Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Guest Post: Natalie Anstey, Cal International Marathon

As previously mentioned, and with little additional fanfare, here is the CIM race report from former William & Mary Math Club President Natalie Anstey!


After PR-ing at the Brooklyn Half (1:45:xx) on a warm and muggy May ‘22 day, I let myself dream big, and picked a goal I once thought would never be remotely achievable. I decided to shoot for a BQ time, which for females 40-44 (yay, aging/leveling up!) is 3:40. This would be a BIG jump, as my time in Philadelphia in November 2021 was 3:54:xx, which was a ~26 minute PR from my previous marathon in Charlotte. Nonetheless, I felt confident in my fitness gained over the pandemic, with consistent base miles, cross training on my spin bike, and weekly strength training (including daily core since February 2021). I was committed to putting in the work to take a good shot at a BQ race. I had actually registered for the 2022 California International Marathon in late April (gotta take advantage of early-bird pricing!). The race has a great reputation for PR/BQ/OTQ chasers, and I was now one of those runners.

My summer running plan was to build up my base miles, do a weekly track workout, and complete a weekly long run. Then, plot twist! On May 31st, I started experiencing sharp pain on the right side of my core. For some reason, I attributed it to my track workout that morning, when a friend suggested I change my arm swing. I was like, oh, I’ve pulled an ab muscle because of messing with my arm swing. After a few days of intermittent intense pain, a light bulb went off in my head- this was not from a pulled muscle. It reminded me of the pain I experienced when I had a kidney stone a few years ago. A few trips to various doctors confirmed that something was wrong with my gallbladder (30 gallstones!) and it had to come out.

Surgery was on June 18th. Recovery time was supposed to be 4-6 weeks of no running, no core work, and no lifting anything heavy. I tried to follow that, though I convinced a nurse to clear me to start running lightly after a couple of weeks if I promised not to do anything intense. I didn’t want to do any damage internally and my incision site wounds were still healing, so I took it easy. I was getting antsy and feeling like my BQ goal for CIM was out of the question, and maybe my body wouldn’t be up for marathon training after surgery/time off from running. It was at this point that I asked Bert to help make me a training plan. Because he’s a nice guy (Editor's note: I really am.) and isn’t busy enough with four kids and a full-time job, Bert agreed. A 16 week plan was to begin in mid-August. The plan until then was to not get hurt.

I made it to the start of the training plan not-hurt, so that was my first success. Bert had a Google spreadsheet semi-filled in with some workouts and long runs for the 16 weeks. My mind was a little blown when I saw the number of 18+ runs and the pace work within some of those runs. For reference, my previous marathon training plan had three 18 milers and a single 20 miler. Bert’s plan had three 18ers, two 20ers, and a 22 miler. I just couldn’t imagine getting to the point where I could go 18-20-18 (with pace)-20 (with pace)-22-18 on consecutive weekends. Not to mention the workouts that Bert started filling in. I was very intimidated, and a little worried about getting injured with the increase in volume and intensity. However, for the most part, I was able to stick to the plan, only needing to shorten a long run and miss the next day’s run when I rolled my foot during a hurricane-aftermath run. I was feeling good about how I was absorbing the training, and actually started feeling on track for my A goal.


Then, the week of Thanksgiving, came a cold that lingered for far too long. I knew it was kinda bad when I had to take afternoon naps a couple of days the weekend after Thanksgiving (one week before the race). I tried not to worry when it was the day before we were flying out to Sacramento and I had a coughing fit on my run with Lori and Chad that led to dry-heaving. Encouragement from friends, Bert, and Mitch helped to ease nerves about my cold, and I tried to remember that this was just a race. With that in mind, we flew out to Sacramento late on Friday, with our friends, Anthony and Chas, also on our flight for the race.

There was a short shakeout run on the next morning, put on by CIM. It was raining a bunch and cold, and no one was in a hurry to leave our hotel to head a block over for the meetup. I met a nice Canadian lady, Carmela, while waiting in the lobby to leave, and we grabbed free Run in Rabbit t-shirts from the RiR shakeout group that was starting from the hotel. We chatted during the 2 mile shake-out, and exchanged numbers so we could meet up later and make plans for race morning. A trip to the Expo and a pep talk from Bert later, and things were starting to feel REAL. We grabbed pizza with Anthony, and then turned in for the night.

The Race

I woke up at 2:45 AM, before my 3:30 AM alarm, but had gotten at least 6.5 hours of sleep and felt pretty rested. (Editor's note: I LOVE being on the East Coast and racing on the West Coast. Time zone changes for the win!) Carmela and I met in the lobby at 4:35 AM to walk to the bus pick-up spot. It was lightly raining and the rain poncho that I bought for $5 at the expo came in handy. I also had on throwaway shoes, socks, pants, and jacket. I ate stuff I can’t remember anymore before I left the hotel (maybe half of a Picky Bar and banana?), and brought graham crackers to munch on since there was a long time before the race started at 7 am. Unfortunately, I forgot my water bottle at the hotel. (Editor's note: WHAT?!?!?)

