Marine Corps Marathon race report

I ran my first marathon in 2013, the Rock ‘n Roll marathon in DC. I finished with a satisfying time of 3:52, but was left wondering how much faster I could have run had I had prior marathon racing experience.

I spectated the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) in 2013 and loved the ambiance. With an Ironman programmed for August 2014, I wanted to leverage my conditioning to improve my marathon time this Fall. Based on this year’s running gains, it seemed possible to shave 25-30 minutes off my 2013 marathon time.

I was unlucky getting into the MCM lottery, so I started contemplating marathons in the region. Luckily my plans changed when Gabi found a bib transfer for me, which I happily paid $120 total for (cheap relative to triathlon registration fees!). Gabi was also going to run MCM, as she got in through the Team in Training charity that she so wholeheartedly supports.

Training after Ironman Louisville was a little bit erratic, with a mix of Ragnar, sprint and olympic triathlons. Even on my peak long run weekend I had to cut my run short because of a sprint triathlon earlier that day. I was truly hoping my endurance conditioning held through Oct. 26th. The taper period came and I began to wonder whether I was feeling rested and really good or out of shape and improperly trained!

Unlike the Ironman marathon during which I executed a run/walk strategy, there would be no planned walking at MCM. However, I still needed to mentally break the race down into pieces. My strategy was to run 15 seconds above pace (8 min/mi) for the first 6 miles, then run a 7:45 min/mi through miles 18-20, and then give it all I had left for the last 6-8miles. I established 13.2 miles as additional mental milestone to further break the race into pieces and evaluate how I was feeling.

IMG_3633Race day came and my racing juices started flowing in the early morning. My goal was to run a 3:25 marathon. I stopped by the Pacers tent near the finish line around 7am. It was really nice to meet up with fellow runners from my Alexandria running group.
I was in my starting corral by ~7:30am, not before catching the paraplegic group start. What an amazing group of athletes and source of inspiration and motivation! I also enjoyed seeing the Marines holding country flags near the start line, and quickly found the Costa Rican flag to snap a photo. I met with my friend John W. as anticipated and enjoyed watching the skydivers descending with US  flags over the beautiful sunrise sky.IMG_3632                 IMG_3638

John and I ran together the first 10 miles. Having a running partner made those miles pass by quickly and helped to keep me from deviating too much from my pace strategy. I ended up averaging closer to a 7:45 min/mi pace over that section of the course, faster than my predicted pace. I was aware of this and made the conscious decision to go with that pace as I was feeling good. I parted ways with John at mile 10, which meant maintaining my pace would become more mentally challenging. It’s easy to slow down when you are alone. I managed to stick to my pace very consistently though, in part thanks to the awesome fan support along the Mall and the monuments. I was wearing a bracelet that I picked up at the expo that listed the necessary times per mile to finish in 3:25. I found myself 30-90 seconds under total time for most of the race, and I found the bracelet to be very helpful to stay on track towards my goal.

I was also executing my nutritional strategy just fine, one Gu and salt cap every six miles, one or two sips of water every mile, and an occasional sip of Gatorade from the aid stations on the course. I carried my own water so as to not slow myself down at the aid stations and in order to be able to hydrate any time I felt the need to.

The last major “block” of the race in my mind was the 14th street bridge, crystal city and the last couple of miles of the course. I struggled through these in part due to exhaustion and in part due to strong winds and various false flats that were really uphill sections, as is the case of the start and end of the 14th street bridge. I was pleasantly surprised to know afterwards that my average pace only slowed by about 15 secs per mile.

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 4.20.53 PMIn the end, I finished in 3:25:05 and placed 92nd in my division (top 5%). I couldn’t be any more satisfied with my performance and my improvement from my 2013 marathon time. I loved every aspect of the race and was super happy to see so many friends — from the DC Tri Club, Yale and Pacers — along the course to keep me running strong and make MCM my favorite marathon experience!

IMG_3642After my run, I took pride in seeing Gabi finish her marathon. She struggled in the last few miles due to an injury, so I walked the course back to go meet her. We finished her race together, and it was really nice to share that time and experience with her.

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The sights and sounds of Ironman Louisville 2014

Ironman Louisville 2014 was one of the best days of our lives. Lucky for Gabi and I, our parents were present not only to see us race and support us, but also to capture the day in photos and videos. We’ve put together a video montage to share the experience with you, friends and family, who supported us along our 6-8 month training and racing journey. So set aside 15 mins of time, turn on the audio, sit back and enjoy!

