The First Mile is the Sweetest (On Our #Journey2aMillion )

Every year since our blog started we have hosted a team for the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation Million Mile month. During the month of September we get together, all over the country, and log miles to raise awareness while telling pediatric cancer to SUCK IT. Over the last two years, our team has logged a total of 3,413 miles and raised over $4,100.00 for pediatric cancer research. Not too shabby at all, we thinks!

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We would love for you to join us! You can join the team now, or anytime in September. There’s no fundraising required (unless you would LIKE to) and it’s a great way to join in a community driven campaign! We have A LOT of fun supporting this important cause, it’s super easy to log your miles, and we’ll be giving away some fun prizes! This year, we’re mixing it up by giving away prizes randomly throughout the month, and everyone will have an equal chance of winning any of the prizes! After all, we’re a team!

A peek at some of the treasures in the #Journey2aMillion Giveaway Kitty

Once you join the team, you can log your miles using your FitBit, the MapMyFitness App, or you can track your miles manually like always. You can read more about that here. We love that we can use our FitBit to track our mileage, it means every step we take will count toward the Million Mile goal!

The month long event kicks off on Tuesday with the First Mile. Imagine people all over the country (and the world), raising awareness and fighting cancer by walking, running, or biking their first mile at the same time. YES. We’re talking POWERFUL, people! At 3:00 PM ET we’re walking together in spirit and in cause, our hearts untied and our legs in unison! You’ll need to register for the First Mile, but it’s a snap! And we’re a fun bunch, we promise!

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No #lemonfacechallenge is required of course, but there *might* be a giveaway for anyone who does it. Maybe. Possibly. Probably. Yes.

Marathon Training: Hiking Edition

So, sometimes, marathon training can get tedious. I mean, think about it, running miles on miles on miles, week in and week out, trying to find new routes, trying to avoid others, battling heat and humidity… It has a tendency to wear a runner down. Literally and figuratively.

How does one fix that kind of nonsense?

Find a fun way to cross train.

Typically, my cross training is cycling, but I usually do spin classes at my gym, and while that’s a great workout, it’s inside. Being inside all the time when it’s gorgeous outside is stupid. And I’m a little crunchy granola child who needs her trees and water and alive things to be happy.

Fortunately, my training partner Sarah feels the same way. Sarah is also the friend who will go backpacking with me for days on end, so it should be no surprise that the two of us decided that despite our very busy summer schedules, we needed to get at least one hike in before the fall.

 

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Great Falls Park. Gorgeous.

Due to the aforementioned summer schedule craziness, an overnight backpacking trip wasn’t in the cards (poo), so we determined that a day hike would be the next best alternative. Living in Northern Virginia, we’re fortunate to have a lot of hiking trails relatively close – a fact that is a little surreal when you also consider the fact that the nation’s capital is also a stone’s throw away.

We got a date on the calendar, invited some friends and last weekend took a short jaunt up to Great Falls Park to get our hike on. Mind you, we did this the day after running a very hot and sweaty 9 miles. Sarah, myself and my friend Courtney are all training for the Baltimore Marathon in October – and we all needed a little bit of a break from the monotonous mileage.

Though the morning was very warm, it was a beautiful day to be outside. The park was pretty busy – lots of folks hit these trails because of their proximity to the city – and we saw everyone from families out for a walk in the woods, to people running with their dogs.

The trails in the park run along side the Potomac River and offer some beautiful vistas. It’s such a nice change of pace to surround oneself with nature after days on end of office buildings and city streets.

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Sarah and the Hon Monster.

It’s also nice to get to play with Sarah’s dog, Honey, since I don’t have a pup. I’ll use any excuse to get puppy time – and hiking is always a good option!

While our hike wasn’t super long, we were all pretty beat by the time we stopped to eat the lunches we packed with us. It was a hot day and our legs we pretty tired from our run the day before. We tried (unsuccessfully) to map our mileage for the hike, but gave up after Courtney’s Garmin kept losing the satellite. Oops.

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Training Partners. Hiking Partners.