The bus ride was not my favorite- warm, crowded, with a loud annoying guy sitting catty-corner from me. I sat next to a nice guy who was running his first marathon and asked for tips. Hope he did well. I got very antsy toward the end of the bus ride as motion sickness was kicking in a little, and was happy to get off the bus to get fresh air. My legs were feeling a little wobbly from the beginnings of motion sickness. Carmela and I hit up the wall of porta potties, and then hung out at a nearby gas station where a bunch of runners were waiting out of the rain. I changed out of wet throwaway socks and shoes into dry socks and racing shoes. (Editor's note: carbon fiber?) Then I tossed donation pants and poncho, but kept on my throwaway jacket until I warmed up. We headed to corral area and I lined up with 3:40 pacer. Carmela and I exchanged one last good luck hug as she headed to the 3:30 pacer. While waiting at the start, a nice lady named Amy standing next to me asked me about my plans. So I told her I would start with the 3:40 group and hopefully, I’d feel good toward the end and get ahead of them. She was hoping for the same and asked if she could stick with me. So, I now had a race buddy (new thing for me).

At 7 am, the race got off to a start. (Editor's note: Only 1258 words before the race even starts? Amateur race report.) The 3:40 pacers started a little hot and we tried not to get too wrapped up in their pace. They seemed to settle in after a bit, but would sometimes surge and then slow again. I shed my jacket in mile two, and she shed hers a mile later. Amy and I stuck together, and chatted a little here and there. She remarked that is was warmer than she expected and also hillier (she was not wrong, but I was feeling okay on the uphills. Little did I know that it was probably the downhills doing more damage). Miles ticked by and so did 5k markers. I like having both on course to have more landmarks to count down. I looked for Mitch at mile 6 and didn’t see him, but apparently he was there and also couldn’t see me tucked in the 3:40 pack. I did see him a little after mile 7, which was exciting. Anyway, miles ticked by and we kept on trucking. I did my best at water stations to pinch the cups and drink the water, but sometimes got water up my nose or started coughing. I lost Amy on a hill somewhere, and every so often I’d look back to try to spot her. No dice after a while, so I concluded she had dropped back (she ended up dropping at the half, but has Tokyo Marathon coming up in March).

The 3:40 pace group crossed the halfway mat in 1:49, and that confirmed the slightly fast pace for the 3:40 group. I didn’t feel too concerned at that point. I spotted Mitch again around mile 14, and was again very excited to see him. Big smile on my face, etc. However, the feet started feeling heavy a few miles later and I started needing to play mental games. I was also starting to feel a bit nauseous, especially by the smell of increasingly stronger Runner BO (one lady’s smelly hydration pack caused me to choke back my gag reflex). I backed off the pace group a little to get some breathing room and fresher air. Spoiler alert: I never caught up with them again.

By mile 18, I noticed I just couldn’t move my feet faster though it felt like I was trying. Pace slowed a few seconds, so nothing super dramatic, but it was still concerning. The nausea was not helping me feel any better. In mile 19, I made a bargain to get to mile 20, at which point I could stop running and drop out of the race. Once I hit the mile 20 marker, I pulled off to the right and basically started to cry and cough and dry-heave, which led to barfing up some gel and water. In my mind, I was dropping out and had failed big time and was generally feeling terrible. I texted Mitch, but he didn’t text back so I called him and let him know what was going on. He encouraged me to not give up and to finish the race, since I was so close (10k feels like a long way after you’ve hit the wall). So, off I went again, trying to regroup my mind and legs. Around this point, I think the 3:45 pace group ran by and I was with them for a little. At mile 21, I stopped on bridge and thought again about quitting. From here, it was a series of mental games with myself. Bargained to get to the next 5k mat, knowing I had friends tracking me. Then bargained to get to mile 22, where I said it was only 4 miles and I could do that even if it was super hard. I let myself walk through the water stations in the last 10k, and just trudged on to the finish. Finally, it was the last mile, and I saw Mitch one last time outside of our hotel, which was close to the finish. At this point, I had no idea what my time was because I had stopped my watch when I thought I was dropping, and also because I never programmed my new-to-me watch to show total elapsed time on any of the screens. Instead, it said 26.32/26.32. I just knew I didn’t accomplish my A goal or B goal. I got my medal and post-race disposable jacket (better than a mylar blanket!), snapped an obligatory pic, and then started crying when I saw Mitch walking to meet me. A friend texted me congrats with my time, which I still didn’t know. 3:48:47, a 6 minute PR that beat my C goal.

