Bluestone Ambassador

Nelle's 40th Annual Marine Corps Marathon Race Report

In early March of 2015, before I had even run my first road marathon, I registered for the Marine Corps Marathon lottery.  Shortly after my challenging but rewarding completion of the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach, (Let’s just look at the finisher photo from that race, shall we…)

Nelle Shamrock

I received confirmation that I had gained entry to MCM 2015, the 40th annual marathon.  The card was charged, and BOOM, I was recommitted to endurance training.

Eager to make a new personal record, I picked the brains of runner friends and incorporated training information from my amazing coach who prepared me for my first marathon.  The combination of both provided me with a training regimen that emphasized overall increased volume, cumulative fatigue, and race pace tempo runs.  I used the Hanson Marathon Method, purchased from Amazon, to guide my week to week training for 18 weeks.  I love how their speed work was intentional and built upon itself each week.  Within 3 weeks, I could see huge gains in my speed, form, and turnover.  However, my main concern was still the long run, which this program advised the longest run be 16 miles.  I wanted a 22 miler, so the weekly mileage was adjusted to work in a few longer runs beyond 16 miles.  However, another aspect of the Hanson Method that I really enjoyed was the 6 runs per week; it was a challenge to manage because of the fatigue, but it did help get that overall volume necessary to finish a marathon strong. My highest mileage week was 66 miles, and my highest mile month was 228!

Overall, my training leading to the marathon was positive.  A couple of days of tendonitis in my posterior tibialis had me biting my nails, but everything went very smoothly.  From July 1 to October 25, I ran 878 miles on the roads, treadmill, and trails.  Whoah.

Training Gear:

  1. Saucony Kinvara – Seriously, I love these shoes: light, supportive, durable!
  2. Superfeet Shoe Inserts Green – These helped eradicate any residual plantar fasciitis
  3. Hoka One Clifton – My favorite new “moon” shoe running shoe – so cushiony!
  4. Pro Bar Energy Chews  – Raspberry with caffeine
  5. Skratch Labs – Matcha flavor with caffeine
  6. Darn Tough socks – no blisters or lost toenails FOR THE WIN!!!!
  7. 2280RUN friends

(All gear can be purchased at Bluestone Bike & Run in Harrisonburg, VA – best customer service and products around)

Training Races:

  1. VA Momentum’s Craft Brother’s 3 mile relay: 5:52 (a new personal record)

2. Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler: 27:54 (new course record)

3. VA Momentum’s Valley Vines Twilight 5K: 22:52

4. Trail Blazer Treks Half Marathon: 1:39:41 (new personal record)

5. Run the Mountain Trail 10 Miler: 1:51:12

I arrived at the Marine Corps Expo on Friday afternoon. After getting my bib number, I bolted out of there. Fresh legs are key for running a marathon. So is carb loading… because FOOD.  I ate a lot of food that night and enjoyed some good laughs with my friends Julie and Charlie.

The next morning, I met a few friends from Alabama, and we took the metro to the DC mall for a 3 mile shake out run!  It was the most fun shake out run EVER.  We ran around the monuments and took selfies every which way.  People probably thought I was nuts… well, let me tell you that I was.   Jumping everywhere and laughing out loud way too loud.  The run felt great and got me very excited about the race to follow!  I did get a tattoo the Wednesday prior.  It says in Elvish “Not all who wander are lost” from the Riddle of the Strider in Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring.  My dad loved Tolkien, and I loved the message.  It spoke to my spirit, and I placed it over my heart because it is my “Dad” tattoo, and he’ll always be in my heart. I was glad to take him to the marathon with me.

I ran two more miles with Charlie not long after (I needed a 5 mile shake out – remember that volume!).  This is when I took a spill on the sidewalk.  I went flying.  I landed on the hip I had bruised pretty terribly at the trail race the weekend before, but I won the race, so my pride wasn’t hurting… my pride hurt this day, but the bruise hurt more.  Luckily, the pain wasn’t noticeable when running. Phew!  Close call.  Now, time to eat and relax.

The night before MCM, I couldn’t SLEEP!!! I was so excited.  Holy anticipation.  I never usually have issues falling asleep, but at least I got good sleep the night previous.  On race day, I woke up at 4 and began eating.  It’s hard to eat on race day. Oh, I also downed a glass and a half of Skratch Labs and chia seeds… more on that later. Julie dropped me off at the metro to greet 30,000 of my closest friends!  Just kidding, but seriously, I’m a morning person and everyone is my friend in the morning.

