On Sunday I volunteered to help out at the U.S. National Road Racing Championships right here in Alexandria. The day started with a 5k followed by the 12k women’s championships and the 12k men’s championships and community race.
I checked in at the volunteer tent at 5:30 in the dark and jumped at the chance when they asked a few of the volunteers to staff the elite/masters area. Shalene Flanagan, Abdi Abdirahman, Molly Huddle and more amazing runners were going to be there! Ahh! I also spotted Oiselle Haute Volee runner Caitlin Comfort!
Naturally I was too nervous to go up and say anything to any of them – not to mention I didn’t want to mess with anyone’s pre-race prep, so instead I wandered around in awe and tried to do my assignment of keeping people who weren’t supposed to be in the VIP area out. I probably didn’t do a very good job of this, but I was a bit better at running checked bags to masters finishers after they crossed the line and worked their way through the finisher’s chute.
It was such a cool day. I got a front row seat at the finish line to see Molly Huddle beat out Shalene Flanagan and set a world record in the process finishing in 37:50. Aaron Braun nearly broke an American record in the men’s race as he coasted to the finish in 34:28 waving to the crowd.
To top it all off, Deena Kastor was at the race. It was her record that Molly broke. She holds the American records for the fastest marathon and half marathon among others and is one of my running idols! I was so excited to get to meet her and talk for a minute, and she graciously took the time to take a picture with me too totally making my day!
In my Marine Corps Marathon recap I mentioned I’d be doing a post on what I thought went wrong. After playing it over in my head a million times since Sunday though, I have decided against it. Thinking of every little possible thing I could have done differently or done better, and continuing to beat myself up for it, won’t change my finish time from Sunday.
That doesn’t mean I’m going to just forget about it and not learn anything from it. There is always something to be learned from every race – good or bad. It just means that I don’t see the need to dissect every factor that could have impacted my race.
Instead I’m choosing to focus on things I can do moving forward to help me hit my goals in future races.
Stick to a strength training plan all the way through my training cycle.
Do my best to get enough sleep on a daily basis to help keep my immune system strong and fighting off colds.
Don’t change too many things up too close to race day.
Get more training runs in at or faster than goal pace.
Conversely, make sure I have enough easy runs that really are easy runs.
Find new shoes and make sure they work for me.
It all seems pretty simple. Now, time to put it into action!
Hopefully, this will be my smile at the end of my next race – not just at mile 1.5!
What big lessons have you learned from racing that have helped you get better?
On Sunday, I did a bit of a role reversal. I went out and cheered runners on in the Army Ten Miler rather than racing myself. I had a blast, but boy do I have a whole new level of respect for fans trying to pick out their runners among the crowd in large races.
I knew a handful of runners including friends that live in the area, an Oiselle teammate (who unfortunately I didn’t spot), bloggers that I follow (Congrats Ashley on a great race!), and my future sister-in-law Adrienne (her 1st race longer than a 5k!) and her sister Courtney. I printed out a course map and a list of starting times for the different waves to carry with me and help me plot out a plan for watching the race.
I woke up bright and early Sunday – something usually only reserved for my own race days – and got ready for the day. I took a bikeshare bike from Court House to Rosslyn where I walked down to Rt. 110 to see the runners between the 1 and 2 mile mark as they looped by Arlington Cemetery up toward Memorial Bridge. I made it in time to see the Wounded Warriors come through first – so inspiring – followed by the race leaders.
I’ve run some pretty large races over the years, but seeing the waves and waves of people running was unbelievable. Granted I was at an early spot in the race, but seriously it was elbow to elbow and never let up for the 40 or so minutes I was there.
After spotting Adrienne and Courtney and cheering them on I made my way back to the Rosslyn metro – with a quick hot chocolate stop at Starbucks first. It’s not nearly as warm watching a race as it is running one!
I got off at the Smithsonian Metro and met up with another Oiselle teammate to cheer on runners near the turnaround on Independence Ave. Unfortunately I missed everyone I knew at this point. I’m not sure if my hot chocolate stop made me get there a few minutes too late or if I just missed them in the crowd, but I still tried to offer encouragement to as many runners going by as I could! I’m really glad I made it out and had a lot of fun being on the other side of things for a change.
I also spotted this during the day making me super pumped for MCM…
I set a new 8k PR on Sunday! By a lot. Granted I haven’t run a ton of 8ks, but still, like last weekend’s successful long run, this came at a time in my training where I really needed it providing another confidence boost heading into the Marine Corps Marathon.