This was my fifth marathon and I had just run a time I wouldn’t have dreamed about a year ago, and here I was feeling crushed. Luckily, Mitch and my running friends understood how I was feeling, and let me be a little dramatic and sad about it (which I am still doing by writing this guest blog post) (Editor's note: Alec Lorenzoni would hardly call this dramatic). Anyway, now that I am a week removed from CIM, I am feeling better about how the race turned out. Now that CIM is done, I’m ready to enjoy family time and holiday festivities, as well as more spinning and strength again. I’m sure it won’t be too long until the race itch comes back though. A huge thanks to Bert for putting together my training plan, offering advice and support, and making sure I was still having fun. He’s definitely the best free coach I’ve ever had! 10/10 would recommend (Editor's note: If you'd run faster, I'd probably start charging people. Ouch! Too soon?).


I'm very proud of Natalie. When we started this phase of our relationship, she admitted to me that she had no idea that when we were all off running in college that we weren't just jogging easy. Workouts were a new concept to her. Then she went to Orange Theory or something and learned that you can try harder at exercising (an oversimplification of her epiphany). To say that she was green is an understatement... and she's turned herself into quite the little runner. And she just jumped right into whatever I threw at her. Her workouts were all going so well this fall, I was overly confident that she was very fit. And I still believe that. But you have to run the race on that day, and sometimes that is hard. I was fitter than I'd ever been in April 2015, but then
ran poorly. I believe that if CIM had been a week later, Natalie would have run a lot faster. She's a different runner now than she was a year ago, and three years ago, when she was first foolish enough to engage in coaching with me. All those miles in her legs and all those workouts don't go away. She just has to keep it up, as it all cumulatively builds into muscle memory (which is very real).

As I mentioned before, this race was on Sam's birthday. KC and I were busy building him a new loft bed while she was running, and I had my phone sitting in the room with the tracking up for her and Thomas Adam. I was anxious watching her splits clipping off consistently under 8:20 pace for the first two hours, worried that she might be going out too fast in less than ideal conditions. We were crestfallen when she went AWOL at the 35K for a while. After she finally hit that timing mat, I got a text from Mitch letting me know she was still alive and was going to make it to the finish. She got back after it and dropped her pace back down, but the damage was already done. She was short of her A and B goals. We tier our goals for a reason though, and for her to walk away with a PR and ahead of her C goal (which I think was her realistic goal back in the spring) is cause for celebration. Which I'm glad to say that she did. But geez, look at that Nuun water bottle in the background after the race! Runner nerd.

As with most of my blog posts, I will end this abruptly just to press publish.

Fools who engage in coaching with Bert

Hey Internet, it's me! With Elon Musk taking over Twitter, I felt it was time to reassert my dominance over your newsfeed before the trolls start paying a monthly fee to bump me down further than you're willing to scroll.

The first fool

Sometime prior to the last post I made (December 2019), Natalie Anstey, nee Yip, asked me if I'd be willing to give her a training plan for the 2020 Shamrock Half Marathon. She knew that we'd be having twins shortly before that, and offered to compensate me with diapers and hand-me-downs. I happily agreed and embarked in my first non-KC experience of formally telling someone what to do for running. She was pretty green, and I was pretty conservative. I drew from my own history in half-marathon buildups, some training plans I saved out of Runner's World (circa May - July, 2004), and a lot of input from her about her limitations. She was incredulous about some of the things that I asked her to do, and her runner friends in Davidson told her that I was crazy. Training was going pretty well until a few weeks before the race when there was a global pandemic and the race was cancelled.

For a while after that, she kept running. She did weird running group things and revisited my workouts, running races in Savannah (faster than my brother) and Brooklyn. Sometimes she would text me and ask "what should I do tomorrow at the track?" and I would just make up something at random to see if I could break her. But she was hooked on my wackadoo training. Partially because her husband paid an undisclosed amount of money to someone on Instagram to coach him and then got ghosted for the last few weeks before his race, and I've never managed to ghost someone for more than a day. I love the attention too much!!!!!!!!!

Anyway, Natalie ended up signing up for the cheat code known as the California International Marathon (CIM for short) in Sacramento. The race was held on December 4, 2022, and I was her coach. I made a spreadsheet that we shared and threw workouts into it, and we also used the Garmin Clipboard app so that I could program workouts for her (which I sometimes did) and she could upload them for me to view all the data easily (which she always did). This app was better than looking at her runs through Strava, and I didn't have to scroll around to find it. I got a notification every time she uploaded a run.

Right before the race, I told her that she needed to do a guest blog post, which she has, and I am going to share here (in another post, of course. Gotta get those clicks!) It's a little shorter than some of my posts, but like I said, she's pretty green. We still haven't even actually talked on the phone much about the race after-the-fact (we're more text-based coaching), so I'm looking forward to reading this myself to find out what happened! That's not me throwing shade-- we're both busy. Her race was on Sam's birthday, so I was pretty busy, and then she had a nice leisure trip in California visiting friends.

