Houston, We Have a Marathon

If any race deserves its own race report, it’s my first marathon. Last Sunday I ran my very first 26.2-mile race, the Chevron Houston Marathon.

Spoiler alert: Marathons are Hard.

Photo of me standing in front of a convention center with my arms upraised. The marquee reads " GRB Welcomes Chevron Houston Marathon"

I *think* “GRB” is the name of the convention center. It seems like a lot of work to look that up.

Before I get into how the race went, I’ll tell you of my original goals for it. These goals would change later in the race, but that’s okay. Originally I was hoping to run a 12-1/2 minute mile pace and I planned to run the entire race except for walking through water stops.

I ended up with an average pace of 13:23/mile, which is okay. That kept me under the official cutoff pace of the race. I ran until mile 20+ when I changed to some walk/run intervals for the remainder of the race. I really have no idea how much of the last five miles I walked, but I’m guessing it was probably two to three miles. I finished in 5 hours, 56 minutes, and 8 seconds. (That’s a long time to ambulate, by the way.)

But before all of that happened, I was up at 5:15 am and cheerfully waiting in my hotel room for 6 am to roll around so I could head over to my starting corral. I had gotten rooms for me and for my mom and stepdad (henceforth referred to as “Richard”) so we could be near the start line in the morning.

Photo of me sitting on a couch drinking a Diet Coke. I look cheerful.

Look how happy and blissfully unaware of the six hours to come I am.

I was set to start in Corral E, which was the last one. My family was nice enough to get up with me and walk over to the corral at 6 in the morning. I spent the next 45 minutes circling, fretting, stretching, and going back and forth from porta potty line to porta potty line.

Me standing on a street corner with my stepdad. I'm stretching.

This is me stretching. My stepdad wouldn’t let my mom take a photo of me in the porta potty line.

The weather is generally very mild for this race, but this year it was warm, with temperatures in the 60s and 70s and high humidity. Thankfully it was overcast so at least there wasn’t much sun for most of the day. A few minutes before 7 I shooed my family away and wormed my way into the throng to wait for the start.

I waited, looking around as usual and then I had a thought. “Jean,” I thought to myself, “This is your first marathon. Take a minute to breathe it in and remember what it was like.” So I stopped and breathed it in and then I wormed a little farther ahead to get away from the porta potty and then I breathed it in again. Then I couldn’t stop smiling.

Start time was 7am, but I didn’t get across the start line until 7:30ish. That’s when I stopped smiling and got down to bizness. Bizness didn’t last long though because I passed my mom and Richard after about a quarter of a mile and my smile came back when I high fived them. Also, my name was on my bib, so bystanders did a lot of yelling of names and every time someone said my name it made me smile even more.

As I mentioned, it was pretty humid (by mile 2.5 I could already smell myself, which is never a good sign), but it was F.L.A.T., so going was good for the first section. There were lots of things to look at and the crowds were fantastic. There were people everywhere and they were all so nice. There was also Gatorade and water every mile and a half or so, so I drank a lot of liquid.

The first 8 or so miles the marathon ran with the half marathon, so there were lots of people. It felt amazing to take the right turn leading to the marathon route when we split off from them. That felt like a big deal. Suddenly there were a lot fewer of us and it felt different and kinda awesome.

There were also suddenly no lines for porta potties, so I took advantage of that, which also made me feel different and kinda awesome.

It was quiet along that stretch without a lot of spectators. I knew that the course would shortly pass my stepsister Sara’s church and I was hopeful that she would be out with her kiddo, Elliot. Sure enough, at mile 9, Elliot’s dad was suddenly there running alongside me, videotaping me as I passed Sara and Elliot on the corner.

It is amazing how much seeing my supporters on the sidelines affected my energy and pace. I was still feeling pretty fresh at that point, but still I perked up and headed off with fresh gusto.

There’s not a lot to report for the next few miles. I ran. That’s about it. I continued to hydrate. I was finally able to put on my sunglasses after a bystander handed me a tissue and I could clean the fog off of them (my clothes were entirely wet with sweat by then). Volunteers passed out wet sponges at mile 11. I encountered my first hill at mile 12 (freeway overpass), which is also where I saw a half marathoner trudging the wrong way along the course. I spent some time thinking about how awful it would be to take a right instead of a left and end up in a 26-mile race instead of a 13-miler.

I also passed my favorite sign right around the halfway mark. There was a man standing quietly by the side of the road, not shouting or cheering, and holding a small white sign on which was written in small black lettering, “You are doing good.” The simplicity of that sign made me smile for a long time.

Then it started to pour rain. Because we wanted ALL the weather that day.

At mile 15 I ate my Snickers bar, which did not melt, thank you very much, just in time to be captured by Richard’s camera as I rounded a corner to find him and my mom cheering.

