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Marine Corps Marathon Race Report

Alternate title: It’s My Party, I Can Be an Asshole If I Want To

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One of my friends celebrates his birthday for an entire month every November. This 30-day tribute to his birth comes complete with a multi-state Birthday Party Tour and everything from brunches, to winery tours, to dance parties to help him celebrate.

I, on the other hand, rarely even spend a single evening celebrating my birthday. Blame its proximity to Halloween and the plethora of costume parties that clog up my birthday weekend. Or the fact that I’ve worked in politics for years and free time is not exactly plentiful for my peeps within days of the election. But I’m just not a big birthday person.

But when my birthday happens to fall on a marathon race weekend? I turn into one of those annoying people who want to celebrate all weekend long.

So I did.

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Starting on Friday night with happy hour, continuing into early Saturday evening with a massive carb/beer-loading session with a fellow marathon runner

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(beer/free shots. Only one person consumed theirs. I’ll let you guess which of us that was.) 

And finishing up with some late race night Halloween partying in my super creative “Marine Corps Marathoner” costume complete with my 2012 bib.

Four hours of sleep later and I was feeling less-than-stellar when I met up with my friend Alex to head to the start. Shocking. I know.

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But as soon as we made our way to the front of the sea of runners, the 30,000 doses of adrenaline from the crowd served as a much-needed pick-me-up and I started to feel a little more alive.

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And then we started running.

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My one job for the race was to make sure Alex did not go out too fast. Alex is without a doubt a natural athlete (his sister recently competed in the Olympics, NBD) but he doesn’t really train super hard…or at all. His normal race strategy is: under (or don’t) train, show up at the start line, go out at a stupid fast pace, Prefontaine the race, and still post a very impressive finish time.

But up until Sunday, Alex had never run a marathon, and the undertrain/go-out-too-fast-and-hang-on-for-dear-life strategy is best kept to distances < 26.2 miles.

So I offered to start with him and yell every time we went too fast.

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This part all went fine. Alex would get all high on the cheers of the crowd, sprint ahead, I would yell and scold, he would shamefully slow down, and we would resume our steady pace of ~ 8 minute miles.

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Meanwhile, a party pooper was trying to ruin my birthday marathon fun.

While I was all OMG I LOVE MARATHONING. BEST BIRTHDAY EVER.

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A small, but very real physical sensation was nagging me in the background.

Dear god woman, finish this thing already so we can get back to bed. Less bouncing. More advil and water, please.

I kept trying to shut this voice up. But a bout of dizziness or my never-fully-calm stomach kept reminding me that it refused to be silenced.

For 19 miles, I successfully ignored this uninvited birthday guest. I smiled like a fool as we cruised through the crowds in Georgetown. I burst into several fits of laughter when the “L” fell off my shirt and people obeyed the prompt across my chest to yell “GO DEN!” “YAY DEN” “YOU GOT THIS DEN!” I died and went to heaven when Bart Yasso cheered “GO EMILY” (four times. nbd.). And I soaked up the energy of a hometown marathon as I saw friend after friend along the course.

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And then shit got ugly.

And by “shit got ugly” I mean I was left sprinting to the nearest porta-potty to get a little sick. Twice.

I could now go on for a few sentences about my heroic effort to fight through my hangover and finish the race (sarcasm people, serious sarcasm), but that would be a little ridiculous. 

While slightly cruel and unfortunate, it is fitting that my birthday marathon, and my 5 year marathon anniversary race, was not perfect. And equally fitting that the imperfection was 100 percent self-inflicted.

During the final miles, while I cursed the lack of facilities on the back half of the course, I had a lot of thoughts. Not all of them pretty or appropriate for the internet, but a few were, so let’s talk about them.

My recent approach to training and racing has not been the most responsible or disciplined (easily my least favorite word these days). Have you noticed that the majority of my recent race reports begin with some variation of “a funny thing happened on my way to the bar…”?

Yeah, not exactly a recipe for athletic success. But I’ve had little reason to quit my bad habits because I have seen very few consequences for my misbehavior.

If a dog owner kept rewarding a puppy with treats every time he devoured a pair of shoes or tore through upholstery, you would expect this animal to continue its bad behavior, right? That’s how positive reinforcement works (though obviously not a very strategic use of it). Well, for the last several months, this puppy=me. Only instead of upholstery, I tear through adult beverages and don’t sleep on race eve (not to mention lots of training eves…), and instead of dog treats, I get rewarded with good race times and podiums.