Sarah and determined that we might be heading back up to the park to do a trail run or two before training season is over – the hills alone would be good for us, and the scenery can’t be beat. Mostly, it’d be something different than the bike paths and streets that we run on every other day.

Mostly, I just want another excuse to go run around in the woods and see things like this:

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I seriously can never get enough. Give me all the nature. Always.

Spring Means Summer and Summer Means Frozen Treats!

According to science and planets and stuff, Spring is here. Allegedly. As I’m writing this (Thursday night), I’m looking at a snowflake in my forecast for tomorrow, so really, I’ll believe that Spring is here when I see it.
But, being that Spring is technically here, I think it’s fair to say that Summer is right around the corner. That makes me really excited. Because Summer means sunshine and warmth (and humidity… but I’m not really excited about that part). Summer means running outside and sunburns (I’m Irish and German. We don’t do tans). Summer means movies in the park and laying by the pool. And Summer means frozen treats to beat the heat!
Last week… I cheated and got a head start on Summer because I’m impatient and I just couldn’t wait. Here I was, meandering through Whole Foods, and while I was in the frozen foods aisle, I was struck with a craving for my favorite smoothie meal.
Acai Bowls.

Acai amazingness

These things tho.
I think I’ve had one of these a day for the last week. I’m not exaggerating. I might need to get some variety in my diet. Right now though, I really just want another one of these beauties.
“Caveman” Bowl
Half of a frozen banana or a handful of frozen blueberries
Tablespoon of Peanut Butter (or 2 TB of PB2)
1 cup of almond milk or coconut water (or whatever liquid you want. I don’t usually measure it, I just throw it in the blender and add more if I need it.)
Dates
Unsweetened Coconut flakes
Granola (Gluten-free if you can find it. Trader Joe’s has a couple of delightful varieties.)
Chia Seeds
Throw the frozen fruit, acai, PB, and liquid of choice into the blender. Make it creamy dreamy. Pour into a bowl. Top with sliced dates, coconut, Granola, chia… the options are endless. Mostly, just fill it up with delicious stuff. Then nom. Hard.
Those acai bowls fill me up and keep me full for hourrrrrrssssss. Not joking. I’ve made one for breakfast the last couple of days and I haven’t even felt a little bit hungry until lunch… six hours later. Brilliant. Sometimes I like to experiment with the plethora of possibilities for these delicious treats. I think the next one will be green – I have some spinach that I need to use up – and I have some frozen mango and strawberries that might be tasty together. We’ll see. We’ll see.
Mayhaps these delicious frozen treats will help propel me through marathon training (because if you haven’t heard, I’m toying with a few options for 26.2 this summer. San Fran? It could happen. Or Baltimore? To be determined.) Or maybe they’ll just make me feel better after a long day at the office and in the gym. I’ll eat them either way.
What are your favorite summertime treats? Do you have any tried-and-true, go-to meals to fuel your training? 

 

Race Recap: Chicago Marathon

FIRST SOLO SCOOT POST! BOOM!

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I’m ready to get started.

Last month, before officially joining the Scoot Chicks, I ran my second marathon in the Windy City. Chicago.

Chicago is my kind of town, let me tell you. I feel a kindred connection with the people of Chi-town. Probably because I spent the better part of the last 5 years living in the Midwest (Wisconsin, baby!) and Chicago just feels homey. I mean, their taste in football teams is questionable at best, but I have so many friends and family in and around the Chicago area, it felt like going home.

Going in to this race, I wasn’t feeling awesome about things. This summer had been incredibly busy and in the month before the marathon, I’d been traveling a lot and I felt my training had suffered. My last long long run was almost a month and a half before, while I was in Alaska visiting my family.

20 miles around Eklutna Lake? #AlaskaFTW

20 miles around Eklutna Lake? #AlaskaFTW

Running around Eklutna Lake was amazing and I’m so happy I was able to do 20 miles on my home turf. But once I got back to Virginia? Different story.

And of course, in the days leading up to leaving for Chicago? I got a cold. Like, nasty sinuses-all-congested-can’t-breathe kind of cold. So, I said to myself, “self, buy thee some sudafed and DRINK ALL THE WATER.”