Another fool

Not to be forgotten in this introductory post, a few weeks after Natalie started her training cycle, my brother-in-law, Chip, reached out to ask if I could coach him to run the Houston Marathon! I agreed, thinking I could give them similar training, albeit six weeks later. Then he changed his mind and said he was going to do the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon a week after CIM, so I had to get my butt in gear for both of them. Coaching the two of them was different. Chip has run a few marathons before, but largely was not new to running. He caught the bug sometime in college when KC and I were dating, after an admittedly non-serious attempt at track in high school. He successfully coaches a high school team in Mississippi, so he has a lot more experience coaching than I do. Both Natalie and Chip have limitations to the time that they can commit to running. Natalie does a lot of cross training on her Pelotons (I feel like that term is synonymous with the bike-- what do you say for a treadmill?) and really tried to do exactly what I told her, while Chip probably took more liberties in making discretionary changes. It's important for both of them to be able to do that, because I really only told them the workouts and long runs... they filled in the blanks between to set their own mileage and recovery. And they both did a great job in their buildups. It was exciting to watch them do the work, run their long runs, race along the way, and I thought that they were both going to crush their respective races.

Check back in a little bit after I wiggle around with the formatting on Natalie's post. Chip's race report is TBD. He says he only does guest podcasts, and I'm yet to break into that medium successfully.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Check out my first blog post 785 days!

Time for the year-end review; and this time, bonus years! 2017-2019, all rolled into one. Now I don’t have to listen to any more comments around the dinner table at holidays about how I don’t write any more. To be honest, I spent plenty of time writing since my last post on November 5, 2017. If you’d like to read some of it, head over here.


Not a whole lot to say about 2017 that wasn’t said then. I ended the year by dropping out of the Marine Corps Marathon—my first DNF. I took time off for the rest of the year, running less than two dozen times before the year ended. The end.


We moved to Earlysville in March. I thought I’d be able to run out here, but it turns out I need to be physically fit in order to be mentally fit enough to run repeats in cult de sacs. I messed around for a while, never gaining fitness, until the summer when I finally started to run with some regularity. I participated in the United Ways Relay at Albemarle High School, a 4x800 meter relay carnival. Without looking it up, I recall that the warm-up was my longest run in a while, followed immediately by the cool down, which was much longer. I was gassed afterwards.

I started a new job in July (still with Albemarle County Public Schools) and successfully proposed for my capstone in September, which slowed my running back down again. The fall and winter were spent writing and researching, and I kept on not running. Right before Thanksgiving, I joined a cult, F3. On Monday mornings for a while, I was going to Hollymead Elementary school at 5:30 AM to do push-ups, bear crawls, and carry around cinder blocks. It was nice to have some “fellowship” when I was at the low point of my fitness, especially considering the stuff we were working on wasn’t stuff that I was particularly good at even when I was in good running shape.

In December, I participated in the Bill Steers Men’s 4 Miler. It was rock bottom for me, a real wake-up call. I was barely able to break 24-minutes for the four miles, lost to Matt, Shawn and Stew, and almost lost to John and Mateo. It was a lot of fun and reminded me of how much I love running races, but man, it was a disaster. Nonetheless, it got me motivated for 2019.


The thing about being at rock bottom is that you have no where to go but up. Barely able to make it four miles in six-minute pace, I decided that I needed to run ten miles faster. The plan was to run the New Year’s Day race in Free Union, the Haven 8K, and then the Charlottesville 10 Miler. Each race would be faster. I was going to go to cult meetings on Mondays and Thursdays (a new running-focused cult meeting), run on Wednesdays with the Dad Running Club (we reunited), and do a longer run on either Saturday or Sunday, but run both days. Tuesday and Friday I’d take off.

January 1 started off right at the Free Union Footrace. Barely under 18 minutes but a solid effort. I finished third after going through the mile in maybe 5th? 1st place was a very talented D3 runner visiting his girlfriend and Peyton got 2nd. I went out too fast but held on without dying too hard.

I got my long runs up to 15-17 miles leading up to the Haven 8k, where I improved my place to 2nd behind Thomas. I was running behind Ann for the first mile, and honestly worried that Laura was going to beat me during the last mile. She was closing on me, partially because I was dying and partially because a car almost hit me as I went into an intersection that was poorly guarded by a volunteer.

The week between the Haven and the Charlottesville 10 Miler, I went out to Green Springs and threw down a 19+ mile long run. It was the most fun I’d had all year long. I wish that I could do it each week. I don’t think it had much of an impact one me as I went to the 10 Miler and accomplished my goal of breaking 60 minutes. I got 20th place and ran 58:41. It’s probably the slowest I’ve ever run for 10 miles (except for Hartwood days). It was tough, but I was happy to accomplish my goal. After that, the spring racing season was over and it was back to low miles and writing like a machine. I had a deadline to make.

I finished writing in the spring and successfully defended in May, less than two weeks shy of the deadline to graduate that month, but that didn’t matter. The degree was conferred at the defense, according to my committee. I spent the day celebrating and went to the beach for Memorial Day weekend carefree for the first time in years!