If the video doesn’t load properly on this page, you can also view it here.

Waterman’s Sprint review and on becoming a smarter athlete

This past weekend I raced my last triathlon of the season, Waterman’s sprint, along with a few other DC Tri Club fellow athletes. What follows is a race review for those of you considering the race for next year, and a few insights I wanted to capture which we’ll make me a better and smarter athlete in future races (and maybe help you too).

The race took place on Rock Hall, MD. This is located about two hours from DC, which makes it convenient to drive to on race morning. This year the Waterman’s sprint course was the same as the Rock Hall sprint triathlon course, which takes place in the Spring. Waterman’s is put together by Setup Events. It drew together some 350 athletes, including top performers.

Race day conditions

A cold front blew through the night before the race, lowering the air temperatures to 50 degrees on race morning. Temperatures in previous mornings otherwise were around 60 degrees. This weather variability is something to be mindful of when registering for a race this late into the year. Conditions were also windy, which was to be expected of a coastal location. Water temperature was in the upper 60s. It had been in the lower 70s in days prior.

Preparing for the race

I spent my entire triathlon season training for Ironman Louisville, which took place around six weeks ago. I was on a “fitness and racing high” post Louisville, which I did not want to end. I wanted to take advantage of my conditioning to try to excel in a few events post-Ironman.  Since Louisville, I switched my training to short distance, high intensity workouts. I raced Nation’s, Ragnar, and the Battle of the Tri Clubs swim meet. I picked Waterman’s sprint with the goal of getting on the podium for my age group. I knew I was capable of swimming in ~12 mins, biking in the low 40s, and running a sub-20 5k, despite my limited fast-twitch muscle training this year.

IMG_5255My biggest concerns and doubts going into the race had to do with the cold weather and what to wear on the bike. It was a trade off between saving time in T1 and not freezing on the road. I borrowed arm warmers from a friend the day before, tried putting them on in the bathroom with wet arms, and decided it was too difficult and time consuming. I decided to race with a long sleeve shirt on the bike.

IMG_5273I ended up being cold on the bike, but not because of my choice of bike clothing. As it turned out, I was cold and “brain numb” by the time I came out of the water. I should have swam in my wetsuit. Instead, I swam in my speedsuit for two reasons: 1) because I feel restricted in my stroke movements when I wear a wetsuit, and 2) because I figured I could gain valuable seconds in T1 on those who would have to wrestle to take off their wetsuits.

I completely underestimated the primary purpose of wetsuits: to keep the body warm! Duh! By the time I came out of the water, my body temperature had dropped. I was unable to think clearly and function quickly, so much so that I momentarily grabbed my running shoes in T1. My T1 time was much too slow. Subsequently, I was unable to perform at my best on the bike. I was actually concerned for my safety, knowing I would be unable to quickly react to anything in front of me. As for the run, it went well (2nd fastest in age group), but there is only so much catching up one can do in a 5k.

IMG_5267Not only did I feel cold in the water, but I also had a poor swim. This is unusual for me given my teenage swimming background.  I had a bad swim in part because I was cut off to a halt 4-5 times by other swimmers unable to swim straight.  There was also quite a bit of chop in the water as a result of the wind and currents, which I did not expect for a harbor swim. Relative to most swimmers wearing wetsuits, I invested a greater effort staying high on the water line. Retrospectively, a wetsuit would have helped with buoyancy. Fellow DC Tri Club triathlete Glenn E. mentioned the idea of swimming with a speedsuit and a neoprene skull cap as an alternative to staying warm without wearing a wetsuit. While I had never heard or thought of this idea, it makes sense given that most body heat is lost through the head.

Lessons learned

Waterman’s sprint triathlon taught me a few things. First, I should consider racing in my wetsuit more often than I do. There is no point in putting myself at a disadvantage against other competitors. Second, I may have set an unrealistic goal to get on the podium, as a result of my “Ironman fitness high.”   As competitive as I am and as strong as I was feeling in weeks prior, the reality is I have not been training for short course racing this year. My fast twitch muscles were not prepared to fire with all cylinders. In addition, given my 11hr 19min time (top 10% finish) for my first Ironman in Louisville this past August, I may just be a slow twitch athlete. Lastly, I learned that as athletes we all have racing and training days when things don’t go as planned, and this is ok. The important part is learning from our experiences to become better, smarter athletes and improve upon in our future performances.

In the end, I finished 5th in my age group, which is not too bad after all.

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