When we exited the metro at 6:40, the swarm of runners (mind you, the sun wasn’t up yet) likened to zombie walkers… Walking fast is my MO… I knew I needed to get to the start line because I’m Type A and stuff!  No luck here, as security was wayyyy backed up and the massive crowds of runners and spectators were not formed in any kind of line.  I was worried but the lack of motion.  Oh, and I needed to tinkle. Like bad. The minutes passed. I posted to Facebook around 7:40 that I wouldn’t be starting on time, we had only moved forward 20 feet, and I still couldn’t see the metal detectors we had to go through to enter the Runner’s Village. I posted that I was adjusting my goals to incorporate the effect of a mass exodus of runners of all speeds starting at the same time.

Meanwhile, I was also literally hopping up and down now, as I really needed to PEE.  Everyone around me knew, too.  Then behold, a patch of grass appeared.  Yes, you’re thinking it, I was thinking it… it got real with my 30,000 closest friends.  I asked them if they minded if I tinkled right there.  Nobody minded at all. I’m thinking and saying “THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!!!”  One man gave me his black plastic bag, which I placed over my head.  Everyone was bursting out in laughter as I sat on the grass and “went”.  I got some verbal kudos for that… and P.S. it was like the longest tinkle of my life, but at least I had the plastic bag over my head.  Walk of shame has nothing on this experience, IMO.

At 7:55, parachuters dropped down at the race line, we saw this from a very far distance, and about 10 minutes later, security let people start walking through the security check points.  We were still about a mile from the starting line.  I think I started the race around 8:14, 20 minutes after the start.  It was VERY congested, but I was mainly just glad that the race had finally begun.

Miles 1 and 2 were hilly.  Because of the crowds, I took to running on the sidewalk where possible to start the passing process.  It felt good to be moving! The rain was drizzling, and I actually like running in the rain, so another plus.  Just before mile 3, we crested a hill, and my groove kicked in.  But I couldn’t access it because of the crowds.  This was a challenge because I’d find a line, weave through people (all the while trying not to kill anybody), and then be stopped by a walker or a runner with a significantly reduced speed.  I felt really guilty trying to pass these people.  They were here to run their race, too, and I didn’t want to make anyone feel inadequate because of their abilities or get them hurt.  It was frustrating.

I was beginning to sweat a lot around mile 4, where there was another incline, but this time much shorter.  At the next water stop, I took two cups of waters and my Pro Energy Chews.  GLORY HALLELUJAH, that water tasted delicious, and the effects of hydration were immediate.  Temperatures on race day were pretty warm, starting around 55 degrees and rising.  It was a hot day for a marathon.  I then began the lollipop portion of the course with a turnout at the D.C. Zoo.  Because it was a lollipop, I ran on the median between those ahead of me and those running with me.  I was able to pass a significant amount of people without knocking people or weaving, too.  That was a good move.

During the previous day’s shake-out run, I began to feel a stitch on the right side of my abdomen, so I did sun salutations, upward and downward dog, you name it, to try to relieve the stitch.  Around mile 7, the stitch came back.  I was doing everything I could not to panic.  I slowed down to take another two cups of water, breathed into the locus of the pain, and prayed it would go away.  And would you believe it???? It did!!!

I enjoyed running the Blue Mile, where pictures of fallen soldiers were posted for the entire mile.  We are so blessed to have people in this country ready to give the ultimate sacrifice for us.  I was humbled and pushed through this mile.  I looked at the faces of these brave men and women, most probably around my age, and pounded the asphalt.  Thank you, by the way, to all service men and women.  We couldn’t have races like this without the freedom you fight so hard to keep for our nation and also the world.  Thank you,  Blue Mile, 1,000,000 times over.

Shortly after the Blue Mile, we hit the half- marathon mark.  I ran the first half in 1:46 and some seconds. Pretty close to my hopeful 3:30 time, but negative splits are hard to hit, and I continued to focus on staying hydrated, keeping myself mentally in the game, and enjoying the experience.

Around mile 17, I passed the 4:00 pace group, as we began approaching the national monuments.  It took me THAT long to reach them in the race – that’s how far behind I was when I began.  I pat myself on the back for getting that far, but I had reduced my distances between refueling from the original plan of every 5 miles, take 2 energy chews to every 4 miles, take 2 energy chews.  I was starting to fade… and fade fast.

Just after mile 19, I picked up my pacer, Katie Harman.  

She is an absolute beast let me tell you. 8:00 miles for her is her “easy pace”.  I kept my headphones in, but I can’t reiterate enough how good it was to have her there, helping me navigate around runners, keep me from shutting down, and actually have someone running my pace, because remember, I’m still passing runners.  I ran the first 19 miles with a different group of people every 5 seconds!