Photo of me running. It is raining.

See me sucking Snickers bar out of my teeth there?

It was here that I decided to take my first break to stretch a little and also to ask my mom if I had chocolate on my face, because it is embarrassing if you are a chubby runner and you have, like, a peanut and a smear of caramel on your chin while you’re running a race.

Me bending over stretchng.

I look a little bit like I’m ready to barf here, but in fact I was stretching.

Sadly the rain had made my sunglasses unusable again, so I stopped to use a porta potty again and to use toilet paper to clean them off. The sun also came out, which was nice, but hot. This was the hottest part of the marathon, although it’s possible that I just stopped noticing at some point. The race had started under a yellow alert because of heat and humidity, but by the time I finished it was at red.

It was also around this point that I started to notice my mile splits were getting longer. I had been maintaining about a 12-minute mile for the first half marathon, but it was about here that they started getting longer. It looks like for my next marathon I’ll have to run longer more often during training.

I kept chugging along, although mile 16 and 17 were where I started to notice an upset stomach, which I think makes sense. I’d been expecting it. It was nothing too major, but just noticeable enough that I started to be more careful about what I consumed, trying to strike a balance between fueling enough and not, you know, puking on the course.

I’d expected to see my family once on the run, so it was a wonderful surprise to see them two or three more times on the route. They were so fantastic. I hope they know how much their presence meant to me. I loved seeing them and high-fiving them, although the last time I saw them at about mile 24, I did not want to spend the energy to veer away from the middle of the road to slap their hands, so I just mouthed “OH. MY. GOD.” at them and continued on my way.

Photo of my mom, Elliot, and Sara, taken by Richard.

See? Wouldn’t this cheer you up too?

My longest mile by a lot was mile 20. It took me 16:42 to traverse that section. I had started to feel a little light headed and so I slowed down and took time to stretch. It was also during the last quarter mile of mile 20 that I first took a walk break. I had badly wanted to run the whole marathon, but I was starting to realize that I could finish the whole thing or I could run the whole thing. I didn’t think I could do both. I felt a little demoralized about it, but decided that adjusting goals due to my condition was not the worst thing in the world.

I continued doing walk/run intervals, trying to run as much as I could. I also took a brief sitting break at some point to let my legs enjoy a bent position for a minute. I knew that even with my readjusted goals that I wanted to cross the finish line under six hours though, so I tried to keep hustling as much as possible.

At mile 23 I was trudging along near the side of the road when a stranger looked at me, looked at my bib, and said, “Jean, do you need a banana?” I nodded and she handed one to me. “Take little bites,” she told me.

That woman was my spirit animal. She got me, you know? She really, really GOT me.

Me walking in the last miles of the marathon.

I credit that banana with allowing me to smile when this photo was taken very late in the race. I wanted to pick it up and run past the photographer, but then decided a walking photo was an important record of this race for me.

Speaking of people by the side of the road, the bystander support at this marathon was phenomenal. Even when it was raining there were people out there. There were fantastic signs. There were people handing out pretty much anything you needed and often exactly when you needed it (tissue, banana, OMG those pretzels I ate at mile 17). I can’t even tell you how many people cheered specifically for me. That is a little thing, but it means a lot.

And I really needed all of that because by the end, my legs and feet huuuuurt. My earbud and the fact that music continued to play out of it was almost offensive to me. (At some point I realized that since I was only listening in one ear, I could switch ears. Brilliant!) A couple miles before the end, I reached for my waist pack and realized that my forearms were tired. My forearms. They hadn’t done anything. I guess I’ve pinpointed the wussiest part of my body.

Then, just as we were approaching downtown again, probably two or three miles out, a headwind started up. And I was all, “FOR FUCKING REAL?! Now you’re ACTIVELY pushing AGAINST me, Houston?” It was messed up.

Nonetheless, I persevered. I cannot even tell you what it was like to enter the city again. They were letting pedestrians by at one of the cross streets and I swear to God, if the traffic control hadn’t stopped people, I don’t know that I would have been capable of stopping myself from barrelling right through them. Because once I entered the city, I committed to running until the end and nothing was going to stop me.

Photo of me running. I look alright.

I know this was taken right near the end because of those barricades and also because I’d finally ripped out all of my earbuds altogether.

I actually look kind of all right in that photo. I look much less like I wanted to die than I felt in the moment. Finally it was there—the finish line, which I triumphantly crossed after 5 hours, 56 minutes, and 8 seconds.

Photo of me crossing the finish line. There is a digital clock that reads 6:28:35 above.

Ignore the clocktime. I didn’t get across the start line until 31 minutes or so.

Here is video of me lurching over the finish line and then immediately slowing to a walk.