I was looking for an 8 or 10k this weekend at the suggestion of my coach and ended up choosing the Acumen Race for a Cause for a couple reasons. The top reason being proximity. Like the Clarendon Day Double, the start/finish line was walkable from my apartment and the course took me right through my neighborhood. It was also run by Potomac River Runners and they’ve always done a good job with any race I’ve done through them in the past. Finally, it seemed like a really cool concept for a charity race. During the last four years Acumen solution has distributed more than $415,000 and you actually got to choose from a list of ten local nonprofits what charity you wanted your registration fee to support.
I woke up early Sunday, ate a piece of toast and a banana, and for the second time got to put on my awesome Team Oiselle singlet. Ian grabbed his camera and a rain jacket since it seriously rained nonstop all last week and weekend. Sunday was really just a light drizzle and about 60 degrees, so it was almost pleasant out after the week of downpours. We were out the door at 7 for about a 30-minute walk to the start. I got a great warm-up in and handed over my hoodie to Ian before he headed off to stake out a spot along the course to cheer me on and take some pics.
It was a bit windy, but otherwise race conditions looked to be pretty good. Aside from being annoyed with a group of Marymount lacrosse players who showed zero respect during the national anthem, I was in the zone and ready to go. I accidentally hit the start/stop button twice on my garmin when we got going, but noticed about 10-20 seconds in so I was able to start it again and wasn’t too far off.
We headed down Quincy Street and quickly onto Wilson Blvd. for the first mile. I started relatively close to the front so I was able to run freely without any overcrowding issues. After a turn onto 10th for a quick stretch we spent the bulk of the race on Washington Blvd. There was slight downhill on mile 2 that would haunt me on my way back, but otherwise it was relatively flat/gently rolling through the turnaround at Columbia Pike when we hit the 2.5 mile mark.
Speedsters Up Front
I went out a bit harder than I planned to running miles 1 and 2 closer to my 5k pace and eased up slightly on mile 3. I felt strong through 3 and then paid for it on 4, especially when I hit that little uphill. I got a second wind though and ramped it back for mile 5 trying to push for a sub-38 finish. The last mile seemed to fly by and I kicked it into an even higher gear after making the final turn on to Quincy for the last stretch.
I pushed to the finish line and came oh-so-close to sub-38 crossing the line in 38:03. Roughly 20 seconds a mile faster than my previous 8k PR of 39:42, I was pumped! It was good enough for 7th in my age group and 24th out of 315 women!
This was a really well organized, fun, smaller race that I would definitely do again. Ian and I walked around the corner to Panera for breakfast before making the trek back home and I enjoyed a bagel with cream cheese and a hot chocolate. Not a bad Sunday morning!
On Saturday, I ran the Pacers Clarendon Day 5k and 10k. I was one of 240 crazy runners who took on the Double challenge and ran both races. Two races back-to-back – a racing first for me – and it was a blast!
I was coming off a tough week of training, but was feeling good after a rest day on Friday and knowing that the majority of the courses would be down the Wilson Blvd. hill I’ve run up so many times at the end of training runs to get home. Each race started in Clarendon by Whitlows and finished by the Rosslyn metro with an out and back out on 110 to Memorial Bridge for the 5k and near the Pentagon for the 10k. The challenge comes in having to hike back up the hill in between races to make it in time for the second race.
The start line was only a 15-minute walk from my place, so I didn’t have to get up quite as early as usual on race day – always a good thing! I made Ian start his photographer duties early since I was really excited to be sporting my Oiselle singlet for the first time.
After walking to the start I went through my dynamic warm-up and made my way to the starting line. I met fellow Oiselle teammate Courtney near the start and it was awesome seeing her along the course and cheering each other on. The weather was perfect – sunny and 50s at the start.
I had it in my mind that I could definitely PR and maybe go sub-21 with the downhill start. Things started off well. I new the first mile would be fast heading down that hill, but I kept it controlled and ran it in 6:30. I hit my goal pace of 6:46 during the second mile and was feeling like I really had a shot at sub-21. The flatter final mile and slightly uphill .1 to the finish got the best of me though, making for a much slower third mile. I crossed the line in 21:59 though making it my first sub-22 5k in a year and a half.
