Race Recap: A Marathon Like Weekend for the Navy-Air Force Half

When I signed up for the Navy-Air Force Half Marathon back in February, I had no idea that two things would happen: first that my friend Cecile would get engaged and then that my friend Bianca would get pregnant. I mean, I was hoping these two things would happen at some point, don’t get me wrong. I’m talking more about the timing. Cecile is getting married in October and had her bachelorette party Saturday night and Bianca is due also in October and her baby shower was planned for Sunday afternoon. And somewhere in the middle of this celebration filled weekend, I had to run 13.1 miles 😉 

Busy weekend means I got my bib pick-up out of the way as early as I could. The expo at Stadium Armory was pretty small and not very exciting, though I still managed to spend close to $100 there.

Cecile’s bachelorette party kicked off with a rosé happy hour in the party room of her building, followed by diner. Luckily diner was at Osteria Morini, an Italian restaurant at Navy Yard, so I was able to get a generous plate of pasta. I tried to keep my wine consumption down (easier said than done) and skipped out on the earlier side to try and get a decent night rest. Mission semi-successful as I still went to bed a little later and drunker than I had planned….

On race day I woke up at 5:30AM so I could eat a proper breakfast (Kodiak cake’s flapjack cup blueberry and maple as well as a small cup of coffee — I needed it!) One of my favourite thing about D.C. races is that I can typically walk to the start from my place. I basically never check out bags so I didn’t feel the need to head out until 6:25AM. I met up with Lien James, who is a bit of a Marine Corps marathon celebrity having ran it 16th time (she’s 67 and so inspiring… she’s ran 122 marathon already!) and a few other girls at the Willard and we walked to the start together with just enough time to snap a few pictures!

I was in the second wave, of course, because I’m such a slow runner. I was looking forward to running this race because the course is basically the same as the National Women’s Half Marathon which I ran back in April: Hains Point then Rock Creek Parkway… it did have a MUCH better start line though (National Monument vs MLK memorial!). But it’s a pretty boring if standard course through some unexciting parts of the city, routes I’m pretty familiar with by now since I’ve been clocking some 12+ miles run for the last month and half. Like the Women’s Half, this race wasn’t well-attended by spectators and there’s nothing to distract you (sorry, East Potomac Golf Course). I’ve been training so much since June, religiously attending track sessions on Thursday and putting in the work on Sundays for my long runs. So you can imagine my disappointment when I crossed the finish line at 2:38, 14 minutes above my Brooklyn Half PR (recap here) and just 3 minutes faster than both the Women’s Half, a race I absolutely did not enjoy (recap here) and the Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon, a race where I walk most of the course because I was dying of heat. It’s also just 6 minutes faster than the Rock’n’Roll half in 2013, which was my first marathon ever and for which I had barely trained. I’m basically crushed to see that I’ve made no progress whatsoever, which isn’t how I want to feel 40 days before my first marathon. 

I couldn’t linger too much on these feelings, or at the finish line, because I had a baby shower to go to.  After a quick shower and a recovery snack, it was time to head out to Southwest to help set up the event (did I mention I was one of the host?) It was lovely toasting Baby B’s upcoming arrival into the world with so many of Bianca and Branden’s friends (and my first time attending a co-ed shower, which was interesting.) Her friend Frida did such a wonderful job with all the food and the cake. I was SO hungry! 

Needless to say, I was pretty wiped at the end of the day/weekend. I know I “only” ran 13.1 miles but it definitely felt like a marathon weekend. The worst part though is that creeping self-doubt I just can’t shake off right now. I can barely handle a half-marathon, how am I supposed to run twice as much? Maybe I should have focused on becoming a stronger/faster runner before biting more than I can chew. I know they say for your first marathon your goal should just be to finish, but I know that’s not going to be good enough for me. And if I’m not going to feel good about myself at the end of the race, should I really be running it at all? I have about 48 hours to decide if I transfer my Marine Corps Marathon bib or not, which is basically choosing between two different ways to fail: I can try and fail or I can fail by not trying. I lose either way. Whichever I decide, I’m off to Paris on Friday and I’m just really looking forward to the break. 

 

Brooklyn Half Marathon: I Missed the Royal Wedding for This

You guys! I ran a race in New York City! Nope, I didn’t run the New York Marathon. (I weirdly have no desire to!). I didn’t run the New York Half Marathon. Though I did want to run that one, I just didn’t get in through the lottery. I did get into the Popular Brooklyn Half Marathon so that’s what I ran and , well, it was a tough one!

The New York Road Runners‘ Brooklyn half owes it names to the title sponsor of the race, Popular Bank, but it bears it well! Indeed, it’s is one of the most popular half marathon in the United States, attracting some 27,000+ runners this year. I was looking forwards to running it as my first New York City race, especially since I had never been to Coney Island where the race ends. Also, I was going to run it with my friend Caitlin and that’s always fun. We’ve now ran 5 races “together”: the 2010, 2011 and 2018 Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, the 2017 Disneyland Paris Half Marathon and now the  2018 Popular Brooklyn Half Marathon. I put together in quotation marks because she’s a lot faster than me and we don’t actually “run” together 😉 Still, it’s a shared experience. Kind of.

Since the race is on a Saturday, I bused up to Manhattan Friday afternoon, which meant I missed the expo. I snagged a $5 Megabus ticket that was too good to pass. My friends Calla and Nicole traveled in a little more style than me (ie. they took the train) earlier in the day and we met up for some carbs at Basta Pasta, a casual Japanese restaurant in Chelsea that serves classic Italian dishes, with a twist.  I love seafood pasta (spaghetti with clams are my go-to pre-race) so I had been lusting over the Linguine Al Ricci Di Mare (uni pasta!) for weeks! It doesn’t photograph well, but it didn’t disappoint. 

Uni Pasta at Basta Pasta

Caitlin scooped me up after dinner and we headed to bed early-ish since we had to get up at the crack of dawn and, you know, run 13 miles the next day.