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Sudafed and other marathon-things organized neatly

Upon arriving in Chicago, I met up with one of my oldest and dearest friends, who accompanied me to the expo, where things were the smoothest I’ve ever seen any race expo run. Ever. Like, fancy ipads er’rywhere. Super fast. Super easy.

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I found a Paul!

I spent Saturday toodling around Chicago with college friends (reunions are the best, btdubs) and resting my legs so they could run all the miles and drinking all the water (because, sickness. and also hydration). That night, I laid out all of my race gear and hopped in bed at 9:30 – because when you have to be dressed and out the door by 5:15am, you go to sleep as early as possible.

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Beth and Catrina were marathon-supporting superstars

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Flat Kyle: Ready for 26.2

The race start was a bus and train ride away from where I was staying, so in typical Kyle fashion, I grabbed coffee to keep me company. Chicago has a pretty easy-to-navigate public transit system, and coming from DC where I ride the metro regularly, it was no big deal to figure out where I needed to be to get where I needed to go.

 

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All. Of. The. Coffee.

One thing about running in Chicago in the Fall: you never know what the weather is going to do. Having lived in the midwest, I know that mid-October could either be sweltering or snowing. Fortunately, race morning, temperatures were chilly, but perfect for running. To stay warm, I had on like, three layers (not sorry) and before I dropped my bag at gear check I was doing some sun salutations to loosen up and stay warm. The start corrals were super easy to navigate and once I ditched my stuff, I made my way into my corral and joined the other racers in the usual banter and bouncing around and huddling together to stay warm and loose.

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Chicago Skyline in all its glory at the start

I didn’t have to stand around too long, as the race officials got the corrals moving fairly quickly, and before I knew it, I was stripping off my throwaways and crossing the starting line. We were off through the streets of Chicago. That was probably one of my favorite things about this race, actually – the fact that the entire course is a tour of some of the best parts of the city. From Grant Park, through downtown, from Wrigley Field to White Sox stadium, we ran all over that town.

It was a beautiful day and Chicagoans were out in droves to cheer us on. Seriously. So many people. In most places, the crowds were two or three people deep. I don’t think there was any place along the course that was quiet – it was awesome.

The other amazing thing about this course? The fueling and water stations. Evenly dispersed, on both sides of the road, water and gatorade and in the last few miles, bananas, too. The volunteers were amazing and they kept us runners in good shape throughout the race.

Because I was running intervals for this race (5 minutes of running, 1 minute of walking), I felt really good throughout – the built in walk breaks were great and given that I was still dealing with the congestion from my cold, definitely helped me keep my pacing and breathing in check. It wasn’t until about mile 22 that I really started to feel tired… and I could tell that my body was kind of reaching “done-zo” phase – being sick and running that far means fatigue. I slowed my pace and adjusted my intervals and kept pushing.

Now, the majority of this course is flat – Chicago is lauded as being one of the fastest (that’s a relative term. Ahem.) marathons around. But, what they neglect to tell you is that the last two tenths of a mile are uphill. RUDE. “Oh sure, you just ran 26 miles, and the finish line is like… right there, but run up this hill first.”

YEAH OKAY.

But, you know what, by that point I was just so ready to be done that I powered up that hill and turned back in to Grant Park to cross the finish line like a boss. Or like a wobbly-legged little girl. Whatever. I finished and I shaved 15 minutes off of my previous marathon time. So that’s a win in my book.

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Another 26.2 done!

After the race, I hobbled my way to the meet up area and found Beth and Catrina who helped me sit down, helped me get back up and walked me back to the train. I’m so grateful for friends who join in the marathon fun, because truly, the experience is made that much better when there are people there to share in your accomplishments.

Chicago was an incredible race and I would definitely do it again – and hopefully without a cold so I can take more advantage of the storied speediness of this course.

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#swag

Fun aside? While I was tweeting about the marathon, Mizuno hooked me up with a pair of their new Wave Rider 18s. SO PUMPED. These kicks are carrying me through training right now and are amazing. I’m looking forward to taking down another 26.2 in these babies in Philadelphia at the end of the month. Money. So awesome.