Right about this point I was starting to regret signing up for the double as I began my trek back up the hill to the start on dead legs. Ian and I had missed each other along the course, but I found him on my way back up brightening my mood. I had about 10 minutes to spare once I reached the top of the hill so I tried to stay in the sun and keep warm now that I was sweaty and chilled. I probably should have ditched the arm warmers before the 10k, but they were keeping me warm while I waited and while I got warm during the second race, I didn’t feel like I was overheating.
Before I knew it, the second race was underway. My plan was to just run the 10k after racing the 5k, but to keep my PR of 48:40 in the back of my mind – meaning maintaining roughly a 7:50 pace. I knew I would have to hold back in the first mile and not get caught up in the excitement of the start, especially after just going out at 5k pace an hour earlier. I hit mile one right on track at 7:51 and continued down the hill. I passed the finish line street to my left and headed towards the out and back on 110 and the mile 2 marker as the road started to flatten out. I hit mile 2 quicker than expected in 7:27.
I started to think I could steal a PR on the 10k, but still slowed myself down a little to avoid burning out early. Mile three was right on pace again at 7:52. I was feeling really good on mile four and passing a lot of people. I kept hoping the turn-around would be soon though and wishing I’d run the longer race first. Logistically I know that would be a nightmare, but it would’ve been easier on my mind for sure. Still mile four came in right where I wanted at 7:53.
Mile five was a bit tougher and I could feel my legs begging for a break. I wasn’t passing people anymore and I hit the mile marker in 7:59. Thanks to the quick second mile though, I still thought I had a chance at that PR. I picked it up for the final mile and smiled as I ran past the finish area for the Marine Corps Marathon knowing the next time I’ll be running there I’ll be just a short burst from the finish! I started passing people again and hit mile six in 7:52.
Ian spotted me along the final .2 uphill to the finish this time and got a bunch of great shots. I heard him cheer for me and made my final burst to the finish. I actually hadn’t looked at the watch at mile six so I was just hoping I could eek out a PR. I didn’t quite make it finishing in 49 flat, but I’ll take it considering I was only 20 seconds off and the last one didn’t come right after a 5k!
My combined time for the two races was 1:10:59 – good for 62nd overall and 4th in my age group!
I enjoyed a post-race meet up with Courtney and another Oiselle Volee teammate, Stephanie, who volunteered at the finish line Saturday before crushing it in her 20-mile race on Sunday!
Photo courtesy of Stephanie!
All in all it was another great Pacers race!
The only negative that I feel I have to mention I didn’t find out about until after the race. Ian saw someone drop two backpacks on the ground a block from the finish line and walk away. He tried to alert security, but everyone just seemed to blow it off and no one looked into it. Maybe everyone involved with the race including security knew what it was or who left them, but it would have been nice if they explained that to him. Obviously nothing happened and all was good, so it wasn’t an issue, but it seems like there could have been a better response.
Notice backpacks to the right – they didn’t belong to the man with the stroller. The guy who dropped them picked them up about 20 minutes later.
Last week was an up and down one. I was still recovering from a cold most of the week and struggled though some tough workouts before a run double race day on Sunday. Here’s the day-by-day breakdown:
Monday: Today was an attempt to make up Saturday’s 20-10-15 workout. I was supposed to do 20 minutes at a 7:10 pace, 10 at a recovery pace and 15 back at the tempo pace. I hit the treadmill Monday night and could quickly tell my lungs and chest were not fully recovered from my cold. I did bursts at a 7:24 pace and 1.0 incline with walk breaks in between for a total of 20 minutes before jogging it out at a 9:05 pace for 10 followed by a repeat of the run bursts and walk breaks for 10 minutes. Not ideal, but I was glad I made an effort to get it in.
Tuesday: I had Ian drop me off at work, so I could give my long run I missed out on on Sunday a go right after work to take advantage of as much daylight as possible. This was the tale of two runs. I started off strong and cruised for ten miles at an easy just under 9-minute pace. As I attempted to pick up the pace for the next 10 miles I started to struggle. My pace dropped by almost a minute per mile in some cases and I had horrible cramps in my feet. I pushed through as long as I could and finally called it quits at 16.5 after run/hobbling my way through Georgetown and over the Key Bridge back into Arlington.
Wednesday: Rest Day with light core workout.
Thursday: 5 miles easy on the treadmill plus a core workout.
Friday: Rest Day
Saturday: I raced the Clarendon Day Double running a 5k immediately followed by a 10k. I had a blast at this race and ran pretty decent times too finishing 4th in my age group for combined times of those that ran both races. Full recap coming soon!
