Lessons Learned: Takeaways From My Latest Half Marathon

As noted in my recap from the recent Navy Air Force Half Marathon here in D.C., while I may not have hit my goal time I did learn some valuable lessons to take with me in the final month of prep for Marine Corps Marathon.

Yikes, one month – this was the first thing I saw on my Facebook newsfeed this morning causing simultaneous excitement and full-on panic!

The Takeaways

Nathan Pack
My main takeaway and the first thing I blurted out when I saw Ian at the finish line was, “I need my water pack for longer races!” I wear a Nathan Hydration Vest when I train and have also worn it during my last three marathons. They are the only three of the nine I’ve run under four hours and have been under four by a big chunk of time. Granted, I was better trained for those races also, but I do think the vest makes a big difference.

Unlike some of my older camelbacks, this vest is so light my neck and shoulders aren’t a bit sore even after running 26.2 with it on. Well, at least not any more sore than running 26.2 normally causes. It doesn’t bounce or move around at all and feels as if it’s barely there. I’ve learned to do the whole pinch the water cup thing and drink on the run, but I don’t like doing it and I don’t like depending on water stops. I’m much better at getting water down in frequent small sips then gulping down a cup every few miles at an aid station.


There were a lot of points along the half where I wished I could just have a sip of water meaning that each time I got to an aid station I gulped down too much water knowing I wouldn’t have another chance for a couple miles leaving that uncomfortable sloshing feeling in my stomach. I also didn’t memorize where the aid stations were so it ended up being 10 or 15 minutes after taking my Honey Stinger bites before I had any water. The pack also has an easy access pocket on the front strap to hold all of my gummies.

I know a lot of people think the added weight slows you down in races, but it just works for me and has proven so in the past, so I’d like to stick with it. That said, a week after reaching this conclusion I saw talk on Twitter about MCM banning camelbacks this year. It appears to be a new security  measure because of the Boston bombings. It’s buried on their website, so I’m not sure how serious they are about this. I have a tough time seeing how this could be a real security threat, but I also don’t want to cause any issues, so now I’m at a loss for what to do.

I debated before the half whether or not to wear a watch or just go by feel. I was all set to go without, but let my coach convince me to just wear a regular stopwatch. He’s not a fan of Garmins, which I understand, but for me I feel that I would have been better keeping the Garmin on or going completely without. The in-between just meant I was doing more math in my head along the course to determine my pace and kept me from just running on effort. Since I plan to run with a pace group at MCM, I’m not too worried about having to look at my watch much anyways, but will go with the Garmin so I can have a record of the race.


Eat a Bigger Breakfast
I don’t think I had enough fuel in me for the half. Part of it was that I forgot the Honey Stinger waffle I packed to eat once we got into D.C., but I’m also getting up much earlier for races than I used to. I used to cut it pretty close so a bigger breakfast wasn’t always smart or just wasn’t necessary because I wasn’t going to have 2 hours to get hungry during. More calories on marathon morning will definitely be important, especially since I’ll be going twice the distance. Bonking in a goal race because I didn’t eat enough beforehand seems silly!


Start Slow, Finish Fast, Start Slow, Finish Fast, Start Slow, Finish Fast
I figure if I say this enough times I’ll follow through with it. This year’s Cherry Blossom race was one of the first times that I was able to actually follow through on this plan and boy did it feel good to fly through those last few miles. The beginning of a marathon should feel easy, so I’m going to do my best to stick with the pace group rather than jump out too fast leaving me exhausted later in the race.



Have you learned any big lessons on race day that you used to get better in your next big race??



To Garmin or Not?

I’ll be toeing the start line of the Navy Air Force Half Marathon in a week and a half. This race completely snuck (is that a word?) up on me. Not in an I’m not ready for it kind of way – just in a I can’t believe mid-September is here already kind of way. I’ve been running like crazy and I’m more than ready for it distance-wise. In the last 8 weeks I’ve done 6 long runs in the range of 15-20 miles plus a 10-12 miler during the week each week.

I won’t lie though, I’m really nervous about pacing. While this isn’t a goal race necessarily, it’s a great chance to see where I’m at in my training, an opportunity for redemption after missing my goal at the Nike Women’s Half in D.C. earlier this year and it covers much of the same ground that I’ll have to face during Marine Corps Marathon in October.  No doubt I can do the distance, but I’ve been embracing the long slow run concept and keeping my long runs a bit slower than my marathon goal pace to avoid injury/burnout and to mimic the amount of time I’ll be on my feet come race day. This worked great for me at the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, but I still haven’t attempted it for a successful half or any full marathons, so despite all the expert advice, I’m still skeptical.