If you live in the East Coast, you know the weather has been simply atrocious and unfortunately, it looked like conditions would be less than ideal on race day. Oh well, you run the race you’re given not the race you want and ours was going to be wet and cold. We got up at 5AM and ubered to the Brooklyn Museum. Because the race is so big, runners are divided in 30+ corrals split between two waves. Since she’s a faster runner, Caitlin was in Wave 1 and I, of course, was in Wave 2. That meant her expected start time was after 7AM and mine after 7:45AM. We got there a little after 6AM and since you have to go through metal detectors to get to the corrals we quickly said goodbyes as Caitlin headed to her earlier start. Meanwhile, I had quite a while to wait so I found myself underneath a scaffolding for protection from the rain, in a garbage bag questioning some of my life choices. I mean, I could have been warm at home, in my pjs, sipping hot tea and watching the Royal Wedding 😉

If you’ve read some of my previous race reports, you know that I have been extremely frustrated by my inability to improve my race time. I had ran the Rock’n’Roll Half Marathon in early March in 2:41 and the National Women’s Half Marathon in late April (recap here) in the exact same time. Worse, I had ran my very first half, the 2013 Rock’n’Roll Half Marathon in DC, very under-trained, and had finished that in 2:43. At least, at the 2018 Rock’n’Roll half, I had fun and enjoyed the race so my initial plan for Brooklyn was to just try and have a fun race without worrying too much about my time, hoping I could still shave off a few minutes. Of course, mother nature had other plans for me and it was obvious given the weather that “having fun” wasn’t really going to be an option. So I decided I would try and run a good race instead. I wore the pace bracelet for 2:35 and thought I’d follow the 2:30 pace leader for as long as I could (that strategy had worked well for me at the 2018 Cherry Blossom 10 miler — recap here) hoping to finish somewhere between 2:30 and 2:35, which would be a solid PR for me and a result I could finally be proud of. Turns out, as a French citizen, that I couldn’t possibly run 21 kilometers behind this lady…  

So I was on my own in the rain with my Garmin to help me make sure I stayed at as close to 11:30 minutes per miles as I could. I didn’t cross the start line until a few minutes after 8AM. That meant Caitlin was probably halfway done by the time I started, which sucked. The rain was pouring pretty hard in the beginning but I still ditched my garbage bag right away and started running with everyone else. The first half of the race has you running around Prospect Park and  then through it. Given the early hour and the weather, it was not surprising that there weren’t a lot of people cheering along the way, mostly just people walking their dogs, but I appreciated every single person that was there in the rain. The park has a few inclines and declines but nothing too bad and there were ample water stations right from the beginning, which I really appreciated.  Prospect park was pretty boring though the rain did kinda stop for a little bit, which I appreciated very much. I was glad to be out of the park though, and into the second part of the run: racing down Ocean Parkway. It’s basically straight course down a 6-lane avenue. There’s a ton of space to run, but not a ton to look at for distraction. Again, there weren’t a ton of people cheering or spectating which meant I really only had the race to focus on. The rain started coming down strong again at that point, but despite being drenched I was actually trudging along as a decent pace between the 10-11 minute per mile range. My fastest mile was miles 3 at 10:05/mi, my slowest ones, miles 5 and 6 were 11:11/mi and 13.16/mi. Mile nine was also a bit of a struggle at 11:09/mi. Otherwise I ran in the 10s and I all I could think about while running down Ocean Drive was that I could realistically finish the race with a 20 minute PR.  That was a huge motivation to just keep going and not slow down! 

I missed the royal wedding to run in the rain… and PRed so it was all worth it!

In the end, I finished in 2:24. I missed the Royal Wedding for a 17-minute PR. Most importantly, I finally had a race result I could be proud of, especially given the less than ideal conditions. I had something to show for all the training and running I have been doing since the beginning of the year and that made it all worth it. 

Calla and Nicole were supposed to meet us at the Boardwalk with dry clothes and umbrellas (and my phone charger) but given the weather they stayed in bed to watch the royal wedding. And I can’t blame them.  While I had to wait at the start, Caitlin had to wait at the end and she was frozen by the time I got there (a solid hour and half after her!) so once we found each other we didn’t stick around too long. It was a bummer because the party at the finish line looked like it would have been a ton of fun… had we not been tired, wet and cold. I guess I’ll have to go back to Coney Island under better circumstances. 

As much of Coney Island as I got to see… from the metro back to Manhattan

The next day, the sun finally came out. Hurrah! I had almost forgotten what it looked like 😉 We went back to Brooklyn for brunch at Chez Ma Tante, a French-Canadian neighbourhood bistro in Greenpoint. The pancakes were worth all the accolades they’ve been getting! Calla and Nicole brought the sign they had planned to use at the finish line along for brunch! How cute is the sign? Though I don’t think it would have survived in the rain 😉 

And of course, we took our medals on a little photo shoot to make up for the pictures we didn’t get to take the day before and I *finally* got to have my Coney Island beer at The Brooklyn Barge! No Nathan’s hot dog though… 

Coney Island Beer

Would I run this race again? I dunno…. there are SO many races. If it were a local race, I definitely would and I would make sure I can attend the expo as well since the New York Road Runners does a great job making sure it’s a special event, almost a pre-race party. And I’d love to see what kind of party at Coney Island we all missed out on because the weather was so awful. I guess I have a whole year to figure that out. 

Next up for me is the Virginia Wine Country Half Marathon on June 2nd. It’s likely to be very hot and humid by then in Purcellville so it will be a very different race but I hope to prove to myself that my 2:24 finish at the Brooklyn half wasn’t just a fluke and finish in under 2:25. 

 

Race Recap: National Women’s Half Marathon

As a new runner, my main race goal so far has usually been to just cross that finish line. But now that I have a couple of races behind me, I thought it was time I get a little ambitious and set the bar a little higher for the National Women’s Half Marathon on April 29. 