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Throwaways: the good, the bad and the really ugly

I have a stash of old sweatshirts and hats in the corner of our guest room.

Of course, they’ll go to charity. But first, they get one last use – as early morning road race throwaways!

IMG_1497It’s overflowing

Since the days are growing colder, and I’ve started to actually wear long sleeves while running on crisp mornings (gasp!) so I thought I’d share some tips on throwaways – including a how-to manual to create my infamous tube sock mittens!

Throwaways:

Most race organizers have volunteers collect discarded clothing at the starting line and along the course. Those items are then donated to charity. I love this. It’s such a smart form of recycling and giving an item a second – and third – life.

Typically, I scavenge my house looking for clothing (read: warm outerwear) I don’t mind parting with. I typically don old sweatshirts, long-sleeved shirts and knit caps.

If I forget or can’t find what I am looking for, I head to the Dollar Store or a second-hand store to find what I need. I even found a $5 fleece at Target in a pinch.

A Mylar blanket – the kind you receive at the finish of most large races – or a garbage bag – with a hole for your head – will also do the trick.

vic throwawayMe and my many layers before the Philadelphia Marathon in 2010.

 For my first marathon, I was overdressed with throwaways.  Sweatshirt, sweatpants, mittens and knit cap. I had it all. I also tossed it all before I started running. That taught me that its sometimes smart to hold onto mittens and hats until I warm up, typically a mile or two into my race.

nwh5The chicks and friends in a few throwaway tops before a 2014 race in D.C. Note how Meri dons a fancy shrug. (yeah, its really a ripped Lululemon shirt)

The key is to wear something that will A.) keep you warm and B.) you don’t mind discarding.

I struggle with this. I want everything to have a second life. And I hold onto some clothing for far too long. What’s that? You want an example? Well, ok.

Nov13 to May14 079See these duds? They are hideous and I couldn’t part with the 17-year-old fleece for about 15 years too many. That and my hubby’s torn-on-the-behind sweatpants have me looking voluminous pre-NYC Marathon in 2013. But hey, Christy Turlington Burns complimented them as we waited to start the race.

Brooke is fantastic about tossing unwanted or damaged clothes. We’ve traded throwaway layers at more than one race.

bthrowawyBefore the 2012 Princess Half Marathon, Brooke tossed these layers.

Sometimes, I really don’t want to part with an item.

In March, I passed on a favorite pair of warm up pants I’d had for years. They were ratty, but fit over my sneakers so became my go-to pants for regattas and road races.

Nov13 to May14 1601I memorialized these pants before I discarded them before a race in March.

Good bye, old friend.

The key with throwaway pants is the ability to take them off in a rush – without having to untie your shoes.

Most warmup pants don’t fit over my sneakers, so I make them fit. I take a pair of scissors and cut up the seam of the pants, starting at the ankle. I make the opening large enough for my show to fit through. (If you look closely at the first pic in this post, you can see my handiwork)

And yes, this is why a supermodel/runner told me I was brilliant before we both ran NYC last fall.

How to make your own tube sock mittens:

It’s easy. Place tube socks over your hands and push your thumb through the heel area of the sock.

IMG_1499So simple, so stylish

If you’re like me, your socks are well worn and might even already have a hole in your heel.

If you don’t wear your socks to threads, you can opt to use scissors.

Presto change-o! Done! Tube sock mittens.

wineglassmittensTube sock mittens paired with an old sweatshirt. These mittens lived to see another race day.

Now that you’ve seen my hideous throwaways, I want to hear what YOU do! Share pics of you in your discard layers with us on social media! – We’re ScootaDoot on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook!

Goofy Giveback: I’ll take one of those, please!

Earlier this month, runDisney announced that they were going to take a certain amount of Goofy Race and a Half Challenge registrations (that’s a half and a full marathon for those who don’t speak the runDisney lingo) and split them, giving runners the option to sign up for the previously sold out half marathon and full marathon.

Since participating in the Dumbo Double Dare I’ve been sort of bummed that I didn’t have another Disney race on my dance card. The Goofy Race and a Half Challenge still had room; however, I already decided that I’m not quite ready for a full marathon… let alone a half marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday.

