my "power" song (Muse – Map of the Problematique) and I couldn’t believe how steep it was. I thought the Marines were going to be crowding around me cheering me on, but there were more supporters than Marines. It didn’t matter, I’m not sure I even knew they were there. It was me against the hill. My legs against the hill. I knew walking was impossible, I just had to run up it, even pass people if I could. Once I turned the corner from the hill I saw the finish line. I wanted to sprint to the end so badly, but my legs were doing the best they could. I heard my friend, Jeff, call my name, and I was so happy to see him right at the end, when my body was literally shuddering with pain. I didn’t see Dan, but I had figured my sister had found him and he was helping her (which he was, as sad as he was to miss me at the finish, I wouldn’t have had it any other way). I took my earphones out of my ear and ran to the finish line, raising my arms up in the air. I did it. 4 hours and 48 mins and 18 seconds. 12 minutes off my goal time.

Thanks MarathonFoto :)

The End

After crossing the line, it was a complete standstill in a sea of people. There were SO MANY PEOPLE. I had to stay in line to get my medal, my space blanket, my food and Gatorade. I had to stay in line to walk across the bridge to get my bag. I wish I could tell you that I was elated and sat on the grass and soaked it all in, but I just wanted to get out of there. I was in SO MUCH PAIN. I didn’t want to eat at all, but I forced myself to drink Gatorade.

I am so lucky my friends found me at the family meet-up because they helped me figure out how to get back to the hotel and take one of the best showers of my life (thank you to the Rennaissance Hotel for extending my check out so I could shower!).

I thought I would be ravenous after the marathon. I thought I wouldn’t want to move other than go to the bathroom. But I wasn’t that hungry! I didn’t even take a nap! I got home and wanted to stay awake and play with my niece. But the whole time I did that, I was so proud of myself. Even now, a week later, when I think about what I accomplished, I feel nothing but pride. I was never an athlete, never a runner, but I trained and pushed myself and had one of the best times of my life.

So was it worth it in the end? Absolutely. I would do it all again in a heartbeat.....and probably will.


SImply Life said...

Yay! Congratulations! I loved reading this and after not running a marathon in a few years you're giving me the "bug" again :) ~Gina

Amy said...

I'm impressed, way to go! I'm happy you're blogging again. :)

Laura said...

congratulations for beating your goal. 12 minutes off your goal time is FANTASTIC.

Erin said...

Great story Nakiya! It was heartfelt and motivating. Congratulations!

Nakiya said...

Thank you so much for reading my story!!!! I like to read it every once in a while to remind myself that I actually did that :)

Anonymous said...

I want a hardcopy for my file........mama

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