After all, this race was my fourth half marathon, second this year, and third race in April alone. We’ll circle back on the valuable lesson I learned from signing up for too many races this spring in a separate post 😉 

So here are my previous half marathon times:

For every single one, I have an excuse: 2013 I didn’t train! Disney I wasted time trying to get a picture with Mickey. And the most recent half, back in March, I didn’t want to push myself too hard since I had a huge conference starting the next day. I still PRed though technically… Well, I didn’t have an excuse this time around. I’ve actually been running. Based on my performances in April alone (I ran the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in 1:55:31 and the GW Parkway Classic in 1:53:32) and thanks to my awesome new Garmin I actually have a better understanding of my pace. Realistically, I knew that my pace of 7:00-7:15 per kilometer / 11:15-11:30 per mile means I should be able to finish a half marathon in two hours and a half. With that in mind, here were my goals for the National Women’s Half Marathon:

  • Stretch goal: finish closer to 2:20 than 2:30
  • Realistic goal: finish under 2:35
  • Worst-case scenario goal: finish under my previous half marathon personal best of 2:41:31

So how did I do? If you follow me on instagram, you probably already know the answer. If you don’t, you should (here!)! But let me tell you a little bit about the race first. This is the first time this race was held in D.C. I snagged my spot pretty early on, meaning I paid almost nothing to register (the initial registration price was $1 and increased as the race got closer.) I’d never done nor sought out a women-only race and that wasn’t a factor in me deciding to do this race. From the start, the event seemed pretty disorganized so I didn’t have very high expectations of how things would run the day of. To be fair, packet pick-up at Pacers was a breeze (love my Pacers!) This wasn’t my first race so I didn’t care really that there was no expo, but I know for a lot of women, this WAS their first race ever and I’m sure they would have liked a bit more of fuss with maybe a backdrop for bib pictures and the opportunity to buy race souvenirs. 

I made a slight mistake the night before the race and watched the two new episodes of the Handmaid Tale. I don’t know if that’s why I didn’t sleep well but I felt tired Sunday morning. I still stuck with my usual pre-race routine: got up two hours before the race, had an RX bar and a kiwi as I listened to the latest episode of Pod Save America. I’ve been trying out Nuun and had a vitamin & caffeine enhanced drink instead of a small cup of coffee. I don’t like waiting around too long, and I knew I wouldn’t need either bag check or the restrooms so I left my place pretty late at 6:20AM. Turns out I should have paid closer attention to the site of the start/finish line and ubered there. Typically, I’ll see a lot of runners on my way to the start and this time around I saw NO ONE! Downtown D.C. was completely deserted. I started to panic. As I realized the start line  was on the other side of the Tidal Basin and much further than I thought, I ended up run/walking 2 miles before even starting the race. Not reading the Athlete’s Guide properly is on me but that’s the worst place to start a race! I got there just in time to hop into the third wave but I started the race tired and stressed. For a while, I entertained the opportunity to run the 8K if I didn’t get to the start line on time for the half marathon and that was kind of a thought that didn’t leave me throughout the race.

Given that I had injured myself in late March and cut down on my running I knew that running two 10-milers and a half marathon in a month was a lot for me. I considered dropping out of the GW Parkway Classic but ended up running it and actually felt good afterwards. I feel like I tend to psych myself out before races so I decided I wouldn’t do that for the half-marathon. I wouldn’t downgrade. I would run the whole thing and I would do well! Except from the start, it was obvious that it wouldn’t be the case. I knew pretty early on I wouldn’t meet my stretch nor my realistic goal.  And I psyched myself out. I wasted time going to the bathroom but otherwise I was running under 11:30 for the first 4 miles. I wasn’t doing great, but I was doing ok. And then two things happened around mile 5. One, there was this sign about choosing between the half marathon (go right!) and the 8K (go left). I kinda didn’t want to run anymore and seriously entertained gearing to the left! 

And then we saw her. The leading runner. She was getting to mile 11 and I was barely at mile 5. She seemed so strong and she was going so fast. And then we saw another runner. And one more. And one more. And then lots more. For the next 4 miles all I could focus on were the runners on the other side, the ones who would finish in an hour and half. I knew I wasn’t half way threw and already just wanted to be done. Not the best mindset during a race…. I went through the motions for the rest of the race but honestly I wasn’t feeling it. 

Technically met my worst case scenario goal. I did finish “faster” the National Women’s Half Marathon faster than I did the Rock’n’Roll Half. By 10 seconds. I know it’s technically a PR. Woo hoo (<– being sarcastic here) but the truth is I didn’t enjoy this race. I had so much more fun at the Rock’n’Roll Half. I had no expectations. I didn’t push myself. I stopped and hugged friends along the course. I *finally* took some of the beer people hand out along the course. I walked some. And yet I finished in THE EXACT SAME TIME when I feel like I worked harder and struggled more at the National Women’s Half Marathon. And it’s probably due to fatigue. As I said, three races was a lot for me and my leg has been bothering me… I think beyond some minor organizational issues (the water stations weren’t efficiently managed, the start line was too far, communication was poor) I just didn’t like the run because I didn’t have fun running it. And my performance showed that. 

I do want to end this post on a positive note. Here is one thing I *loved* about this race: the girl power aspect! I never sought out a women-only race. Just their names (Divas, Princess, Queen B) are usually a turn off (unless princess is followed by Disney and then it’s awesome!) are a turn off, so are the tutus, the tiaras, the pink, the stiletto logos (really!).  But the National Women’s  like a celebration of women’s running and of women being strong and kicking some ass(phalt!) There were groups of girlfriends who were doing this together, many of them as their first big race and everyone was so supportive and encouraging of each other in a way only women are really. I wouldn’t mind doing another 😉 But not anytime soon! I had been warned I would most likely burn out signing up for all those races. I’m sure a most-experienced runner would handle the pressure better but I’m still new to this. Instead of just going through the motions at all the races, I need to focus on doing well in a few races. With that in mind, my next D.C. race will actually be the marine Corps Marathon in late October. I will be running La Grande Classique Paris-Versailles but that is it! I am not allowed to sign up for anymore fall races! One of the things I missed in yesterday’s race was the lack of spectators. Don’t get me wrong, there actually were quite a few, especially men cheering on their girlfriends/wives/friends. I loved that. But Hains Point and Rock Creek Park are hard to get to so there weren’t as many as during the Cherry Blossom 10 Miller or the Rock’n’Roll Half. I missed spectating (WAY less work than running too!) so I’m going to focus on cheering for a bit. That’s really fun too! 