My family was right there after I crossed too. I don’t know how they got there, parked, and forced their way to the front of the crowd, but they did and I got to see their smiling faces just after I finished.

I am going to run other marathons and I hope to run them with better time and endurance, but I am so proud of myself for this one and I am so grateful that I got to do it with my wonderful Houston family. Thank you. This marathon was an incredible experience and I am so happy with it.

But even though I had finished, it still wasn’t time to rest. I had to wander through the finish line area and pick up my finisher shirt and beer mug. (Really? Glass? They are lucky I didn’t immediately drop it what with my weak-ass forearms.) Then I had to continue through the long path through the convention center until I could get to the runner reunification area.

There was a woman walking in front of me and she was dragging her gear bag on the floor behind her. I sped up a little bit to tell her “The way you are dragging that gear bag is exactly the way I feel right now.” She looked at me kind of desperately and said, “It’s so heeeeaaavy.” We understood each other.

I had planned to meet my family under the “J” area at runner reunification, but unfortunately they were arranged in ranges and figuring out that “J” was between “H” and “L” took longer than I thought it should have. Then my family wasn’t there yet, and I spent some time turning slowly in circles and reciting the alphabet to make sure I had it right.

Suddenly though, they arrived and they were so congratulatory and my mom even hugged me (I wouldn’t have hugged me) and I felt so happy.

Photo of Sara, Elliot, my mom, me, and Richard.

My crew. <3

From there I only had to walk, like, a mile back to my hotel where we had late checkout so I could shower. Fortunately, my mom is brilliant and (along with requesting said late checkout) had brought a space blanket, which saved my life on the walk back. We walked along the race route and cheered on the last few racers.

Me wrapped in a silver blanket.

Not to mention that I think maybe space blankets hold in some of the stink.

I did it, you guys. But I didn’t do it alone. Thank you to everyone who cheered me on via Facebook and here. Thank you to everyone who texted me the day of the race—my waistpack kept buzzing as I was running so I knew you were in touch even if I didn’t see the texts until later. Thank you to my running friends at home who encouraged me through all of my training. Thank you to my mom, Richard, Sara, Elliot, and Ashley for your support on the course—you have no idea how much it meant. Thank you to Houston for hosting such a good marathon. And, perhaps, most of all, thank you to that lady at mile 23 with the banana.

Photo of me after the race holding my medal and grinning.

Marathoner.

Mission Accomplished!

I just got back from Houston today after finishing my marathon. That’s right, friendos, I’m now officially a marathoner.

My stepfather took the following photo of me clapping with joy shortly after I crossed the finish line. I think I look so happy not because I just ran a marathon but because I could finally stop moving.

Photo of me after crossing the finish line. I am grinning and kind of clapping.

Actually it was because I was so delighted to see my family cheering for me.

I finished in just under six hours, which is significantly longer than my goal time. I also probably walked at least two of the last five miles when I realized just how damn hard a marathon is. I’m a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to run the whole thing, but I also realize that I did the very best I could do and I am very proud of myself for ambulating 26.2 miles, almost all of them at a run—or at least a rapid shamble.

I’ll be back soon with a race report. I tell you, this race was quite a thing. I’m so happy I did it. I enjoyed the whole thing so much that I am already itching to do another one. 2017 might just be a two-marathon year.

Until I have my race report ready, I just want all of you to know that I’m so grateful for your support and all of the support from my family. I couldn’t have gotten more love on this endeavor and I know just how lucky I am. Thank you!

Past Stimey is at it Again

Oh, man. It’s actually happening.

I think it might have been last June when Past Jean decided it would be a GREAT idea for Future (now Present) Jean to run a marathon. Past Jean is an asshole.

I have run sooooo many miles to train. I downloaded a training plan and I followed it to the mile. I ran my 20-mile training run on Christmas Eve and then I walked two miles home because Alex chose a video game over me and left his phone in the other room and therefore didn’t get my text asking him to pick me up. Then my phone died so I couldn’t call him. It’s like Santa came early.

I have two miles to run tomorrow morning and two more on Saturday morning and then I toe up to the start line on Sunday. The marathon I am running is the Houston Marathon, so I leave for Houston tomorrow after work.

I felt pretty calm and confident about the whole thing right up until I started packing. Then I panicked. A marathon?! Oy. As my friend texted to me the other night, “You know that’s, like, TWO half marathons, right?”

Anywho.

The reason I chose the Houston Marathon is because it is flat. And because my mom lives in Houston. Also, I wanted to run in the winter so it would be cool, but because it was in Houston, it would not be too cool.

You’ll be happy to hear that it’s going to be 75 degrees and humid on Sunday. Oh, and it’ll be raining. This is not ideal for someone who has largely trained in 40-degree weather, also known as The Weather That Is So Cold Your Phone Battery Will Completely Drain Before You Have Time To Call Someone To Pick You the Fuck Up.