MCM was a ridiculously needed slap in the face. For all of the work I put into making my body capable of performing at endurance sports, I treat it like shit. Is it worth it to spend 24 hours a week sweating my ass off if I’m going to spend an equal (or greater) amount of time reversing that work?

When I started marathoning 5 years ago, I ran a 4:40.50 marathon. While I’m happy that I can now run over an hour faster than that during a hangover-plagued “just-for-fun” race, that’s not really why I wake up at 4am every morning and head to the track. Or why I spend every weekend logging double digit long run miles. I have some pretty stupidly big goals for myself and running. And I’m not going to achieve them if I keep acting like a total asshole.

This is not an “I’m quitting all drinking and late nights out with friends post.” That would be ridiculous and not me and did I mention ridiculous? But it is a resolution to start exercising more discipline (there it is again) and to make some strategic changes to my lifestyle, sleep habits, and extracurricular activities. The exact nature of these changes is still a little TBD, but I promise I’ll fill you in when negotiations with my top advisors have reached a conclusion. (We’re currently at a stalemate over terms concerning my untappd addiction.)

MCM reminded me that I’ve spent the last 5 years falling in love with something that makes me blissfully happy, even during its ugliest moments.

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Something that has become a very core part of my identity. Something that I’ve loved spending 5 years working my ass off to improve at.  But something that I’m so very far from being done with. I desperately want to keep getting better at this distance (slash every distance) and I’m clearly going to need to make some sacrifices to make that happen.

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So thank you, MCM, for your very generous present. I have no doubt that you will be the gift that keeps on giving (/kicking me in the ass) as I tackle the next big thing.

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And big congrats to Alex, who a little bit proved us wrong by running a super negative split and finishing his first marathon in a 3:31. I hate you/nice work, killer.

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35 Responses to Marine Corps Marathon Race Report

  1. Aha! I was wondering when this realization would come along. I hope it works out for you :) Nice race, even while hungover — far faster than I can run!

  2. That balance between working for your goals and LIVING your life while reaching for the goals is a hard one. Hopefully you’re as much faster at learning as your are faster than me at running. :)

  3. i love your honesty, em! congrats and happy belated!! :)

  4. It is all about finding the balance. And being disciplined when you need to be. You will find what works best for you. It is not all or nothing.

    The Kidless Kronicles

  5. Great race pictures! That is so funny that you lost your letters! I would be cracking up laughing as they fell off too!
    Sorry you had some rough miles but you finished and that is all that matters and that you were doing something that you love!
    That’s what I remind myself of when I have a bad race, that it won’t always be that way and I love so that must be why I keep doing it! lol

  6. Great race (spectacular time for a 4 hour sleep hungover toss your cookies race :D) – great realizations. I’ve been jealous of your ability to race after drinking, heh. I love to go tie one on, but after drinking, I DO NOT run the next morning (biking and swimming negotiable but not preferred). Good luck figuring out what works for you.

  7. What a great way to spend your bday :) Sorry you got a little under the weather from having a little too much fun but, hey, you finished! Congrats! Love your cute skirt :)

  8. I’m not nearly as fast as you. But, I used to pull the same shit when I was younger. I’d be out at a bar drinking my face off, show up at a race hungover and run a 10k PR. The last marathon I did was LA 2010 and I spent the night before drinking and celebrating with friends. I was lucky to finish just under 3:40. But, I also had to ask the question, “was this the best I could have done that day?” Since then I have had a child and I’m pregnant with the next one. My days of living it up before a race are over.
    I’m glad that you are willing to share this part of yourself with us. Good luck with your training for Carlsbad.

  9. I don’t know – I’ve pulled the same stuff as you for years (that is what makes it fun) and in the times I’ve tried to clean it up, I haven’t noticed much difference. I’ve run faster when I drink more beer (??). Everyone is different but some people thrive on things other people would immediately scoff (i.e. fried food, beer). I figure I am not an elite runner and no one is paying me so might as well have a healthy balance between the two – and that is what I like about your blog. Hope you don’t change too much!