Summer Racing Season

I started off the summer running the Bruce Barnes Mile. I’d heard it was fast but had no clue how fast it would be. Sean ran like 3:52 there before, and Alec has run 4:03, each of which is insane. The week of, I went to the track to attempt some 400s at five-minute pace and felt optimistic about my chances. The race was faster than I could have thought. I wanted to go out in 72 with the pack, but instead hit a 67 and was in 5th place! Thomas was way ahead and I just decided to stay in the game as long as I could since I’d already gone in head first. I ended up going 67, 2:16, 3:23, 4:31 to get passed at the line by a kid half my age. But again, so much fun.

Two weeks later, I was back at the United Ways Relay. I thought I’d do better than last time, but it didn’t go much better. We had a rag-tag group after several people were injured or had to stay with their dog because it bit another dog, but in the end, the ladies ran faster than I did. And one of those ladies was pregnant! Stew crushed it though, running something like a 58 for his first lap.
I spent the end of June trying to decide what to do on July 4, whether to race in Fredericksburg or Charlottesville. I think I made the right choice not going after the white whale, as Tim ran very fast there and I ran very slowly here. I got 2nd at the Kiwanis 5K at Hollymead after going out way too hard behind a dude in compression shorts and no shirt. He was on the track team at Penn and looked much younger and fitter. But I ran much faster than I had in January, so that was a win. If I’d gone out more slowly, I might have been able to get under seventeen minutes, but I didn’t and it was hot.

Things were going pretty well though. I decided that I was going to run the half-marathon in Richmond, and was using the summer months to get fit. I also committed to running with the Charlottesville F3 team for the Colonial 200, a relay race from Preddy Creek Park in Albemarle to Jamestown Beach in Williamsburg. But one morning at the track, I pulled my hamstring and then pulled the plug on Richmond. Then, at the beginning of September, a week before the relay, I hurt myself again at F3, doing mountain climbers of all things. It was sore that day, but really manifested the next morning in the midst of a nineteen mile long run that I quit after ten miles.

Gloom Horn Explosion

I ran two times between that and the relay, and thought I’d be able to make it through. My first leg was 8 miles in Fluvanna. Fifteen minutes in, I heard a pop in my calf. I hobbled the rest of the way through (in 6:32 pace) and then put my leg on ice for as long as I could. I was supposed to run a longer leg for my second turn, but my van made some accommodations for me and I bumped down to 3.8 miles in Hanover. That run was even more painful than the one where my leg popped, as my form was a mess and I hobbled around in the dark for a half-hour. But I went as hard as I could, running 9:07, 7:49, 6:59 and 7:22 pace starting at 10:23 PM. Spooky.

Back on the ice, we went to a hotel near the Diamond and slept for about 15 minutes before we had to head off to start the last round of legs for Van #2. I was first up. We’d been studying the rules and my plan to was to start, and if I needed to drop out, someone from Van #1 (Wolverine) would finish for me since no one in my van would be able to without cheating. I took it out in what felt like a very slow pace, and tried to focus on getting my form as close to normal as possible. I ended up finish the whole leg, as I never felt like it was going to get worse than it already was. That nine-mile leg through Charles City started in the dark but finished in day-light. I found a cell phone which I later recycled for like $20 at a kiosk at the mall.

We ended up winning the whole race by something close to two hours, I think. They stagger it so that the fastest team starts last, which was us, and we passed our first team on the 10th leg (I ran leg #9). There was a team that was running fast and started earlier than us, but despite how much we worried about it, we were never really in danger. I had grand aspirations of live blogging during the race or taking a GoPro and recording all our wacky hijinks, but the injury a week out really put a damper on my mood. Matt asked me last week if I looked back on the experience fondly, which I do, and I’d like to do it again next year if I can.

When it was over, I took off two weeks completely. Then I ran one mile and felt pain, took off two more days, ran another mile, and called the doctor. I was diagnosed with “Tennis Leg,” which is apparently a real thing. Bob Wilder told me to take another two weeks off but that I could cross train. One day I went to aqua jog, but that hurt too, and another day, I rode my bike while the DRC ran, which was just a nuisance. I started my return with a week of walk-jogs, and then after 2 weeks, ran 4 miles and was told by my watch to take 3 days recovery for 7:19 pace. Pathetic!

Fall racing season

I stuck to running for a while after F3 seemed to keep me in the injury cycle (no way I can pretend that it is F3’s fault). Since I wasn’t going to run Richmond, I signed up for the inaugural County/City Connecting Communities 5K at Hollymead, a race for which I served on the organizing committee. It was free and I knew that Stew wasn’t able to run, so I thought I had a chance to win. Van #2 swept the top two spots, as I wore a t-shirt to hide my fat from the cold (it was REALLY cold and windy). I ran much slower than I did on July 4, but that makes a lot of sense when you consider how little I’d been running again.