I’ve packed my tank top to run in. I’m bringing my Camelbak because it might be hot enough to need it. My shoes are in my backpack. I have my energy blocks for mid-race fueling and I have a grocery list made up of jam, peanut butter, and Snickers bars. I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting something absolutely fucking crucial,* but honestly, at a certain point all I can do is go out and run.

This is actually one of the best things about races. There is a lot of hoopla leading up to it and so much goes into it, but once you cross the starting line, all you can do is put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. That’s what I’m going to do. For 26.2 miles.

I am unstoppable. I am unstoppable. I am unstoppable.

Then I am going to eat so many sopapillas and drink so many margaritas. I am going to be a total embarrassment to my family. It’s going to be great.

You can follow along with my progress on the 15th if you want. You can track me on the Run Hou ’17 app or on the race website. I’m bib number 14922. The local ABC station website will be showing live footage of the finish line until 1pm Houston time as will ESPN3. I plan to cross the finish line between 12:12pm and 12:25pm after running for more than five hours.

Actually it will be later than that because my corral will start substantially later than the 7am start time. I’ll be taking a map of the route with me in case it takes me past the six-hour cut-off time to run the thing. It turns out that I slow down significantly after about 16 or 17 miles.

Here we go, people. Good luck, Five Days Hence Jean.

 

* Seriously, what did I forget?

Stimey’s 2017 Race Calendar

Photo of me running next to words that say, "Stimey's 2017 Race Calendar"

January 15: Houston Marathon
Houston, TX
26.2 miles
Official time: 5:56:08 (PR)

February 19: Sykesville Shiver Shuffle
Sykesville, MD
5K
Official time: 34:24

March 25: MCM 17.75K
Sykesville, MD
17.75K (11.03 miles)
Official time: 2:20:32 (PR)

April 1: Run to Remember
Columbia, MD
7K
Official time: 48:14 (PR)

April 23: George Washington Parkway Classic
Alexandria, VA
5K
Official time: 34:00

May 6: Nanty Narking Nearly 9K
Sandy Spring, MD
Unclear
Official time: 1:09:55 (trail PR)

May 20: Germantown 5 Miler
Germantown, MD
5 miles
Official time: 56:08

July 30: Riley’s Rumble Half Marathon
Boyds, MD
13.1 miles
Official time: 2:39:01

September 17: Revenge of the Penguins
Carderock, MD
20 miles
Official time:

October 22: Marine Corps Marathon
Washington, DC
26.2 miles
Official time:

November 6: Across the Bay 10K
Annapolis, MD
10K
Official time:

 

Marathon Training and How it Sucks SOOOOOOO Hard

I came up with that title up there at about mile 16.5 of my 18-mile run today.

I think I’ve told you that I’m running the Houston Marathon in January. In case I haven’t, here you go: I am running the Houston Marathon in January.

That means I am currently in the thick of training for it. Marathon training, as it turns out, is constant. It never stops. You finish a long training run, take a couple of days and start again. I feel like all I ever do is run.

Because of the relentless nature, I do seem to be be approaching readiness. I ran 17 miles last weekend and it was Hard, but not impossible. For the first time, 26.2 miles didn’t seem undoable. I was encouraged and ready to hit this weekend’s 18 miles.

My guiding mission during this time has been to (a) not get injured and (b) not get sick. Knock on wood, so far so good on the injury, but last Wednesday I woke up sick.

I debated skipping my 8-mile run that day to rest up, but after napping for most of the day, I decided to suck it up and head out. I ran pretty slow, but it wasn’t too painful, so I decided to stick with the 10K race I had Thursday in lieu of a 5-mile training run. That went even slower and less well.

The real test though, was this weekend’s long run—scheduled for 18 miles. I was worried about it. I spent a lot of time Thursday and Friday sleeping and willing myself to be NOT sick by Saturday/run day.

I had a Plan B though. I figured if I got into my run and felt bad that I would switch this week’s long run (18 miles) with next week’s (13 miles). I woke up feeling okay, if a little coughy and phlegmy.

I caught a ride with my family to the doughnut shop to start me a little farther away from my final destination. (Do you have any idea how goddamn hard it is to find a mostly downhill route of 18 miles in the DC area?)

Selfie of me smiling in front of a painting on a building of a duck flipping a doughnut.

Plus, do you know how virtuous you can feel setting out for an 18-mile run when the rest of your family is chugging doughnuts?

I headed out with high hopes and a decision to evaluate how the run was going at about mile 11. Here’s how the run was going:

Mile 1.5: Whine. My legs are tired. I stop in at a 7-11 to buy a Gatorade and impulse buy a Snickers bar to stash in my Camelbak for later if necessary.