Sunday: Recovery Day. I planned to run easy, but my calf muscles were absolutely killing me today. I got in a walk, but even that was painful. I’m hoping lots of stretching and rolling makes this pass quickly.
Yikes, one month – this was the first thing I saw on my Facebook newsfeed this morning causing simultaneous excitement and full-on panic!
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.
Garmin 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??
On Saturday I ran the Navy Air Force half marathon in D.C. and the conditions could not have been more perfect. After temps in the 90s mid-week, a cold front came through giving us all a reprieve and a starting line temperature in the mid-50s. I went into the race fairly optimistic about my chances as I’ve been training hard and running much longer distances on my Saturday long runs than the 13.1 I’d have to run on race day.
Before I get to the race, I’ll start with the expo. Packet pick-up was available Thursday and Friday, and I was a bit worried I’d run into long lines and crowds going after work on Friday near the end of the expo, but that ended up not being the case at all. Other than waiting in 5-10 minutes of traffic to get into the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, it was a breeze. I had my bib in no time, wandered around the expo floor for a few minutes and grabbed my shirt on the way out. It was very well organized and a decent expo for a smaller race.
Ready to go!
Saturday morning I was up at 5, and Ian and I were in the car by 6. It’s amazing how easy it is to drive into D.C. at 6 a.m. on a weekend morning – we were parked in the Reagan Building parking garage by 6:15 and walking to the start line. Thanks to all the water I drank in the past few days and probably my nerves I ended up making a few bathroom trips then got in a full warm-up before heading toward the starting chute. I handed my jacket off to Ian as I made my way to the line and he headed toward the first mile marker to snap some pictures and cheer me on when I came running by.
A great rendition of the National Anthem led to the 7:15 start for the Wounded Warriors and other wheel chair athletes. So inspiring, and holy, they are fast!
At 7:25 it was time for the rest of us to go. The start and the course were very familiar to the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler except that there were a lot less people so you could actually stand comfortably at the start line. That also mean less crowd support, but those that were out there were very encouraging. I was able to start fairly close to the front so I didn’t have to do any weaving during the early miles. I really love this course and have run and raced on it so much now I feel like I could do it with my eyes closed – except then I’d miss the great scenery and D.C. monuments!
Last week I mentioned I was thinking about running without my watch and got a lot of great feedback, so I was all set to give it a go, but ended up wearing a regular stop watch (no garmin) at the strong suggestion of my coach. I kind of regret doing this and wish I’d just gone no watch at all or garmin. I was still very aware of my pace by looking at the watch keeping me from going just by feel and it really just meant I had to do more math in my head along the way. Oh well, lesson learned and I’m sure there’ll be another opportunity to truly go watchless.
My coach gave me a goal time of 1:41:36 or a 7:45 pace, which I thought would be very doable. I did my best to not go out too hard and hit mile one along Independence Avenue just 10 seconds ahead of pace. I waved to Ian and kept on going toward mile 2 feeling very comfortable and trying to slow down just a touch to get myself at that 7:45 pace. Well, unless I easily ran the fastest mile of my life mile marker two on the Memorial Bridge was very incorrect as I hit in in 12:35, haha. After that I didn’t take much stock in the mile makers although they could have all been correct the rest of the way for all I know – it just didn’t inspire a lot of confidence in them.
I loved the stretch up toward Rock Creek from miles 3-5 although the slight uphill slowed me a bit, but I hoped to regain it on the downhill back towards Hains Point. At mile 7, I was still averaging about an 8-minute mile, so I’m not really sure how I slowed as much as I did. It was definitely between miles 7-11 though as my breathing felt fine, but my legs felt a bit sluggish. It was nothing like the Nike half though where I let myself get so tied up in my goal time that I was absolutely miserable. I was still having fun out there and really enjoying the run on such a perfect D.C. morning.
Mile 8 was the last time I looked at my watch until I stopped it at the finish. I saw Ian again about 8.5 in just before getting to Hains Point. It’s always great to have support along the course and brought a huge smile to my face. I know everyone hates running Hains Point, but I was actually looking forward to this mostly flat, final stretch of the race, especially since it wasn’t super windy there for once.
I got a second wind around mile 11 and started moving quicker again and passing a lot of other runners. Ian who is getting pretty good at navigating a race course was waiting for me at the 13-mile mark before my final push to the finish. I crossed the line and gratefully accepted a water bottle and my finisher’s coin before making my way out of the chute and stretching a bit before heading back to the car.