BUT THEN, the Goofy Giveback came along and the wheels in my head started turning! I’m sure this surprises exactly no one.

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What’s a girl to do? I wanted to sign up. But should I? How would we swing it? Could we make it happen?

From what I hear, winter is going to be capital W-I-N-T-E-R this year in my area. It was pretty rough last year and I slowly but surely lost my mind. I know that I’ll need something to keep the blues away in January. Plus there’s running in costume! And race selfies! And my favorite characters!

Well, needless to say, Christmas came a little bit early for me this year and I’m now registered for the half marathon. Isn’t that the MOST? To say the least!

What’s more is that I’ll be running with Brooke, which is always beyond words in terms of fun. She is the best cheerleader and since she’s coming off of her injury and I’m fairly consistent with my training at this point, we might even be able to pull a PR for me.

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To say that I’m super excited for January would be an understatement! I’m actually looking forward to winter, which is a rarity for me.

Have you taken advantage of the Goofy Giveback? The half has sold out (as of earlier today). The full is at 91% so if you’re interested, act now. Or, if you want to do the Goofy race and a half challenge, don’t delay because it’s 98% full!

Or, were you a planner and signed up when registration opened? In other words, who should I look for in January?

We Run as One – Boston Marathon love

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#BostonStrong

bostonlove1We are with you because we are one.becbostonToday and everyday.

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“May the road rise up to meet you, May the wind always be at your back…” – Irish blessing

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For those who aren’t running the Boston Marathon today, cheer with us by wearing your favorite race shirt.

Do You Believe In Signs?

For the past few months, I’ve been considering running a full marathon. It’s one of those things that I keep saying, “Well, that might be nice to do someday” which is a drastic change from the “Oh hell no!” declaration I made when I first began running three years ago.

I have my eyes set on the Philadelphia Marathon and with registration opening tomorrow, it’s decision time. Of course there are some reservations I have about signing up. Primarily, plantar fasciitis foot pain after a long run and the fact that… well, 26.2 is a ridiculously long distance to run. But never mind that.

Let’s discuss the various signs that are pointing to YES, MERIDITH, YOU NEED TO DO THIS!

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#1 Registration is tomorrow and tomorrow is my birthday.

Registrations cost money (yeah, I’m one of those crazy people who pays for my races) and I need to buy myself a birthday present! Easy peasy lemon squeezy. The laying out the money is the easy part of this whole shebang.

#2 The Philadelphia Marathon keeps posting things like this on their Facebook.

photo via Philadelphia Marathon

photo via Philadelphia Marathon

I think they are trying to lure me with the promise of water, Gatorade, and flying cups. It’s working, Philadelphia Marathon, it’s working.

#3 Philadelphia Marathon is where I watched my first marathon, ran my first road race (the 8k), volunteered and cheered for Kyle.

That’s right, I’ve actually been at the Philadelphia Marathon for the past four years but haven’t participated in the half or full. That obviously needs to change. If I’m going to be there ANYWAY, I might as well be running.

4 years ago when Victoria finished her first marathon - the inspiration to get moving!

4 years ago when Victoria finished her first marathon – the inspiration to get moving!

#4 I ran the Back on My Feet 5 Miler this weekend (and was in good company with Karen, Cyanne, and Hollie). Karen and I stuck together; within the first mile, our conversation turned to the Philadelphia Marathon. We chatted about pros and cons and thoughts on signing up. During the second mile, we turned a corner, only to face a steep hill.

And this was right in the middle of the street…

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Karen says it best on her Instagram photo. (That’s the Philadelphia Marathon logo.)

#5 The time factor. In September my Little kiddo starts full day Kindergarten. Pooks will be in 4th grade. I’m going to have all this free time. (That’s said sarcastically.) But I will have a bit more time to run during the day and maybe even get some of my long runs done on a weekday rather than a weekend.

I could tell you all the doubts, nervousness and negative thoughts (what if, you can’t, but your foot…) swaying me in the other direction but I’d much rather focus on the signs that point to YES.

Have you run a marathon? How did you decide to make the leap? Will I actually do this tomorrow??? (I’m sort of freaking out.)