Mile: 3: It’s hot. I’m going to take off my gloves and earwrap.

Mile 4: I should put that earwrap back on.

Mile 4.5: Christ, it’s hot. I take off my gloves and earwrap and tie my jacket around my waist.

Mile 6: I’m cold. Jacket back on. Hold off on the gloves and earwrap for now.

Mile 8: I pass the bottom of the road that leads to my house. I look longingly up it.

Mile 8.5: This run is a slog. I sit on a stump for a while to evaluate my life choices. Eventually I stand up and keep going.

Mile 10: Everything warm is back on for good.

Mile 11.25: I sit on a bench and eat my Snickers bar. This is a GOOD life choice.

Mile 12: Should I stop at 13 miles? No. Mostly because I don’t want to run 18 miles next weekend. Also, I only have a 10K left to run. How hard could that be?

Mile 14: Hard.

Mile 16: I sit on a bench to suck the last of my water from my Camelback and watch a really sad looking woman look for her lost keys on the C&O canal trail.

Mile 16.1: She found her keys! It is a miracle! She is so happy she looks like she is going to cry. I congratulate her and continue to shuffle along.

Mile 17: Every step I take carries me a longer distance than I have ever run consecutively. I also start to wonder where exactly I am going to be when I reach 18 miles. Far from any reasonable exit point on the trail? Unable to move? Virginia?

Mile 18: Turns out I am one stinky, sketchy staircase away from Georgetown. I climb it and talk to Alex on the phone who is already on his way to pick me up. I tell him at what intersection I am sitting and shivering. Then my phone, unable to function in the cold anymore, dies from battery loss.

Selfie. I look really tired.

But not before I take this super desperate looking selfie.

I sit and shiver and wait for a surly but heroic Alex to arrive.

Marathon training sucks hard.

I’m doing it though. And if I can run this 18 miles while sick and cold, I can do 26 in Houston—as long as I can keep injury and sickness away for the next 50 days.

Also, my family saved a doughnut for me. I ate it when I got home. It was delicious.

Race Report: Oceans 50 Relay

I was lucky enough to be able to get away to Florida last weekend with a bunch of my running friends (Team MLC, represent!) to run a relay race. It was really good to be in a pretty place with a fun team activity and good people. I left town last Thursday, arriving in Jacksonville at 10 pm, just in time to be picked up by local heroes Lyda and Bob who took me to Lyda’s beach house where we promptly went to our respective beds. We’s old.

The next morning was for beach walking, my favorite part of which is watching the funny birds who run around in the surf.

Photo of sand and the ocean and a little bird walking there.

I relate to these little birds because they look like they kinda wanna wade, but then the water gets too close and they run away, but then they want to get close to the water, but NOT REALLY! I do all that too.

I spent a lot of that first beach walk wondering if I should collect some shells for my kids because last time we were down there, Heather collected shells for her kids and I didn’t and I told my kids about that and Quinn OBJECTED strenuously that he had no shells but collecting shells involves a lot of bending over and looking at things and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that kind of commitment when instead I could just not mention shells to Quinn and all would be well, but I ended up deciding to collect shells and I then I totally enjoyed it and went home with a gallon-sized Ziploc full of them.

Team MLC members Marc and Heather arrived at the beach house just before lunch, which was great, and then we came back to the beach and collected more shells. Heather and Lyda walked in the water and got all wet.

Photo of the beach. Heather and Lyda are in shorts wading in the water.

My view from where I plunked myself on the beach, making an effort to touch as little sand as possible.

I sat on the beach in the sun looking like I was dressed for an entirely different season than my friends in my jeans, but it was warm and nice and decidedly un-wet.

Photo of a sandy beach. You can see part of my leg in the photo and I am pointing to a spot on the sand about six inches away from my leg.

The water mostly stayed far away from me, but one wave came up to the point where I am pointing in this photo. Nature almost touched me.

After that beach walk/sit, our final team member, Marisa, arrived and we drove off to the hotel where we would be spending the night prior to our race, which was about an hour away from Jacksonville in a place called Flagler County.

The race is the Oceans 50 Relay and I would highly recommend you run it. We had a six-person team and the race is made up of 12 legs, so each of us ran two. The whole thing took us eight and a half hours and no one had to sleep in the van or worry too much about stocking supplies for the race. The race was super well organized with really friendly volunteers and easy logistics. Plus! This race was set up so all but two of the exchanges had real, actual bathrooms with running water. Ten out of ten, highly recommended.