I was almost surprised to see 1:50:11 as my final time, which put me in 584th place out of nearly 2,500 runners. I didn’t feel at all miserable like I did during the Nike Half, yet this time was even slower. I wasn’t unhappy and I really enjoyed the race and had fun running it, but my time does concern me a bit. The 8:25 pace is slower than I ran my last marathon and definitely slower than what I need to run Marine Corps in to get my Boston Qualifier.
Still, I have six weeks left of training and learned some valuable lessons and key takeaways from this race that I’ll detail more in a later post, so I’m counting this as a positive experience. While a PR would have been awesome, it just wasn’t in the cards on Saturday. With the goal race of my season still a month and a half away though, that’s okay. Time to move forward and keep working!
On Tuesday, the coolest thing happened – I got to interview Bart Yasso, Runner’s World’s Chief Running Officer. I was so excited that I immediately called my fiancé, parents and brother to tell them about it. Call me a runnerd. I don’t care, I’m still too excited!
Bart Yasso has one of the coolest jobs on the planet and he knows it. It’s so refreshing to talk to someone who truly loves what he does and appreciates it. We talked training tips, Yasso 800s, race strategy and race experiences. I was so impressed by how genuinely nice he was and that he took the time to thoughtfully and thoroughly answer all of my questions. He had some great advice and some cool race experiences, and I’m so excited to share them with all of you.
Training – Going for that BQ or ultimate PR Bart outlined 3 key workouts for successful marathon training. “The cornerstone of everything is the long run,” he said. It’s all about proper pacing on your long run too as he sees many runners do them too quickly and leave their race out on their training runs. During the long run you should focus on building endurance and not worry about speed. He highly encourages runners he coaches to try to negative split their long runs – finish faster than they started.
For example, a runner doing a 20 miler with a marathon goal time of 3:30 should run the first 10 miles at roughly a 9:30 pace then start working up to a 9-minute pace and wrap up with 3-4 miles at or close to marathon goal pace.
The next key workout is a hill/speed session to work on increasing turnover and leg speed. He recommends hill repeats earlier in the program and speed workout later. For hill workouts, mixing it up can lead to more success than just powering up the same hill repeatedly. Try running 4 shorter hill repeats, 4 longer ones and 4 shorter ones again. This lets you work on faster turnover on the short hills and strength on the longer hills.
The final key piece is the tempo or marathon pace run. You need to teach your body to run the pace you want to run in the race. Start with a 10-15 minute warm-up, work your way up to 8-10 miles at marathon pace and wrap up with a 10-15 minute cool down.
In between these key workouts you’ll have your easy recovery runs and cross training that make up the rest of your training. Another common thread among runners who have achieved marathon success is that they’ve been able to run injury free for a couple year period. It’s so important to listen to your body as most injuries he sees are basic overuse ones. (Been there.)
Yasso 800s I had to ask Bart about this famous workout named after him as I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with it. He says he gets that a lot and hears from runners that they use his name in vain quite often! For those not familiar with this workout, you do 10X800 and the time you can run your repeats in should correlate to your marathon finish time – i.e. if you run your repeats in 3:20 each you should be able to run a 3 hour and 20 minute marathon.
Bart says he found this correlation decades ago looking at his training log, but maintains that he’s never said it works for anyone but himself and it certainly isn’t based on any kind of science. Amby Burfoot, however, thinks it works for everyone and wrote about in Runner’s World years ago making the workout famous.
Race Day Strategy There’s no doubt that the latter portion of any distance race is more mental than physical, Bart says. During the early part of a race you need to be smart and run a proper pace then in the latter part of the race you need push yourself to run faster than you thought you could. While you should have a plan and think about what pace you can sustain, Bart says, don’t kill yourself with a set time – let the race play out and come to you.
His runners that have had the best success also run negative splits. When you’re running faster and passing people at everyone at the end of a race it’s the best feeling in the world and consequently when you feel like you’re on a death march getting passed by everyone it’s the worst feeling in the world, he says. Having been in both these positions in races, I couldn’t agree more.
Bart shared a great story about a 10k run, 50 mile bike, 10k run race he did years ago where he took the lead on the bike. The final 10k was an out and back and he ran as fast as he could swearing he could hear footsteps closing in on him. After the turnaround he realized he was a good 3-minutes ahead of everyone and went on to win the race. If he’d turned around he would’ve slowed down, but instead he “ran scared” and convinced himself to keep pushing faster than he thought he was capable resulting in a big win.