At mile 21, we hit the bridge. Holy mother of bridges – OUCH!  I walked a couple of times, refueled, cussed maybe like once.  For real, I’m proud of me about that.  Haha.  The bridge was about a mile long.  I laughed out loud when we took the exit ramp descent (yay for downhill!), there was someone holding a sign that said “Hey, didn’t that hill suck?”.  Um, yes. Yes, it did.  Okay, focus, 4 miles to go.

The last four miles were crowded with people.  At mile 23, I was fading.  The legs were starting to fill with lactic acid, or whatever it is that makes you feel as though you’re made of gelatin. I walked every now and then.  Katie was so positive. I should have told her to cuss me out and be tough… but she kept me going. Thank you, Katie!!!!!  At mile 24, I was like uh really dying.  I walked a little more, cried, cussed, and whatever because I was having a hard time coping with the fact that I was so close to Boston Qualifying but my legs just wouldn’t turn over anymore.  Once I finished being a toddler, we started running again.  Marathons are dramatic, yo.

Finally, we entered the runner’s village, where the madness had all begun.  I knew the finish was close.  So close. There were people everywhere. I was starting to run strong again.  Then I saw a hill.  I mean it was a short hill.  But it was a hill, and it hurt my feelings. I walked.  All of the marines were there and so were all of these other spectators, and I said “I am NOT running this hill.”  Katie took it on the chin for about 15 seconds, and then she pushed me.  About 150 meters later, I had stomped it out with a look of agony (didn’t buy that race picture) and crossed the finish line at 3:37:23.  I was bummed to miss qualifying for Boston by 2 minutes and 23 seconds, but I KNOW I would have done it had I run with my corral.  I am currently deciding whether I will run Richmond in two weeks and go for BQ there.  It was a disappointment, but when I considered the amount of people I had to pass starting from the back to finish with the 3:50 marathoners and still managing a 9 minute personal record for the marathon distance, I’d say that I am proud of my performance at this race.

Immediately following the finish, I shook hands with marines, received my medal, and directed myself to the medical tent.  My knees were aching, and ice was a must.  Best decision I ever made.

I was a little sore.  I was a lot of tired.  I was a lot of happy. I did, in spite of the start fiasco, accomplish a 9 minute personal record in the marathon.  My Strava account indicated that I ran 26.5 miles, and additionally, my marathon time according to Strava was 3:34:39.  I Boston Qualified according to Strava – shouldn’t that count for something.

Here are my takeaways:

  1. Always be early.  Life is less stressful when you’re early.
  2. Don’t be afraid to pee in public.  Only if it’s absolutely necessary.  We are “FREE TO PEE!”
  3. When race-day hiccups happen, stay cool, adjust, and do what you can.
  4. “The whole marathon experience was a perfect metaphor for life: you can’t control the weather, or the other people around you who sometimes get in your way. You can’t control that sometimes things happen that you really didn’t sign up for. You can’t control that sometimes it’s harder than you expected and you can’t even control how much it hurts. And during some stretches, you feel really alone and all you can do it wait it out. But you DO have control over two things: a) your attitude and b) whether or not you’re going to keep giving it everything you’ve got. Bonus c) while you’re at it, you might as well support/encourage those around you and appreciate those special few who love you and are always your support system.” (From a friend who prefers to be anonymous – I couldn’t have worded this better myself.)

Here are my thank you’s:

1. Thank you to my children, for sacrificing time with me to let me pursue a goal that ultimately I hope will inspire them to chase their dreams.

2. My family and friends who encouraged me not to give up on myself or this race after my husband and I separated and began the process for divorce.

3. My training partners (near and far), who were the absolute best company during a 4.5 month training period.

4. Thank you to Hannah Foust for stepping forward and dropping my bag off at the drop trucks so that I could focus on peeing and getting to the start line.  There just aren’t words. :)

5. Bluestone Bike & Run and VA Momentum for allowing me to represent their store and mission statements with pride.  They took such good care of my training needs and are always supportive to our local running group: 2280RUN.

6. Julie and Charlie; Grace and Charles for letting me crash at their place and help me navigate the Urban Jungle that is D.C.

7. Marine Corps Marathon for a beautiful race and overall experience.

Until next time,

Nelle

“Conquer the Cove Trail Marathon turned 50K” Race Report

Race Report from Bluestone Ambassador, Nelle Douglas!