Training Pays Off: 2018 Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run Recap

My third race of the year is in the books! The Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run is the first race I ever ran. I was under prepared and it wasn’t pretty. Last year, I struggled to cross the finish line in 2:14 minutes, 6 minutes short of not being considered an official finisher. I left the race feeling defeated and knew I had two options moving forward. I could feel sorry for myself and give up. That was the easiest thing to do. Or I could accept the fact that I hadn’t trained enough and decide to work harder so I could do better next time. If you’ve been reading this blog for a bit, you know I chose the latter option and I’m glad I did. This year, I walked out of the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler with a sparkly medal AND a feeling I had rarely experienced post race. I was kinda proud of myself… 

My main problem with running was always more of a mental hurdle than a physical one. Ideally, I’d love to  turn off netflix, jump off the couch and run a marathon. Wouldn’t we all? But that’s not how it works. You’ve gotta couch to 5K to a turkey trot, train up to a 10K, actually run (that’s a big one), consistently (also big) and then run some more. You have to decide that running is important to you and prioritize it in your life accordingly. And that’s what I did. I started tagging along with some running groups, which was very difficult at first since I’m both a slow runner AND an introvert. I struggled to keep up for a while, to make small talk but then both got easier. I ran/walked the Disneyland Paris half marathon (recap here) and mostly ran the Marine Corps Marathon 10K in the fall (recap here). I applied to be a social media ambassador for the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run. And I was selected! 

Being a social media ambassador came with some cool perks like skipping the lottery process altogether, new tennis shoes and most importantly for me the opportunity to participate in one of the Potomac River Running’s training programs and blog about the process (added accountability is not negligible!) I’ll dedicate a whole post soon to discuss the advantages of joining training groups or social running clubs, but for now I’ll just mention a few points quickly. First of all, it was great to be surrounded with people who were struggling a bit like me. Sure running with more experienced, faster runner forces you to push yourself a little bit more, but it can also be very discouraging to always feel like the slowest one. Sometime it’s just nice to be with people more at your level (or pace I guess). Second, this winter SUCKED. Let’s be honest, there were plenty of cold rainy Sunday morning when I would have stayed in bed instead of going out for a run if it hadn’t been for my training group. I know I wouldn’t have stuck with the long runs the way I did if it hadn’t been for the extra incentive and motivation the group provided. 

Rain or shine, though mostly rain, my Potomac River Running distance spring training group met every Sunday at 8AM in Georgetown

I stuck with the sunday long-runs, progressively increasing the mileage, Monday fun-runs with Pacers and cross training at Cyclebar NoMa. I ran the 17.75K “access granted” race (recap here) a few weeks before the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile run and felt pretty good coming out of it. That race is a tiny bit longer than the 10 Miler and way more hill-y so it definitely gave me a nice confidence boost, especially since I still had three weeks to train. But then I strained a muscle in my upper thigh and had to stop training and exercising altogether. Whatever confidence I had was completely shattered. I even debated downgrading to the 5K. Ultimately, I decided to stick with the run after participating in a shake-out run organized by Garmin and The DC Run Crew at the Potomac River Running store in Chinatown. It didn’t feel great but I thought I could at least limp my way across the finish line a little under the 2:20 cut-off time. 

With that in mind, I decided I needed a plan to make it through the race, and that plan involved sticking with one of Gold Gym’s pace group for as long as I could, at an “easy” 11:30 that would still get me to finish the race in around 2 hours but wouldn’t be too strenuous. I still have a hard time pacing myself so I figured I’d let someone else do the work for me this time. On race day, my friend Caitlin and I walked over the starting area (the race starts and ends around the Washington Monument). We had brought old Icelandair airplane blankets to keep us warm while we waited in our respective corrals. Caitlin was red, of course, she’s a fast one. And I went over to the green corral to find the 11:30 pace group. 

I don’t know who the runner on the picture above is, but I stuck with him for 7.5 solid miles and that was a smart move for me. At mile one I wanted to die (I’ve always been a little over dramatic). At mile two my knee started to hurt and I considered stopping at the first medical tent and quitting the race. But then I realized I actually didn’t feel *that* bad and that I just needed to shut down my brain for a bit, which is actually quite hard when you’re not running with music, and focus on that neon yellow shirt in front of me, making sure I always kept it in my sights. I got into a pretty good grove. I was able to see my own pace and time thanks to my brand new Garmin (another perks of being a social media ambassador for the race) and started to realize that I could potentially finish the race in less than 1:54 (my fastest time on a ten mile course ever) and maybe even close to 1:50 if I picked up my pace a little bit, which I actually felt good enough to do. There were just two things standing in my way: 2.5 miles and the fact that I had to pee 😉

I had stopped at most water stop along the route. While it was freezing that morning, once we got moving it was actually a beautiful, sunny day and we got warmed up pretty fast. I knew I wanted to make a quick bathroom break but all the porter potties had super long lines. And then I spotted it behind the Batalá drummers: an actual real restroom operated by Parks Services. I figured there’d be at least 5-6 stalls and the line wasn’t coming out the door so I made a break for it. I lost a few minutes, of course, but I also lost the pace group at that point so I was on my own for the rest of the run. Looking at my splits (which is super easy with my Garmin!) I can see that I ran the last two miles at my fastest pace (10:35/mi and 10:12/mi) chasing for that elusive PR I keep hearing other runners talk about. Spoiler alert: I didn’t make it. I crossed the finish line at 1:55:35, a minute shy of a PR and 5 minutes past my initial race goal of 1:50. But it still felt great. I shaved off 19 minutes from my time last year despite dealing with quite a few setbacks. Of course I couldn’t help myself: what if I hadn’t stopped to go to the restroom? To say hi to Rachel when she was handing out water? To snap a photo of this awesome oh-so-DC sign?