One week later I went to my favorite race of the year, the Wattey. This is a two-mile cross-country race at Panorama Farms, running the same loop as the kids run for the Ragged Mountain Cup. It’s the one time a year that I put on spikes and really make myself suffer. It was cold again, and there was some humidity in the air as they were calling for rain, but the weather was all-in-all more pleasant than it was the week before. I saw Andy before the race, so I knew that I had no shot of winning like I had last week. Honestly, the fact that I even though I could win real races this fall just shows how delusional I am. I ended up running pretty well, despite how slow it was. Andy went out hard running away from a recent WAHS grad, Tommy. An older guy and two other kids also went out ahead of me. It was only two miles, but there was a lot of time to think. The older guy came back after 800, and I was sitting behind these two kids at the mile. Going through in 5:45, I laughed and said out loud to them, “didn’t it seem faster than that?”

I moved past them quickly and saw Tommy coming back hard on the long hill that is the regular course’s starting straight. I gave it everything that I had to catch him over that last mile, but coming down the finish straight, I knew I didn’t have it and shut it down, as you can see.

Last but not least was the Earlysville Turkey Trot. I was again delusional in thinking that I might win this race, even though I caught a cold from running around in the wet grass at Panorama a few days before. Spoiler alert, I didn’t win, I got 4th and ran slower than I had at Hollymead two weeks before. But I think the course at Hollymead is short and the course in Earlysville is long. My pace was faster on Turkey Day. They had a race within the race, where Ann Dunn got a head start while dressed as a turkey, and you’d get a special prize if you beat her. I didn’t know about this beforehand, thus I didn’t warn KC and the boys. So I needed to make sure that I was ahead of her before I got to my street so they didn’t think I was losing to a turkey (Henry has never let it go that I lost to a monkey chasing a banana at Marine Corps.) I ran the tangents and tried to be smart about it, but I was still toast for the last mile.

Wrapping up

I managed to write all of this about a year where I didn’t even run 1600 miles. Even though the training wasn’t there, I still participated in 10 races and had a lot of run at each one. I’ve gotten injured a hand full of times from pushing when I shouldn’t have or doing something stupid (like falling down the stairs). Eight months ago, I was planning to run a half marathon in the fall and then a marathon this coming spring. I didn’t run the half and I’m definitely not running a full any time soon. 2020 is going to be a down year for running, as we’re expecting two additional members of the family in January, and I’m not talking about puppies. I'm running the January 1 5K in Free Union again, but beyond that, you will have to check back in a year to see if I go running again.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Four words

I’d been saying four words to myself for a week. Four words, over and over again. It’s just a marathon. And it’s not as though the weeks prior had gone exceptionally well either. I went to NYC and got sick. When I came back, I got an antibiotic that proved unsuccessful. While on that, I had to take some days off (including a day off of work) and I had a glorious bonk in the last four miles of a my last 23 mile long run. Several days later, I was still sick and got another antibiotic. That one really took it out of me. Two pills a day, ten days. Those pills were awful. I had to take the second pill before 5pm if I wanted any hope of falling asleep at a reasonable time or waking up in time to go running. If I had the strength to run at all. But I was going to finish up that medication nine days before the race, so I knew I’d have time to bounce back.

I made the mistake of not doing a workout one day when I couldn’t the next, so it got pushed to that Friday. When I started my warmup, my right hamstring was really tight. I thought nothing of it and went about my run. But after two of my intended eight intervals, it was getting worse, so I stopped the workout. I wish I could have stopped the run, it was hurting that badly. The next two days, the pain did not go away and I was limited to about 30 minutes before it got to be too much. I decided I’d take the next few days off of running and instead get in the pool So Monday - Wednesday, I was at the YMCA—first one in the water at 5am. I swam and I aqua jogged, and told myself those same four words. Wednesday afternoon I had my leg worked on. Thursday, I would run.

23 minutes, after school, at the warmest part of the day, with full tights on. It didn’t feel good. I went slowly, but picked it up at some point to see if running 6:30 pace felt better than running 8:00 pace. It did not. Four words. Same thing on Friday. No better. Four words. I knew I was going to make my final decision about participation as late as possible, so Saturday morning, I got up early and went for the same 5k jog. It hurt less. I was all in. I was going to run this race.

Sunday morning, I left my hotel in a Lyft and got to the Metro Station to ride to the Pentagon. The station opened two hours early for the race and the place was packed already. Being with these other runners who were hoping to finish, ready to tackle the grueling effort, made me realize that the four words I’d been saying all week were relative, and did not apply to these folks. For the first time in years, I felt like I was the least serious runner around me. They had trained, they were ready! They were running with a purpose, to prove something, to honor someone. What was I doing this for? I was very emotional in realizing that this event, today, was about so much more to so many people than I’d ever realized. I'd been really selfish getting here, trivializing the event and not considering how big of a deal it is to so many people. I just haven’t been in this situation before, with these masses of runners, all working to finish. It wasn’t about the clock for them, or if it was, they weren’t’ showing it. It was about the challenge, the course, the commitment. I didn’t know what it was about for me. Those four words were coming back to haunt me. It was a tough pill to swallow.