 

RnR USA: Racing in Washington DC!

It was well over a year since my last Rock n’ Roll marathon event and I was long overdue.

So when my friend Traci asked me to join her for the 2014 Rock ‘n’ Roll USA marathon and half-marathon, the decision was simple. We headed south Friday, the day before the race, and after a quick stop to drop our bags at the hotel we headed to the race expo, held at the Armory. We’d left behind about 20 inches of snow from a mid-March blizzard and were itching for warmer weather.

We were in and out of the expo quickly, as we were on a schedule and needed to get to Virginia. The expo had quite a few vendors – running gear for any and all was aplenty! But we retrieved our race packets and changed Traci’s corral quickly. She bought a new shirt and visor and we headed right back out door.

On race morning, we left early and took the Metro in from Virginia to Central DC. We arrived just before 6 a.m. – well ahead of the crowd of nearly 25,000 runners. We were able to drop our bags (to collect after the race) with ease and found an indoor restroom to use multiple times before we headed to the starting corrals along Constitution Avenue, adjacent to the National Mall.

We headed into our corral, right next to the Museum of Natural History, about 15 minutes before the 7:30 a.m. race start and chatted race strategy for a bit. Before we knew it, it was time to toss the throwaway clothes.

pantsFarewell, old friend

It may sound silly, but I was rather attached to this pair of pants and honestly, I wasn’t completely willing to discard them. They’d accompanied me to numerous regattas over the years, including The Head of the Charles and even Worlds in St. Kit’s. They also came with me to celebrate my most recent marathon in NYC. But I knew they would go to good home, as all discarded clothing is collected and donated in the DC area.

Before I knew it, we had started moving toward the starting line. 12 minutes after the first wave started the race, we joined them on the course.

rock1The start

Within the first mile, we ran past The White House and the Washington Monument. Our second mile brought the Lincoln Memorial and a run-by of Arlington National Cemetery. The next few miles flew by – we hugged the Potomac River, we ran through a wooded area by the National Zoo and up one darn steep hill toward Calvert Street.

I knew that hill was coming, but ouch. STEEP!

I ran the half to pace Traci for the first part of her full marathon. Our goal was to stay as close to 10-minute miles as possible, even building in a bit of a buffer as we ran. Every so often, I’d call out our pace — letting her know if were were going too fast or too slow.

Shortly after we passed the Mile 7 marker, Traci let me know she needed a bathroom. We spotted a gas station and veered off the course. Why not? It couldn’t hurt to ask.

Inside, the clerk waved Traci into the employee-only restroom as soon as it was vacated by another relieved runner. I stretched and thanked him repeatedly as she was otherwise occupied.

Two minutes later, we were again on the road and on a mission to make up at least half of the lost time. We sprinted by a hill on Harvard Street and zipped past Howard University before we pulled in the reigns.

We were back on track.

We didn’t chat a whole lot those last few miles together. We were busy admiring the views – particularly of The Capitol building as we ran south along North Capitol Street.

The half course included 12 live bands and the full course had twice as many on-stage performers. I loved the live music as I ran ran past each stage. Also on the course were thousands of DC residents and fans, many holding witty signs and offering beer to runners. No really, it’s beer, a few fine folks chanted as we ran by.

Traci and I split apart shortly after mile 12, and I cheered her along, knowing full well she was on track to meet her time goal of 4:30.

My last mile was my fastest of the race. I zipped past other runners and cheered as I bolted along those last few streets. Several last turns and I reached the finish line just outside RFK Stadium. 2:06:31. I’ll take it!

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I grew up not far from DC and my family visited many times each year. But as an adult, I hadn’t spent much time in our nation’s capital. I actually hadn’t been there in over a decade, outside the airports. Running through DC – past monuments and neighborhoods – yielded a flood of childhood memories.

I bee-bopped my way around the post-race party for the next few hours and cheered a few friends to the finish. I spotted friend Keri shortly after she finished her FIRST-EVER half-marathon!

rock6With Keri, who is GLOWING, after her first half! Congrats lady!