On May 31st, my husband and I woke up before the break of dawn: 2:50 A.M.  To minimize race day to-do lists, we slept with our racing clothes on, and the coffee was auto-brewed downstairs, rousing aromas wafting up the stairs to greet us.  The babysitter had come in the night previous, and we hurried out the door to meet our running friends at their house.  We carpooled through the early morning to Loch Haven Lake, VA, which was absolutely gorgeous upon our arrival.  It was going to be a great race… I could feel it in my bones.

 

 

Pre-Race Photos at Loch Haven

Because of the early summer heat, the race was set to begin at 6:30 A.M.  My friend, Brittany (also awesome training buddy), and I were very nervous before the race started.  We had some extreme climbing to put behind us during this trail race, which we were also simultaneously excited about conquering because of Strava’s Dipsea Elevation Challengecurrently happening.

The first mile of the race took place on a private road, leading us immediately into a steep grade hill,  immediately climbing 600-800 feet.  This sign was located on the course… Mountain Junkies says that they “only follow skulls and crossbones”.  Yes, we forked “right”.With 25+ miles ahead, there was no way I was going to pop myself on that hill. I power climbed soon after my hamstrings and glutes began to burn.  Not to mention that my calves were  seriously on fire!  It takes me a really LONG time to warm up, and so it was challenging to focus on my own race when other racers were passing me, but the marathon race was also combined with 25K’ers, so I was able to rationalize my way out of feelings of unpreparedness.  I reminded myself to trust my training and make prudent and precise decisions so as to avoid “the wall”.

Finally, I crested the hill and plunged into swerving switchbacks with rocks and roots dominating the trail.  I remembered to overemphasize knee drive so as not to catch toes on protruding objects from the dirt.  I’m not a very fast down-hiller (yet), so I lost some placement in this section of the race.  My strengths are rolling hills, flats, and moderate downhills.  I played to those later in the race.

I caught up to one man around mile 5.  He was a steady-paced runner.  Ran the hills, ran the downhills, all at the same pace.  I decided to hang onto him for awhile.  That was smart – he helped me chase down several women ahead of me, one of which sadly frustrated me.  The race directors requested that headphones only be used on one ear and the volume to be low enough so that one would still be able to hear people (and animals like snakes and bears) around them.  One racer decided to wear BEATS size headphones, likening her to Princess Leia from Star Wars.  Anyway, I had to grab onto her shoulders (we were on single track) after calling to her multiple times that I needed to pass.  She was surprised when I touched her, but I even increased the volume of my voice again before doing so.  Oh well.  I think that was the most frustrating part of the entire race experience, so  I’d say it was an awesome race!

The running club, Mountain Junkies, directing the event was incredible.  This club provided some seriously great aid stations.  Chunks of chocolate, Stinger Gels, potato chips, fruit, supportive and cheerful volunteers.  Volunteers rushed to pour water into our handheld bottles and hydration packs.  They provided us with ice cold, water-soaked towels contained in buckets for us to remove salt deposits and provide respite from steadily increasing heat.  (The towels were discarded into another bucket after one use – no double dipping here!)  Anyway, it was gloriously refreshing and got rid of the salt deposits on my face and arms.  I didn’t feel (and probably look) as nasty and gritty as I would have given the absence of that simple provision.

I met a woman named Alana, from Durham, and ran with her for awhile from mile 8-18.  We encouraged each other and made sure that we were being gracious to our bodies.  We discussed goals and how we became runners, specifically trail runners.  It was glorious!  Because she was wearing a hydration pack, she would ask me to unzip her pack so that she could refuel with fruit grabber pouches.  We ran through “the enchanted forest” together, a forest floor covered in pine needles and towering, well-spaced pine trees.  The scenery was stunning and was definitely my favorite section of trail during the race!

As we approached miles 15-18, Alana began to tire.  I needed her company in order to stay strong leading up to the 1200 feet climb coming at mile 18.  So we took a walking break.  Finally, we discussed some strategies to keep the race moving forward at a steadier pace.  Her favorite go-to strategy was to try to run 5 steps and usually, she could keep going.  I recommended that we give it a try!  It worked.  We approached another hill and I shared my strategy, which was to run for 30 paces, assess my exertion level and distance from the crest of the hill.  If I was close to the top, I’d push through, and the reward would be sweeter.  So we did it! Before long, we were at mile 18, the base of the 3 mile 1200 feet climb on the fire road.

She decided that she wasn’t running any part of this section, and that was when I knew our time together had come to a close.  I planned to run a minute, walk a minute the whole way up this climb, and after bringing my heart rate to a manageable rate, I did!  It was empowering.