Early risers
Fast forward to the race. Justin Neibauer was running too, still chasing sub-3. I asked him if it would be OK if I ran with him for at least the first 10K, to keep myself under control and warm up into it slowly. He was happy to have the company. We met up in the athlete’s village, I warmed up for a little bit, stretched, and applied some KT tape to my hamstring. I’d been wearing a hamstring sleeve that I borrowed from Charlie, and in hindsight I should have kept it on. We dropped our gear and made our way up to the starting line—which itself was an incredible experience. Thinking back to the races I’ve run, it’s most similar to Boston. The numbers of people around are incredible—more so than in Hopkinton, because they stagger the start times there. In Chicago, I’ve always been ahead and in the sub-elite Olympic developmental group (or whatever it’s called these days) so I haven’t seen these crowds. But this was incredible. Having the helicopters and jets and stuff fly overhead was cool too. I thought of my kids and hoped that they were getting to see it all. They left the hotel early that morning to make it to the course to spectate.

Computational thinking on my mind?
There was a delay in the race because of something on the course, during which I convinced Justin we needed to move up closer to the start. We weren’t going to finish behind 500 people so we shouldn’t start behind them either. I borrowed a strangers phone (first of three times today—spoiler alert) and texted KC so she wouldn’t think I was dead already when I was 5 minutes behind where she expected me to be.

The gun went off and I was in trouble. My hamstring wasted no time in reminding me that it wasn’t 100%. But the adrenaline got me off the line and Justin and I began our race. I encouraged him not to look at his watch a few times in the first half mile. We saw a runner running the wrong way on a road next to the course and then pass us. I hoped he wasn’t cheating. Turns out he and a bunch of other runners took a wrong turn almost immediately and had to backtrack. I looked for my family as we went through Rosslyn. I was completely lost in that effort and was unaware of where I was on the course until my watch vibrated to alert me of the first mile—I’d forgotten to turn off autolap and did not even know where the mile marker was relative to that split. It gave me a 6:56 and we’d already passed the mark, so we were going too fast. We’d agreed that he should run over 7:00 for the first few miles BEFORE I got hurt, and here I was ruining his race plan. But then I saw my family with the Crafts, cheering at me in the crowd, and I forgot all about being off pace.

We started up the only significant hill of the race and were passing a lot of people, but getting passed by a lot of people too. I tried to slow down as the pain started to creep up, but we split a 6:44 second mile up the hill (again, GPS, not mile markers). And then things just sort of started to settle. Justin would run next to me or right behind me, we’d chat a little every once in a while, but we just kept running. I was hurting, but honestly it was less than it had hurt at all in the past week. I was bored to death with how slow we were going (no offense, rest of the world) and we just plugged along. I was looking around, taking in the sights of DC as Justin regaled me with tales of Marine Corps Marathons he’d spectated when his dad ran them, and I thought of my dad running this same race before I was born.

I looked along the route at the spectators to see if I knew people, always looking for my family. There was one girl who I saw three times in the first nine miles. I told her that, too. I chatted with other racers as we grouped together. I did math in my head as we passed mile markers to get actual splits, but never touched my watch. I was actually starting to feel better—noticing my hamstring less, feeling more confident. KC and the kids had a great view of the course on some bridge (Rt-66) right around mile 10, and I waved up at them, smiling. I told Justin our gun time for 10-miles (I don’t remember what it was). He told me that his brain didn’t work anymore and asked me the pace. We were somewhere under 6:50 probably, but I felt ready to keep up the pace and he did not. So I consciously let go of him (from ahead of him) and just started to run. My GPS was more closely mirroring the clock splits, and I was running in the mid-sixes. My 11th mile was a 6:21. I thought that I could conservatively keep that up, and then maybe in the second half of the race get closer to six-flat or faster.

I was wrong. 77 minutes in, I felt a pull. OK, too soon, I thought. Let’s back it down to 6:30-6:40, maybe group back up with Justin. Nope. For the next four minutes, I slowed down until I was running over 7-minute pace until I just had to stop. I came to a complete stop. Let’s review other times I’ve come to complete stops during a marathon:
  • Boston 2004 – Had to go into a bathroom
  • Shamrock 2006 – Had to tie my shoe
  • Chicago 2009 – Had to stretch (twice)
Not a track records of success during those races. Tying my shoe wasn’t that big of a deal, but this didn’t bode well. I stretched, then got back on my way, briefly. Somehow, I managed to split 6:30 for the 12th mile, with walking. I did not stop my watch. I approached the Blue Mile, which the course website describes as “the emotional blue Mile of the course where fallen service members are commemorated in photographs along the roadway decorated with American Flags." What a place to have to walk through. Looking at those pictures, passing people standing every two feet holding up flags. There was nowhere for me to go but in the grass. I couldn’t walk on the road past all of those people. It was embarrassing.

Justin had already passed me and I walked across the 20K mat. I was still in this race. Over the next nine minutes, I continued to attempt running, but it would only last for a few meters. I could not continue to run. But I knew I had to be looping back at some point, I just didn’t know the course well enough to know how far. It was over. I stopped my watch at 12.82 miles, after 90:43 of running.