I’ve rattled off plenty of miles during other weekly runs at goal pace and my track workouts have me going at even faster paces, yet I won’t be totally convinced until I see the results on race day. I’m a big-time data recorder and religiously track my mile split times on my Garmin. I know it’s not completely accurate, but I’m also constantly looking at the current pace during races as well to make sure I stay on track. Even if I don’t look at the watch throughout my training runs, I often (over-) analyze each mile time and what it means after I’m done.

Based on my Garmin-centric, data-obsessed running personality I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m actually considering running the half without a watch. Shudder. I wonder if I just base things off of effort if I’ll be able to maintain my pace and get my goal without the obsessive time checking? I’ve also heard of people who go even faster because they don’t see a pace that should be too hard for them on the watch and slow down because of it. What if I just miss my goal time though? Will I be kicking myself for not wearing a watch? From what I can find on the website, it doesn’t look like this race will have pace groups, so I can’t just tag along with one of those and know my time without actually knowing my time.

I haven’t made a final decision on this yet, but am thinking it might be worth a shot. I’d love to hear from you all – have you ever raced without a watch? How’d it work for you? Even if you haven’t tried it, do you think it could be a good idea or a disastrous one? Comment away – should I Garmin or not??

Race Recap: National Police Week 5K

On Saturday my friend Jayne and I ran the National Police Week 5k in D.C. along with another friend of hers. The Police Week 5k honors fallen law enforcement officers by raising awareness to the sacrifices officers make every day. Every runner’s bib has the name of an officer killed on it to remind us all what we were running for.

Police Week Bib and Race Shirt

Police Week Bib and Race Shirt

I had no expectations or time goal after two weeks of almost no running and just a handful of cross training days. While I was pretty far off my PR, I was pleasantly surprised by how the race went and by how strong I felt. I took advantage of an early packet pick-up option at Pacers on Friday, so I’d be ready to go on race morning. As usual I pinned my race bib on my shirt Friday night and laid my clothes out for the morning.

Despite staying in and being lazy on a Friday night, I still had trouble falling asleep and was so tempted to just turn the alarm off Saturday morning. The gloomy, gray day I saw when I looked out my window only made me want to get back in bed, but I knew I really needed to get out and run today.

I got to the start fairly early and had time to get warmed up and drop my bag off. I met up with Jayne and chatted for a bit before we split up and headed off to the start line. The rain started just before the race, but it was pretty light and actually felt kind of good. The course started off with several quick turns before heading down a slight hill that we’d have to come back up at the end. Then we hit a straightaway that took us down 3rd Street past the Capitol Building before  the one-mile marker and then a turnaround.

Color Guard before the National Anthem

Color Guard before the National Anthem

The course turned back onto 3rd after a the turnaround took us around a block then jutted down Constitution Ave. for a down and back past the 2nd mile marker before heading back up 3rd Street. The second mile felt really long. I almost felt like the marker should have been on the other side of the street when we first passed it rather than when we came back by it after turning around at a cone. My Garmin beeped well before reaching it – not that that is always accurate though. I also proved once again how bad I am at running tangents as I ended up doing an extra tenth of a mile according to the Garmin.


My adrenaline was flowing and I felt great at the start. I felt like it was almost too easy and I must’ve been going slow, so I was shocked to see my watch at 6:42 when I hit the first mile marker. Knowing I wasn’t in any kind of shape to be running that pace I tried to pull in the reins for mile 2 running it in about 7:18. It didn’t help though and I slowed way down unable to keep the pace up for mile 3 slowing down to a 8:11 mile. I was able to kick it down the final stretch turning it up a few notches for a 6:25 pace. According to the official results I crossed the line in 23:25 for an average pace of 7:33 putting me in 151st out of more than 1,500!

Adorable pups making it to the finish too!

Adorable pups making it to the finish too!

Jayne also finished strong. She had a playlist and had a goal of finishing before a certain song came on and cruised in just as it was starting! Next up for her is the Marine Corps 10k.

I’ll be back racing again this Sunday back in my hometown for an 8k. Hope your weekend races and runs went well too! Let me know how you did in the comments.