Would have done better if I had been able to complete my training the way I wanted to in the final weeks? The answer is probably yes, but the truth is I’ll never know so I’m really trying to push those thoughts out of my head once and for all. I did well! I put in the work and it showed. For once, I feel good after a race! Well, mentally at least. My body is a whole different story 😉

Race Recap: the 17.75K “Access Granted” Race

When I set out to run my first marathon in 2018, I apparently decided that I would make it as hard as possible on myself. And this weekend that involved joining 3,000+ runners for a grueling 11 miles cold trek through Prince William Forest Park to be guaranteed entry to the Marine Corps Marathon in October. Yes, I could have entered the lottery like everyone else but I really wanted those #accessgranted bragging rights as well I guess 😉 Oh, did I mention I actually ended up signing up for the marathon on Wednesday morning during the rush registration? Yeah, I basically ran a hard race to guarantee myself access to a race I already had access to. But hey, I’m running the Cherry Blossom 10 miler in 2 weeks and needed to run about 11-12 miles anyway that weekend… might as well get a medal out of it too right!? Right…

For those of you who are not as fluent in kilometers as I am, 17.75K is a nudge over 11 miles and that unusual race distance commemorates the founding of the U.S. Marine Corps in 1775. It takes place in Dumfries, VA, near the Marine Corps Base at Quantico, about an hour drive south of Washington. It’s known as a challenging course with both gravel and asphalt through the winding turns of a dense, hill-y forest. I basically only run in the city, so I was quite nervous about getting outside of my running comfort zone (so outside the mall basically!) But the logistics of getting to the race proved almost as challenging.

Initially, I had planned to just get up super early and drive to the race in the rental but that didn’t factor in having to pick up my race package. Unless you basically live in the area, the expo’s hours make it impossible to pick up your bib without having to miss work and they do not allow proxy pick up which is absurd. The idea of sitting in traffic on a Friday evening to get to Potomac Mills before 6PM then drive back to D.C. then back to Dumfries to get to the designated parking lots and race shuttles before 6AM the next morning combined with me having lots of Marriott points that I earned from the Satellite conference meant that I actually opted to make a mini-getaway out of it. I booked the closest Marriott property to one of designated pre-race parking lots for my friend Nicki and I to spend Friday night and I definitely think that was a good call. Traffic was atrocious Friday night, and we arrived at the race expo at VA Runner a few minutes after 6PM. Luckily, we were still able to pick up our bib and relax a little that evening. I had wanted to meet up with my friend Courtney, who was coming up from Norfolk to run the race but she was detained at work so Nicki and I just carbed up at Zibibbo 73 Trattoria & Wine Bar in Stafford before calling in an early night in. We had a 5AM wake -up call after all….

Since there’s no parking by the start line, runners all have to park at one of 3 designated parking lots the morning of and board shuttles to get there. We got to the start / finish area around 6:30Am, which gave Nicki just enough time to check her bag, and both of us just enough time to use the porter potties. We had bought $4 fleece blankets at CVS the night before to keep us warm before the race kicked off and that turned out to be a great investment!

We barely made it of the restrooms line on time to rush to the start line. Luckily, I guess, the start is really congested. There’s no waves since there are so few runners and we could definitely feel that in the first kilometer when you’re literally stepping on other runners. I was bummed I didn’t get to meet up with Courtney before the race, and Nicki speeded off pretty quickly (she’s a much faster runner that I am) so I started off on my own and that was fine.   

I didn’t necessarily have a goal for the race. I figured I would need around as much time to complete these 11 miles as it took me to complete the Rock’n’Roll D.C. half since the course was a bit more challenging. I also knew that I only had 3 hours to complete the race if I wanted to get my “access granted” code so I did have to push myself a little bit more than I did during the half marathon. The first kilometer of the course, the most crowded one, is on the main road but then you enter Prince Williams Forrest pretty quickly. It’s a steep dirt road and I knew from looking at the course map that in the beginning, any parts that were downhill would be uphills on the way back. Since the course is literally in the forest, there are no spectators whatsoever but to make up for this, it is lines with at times funny, at times inspirational signs that I really enjoyed looking out. One stated “What Hill?” was a warning for the tough hill ahead though!

But before I had to run up that hill, a small race miracle happened. Since I was running without headphones, as I have for all of my races so far this year, I heard a voice talking about Yuengling and when I turned around it turned out to be Courtney chatting away with her boyfriend Rick. Yeah!! I had finally found my friend!! We chatted up the hill and ran together on and off for the majority of the race and that made the race really enjoyable. They’re a fun couple. Courtney’s bright orange shorts made her easy to spot if I ever fall behind a bit…

There are only 5 water stations along the course so I ran with my hand-held water bottle which was a good call. After running a fair portion of the course on a paved road, which I would have enjoyed a lot more if it hadn’t been for some of the inclines, we headed back into the forest and the gravel road, which was quite muddy from the weather we’ve had here recently. I definitely found the signs on the side of the road to be both motivational and distracting, especially at the end. They definitely kept me from slowing down…. also I knew I would be getting a medal from a cute marine shortly!!

Unfortunately, my Strava went dark for a few kilometers so I can’t tell accurately how long it took me to run 10 miles. Based on the time on the clock I estimate that I got to that point in around 2 hours and 6 minutes, which is definitely slower than my goal for the Cherry Blossom 10 miler but again, the course is also more challenging. In the end, I crossed the finish line in 2 hours and 14 minutes, which isn’t bad for me, especially given how tough the course was.

Unlike after the Rock’n’Roll Half, I’m definitely a bit sore today but I’m pretty happy with how the race went and I actually had a lot of fun. Running with friends and having people to meet up with at the end and take pictures with is a plus for sure! And knowing they’ll be running the Marine Corps Marathon in the fall is cool too! As for my “access granted” code, I passed it along to a fellow Girls Love Travel D.C. runner so she does’t have to deal with the stress of the lottery. If she gets in, I know she’ll pay it forward and make sure someone deserving can use her registration. Now comes the hard part I guess… I’m running my first marathon in a few months, and I’m gonna have to start training soon. It’s going to be hard, but that’s kinda the whole point. Wish me luck!! (and please share any and all advice for a first timer in the comments!!)