The Journey Bart has been lucky enough to race all over the world on every continent. As someone who has “only” run 9 marathons and would have a tough time picking a favorite, I really put him on the spot by asking his top races. He said that it has changed over the years as his running changes and that’s what makes it fun. It’s all about the people and the experiences along the way. He says the races he remembers the most are the ones he has connections with, so running the Rome Marathon where he was able to stop at several spots and chat with his Mom who came along on the trip holds a special place in his heart. He also calls running the Comrades Marathon an ultimate running experience. As a long-time fan of Nelson Mandela he said the race is what brought him to South Africa, but experiencing the country and history of it made it such a special journey.
Seriously, this man has such a cool life!
Runwell’s Perspire to Inspire Video Contest Bart also chatted with me about Runwell’s Perspire to Inspire video contest in support National Recovery Month. Bart was very candid about his struggles in his youth with drugs and alcohol, which he talks more about in his book, My Life on the Run. “Running saved my life,” he said. He thinks he’s lucky to have found running so young and is willing to share his story in hopes that it can help people to not choose that lifestyle or show people who have fallen down that path that there is a way out.
The Runwell contest is very cool. You enter by submitting a short video describing how you’ve personally helped to inspire others to lead a healthy life. It’s a powerful message and I can’t wait to hear people’s stories. The winner who will be determined by the vote of an online community brings home a pretty cool prize too that includes a slew of things plus free race registration and airfare to a race of their choosing. Check it out and submit your story!
My brother did his first Tough Mudder race a few weeks ago in Philly and survived to tell about it! Having never done one, it sounded like quite the experience, so I thought it’d be fun to have him share his race experience on the blog. Ever wondered what it’s like to do a Tough Mudder? Here are Dan’s thoughts and what appears to be a bit of a challenge at the end…
Taking on a Tough Mudder
By Dan Lerro
Let me begin by thanking Colleen for the opportunity to write this post on her blog – so Coll, thank you.
For those of you not familiar with the Tough Mudder series, it’s a course that ranges from 10 – 12 miles (each location is constructed uniquely) with a wide array of challenging and sometimes dangerous obstacles. The race is not officially timed. I hesitate to call it a race since organizers place an emphasis on the team and communal aspect of ensuring that anyone who starts the course will complete it with the assistance or encouragement of event participants. Teams can be large or small. Our team consisted of seven members, but there was one team that seemed to have in excess of 40 members.
My friend, Greg, approached me about seven months before the Philadelphia Tough Mudder and asked me if I would like to join their team. A couple of the guys had run a Tough Mudder the prior year and one of them had even taken part in the World’s Toughest Mudder. Not being the type to back down from a challenge, I accepted Greg’s invitation to join the team. Greg said that he wanted to give me plenty of time to train, as I would be in some very physically fit company. Greg is a strong marathon runner and he offered his assistance in training me for the running portion of the event. I’ve always been comfortable running slow over long distances, but up till this race, I never ran ten plus miles at a quicker pace. Greg did a tremendous job at getting me ready for race day.
Race day began at a parking lot (farmer’s field) about 20 minutes away from the check-in/start/finish area. If you arrived at the field with three or more in your vehicle, parking was free. After observing the logistics of how the vehicles were parked and the seemingly endless line of yellow school buses to take participants and spectators to the race area, I knew this event was going to be well organized. Each of the bus drivers covered numerous registration and race related bullet points while driving, giving everyone a firm idea of what to expect at the drop-off location. The check-in tents for participants and spectators (spectators pay to attend) were alphabetically separated in a way that allowed for easy processing and entry into the race area. Once inside the race area, there is the standard arrangement of sponsor booths, vendors, etc. The landmark of note was the mountain of muddy shoes in the middle of this area that would eventually be collected by charity, thoroughly cleaned and sanitized and sent to a third world country to be used again as footwear.
The starting line was a completely penned in area, accessible only by launching oneself over a six-foot wall. The start times were staggered about every 20 minutes. The pen was about 80 percent full and contained several hundred participants. An energetic announcer briefed each heat of participants as to the race and safety protocols. The Wounded Warrior Project is a charity affiliated with the event, and the announcer took a minute to thank all of the troops, past and present, for their service. The last housekeeping item before the official start was taking the Tough Mudder pledge. The core tenants of the pledge are teamwork, challenging oneself and overcoming fears.