I also enjoyed a post-race beer at the concert beer garden. The beer’s included in your race entry. Sweet!

rock3my blinged-out beer

A jammin’ post-race concert is always a large draw for the Rock n’ Roll Marathon races, and RnRUSA was no different. Indie-folk rock band The Head and the Heart headlined the post-race concert to a lively crowd.

rock4With The Head and the Heart, after the concert

Then it came, the notice I’d been waiting for – the text that Traci had finished her race! She surpassed her goal and bested her previous marathon time by 30 minutes! It took me another 30 minutes to locate her – but we connected at our prearranged meeting spot and together headed back into the beer garden for her celebratory drink!

rock5Traci and me, post race!

We had a fabulous day and look forward to running again in 2015!

Have you run in our nation’s capital? (In a race or just for fun?) Have you ever paced a friend? What’s your post-race drink of choice? BEER? Gatorade? chocolate milk? Tell me in the comments!

Guest post: DNF does not mean failure

Sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you want it to or think it will.

Last Sunday was going to be the day I ran my first marathon. I didn’t know what my time would be, or how my body would feel after it, or if I’d love the experience or hate it. But I knew I’d finish.

Except that I didn’t.

Before I get into the details of what happened Sunday, a little background. I started running in April, when I decided I wanted to run a half marathon in September. When I made that decision, I had no bigger plans than just running the half marathon, but it quickly became apparent once I started to train that I would want to run a full marathon at some point. My thinking at the time was that I’d do another half marathon this spring, then do my first full in October.

Then I ran the half marathon, and it was perfect. I ran the entire way with Chick Vic, met my goal of under two hours and helped her beat her PR by five minutes. I felt so good that I wanted to start training for a full marathon right away.

After one recovery week, I began a 20-week marathon training program that put the date for my first full in mid-February. Perfect time to go down to Florida and run a race. But just to be safe, I decided to find a backup race in case flying to Florida wouldn’t work out.

And that’s how I ended up attempting my first full marathon in upstate New York in the middle of February.

beforeraceBundled up for a chilly race

My training went very well, for the most part. I did Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 program, modified slightly to fit my schedule (and extended two weeks to add a second 20-mile run). I ran outdoors as much as possible (on the weekends and when my parents were in town and could watch my daughters), experiencing some truly uncomfortable conditions that I hoped would prepare me for whatever weather awaited on race day.

In early November, I did a 14-mile training run that included a 1:52:26 half marathon, more than six minutes faster than the race I had run in September. On my first 18-mile run, I was able to do the final six miles at an 8:19 per mile pace. Neither of my 20-mile runs felt great, but I was a lot fresher after the second one than the first one, which I considered a good sign. The only race I did during training was a hilly 7.5-miler on New Year’s Day in frigid weather, and I felt great after finishing in 1:07:22.

The Hudson Mohawk Road Racers Club Winter Marathon was an out-of-town race for me, but the logistics set up perfectly. On Saturday, I took the train to Schenectady, where I stayed with my wife’s aunt and uncle. They took me for a pasta dinner that night and had everything I’d need to get ready for the race. As a bonus, my wife’s uncle is not just a former marathoner, but a former sub-3-hour marathoner who ran Boston eight times. It was nice to be able to talk about some of his race experiences as I prepared for my first one.

Sunday morning I had a banana and a bagel with peanut butter for breakfast (I also had a gel half an hour before the race and carried four on the course with me), got all layered up for the 20-degree weather that was supposed to feel colder with the wind and then they took me to the University of Albany’s athletic campus, the site of the race’s roughly 5.5-mile loop course.

My parents, who live in western Massachusetts, drove to Albany Sunday morning and met me before the race to cheer me on and then drive me back to Rochester.

withparentsAll smiles with my parents before the race.

As the start time of 10 a.m. drew closer, everything was going according to script, and that would continue to be the case for about the next two hours.

I had three goals for my first marathon. First, obviously, was to finish. Second was to finish in under 4 hours, 22 minutes, a 10-minute pace. Third was to finish in under four hours.