CUCB Training Recap ~ About the past two weeks

So the last two weeks were very much a whirlwind and I skipped last week’s Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run recap… but I didn’t necessarily skip running. Actually, on Saturday March 10 I ran a pretty big 13.1 miles “training run” through the city 😉 I hadn’t planned on running the Washington, D.C. Rock’n’Roll half, but my friend Caitlin convinced me to enter the lottery for the New York half. When I didn’t get in, I kinda registered for the Rock’n’Roll half on a whim. It was actually not the best idea I ever had since my biggest professional event of the year, Access Intelligence’s Satellite conference, kicked off the next day but hey… I figured I would take it easy and just run it as opposed to race it, which is exactly what I did. So I finished in 2:41 minutes, 16 minutes faster than the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon I ran in September (the one where I wasted a ton of time waiting to get my picture taken with Mickey!) and 2 minutes faster than when I first ran the Rock’n’Roll half back in 2013. I hadn’t really trained at all back then, so it’s a little discouraging to be getting basically the exact same time now that I am running on a regular basis. At least I felt really good at the end of this race, unlike in 2013 when I remember not being able to walk properly for days 😉

As a result of running a half marathon, I drastically altered my training schedule that week: I ran 5K with pacers on Monday and I went to Cyclebar NoMa on Wednesday. That’s about all I did since you’re not supposed to exhaust yourself too much before a race. I could probably have squeezed in a little yoga here and there, but it was also a really busy week at work… 

The race itself went really well. It was a cold but sunny day in the District and once we got out of running on highways it was really fun to run through various neighbourhood including Columbia Heights and H Street. While I wasn’t “racing” I did want to keep my eye on a few benchmark times:

    • 10.3 km – 1h12 (as close to 10km as I could get)
    • 16.5 km – 1h58 (a ten miler is 16.09 km race)
    • 21.6 km – 2h41 (a half is 21.09 km)

At the 10 km mark, it’s good to note that I was a bit slower than during the St. Patrick’s Day 10K a few weeks ago, and even a bit slower than during the Marine Corps Marathon 10K back in November.

The next benchmark is a good indicator of how I might do at the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile run I have been training for. It’s faster than the 2h13 it took me to complete the 10 miles last year but a bit slower than my time of 1h54 back in 2011. But given that I didn’t really push myself, it makes me feel ok about my goal to complete the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in 1h50 and the GW Parkway 10 Miler a few weeks later in 1h45. If I keep at a 7/km pace (I typically average between 6:30/km and 7:30/km based on the distance, my shape that day etc.) I could finish the race at 1h52 which wouldn’t be great but would be close enough to where I would like to be. 

My time at 21.6 km wasn’t what I wanted (I was shooting for 2h30) but it’s still the fastest I’ve ever ran a half marathon and it gives me a time to built upon for my next half marathon, the National Women’s Half Marathon on April 29th.  And the next one on  May 19th. And the next one on June 2nd 😉 

Last week was Satellite, a giant conference at the DC Convention center focusing on satellite-enabled communications and all the people that make that happen (like the company I work for, which launches satellites into orbit.) Between prepping for 7AM breakfasts, treating journalists to steak at Ruth’s Chris,  hosting a dinner for our customers and partners at the Phillips Gallery or just plain being on my feet all day I just did not have any workouts in me. My colleagues who are training for the Paris marathon in a few weeks managed to squeeze in some early morning jogs despite their jet lag and I wish I had joined them at least once but I was really just trying to make it through the week. Once the conference was done, I went back to Cyclebar on Saturday and made it on the first half of the board for the first time ever. I ranked 18/43 which, despite going to Cyclebar all the time, is actually really good for me. I guess I needed a good workout after the stress of the conference. The next day, I went back to my Potomac River Running Training Group and ran 13 km. It was a beautiful (but cold) sunny Sunday though I lost the group pretty early on somewhere in Virginia and, as usual, struggled to maintain my pace without the motivation of having to keep up with everyone else. But at least the view was quite gorgeous along the way!

I wish I could say that I’m looking forward to getting back into my workout routine this week, but I am running the Marine Corps Marathon’s 17.75K race on Saturday so I do have to take it easy a bit (and skip my training group run on Sunday!) That race is definitely more trail-y and hill-y than I am used to so I know it is going to be a challenge. But as they say, you’ve gotta earn that entrance granted access to the Marine Corps Marathon, it is not given. Wish me luck, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it next week!

Running (Slowly) with the Marines: MCM 10K Recap

The Marine Corps Marathon is a huge running event, with thousands of runners from all over the country coming to DC to run with the Marines. Since I’m a long way from being ready to run my first marathon, I decided to sign up for its little sister event: the Marine Corps Marathon 10K. I figured after the Disneyland Paris half marathon a few weeks before, 10 kilometers would be a breeze. I had a simple goal going into the race: to run a faster 10K than my previous one, the Capitol Hill Classic. Since it took me an hour and sixteen minutes to complete that course back in May, I also added a stretch goal of finishing closer to the 1 hour mark this time.

How did I do? Well, by the first kilometer I knew that stretch goal would be impossible to achieve and I even questioned whether I’d even make my goal… or complete the whole run! My legs were so heavy and so tight from the beginning on and, more worrisome, I had a nagging pain in the back of my left knee. I considered that I might have to walk the whole course… except walking hurt just as much as running 😦 The pain in the back of my knee actually went away so I decided to keep running, slowly, with a few walk breaks every mile. That got me to the finish line in 1:09. Technically, I made my goal though I was really hoping to do better and it’s hard to feel satisfied with the run. I guess I have a hard time celebrating little victories 😉

Despite that, I loved running this 10K and I had an absolute fantastic day. First of all, the weather was gorgeous! I know it sucked for those running the full marathon… but it was a perfect for a 10K! I had initially planned to meet a few people from the Marine Corps Marathon and 10K Club facebook group for a photo opp by the Capitol reflecting pool but the location was changed at the last minute so I ended up just snapping one sola.

The picture turned out great, though I was looking forward to meeting some of the people from the group IRL. I don’t have a ton of runner friends yet, well at least not ones that are just starting to run like I am…  My friend David who was staying with me for the weekend walked me to the security point (gotta love a race with a start line 10 blocks from your apartment!) and then I joined the other runners for the pre-race celebrations. We started 10 minutes later than we were supposed to and by 8:10am I was off running on the National Mall. I was doing a great job keeping up with everyone around me… but as I mentioned, I was in pain. Unlike the Marine Corps Marathon which draws so many spectators, there are not a ton of people lining the course for the 10K. I could have used a little bit of cheering early on! I did love seeing the Batala ladies right before the 14th street bridge. They rock for being there for us so early! 