The race begins… Our course has been mowed into a wheat field. I trained on pavement as we have a shortage of freshly mowed wheat fields in the New York City area. To summarize the running portion of this event: You were either running up a hill, down a hill, up a steeper hill, or down a steeper hill… did I mention that there were a lot of hills? When the Tough Mudder sets a site for one of their events i.e. Philadelphia, it really means that the event will be within a two hour radius of Philadelphia. Jaindl Farms, about an hour and change north of Philly, offered a lovely series of rolling wheat fields.
Now the obstacles…
There were a total of twenty-two obstacles! I’ll list them with a brief description and my experience with each one (I’ll try to be brief):
Kiss of Mud: A 40 – 50 foot stretch of mud you have to army crawl through or fall victim to the actual barbed wire above your head. I stayed low and embraced the mud… My shoes were heavy and my arms and legs were covered in mud.
Glory Blades: An 8 foot wall angled back toward you. There is no place to establish a foothold, thus you must launch yourself up high enough and throw a leg over to propel yourself through this obstacle. My hands were a little muddy from the first obstacle, but I got myself over without issue.
Dirty Ballerina: A series of trenches dug about 5-6 feet wide, which one must leap over successively to get to the other side. I felt like I was in Super Mario Brothers when I used my running start and momentum to jump over each of the trenches – though the Princess was not waiting in a castle at the end of this obstacle.
Trench Warfare: An underground tunnel that bends to the left and the right leaving you to crawl blindly in the pitch dark. There was enough head room to crawl quickly, but there were a lot of rocks on the ground, which reminded me why I was trying to crawl quickly.
Log Jammin’ (One of the organizers is obviously a fan of The Big Lebowski): An over and under movement through stacked telephone poles of varying heights. Arrows pointing up and down remind you which direction to go… if you miss the arrows, the barbed wire will act as a harsh reminder of which way you SHOULD have gone. I moved through this quickly, but used a lot of energy to push my way through.
Mud Mile: A series of dirt hills with 6 foot stretches of waist high muddy water in between. Jump into the first mud pool and climb up the dirt hill in front of you… Jump into second mud pool and climb up dirt hill in front of you… repeat many more times! I worked through the stinky, muddy water and flung myself over the hills. At the end of this, I needed a min to catch my breath and drain the water from my shoes.
Hold Your Wood: Just what it says, pick up a heavy section of tree and hold it while you walk around in a big circle, only to bring it back right where you started. Greg and I carried a team log. It was heavy and tore a nice opening in my shoulder. It was at this obstacle where the Tough Mudder organizers get a dig in at one of their competitors. As you round the turn with your log, there is a sign that lets you know that if you were running the Warrior Dash, you’d be crossing the finish line (we are about 3 miles into the event at this point).
Cage Crawl: Trenches of water covered by fencing. You have enough room to slide in on your back, headfirst and pull yourself through the water using the chain-link fence above you. This obstacle was almost relaxing, though the distance between the fence and the water is narrow and can freak some people out, as there are points where there’s barely enough space to keep your nose above the waterline.
Fire Walker: A 5-foot stretch of burning logs with a pool of water just on the other side. This obstacle was well monitored by a fire department representative and lifeguards. I descended a hill right before this obstacle and took it in stride. I used the momentum from the hill to propel me over the fiery logs and into the refreshing pool of water.
Arctic Enema: A 20-foot container filled with ice and water. I almost forgot to mention the board in the middle of the container with barbed wire across the top, which forces you to go under the board. I jumped in, ice water up to my shoulders. I’m about to go under the board, but all I want to do is burp before I do it… I try and I try, but I can’t, so finally I take half of a breath and go under the water, and believe it or not, the water gets colder. I swim to the other end and climb the ladder to get out – Greg and his brother expedite my exit. My body is numb. This is actually awesome since we are running again and all of my aches have been mitigated (at least until I return to 98.7 degrees).
Balls to the Wall: A 30 – 40 foot wall that you climb and descend with the aid of a knotted rope. This was not too bad, up and over – good to go!
King of the Mountain: A 40-foot mountain of wheat bales stacked like a pyramid. Up and over – no cuts on my legs from the straw… on to the next one.
Berlin Walls: Three tall walls, one right after the other – make sure you have your teammates close by because this one requires assistance. I was fortunate to have enough energy to propel myself up with enough energy to throw a leg over the wall. I stuck around this one to assist a few fellow participants.
Warrior Carry: Throw your teammate on your back and carry them 100 or so feet. I carried Greg and he carried me.