Team start times began at 5am and ran as late as 8 am, but because we’re us, our start time was at five (five. a. m.) but we were supposed to report to the start line an hour before start time so we could get our safety briefing (four. a.m.) which meant I needed to set my alarm for 3 am (and 3:15 am, then with the snooze, 3:24 am). (three. twenty. four. a. m.) Needless to say, I was in bed and asleep by 8:15.

I need to take a moment to mention that all day long I’d been finding little notes in my luggage. Alex, who has never done anything like it before, wrote me a series of encouraging little notes and put them in my shoes and in with my running clothes. I found my favorite one right before I went to bed for the night. He based it off of our team t-shirt, which I’d designed. See if you can guess which one Alex drew and which one I did:

Two photos: (1) A notecard on which is drawn a weird oblong with arms, legs, and a face. It says "Go Team MLC!!" with an arrow pointing to the oblong above words that say "Really bad banana!!" with the exclamations making a smiley face. (2) a green shirt with a super cute yellow banana on it surrounded by various wild animals and writing that says, "Team MLC will run through anything for a banana."

I’ll give you a hint: The banana I drew looks like a banana.

Somehow our entire team assembled in the hotel lobby at 3:45 as instructed and we blearily made our way to the start line where we learned such important safety details as “follow the route signs facing you, not the ones facing away from you” and “if it is pitch black, wear your head lamp and reflective vest.”

Marc totally failed the safety briefing by the way. The guy explained how the exchange number was the same as the number of the leg preceding it and then immediately asked, “What exchange comes at the end of leg two?” and Marc yelled really loudly, “THREE!” Fortunately, we were not immediately disqualified.

Lyda was our starting runner, so we lit her up like a Christmas tree and situated her at the start line.

Photo of Lyda wearing a safety vest and a lot of lights, looking up at a banner that says START, only she's looking at the back of it.

“Wait. T-R-A-T-S?”

Then we waited around tapping our feet impatiently waiting for it to be 5 am.

Photo of four people standing in the dark.

Patient. And in remarkably good spirits for 4:57 a.m. (Heather, Bob, Marisa, Marc)

Soon enough it was 5:00 and Lyda set off with the rest of the starters. There were 5 or 6 other teams that started at the same time that we did, but by the time we started leg 2, she was ahead of all but two of them.

We got a little lost looking for exchange #1, but we eventually found it before Lyda arrived and saw that leg two led off down an unlit trail that was Pitch. Fucking. Black. There could have been anything down there. It was intense. Fortunately that leg belonged to Marisa, who took off with a bounce in her step and, hopefully, a knowledge of basic self-defense maneuvers to protect herself from people and gators.

Leg three was Marc’s and was what everyone referred to as “The Swamp Leg.” While the rest of the race was on roads and paths and was more or less flat, this leg was on a trail with hills and roots and rocks and, according to the race packet, maybe even a boar. The race organizers time runners on this leg and give a special prize to the person who runs it fastest because it is so challenging. And! If your start time is 5 am, you get to run it IN THE DARK.

Photo of me standing by a sign that says, "Graham Swamp Conservation Area East Trailhead" The sun is rising behind me.

Heather took this photo of me while Marc was running the swamp leg. I assume it was even darker in, you know, the swamp.

I was runner four, so when Marc suddenly popped out of the swamp (in first place now!), I grabbed the baton and took off. I could tell there was a runner behind me, but I was determined to stay in front of him for as long as I could.

Team MLC is scrappy and we have some speedy runners on our team, but we tend to get passed by other teams who catch up to us and surge ahead. I am often the one who is passed. I wanted to keep this guy behind me for as long as possible on my four-mile leg.

I could feel him getting closer as I passed one mile. I decided to try to stay in front until I got to two miles. Eventually I realized that he had fallen back and I was secure in my first place spot. I kept my speed up though and came into my exchange almost four minutes faster than I had estimated.

Photo of me running.

Me being speedy.

I passed the baton to Heather, who took off only to be called back by the volunteer at the exchange who said she was going the wrong way. She knew she was going the right way, but got rattled enough that she came back. Fortunately another team who had run the race before was waiting for their runner and told her to keep going her original way. They were our angels.

Our van sped off to meet her at the end of her leg where two things amused me to no end.

Marisa in a coat, long pants, hat, and gloves.

(1) Marisa, who lives in MONTANA, freezing in Florida.

A rock. There are posts on either side of it and there is a hole in the middle through which a chain anchors it to the ground.

(2) This rock that was chained to the ground. First I tried to figure out WHY it was chained to the ground then I tried to pick it up and steal it. I failed in both endeavors.

Bob took up the baton at the rock and headed back the way Heather had come and we rode off to meet him. It turns out that the exchange that Heather had left from gets used as the start of two different legs, so that is why the volunteer got mixed up. Fortunately we had it all figured out by now so by the time Bob gave Lyda the baton and a kiss to start her on leg 7 of the race, we were all set.