The 14th street bridge is notorious for being one of the hardest part of the course for those running the full marathon. It’s slightly uphill, long and there are no spectators to cheer the runners on. It’s also typically around mile 18-20 when  they’re really starting to feel tired. But for the 10K it comes at just the 2 miles mark so it’s not so bad. I did slow down a bit though, especially since my legs really hurt. After that, the race takes us to Crystal City and the course’s only water station. I definitely could have used one more somewhere in there because it was quite warm. I could tell early on from my time (4.3 kilometers at the 30 minute miles and a 6:58/km average pace) that I wouldn’t hit my goal and that I would probably get a worse time than I had back in May. I was so discouraged I felt like walking the rest of the course but then I received a very well timed text message from my friend Emily who had just ran the Navy 10 miler the weekend before. 

So rather than give up, I picked up my pace. I went down to 6:30/km (6:26/km at K6, 6:38/km at K7 and 6:27/km at K8) from 7:03/km at K4 and 7:09/km at K5. I walked a little bit when we got near the Pentagon which brought my pace back to 7:17/km for K9 but finished strong (for me!) at 6:36/km at K10. The finish line of the MCM 10k is the same as the full marathon  and while it was still early, there were already a lot of people cheering, which was definitely something that was missing from the rest of the course.  That was great! Of course, the finish line by Iwo Jima is notorious for being super steep and that was rough! But I kept running because at this point there are a lot of spectators (and Marines!) cheering so walking isn’t an option, especially so close to the end and with so many people watching. I spotted my friend David (good thing he’s SO tall) though he clearly completely missed me 😉 I cannot imagine doing that finish after having run 26 miles… I’m really in awe of everyone that runs the full course!

Once you’re done, there are tons of Marines congratulating, high five-ing you and fist bumping you and you get your medal from a Marine too. The atmosphere at the finish line was great, though it was a bit of a bummer to see the Iwo Jima memorial covered in scaffolding. I snapped a few souvenir pics then had the nice surprise of seeing my friends Nicole and Calla who had come to cheer me on, though clearly thought I’m a much much slower runner than I actually am because they completely missed me at Crystal City. That’s too bad, because it’s such a nice boost to see a familiar face when you’re running but I was still SO happy to see them at the end. 

David, Calla and I actually headed back to Crystal City to cheer on the runners in the marathon. We got there by the time the 3:15/miles pacers were arriving and stayed through to the 5/miles pacers. I was trying to spot two of my friends who were running but failed miserably. I did spot Elyse from the 14th street Pacers store looking strong on the course! After that, it was time for a little celebrating! I love that it was still rosé on the roof weather at the end of October! 

While I had a great day, I can’t help but not feel satisfied with the race. Running is part mental part physical, and I clearly still need to work on both, train more and push myself to accomplish the goals I set for myself. Of course, I don’t want to end this year on a sour running note, so I did the only thing one can do in this situation: I signed up for another race! I’ll be running Pacers’ Jingle All the Way 15K on December 10th, which will force me to keep running, even as the weather gets colder. I can’t wait to prove to myself that I can do better! Also, how much fun is planning a cute Christmas running outfit going to be? And the snowman medal is adorable. Can’t wait to add it to my (small) collection! 

Anyone else race this weekend? How did it go?

Ariel & the Sweeper Girls: A Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Race Recap

Two weeks ago, I ran my longest race of 2017: the Disneyland Paris-Val d’Europe half marathon, part of Run Disney France’s Magic Run Weekend. My previous races this year were the Cherry Blossom 10 miler and the Capitol Hill Classic 10K. I’ll cap off my running season with the Marine Corp Marathon’s 10K. I’m not quite ready to commit to training for a full marathon yet though it’s definitely a distance I’m looking to doing next year 😉

If you read my goals for the Disneyland Paris half, you saw that they didn’t include a specific time. I just wanted to complete the course, make some new memories with my bestie Caitlin and snap some fun pics with Disney characters as I ran through my old workplace. I spent six months after college working in the communication department at Disneyland Paris, right after the Studios had opened, so the parks have a special place in my heart. 

Technically, I achieved all of my goals yet it was hard for me to feel entirely satisfied with myself at the end of the 21 kilometers. Here is a quick race recap. Ok, not so quick…

First let’s talk about the race itself. The half marathon is fairly small in comparison to some of the other races I’ve done … 7,000 runners altogether (compared with 17,000 + at the Cherry Blossom 10 miler!) and is part of a full weekend of running with a 5K on Friday night, a 10K Saturday morning, a kid’s run Saturday afternoon and the 21K Sunday morning. Some runners actually do all three and get a special Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo challenge medal, in addition to medals for each of the races. I must say I was a little envious of all their bling! But Caitlin and I flew into Charles de Gaulle Saturday morning so those extra races weren’t an option for us. We went straight to our hotel, the Kyriad, via the Magical Shuttle — actual name! — do drop our bags and from there to the Expo in the Disney Village to get our bibs. There wasn’t much happening at the expo so that didn’t take too long. We killed some time at the shops (I behaved!) and grabbed lunch — food options are not great at Disney! — before checking into our room and taking a much needed 3 hours nap. Diner was the all-you-can-eat buffet at the hotel next door, the Vienna House Magic Circus Hotel. For those of you who know a little bit of fromage geography, you may know that Disney Paris is basically in Brie-land so my carb loading involved a lot of delicious runny Brie (and a glass of red wine of course, can’t have one without the other !) We managed to stay up until 9:30 then got some much needed zzzs! 

Ariel and Sebastien ready to run!

Ariel and Sebastian (not so) patiently waiting to start running

We didn’t have to wake up too early on race day since this particular Disney race wasn’t set to start until a luxurious 7AM. I say luxurious because apparently other Disney races kick off at an ungodly 5AM. Yikes! The start line was split into 3 waves (we were in wave C) and each subsequently divided into smaller groups so that only 250 runners would head inside the Studios at once. It was very exciting at first cheering for all the previous groups as they headed off. However it got a lot less fun an hour later when we still hadn’t left and realized would be in group 25 of 25 to cross that starting line. Womp womp. At this point both me and Caitlin started to worry about this for different reasons. Her because she’s a fast runner, currently training for the New York marathon, and knew she’d had to weave through a bunch of slow runners to catch up with those more at her pace. And me because I knew I had to complete the race before 11:30AM (the official cut-off for the race) and starting at 8AM meant I didn’t have much of a buffer anymore … but there was nothing we could do so off we went, Ariel and Sebastian, running through Disney in Paris! 