Hangin’ Tough (Evidently a shout-out to fans of NKOTB): A series of rings hanging across a pool of water. Swing from one ring to the other or end up going for a swim. I make it two and a half rings and go swimming! This obstacle reminded me of an event from American Gladiators, though Lazer didn’t make an appearance.
Electric Eel: An army crawl across a plastic lined shallow pool of water… with live electrical lines hanging sporadically above you for the duration of the obstacle. The shock delivered is no joke – many a spectator is gathered to watch, laugh and gasp as participants propel themselves through this electric minefield of wires. Many an obscenity is uttered! I was shocked about seven times. The last one caught me right on my calf, resulting in a contraction of my muscle into a ball, which I worked out as we ran to the next obstacle. Participants with heart conditions, metal plates and a history of seizures are not permitted to pass through this obstacle.
Ladder to Hell: A series of boards fashioned into a ladder about 30 – 40 feet tall. I’m up and over… just a few obstacles left!
Boa Constrictor: A ribbed plastic drainage tube which descends down a hill into a pool of water and the resumes going up hill on the other side of the pool. This obstacle was challenging. The descent into the pool is nerve-racking. As you crawl through the tube, it’s as though it fills with water, you need to keep your head up in order to keep breathing. I pushed my way out of the tube into the pool of water. I made my way across the pool and entered the tube going up hill. I decided to turn on my back to keep my head above water in the tube and pushed my way up toward the light with my feet.
Walk the Plank: A climb up a wall of about 20 feet and then a leap of faith into a deep pool of water. Fun!
Funky Monkey: A twist on playground monkey bars. This obstacle was challenging. The monkey bars ascend and descend at the halfway point – oh, did I mention this is also over a pool of water?? I kept my arms bent at the elbow and managed to make my way completely across the monkey bars. This was made more interesting by the fact that the bars rotate when you grip them!
Everest: A quarter-pipe coated in the mud and wetness from previous participants who didn’t make it all the way to the top. I must have picked a perfect path since I was able to get a running start and sprint straight to the top of this practically vertical ascent. This was another obstacle I stuck around to assist other participants with a hand to make it to the platform.
Electroshock Therapy: This is a 30 – 40 foot stretch of hanging, live electrical wires. This is compounded by a series of 2-foot dirt moguls with ankle deep mud in between each of these bumps. As a team, we lined up 7 across and charged our way through in unison. I made it about 95 percent of the way through this obstacle with minimal shocks, until I noticed several cords in front of me, which had become intertwined. I barreled into the bundle and all I recall was a loud pop. My next discernable moment entailed me sliding on the left side of my body through a pool of mud and gravel. I gathered my senses in a few split seconds and rose up to my feet. Blood and mud poured down the left side of my knee. I wiped the mud from the left side of my face and looked up to realize that I had crossed the finish line!!! Dazed and confused, I turned to the closest Tough Mudder volunteer, reached out my hand and received my prize: an orange Tough Mudder headband. I immediately placed it on my head and proceeded to a table where I received a medium t-shirt. Now came the real prize: a plastic cup filled to the brim with amber Dos Equis Beer. I don’t know that beer has ever tasted better in my entire life…
As I reflect on this experience, I am proud to say that I completed this adventure race. I feel that I honored and surpassed every aspect of the Tough Mudder pledge throughout the event. For anyone that is looking to challenge themselves and test their limits to the extreme, join the United States Special Forces. For anyone looking to push themselves physically and mentally, take some risks and still be able to show up for work a day or two after the event, try the Tough Mudder.
I wish I would have trained more on hills and lifted more prior to this event. I highly recommend wearing compression shorts in order to minimize the amount of mud and filth one tends to take on throughout the event. I appreciate the fact that the Tough Mudder Series makes spectators pay to attend the event. I did not, however, feel that spectators were given enough of an opportunity to view an array of obstacles and view participants to get their money’s worth.
From start to finish, this event was logistically sound. Water stops were perfectly placed between obstacles. The obstacles were solidly constructed. The event was well staffed and assistance was never too far away. The emphasis on the team aspect was critical in making this a truly unique experience. I believe that adventure racing is the next frontier in sports. Event organizers will never have a shortage of people looking to challenge themselves. They will only be limited by their imaginations and creativity in designing the next wooden structural challenge or electric torture device!
Thanks again, Coll, for allowing me to occupy a post on your blog. I hope your followers were able to make it all the way to the end of this post! Perhaps, I can convince you to step aside from this whole ‘marathon-thing’ for a race or two and join me for a Tough Mudder event!