  10. You can say ‘eff you’ to me if you want…but I LOVE this. Seriously, Emily, 28 is when it HAPPENS. Shit gets real and you can make this sub-3 happen. You have the base and background. You know how to train. Believe in yourself. Don’t give yourself an ‘out’ on this one. It may take a couple of tries, but it WILL happen. And it WILL take that discipline that you are now ready to tackle. I kind of wish I could give you a big hug or something. Anything I can do to help you on this journey (yeah, I sound hippy dippy, but I’m a 50 yr old lady who was a flower child for real in Berkeley in 1969 so cut me some slack) let me know. I am so in your corner! As Ton Loc said …”Le’s do it!” Go, Emily!

    • Super late response…but thanks a lot for this encouragement. I need it! Discipline is a scary thing for me, definitely one of the hardest parts of training and racing but I think I am actually ready to make it happen. Maybe we could set up some kind of device that would trigger an SOS phone call to you every time I go out too much or too hard…and then you could whip me back into shape from across the country? Think about it.

  11. Congrats on finishing! I think I saw you run by too..I was cheering at mile 23 and remember you great sparkley skirt! Happy birthday a week late :)

  12. Wow, that is a great marathon time regardless if you were hungover. I just finished the MCM too on Sunday and it was my first marathon. I finished in 4:30 and I have been beating myself up for my time–workouts I skipped, going out too slow, getting in one of the later time corrals than I should have, etc. I saw that you ran your first marathon in 4:40 and have dramatically improved…what helped? Did you incorporate more track/speed workouts? Other random question: I am also from DC and am curious where you have found tracks that are available to use and aren’t closed to the public?

    • Congrats on your first marathon! Don’t beat yourself up AT ALL. That’s an awesome time and the first one is solely about finishing IMO. I think adding in speed work and running with faster people is what helped me steadily improve after my first 26.2. There are a lot of tracks around that you can run on. What part of the city?

      • Hi Emily,

        Thanks for your follow-up. I live over by Eastern Market. There aren’t any tracks around me but even if there were any in the city I could run to that are open to the public that’d be great. Which one(s) do you use or know of that are accessible?

  13. Congrats Alex and Em!

    BTW, where can I get that skirt? It looks so good.

  14. I’ve been reading your blog for a while but I don’t think I’ve ever commented. I had no idea you went from a 4:40 marathon finish 5 years ago to a 3:08 finish! That’s absolutely amazing and completely inspiring!
    Congrats on a great race and happy belated birthday!

  15. Happy Belated Birthday! It was my golden Birthday this year too! I turned 29 on the 29th!

    • Happy (very belated) birthday! I hope yours was filled with an equally large amount of fun (drinks) and sweat!

  16. Happy Birthday! Love the revelation approach to what happened during the race.

    I agree with the awesome looking skirt comment too!

  17. love the skirt!!! where can I find this!!!

  18. You are a serious trooper because there is literally no way I’d even step foot at a 5k start line with a hangover – but I also race WAY less than you so I take every race pretty seriously. I definitely think adding more sleep and a few less shots will help your performance – but I think keep the beer. Beer is carbs right?

    And Happy Birthday!

  19. The fact that you can still run a 3:37 marathon while hungover makes ME want to vomit. JK. Kind of…
    :)
    You’re bad ass. Love the blog.

  20. His first marathon is crazy fast. Maybe he will be will you in the next Olympics :)

  21. I am still so in love with the golden skirt that I can’t comment on anything else. It looked amazing!

  22. Happy Belated Birthday! you’ve accomplished some AMAZING goals and times with your running!

  23. […] Once A Day recaps the Marine Corps Marathon last […]

  24. Like a lot of people above, I’ve been reading your blog for awhile now and have wondered how you do it. You are about 8 years younger than I and when I was your age I didn’t run. But I could do a lot more hungover than I can now. Sometimes you make me wonder what I COULD’VE done hungover, if I did anything athletic back then.

  25. OMG this post made crack up! You totally remind me of me when I was your age. I used to astonish my straight and arrow running buddies with my race performances on Saturday mornings after way to many late late night happy hours on Fridays. And once I started to sweat – I smelled like a brewery so there was no disclosing the fact that I was hungover. Cherish your ability to burn the candle at both ends now.. Trust me, and don’t ever say I never warned you, but when you reach your mid to late 30’s – still a long ways for you to go- and something happens inside you when you have to make the devil or angel choice of what to do cause your body can’t handle both. Have fun – you’re young and seem to be able to do well at both socializing and running. BTW, where did you get that amazing running skirt?

    • I am dreading the day when I can no longer do this. Can I not just stay 28 forever? And running skirt: Forever 21. So, really just a party skirt, and not so much athletic apparel.

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