I have to say, while I really enjoyed this race, the race guide had led me to believe that we were going to see all kinds of fun animals, like alligators and maybe peacocks and even otters, on the course. I saw one dead, smashed armadillo.

It was disappointing.

But not too disappointing, because Team MLC was on fire, continuing our streak of being awesome. Marisa took the baton from Lyda for the next leg, which included a really tall bridge in what was starting to become the hot sun. She persevered though, cruising into the next exchange to hand off to Marc.

I was running the next leg, a six and a quarter long route that had one turn and a reeeeeaaaaaally long stretch along a straight road. I was expecting Marc to come down the same long straightaway that I was going to head out on, so I was surprised when he burst out of a side trail, sending me down my road before I even knew what was happening.

I ran 0.8 miles, took a left turn and started down my long road at which point I was passed by some teenager from a team that was apparently made up of high school running champions. She giggled as she passed me and quickly left me in the dust. We never saw them again.

My exchange was on the sidewalk of the road I was running down and it came into view, like, FOREVER before I got there. I felt like I was running toward it for a million years without it getting closer. I stayed pretty close to my estimated time for this leg at 11:30 min/mi, which I still consider a pretty good pace for me.

I passed off to Heather, who set off on perhaps the hottest and least shady leg of the race. The real bummer though was when she took her one right turn and was confronted with another really tall bridge to run over. That must have been demoralizing to run up to. And over.

Once she arrived at her exchange, Bob was our only runner left. Happily it was really hot by this time and he was wearing a black shirt. Good planning, Bob. He headed off for his leg, which included running back up the bridge and down a set of stairs. We meandered off to the finish line which was at Flagler Beach.

Photo of a beach with a pier. There is a roof on which is painted "Flagler Beach"

I can’t even imagine living in a place where going to the beach in November is a possibility.

Well, actually, the finish line was on a sidewalk across the street, but that wasn’t as pretty.

A sidewalk with finish line flags.

See?

Before too long we saw Bob cruising down the sidewalk and we all fell in line behind him to cross the finish line together. We ended up coming in 32nd of 45 teams (not bad for us!), but we were the second team to cross the finish line (GREAT for us!).

Photo of all six of us wearing our banana t-shirts and medals and smiling.

Team MLC is the greatest. Each of us super rocked the Oceans 50.

The race organizers had food and beer (and real actual bathrooms—Best. Race. Ever.) for us at a restaurant at the finish line. We ate and then drove back to the beach house where we took turns in the single shower with the tiny hot water heater. Turns out we are just as good at showering quickly as we are at running, because everyone got hot water. Yay, us! We really are a team. :)

We left earlyish the next morning to fly back home, making this a whirlwind trip. It was really good for my soul though to be out in the fresh air doing something I love with people I love. I am really glad we were able to do it. Thanks, Captain Heather, for doing such an incredible job organizing us. Thanks, Bob and Lyda, for hosting us. And thanks, Marisa and Marc, for just being generally awesome.

Photo of sunrise over the ocean, grass, and some palm trees.

Thanks, Florida.

Both Sides of the Water Stop

You know how I won’t shut up about my running-induced hip injury? Well, you should know that it hasn’t just led to me being a whiny, whiny cry baby. It has also led to volunteerism and giving back to the running community and forcing my family to suffer right along with me.

I had three races in a one-week period that I wanted to be involved with last month. I intended to run two of them and volunteer at another, but after my body rebelled, I knew I couldn’t run my originally planned 33 miles of racing–or even my plan B of 23 miles of racing–in a week.

The race that got the cut was the Parks Half Marathon, which I ran once and cheered at once, and fell at three times. I deferred my entry to next year (dammit, now I have to run it next year) and signed up instead to work at a water station.

I have benefited from very many water stations in my running career. There is rarely one that I pass without partaking. Sometimes I even take two cups. Water is gooooood. Yet I didn’t know what it was like on the other side of the table.

Photo of me standing in front of a row of tables with hundreds of small cups on them.

Yes, I realize in this photo that I am still on the runner side of the table, but to serve my metaphor, let’s pretend that I’m on the other side.

The great thing is that the woman who was in charge of the water stop had been doing it for years and totally had a plan and kept us organized and efficient and there were plenty of us there to keep everything moving smoothly. I’ve run past water stops where the volunteers were in a state of panic trying to fill up cups not quite keeping up with demand. It always looks like not a lot of fun when that happens. I’m happy to report that that was not us.

I helped pass out and pour the Gatorade. You know what word loses all its meaning after you say it sixteen thousand times? “Gatorade.”