I started my watch over for the walk that I was about to do in order to get back to my family. I walked for a few minutes until I got to the half way mark… somewhere around 96 minutes gun time. There were two spectators there—one kind enough to let me use his phone. I sent KC a text to let her know I was no longer running the race. For the next 55 minutes, I walked along the course. I took a gel, I took water, I almost took some Halloween candy, I almost took a mimosa, but I didn’t want to stand around drinking with their actual glass champagne glasses, nor did I want to take that with me. I was passed by thousands of people. People offered words of encouragement, trying to get me to continue. I saw other people stop to walk/stretch and jump back in. I tried to do the same, just to get this nightmare over with. But I couldn’t even jog two strides. Running was not an option.

Once I got off of the Hains Point area, I was excitedly looking for KC everywhere, but also growing more and more embarrassed as I walked along the course. Sometimes I popped up onto the sidewalk to get out of the way of the actual runners. I made sure to cross the timing mat at the 25K so that she’d get a text message to let her know I was still alive, but she didn’t—they only went out at the 10K and 20K. She’d planned to see me at 16, so I thought there was a chance that maybe they were walking towards me, but I also just thought that’s where I would find her. 16 was right around a 180-degree turn, and she was nowhere to be found. I borrowed my third and final cell phone, but this time to call her. She was at mile 16 too, we’d just missed each other. So, I kept walking.

We reunited somewhere after 16. She said I looked great, considering. I offered to keep walking the course (I only had 10 miles to go!) if they wanted to wait and I told her I was in high spirits, mostly because I’d already had an hour to be depressed and sad, now I just wanted to go home. I made a tough phone call to my mom, who was at the finish, to let her know that I wouldn’t be arriving by foot and apologize for wasting her day. We continued to walk along the course until past mile 17, where I officially dropped out of the race and we headed for the metro. Four words.

My GPS splits
The metro station was a tough place to be. There were people walking around with their medals on from the 10K, and even a few people who had already finished the marathon. I was standing around in my racing kit, looking like an idiot. I came out and went to get my bag, and who should pop up but Justin! He was going to get his bag too, and said he’d had some watch issues so he wasn’t sure whether he was under three hours or not. I pulled my phone out of my bag, and the last text that I’d received was his finishing result, 2:59:53! We celebrated briefly before he announced his retirement from marathoning. His result made my day a whole lot better, and I felt less sad for myself.

We loaded up into the car, went to the hotel to pack, get lunch, and hit the road. While I was in the hotel room packing up, KC was in the car with the kids, who had fallen asleep. I came down to the lobby to find them all inside, because the car had started smoking and she had to get them out and shut it off. The day continued to get worse. Who gives a shit about dropping out of a marathon now? My mom called to tell me that my grandmother had taken a turn for the worse and probably wouldn’t make it much longer. Who gives a shit about dropping out of a marathon now?

Long story short, we got the car “fixed” after a brief wait ($$)—thank goodness there was a place open on a Sunday! We had a stressful lunch, got to Fredericksburg to see my grandmother one last time (she passed away the following Wednesday morning at 92 years old), and I haven’t run in two weeks. I talked to a few people while I was waiting for the car to get fixed and KC was entertaining the kids in the hotel lobby/an ice cream place, and it’s all about perspective.

The Internet is still waiting
for me to finish the race.
Those four words though. It’s just a marathon. Well, now that it was over, I had new four words I was thinking about. I’ll never drop out. I’d given a lot of shit to people who dropped out of marathons. Sean. Alec. Rachel. Chris. Sean. I always said I wouldn’t. I told Charlie before that I wouldn’t line up if I didn’t think I could finish. If I started the race, I was going to finish it. Well you know what, I was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I could NOT finish that race. I tried! And it wouldn’t have been worth it to walk from mile 11 to mile 26.2. What would that prove? That I’m a stubborn ass, probably. KC said she was proud of me for dropping out. That sounds silly, but it was the smart thing to do. The only thing to do, really. Am I eating crow? Absolutely. But there’s nothing I could do about it. And none of those people who I’ve given so much crap to have said a word to me (granted I don’t talk to any of them much anyway). But if they did, I’d welcome it.

I had some really good training until the end of September. It doesn’t matter what I thought I could run, but I was feeling good about it. Then I got sick, and I got injured. I did the absolute best I could to rehab and make it to the race healthy, but it wasn’t meant to be. Now I can say that I’ve dropped out of a marathon. I’m in that club. I’m embarrassed about it, but at the same time, I’m not, because I tried. I didn’t drop out because I was slowing down or I wasn’t feeling well. I could not run. Period. I probably shouldn’t have even lined up, but I would have never known. This way, I knew for sure and I have little regret.

2018 is going to be the year of the 5K. Take that as you will. I’ll come back to the marathon in 2019, somewhere. I have unfinished business at Marine Corps, but that may have to wait until another year.

I welcome any and all trash talk about me dropping out. I deserve it. Just say it to my face (or directly to me electronically)—that’s what I would do to you.

Race Photos