I know you’re not supposed to worry about time for your first marathon, and I know you’re really not supposed to go out too fast. My plan was to set a pace that would give me a shot at a four-hour marathon. If I was feeling good, I’d go for it. If I wasn’t feeling good, I’d slow down and just do what I could.

HeadingoutOn our way out to the first loop

The first half of the race went pretty much according to plan. I let the adrenaline get to me a bit in the first mile and ran an 8:23, but I slowed down right away and was at 9:24 and 9:33 the next two miles, then I accidentally slowed down even more and did the fourth mile in 9:59.

After that, I settled into a groove and started clicking off 9:00-9:30 miles: 9:06, 9:07, 9:13, 9:06, 9:20, 9:20, 9:16, 9:09, 9:25, 9:22. I reached the half marathon mark in 2:01:15. My first quarter of the race (1:00:30) and my second quarter (1:00:45) were almost exactly the same. I felt great.

SecondturnaroundHeading out for the third loop and feeling strong.

And even the conditions weren’t that bad. It was cold but not unbearably so; I actually unzipped my top layer on the third mile. It was sunny. The roads were mostly dry. There was some stiff wind, but only at certain points on the course.

Then things started to unravel. In retrospect, I clearly had a plan that was too aggressive. I expected to feel tired during the race, and thought I could just slow down if I felt too fatigued. I didn’t anticipate the severe leg pain that was to come.

Just after I finished my 14th mile, I started feeling small cramps in my calves. Nothing debilitating, but enough that I knew I needed to slow down and try to get them to go away. I immediately dropped my pace and did the next three miles in 10:09, 10:08 and 10:03. I still got the occasional calf twinge, but not very often.

ThirdloopGoing a bit slower but still feeling OK as I finish loop three.

Then, during mile 18, my thighs started to get tight. By the end of the mile, they had seized up so badly that I had no choice but to slow to a walk. The only way I can think to describe it is that it felt like my thigh muscles were trying to strangle my knees.

I walked for a quarter-mile, and the tightness subsided enough that I could start running again, slowly. But it was the beginning of the end. Mile 19 took me 13:24 to finish.

That’s the last mile I have a split for because, to make matters worse, my Garmin stopped tracking distance at 19.04 miles. It didn’t affect my ability to finish the race, but it definitely threw me off a bit.

The fourth loop ended around 20.6 miles, and I alternated walking and jogging for the last 1.5 miles. My parents had picked a spot near the turnaround to come out about when I should be approaching to take pictures and cheer me on. They knew something was wrong because it had taken me so much longer to finish the fourth loop than the first three.

Fourthloop Struggling mightily as I finish the fourth loop.

I had been running as I approached them, but then I walked through the water station and to the turnaround and back to them. As I passed them, my dad came with me to see how I was doing. I told him it wasn’t good and he kept going with me as I headed out for the final loop. We walked together for about three-quarters of a mile and when we got to the beginning of the main loop, I had to tell him to stop while I tried to stretch out my legs a bit.

Seeing how much pain I was in, and that I couldn’t even keep up with him walking, he said he thought I should call it a day. I knew he was right, but it’s not easy to pull yourself off the course when you’ve worked for 20 weeks to reach this point. Ultimately, I decided that if I kept going, I risked seriously injuring myself, and I told him I was done.

We walked back to the staging building, and I had a new problem. Since I had been slowing down significantly, I was suddenly very cold. That roughly one-mile walk – dejected, in pain and freezing – was one of the most unpleasant experiences I’ve ever had.

The good news: They had cookies in the staging building. I may have had five or six, and I don’t regret it (I also had a banana and some orange juice).

I slumped to the floor and leaned against a wall, texted my wife and posted the bad news on Facebook and Twitter.

As disappointing as the DNF was, I tried to stay positive (and the comments from friends and family that came flooding in certainly helped). I went farther than I had ever gone before, I didn’t let stubbornness lead to injury, and I learned valuable lessons for my next marathon attempt.

I don’t see Sunday’s race as a failure. If anything, it has made me even more determined. I’m going to run the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Oct. 19. And this time, I’m going to finish.

Ben is a husband, father, runner and editor in Rochester NY. He can be found on Twitter at @bjacobsroch.