The next race I was involved in was the Kensington 8K. I love that race. When I started running in 2012, it was the first race I ran. I was sooooo slow. And it was really hard. But I did it and I was so proud of myself and I have run it every year since then. This year I had signed up for a 20-mile race the day after the Kensington 8K, so I knew I couldn’t run it.

I decided to volunteer to course marshal the course during the race because that seemed like the most fun and easiest thing to do. Then I remembered that my kids are forced to do volunteer hours to graduate from high school, so I signed the whole family up to help with the night-before-the-race cone-drop. That entailed sitting in the back of a pickup truck and throwing cones out on the sidewalk at intersections along the course route for course marshals to set out the next morning.

The cone-delivery truck was late getting the cones to us, so my kids learned about how they could earn volunteer hours by swinging at the playground while waiting for other people to do their jobs.

Selfie of my family by a brick wall with a poster on it that says "Run the race." I've managed to cut off half of most of their faces.

Just because I cut much of each of them out of the photo doesn’t mean I don’t love them.

Finally the cones arrived and we set out. I sat in the front of the truck with a race director and shouted out how many cones Alex, my kids, and the race director’s kids needed to drop off the back of the truck.

Photo of Sam, Quinn, Jack, and Alex sitting in the back of a truck in front of a big pile of orange traffic cones.

Before. See how Alex doesn’t look even a little bit like he wanted to kill me? That would change.

I think the kids had a lot of fun. I don’t know if they’ve ever ridden in the back of a pickup truck, which is–let’s be honest here–one of the most fun things in the world. Plus we had flashing lights rotating on the top of the truck and they got to jump in and out of the vehicle. It was all kinds of great.

Alex, on the other hand, had all kinds of complaints: “That flashing light is really disorientating.” “That guy needs to stop accelerating so fast.” “That traffic cone distinctly smelled like shit.” “I might barf.”

There is really no pleasing the man.

The next day I sauntered off to claim my intersection, which was a really important intersection because I had to send the runners off in one direction toward a turn-around and then make sure they headed off in a third direction on their way back. This was complicated by the fact Ragnar DC took place that weekend and my intersection was where those two races collided–going opposite directions. It was exciting.

An empty intersection with traffic cones spread out.

My baby.

I really could have used a couple of extra cones though. Someone should have told the cone-droppers that. I had a cop with me as well because I was at the edge of the course and evidently they don’t want cars careening through the course. Prior to the race, I did have a couple of irate car drivers. I had a bunch of really nice car drivers who understood that the roads were closed and/or closing, but there were two who were visibly and verbally annoyed–both of them told me they had to get to a church. Ironic.

It was very enjoyable to point people to the right direction and cheer them on. At one point I was cheering on this kinda confused-looking kid who wandered off shortly thereafter only to be brought back to me by a nearby homeowner who was all, “So this guy was supposed to be running the 1K fun run and got lost.”

That kid was almost two miles into the race. I told him he pretty much won. I had a little interior discussion with myself (the mental equivalent of walking in confused circles) while I considered sending him back along the race course with instructions to go from course marshal to course marshal and whether this constituted an “emergency” that meant I could call the race directors like my instruction sheet told me. I finally decided to keep him with me and instructed him to cheer for the runners after I determined that, yes, a lost kid is an emergency and I called a race director and told her I had a lost kid.

(Yes, the instinct to avoid phone calls is strong in me.)

The race director tracked down his parents who eventually showed up after the last runners had passed. They were very grateful. Apparently they had moved to the area a couple of weeks ago and they were walking the fun run, but their kid wanted to run it so they told him to follow the other people and ZOOM! suddenly he’d run three fun runs.

I’m not going to lie; I felt a little bit like a hero.

After all of that, I finally got to run a race the next day. That race, Revenge of the Penguins, has a 20-mile version and a 10-mile version. I had originally signed up for the 20-miler, but stepped it back to ten miles after my injury. Even that was a little bit of a stretch. I hadn’t come close to running ten miles at one time in weeks. I was determined to get the race jacket that came with my registration though.

A red jacket with a round patch on it. The patch has the name of the race and a running penguin.

I love this jacket. That penguin is exactly what I’d look like running if I were a penguin.

I ran that race so goddamn slow. But I ran it. It was a beautiful canal-side course that was mostly flat. The last couple of miles super sucked, but I ran ’em. And I said thank you to every single person who handed me a cup of water or Gatorade.

Selfie of me post-run.

After. I was a little sweaty.

It was a super well-organized race in a beautiful location with super nice volunteers. If all goes as I hope, I intend to triumphantly return next year to do the 20-miler.

I also intend to continue volunteering at races. Because there’s nothing like getting to hang out at a race with other runners and not having to run. In fact, it may be the perfect solution.

That said, five days from now I have another race–the Army Ten Miler. I hope to run this one faster than snail speed. Wish me luck!