The Staff at Eureka Mining Supplis Cheering us on

As a former Cast Member, I know Disneyland Paris employees are the best! Here are a few cheering us on in Adventureland.

The first 5 kms of the race are THE BEST!! Right away, you’re in the Studios with cast members from various hotels, restaurants or attractions cheering you on. That was awesome. But I got super nostalgic as we passed Chez Rémy… that wasn’t there in my days! How the Studios had grown in the last 10 years! I stopped to snap a photo of the staff in their uniforms outside the restaurant … and lost Caitlin. So much for fun memories of the race together — I had at least thought I’d stick close to her through the parks. Oh well. I was on my own at the back of the pack. Where I pretty much stayed … see what happened is once we got into Disneyland there is a station set up for a photo opp with Mickey and Minnie, with the castle in the backdrop. I wanted. I wanted bad. But the line was soooooo long and I knew I was already one of the last runners since I left in the last group. Oh well, this was the one picture I wanted so I nervously joined the line.

Waiting in line for my picture with Mickey and Minnie

The line to get your picture taken with Minnie and Mickey — ps: Maleficient snapping a pic in front of me became my back-of-the-pack buddy! Her outfit was awesome!

After 15 minutes I saw them: the sweeper girls with their Minnie ears and Mickey balloons. Yikes! I was officially at the back of the back of the pack (though not alone … the line for pictures was still long.) I waited a little longer until a race volunteer basically told me that I would be out of the race if I stayed in the line any longer. I was nowhere near Mickey so I had no choice. I started running again. I basically wasted 25 minutes and didn’t get my picture with Mickey and Minnie. And now I had to catch up to the sweeper girls, which sorta became my obsession for the rest of the race. 

Running through an empty Main Street towards Cinderella’s Castle was a dream. And running through the empty park — there weren’t many runners left at this point — was a memory I’ll cherish forever. So was running through the castle!  I did stop for all the picture opportunities I could … I mean, if I didn’t get my pic with Mickey I was going to get all the other pictures I could ! So altogether, it must have taken me over an hour just to complete the first 5 kilometers. Definitely a reverse PR 😉 And of course, i still technically at this point was behind the sweeper girls meaning I really had to speed up. 

Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

The next 15 kilometers weave through the lovely roads and villages around Disney. There wasn’t really anyone cheering along the course though organizers had set up some distraction points like a group of local pint-sized cheerleaders, bands or a DJ. At this point I was so focused on catching up with the sweeper girls that I didn’t notice when I actually passed them. Instead, I was freaking out, going as fast as my lack of proper training would allow me and hoping Moana’s How Far I’ll Go would keep me going a while longer! I was feeling pretty down — where were those sweeper girls!? Would I seriously not complete this course !? And then at kilometer 15 i saw them. Going in the opposite direction from me meaning they were probably just at the halfway point of the race. Way behind me.

Disneyland paris Half Marathon Sweeper Girls

The Disneyland Paris Val d’Europe Half Marathon Sweeper Girls

I started breathing again and allowed a break. Which turned into a longer break than I meant for it. I had a hard time motivating myself to run again until we basically got to the hotels. Running through the official Disney Hotels, especially the Santa Fe — which is huge — and the Cheyenne with its Wild West theme, was super fun because after a cheering desert there were people again! Kids! Parents! Runners who had already finished their half marathon and were sporting their medal(s)! I got the second wind I needed to start really going again. Running through the Disney Village was a bit tricky though since by that point the parks were open and the area was full of people trying to get into Disneyland or the Studios, as well as runners who had already finished the course and were eager to get back to their hotels. The path carved out for the runners was pretty narrow and you had to navigate multiple crossing points too… but I spotted my dad, Caitlin and my friend Calla right before going back inside the Studios for that final kilometer. And then I got all nostalgic again. We ran through the set of Moteurs … Action! an attraction I had seen hundreds of time while I worked at Disney since one of my biggest project then was a live taping of the German TV show Wetten, dass…? which took place in that theater. (You can check out a recording of the show on YouTube!)

Actions... moteurs!

Awww, Disney. I miss you!! (And my twenties too lol). Finally, I crossed the finish line (which is actually inside the Studios!! How cool is that!?) a little teary eyed and very exhausted. I got my medal and managed to find Caitlin for our finisher photo. We didn’t get a single picture together with Disney characters so this one will have to do! 

Finisher photo at Disneyland Paris Half Marathon

Completed the course? Check. Made memories with my bestie? Check. Fun pics with Disney characters? Check, even if they weren’t Mickey. So my first international race was a success by the goals I had set but my lack of training really showed. I hadn’t done enough long runs leading up to the half, so by the time I realized I had passed the sweeper girls at kilometer 15 I was wiped and all but too happy to walk for a few kms. Does anyone else really struggle with longer runs too? My final time was 2h57 which isn’t great by any means though if you subtract the half hour give or take I spent in line for pictures with Mickey or other characters after that it’s slightly better, probably closer to 2h30… not great, but not that bad for me either). As always, I only have myself to blame. In running you get back what you put in and I didn’t put in enough ahead of time. I have 2 weeks now until the Marine Corp Marathon’s 10K and I’m determined to have a better race this time ! Anyone else running it or the full marathon? 

ps: can’t we talk recovery meals for a minute? As you might expect, the French know how to do it well! My mom made her signature couscous…

Couscous.jpg…. and my dad picked up some amazing eclairs at Fauchon (it was eclairs week afterall!).Eclairs from Fauchon

Since the weather was SO beautiful, we walked along the Canal St. Martin and had a few glasses of rosé on the rooftop terrace of Point Ephémère

Rose at Le Bar Ephemere in Paris

…before wrapping up a long day with some natural wine at Clown Bar.

Post half marathon dranks at Clown Bar.jpg

Sunday Funday with a bunch of Ks! I’d run a half marathon every weekend if they could always be like this one 😉