As the fire road twisted and loomed higher and higher, I encountered a runner from Pittsburgh.  His name was Kevin, and this was a training run for his upcoming 50K.  He was employing similar strategies as me, and so we kept each other company throughout the duration of the climb.  He was positive and upbeat, and I was thankful for it!  During the first climb of the race, my calves were screaming because my body was exerting too much prior to being truly warmed up (it takes me a good 2-3 miles to loosen up).  The outside of my right ankle was in a lot of pain, and any flat or downhill running would result in excruciating, tearing sensations to my ankle.  We’d pick a locus (such as a dangling branch or a patch of grass) and run to it, take a break, and then prepare to go at it again.

It was heaven to hear the resounding jingle of the cowbell, which represented the top of the fire road climb and an aid station.  Kevin ran ahead to notify them that I needed an ace bandage.  He and I both knew what was coming: a treacherous, technical 2.5 mile downhill, likened to a free fall, a trail known amongst runners as “The Gauntlet”.  I sat down in a chair and began to wrap my ankle to the best of my ability.  I wanted to brace my ankle and provide stability for its tiring, searing muscles and ligaments. As I was taping, a girl appeared from nowhere it seemed and flew down the mountain.  I hastened my wrapping and began the descent.

The downhill descent was a welcome change to my muscles, but I am so scared of falling that I descend much slower than my strength and ability would predict.  I was never able to catch the girl who passed by (who ended beating me out for first place in our age group), but I did catch back up to Kevin, and we tackled the final “hill”, which wasn’t really a hill, just enough of an incline from mile 24-25 to demand all the mental toughness I had left to muster.

We hit the road just after mile 25, and it was time to finish the race.  I picked up my pace, skipped the water station, and held on for dear life.  I finished the marathon (a distance measured on a bicycle computer at 26.45 miles) in 4 hours and 37 minutes and 10 seconds.  My watch clocked in at 24.45 miles.  While I came very close, I never met the dreaded “wall”, and it was important to me that I a) enjoy the race experience  b) finish strong and c) with a smile on my face.  Circle all of the above!

My goal for the day, however, had not yet been completed.  I wanted to run a 50K (31 mile distance).  I did the mental math and began running the course in reverse to meet my friend Brittany and run with her to the finish.  I ran 1.75 miles in reverse and encountered her as she was approaching the “hill”.  It was a wonderful experience to encourage her and help her finish. She finished strong, coming in at about 5:27.

I continued running, as there was about 1 mile left to run. I finished my 50K in 5 hours and 33 minutes, and it felt amazing.  I slowed a lot during the post marathon section, but at that point, I was just running for distance.  I’d never run that distance before, and that in and of itself was a huge accomplishment to me.  3 days later, I am still enjoying that success!

 

Had to have a finisher’s picture!

My husband was 1st in his age group with a time of 3:45 in his first marathon ever, also finishing 6th overall.  Brittany’s husband was also first in his age group with a time of 4:06.  We enjoyed celebrating and soaking our tired bodies in the lake.  It was refreshing and removed a great deal of our hard-earned body odor.

 

Post Race Glory!

Here is the elevation profile for Conquer the Cove.


Please note those hills at the beginning and end…

Here are the Race Results.

Race Day Necessities:

Fuel:

1. ProBar Energy Chews in Raspberry (delicious and gentle on the stomach, consumed 1 chew every 5 miles)

Purchased at Bluestone Bike & Run

2. Skratch Labs Hydration Mix in Matcha Green Tea (again, so deliciously refreshing and prevented bonking.  As I neared emptying my first bottle, I refilled my bottle with water and managed to get more of the mix in the second bottle of water.)

Purchased at Bluestone Bike & Run

3. Run Gum (chewing keeps my cadence on par, and it gives me an extra kick as glycogen levels begin to deplete)

Purchased at Bluestone Bike & Run

Attire:

1. Run Buff (to wipe sweat from brow)

2. Lululemon Race jersey (super lightweight, loose, zero chafing)

3. Nike speed shorts (pocket for additional chewing gum)

4. Darn Tough socks (nice padding on the bottom to protect bottom of feet, minimal blistering)

Purchased at Bluestone Bike & Run

5. Pure Cadence by Brooks (I am in need of a more cushioned, stable shoe for these rocky trails… until then, my road shoes will have to do!)

6. Lululemon Ta Ta Tamer Sports Bra (maximum support, minimal rubbing)

Gear:

1. Garmin Forerunner 220 watch (was two miles short on the course (cuts off the corners of switchbacks, but battery life is great for 50 miles or less)

2. Nathan QuickDraw handheld bottle (I loved the straps to tighten the attachment to hand, but they did loosen over time.  The pocket for race fuel was perfect and easily accessible.)

3. Body Glide (no chaffing – triple yay!!!)