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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Marine Hard Corps Marathon (The Long Story!)

After an emotional week, and sleepless nights, I went to bed Friday night earlyish, but with a heating pad on my back to soothe lower back pain.  I thought to myself, "Boy what a way to spend the night before a marathon."  I resolved to run anyway, first because I paid money to do so, secondly, I needed the exhaustion to set my mind straight, and three, I really like the Marine Hard Corps Race Series -- the Marines really know how to put on a race. 

I woke refreshed, drank a cup of coffee, coated all seam areas with Glide so that my clothing would not tear at my skin and draw blood.  I drank a vanilla SlimFast shake, purely for the calories (180 cal. 23 grams carbs, 10 grams protein), and I filled my handheld with grape poweraid.  Then it was belt packing time:  6 Gu's, cell phone, camera, motrin, gum, chapstick, extra moleskin and not nearly enough Endurolytes.  My goal for the race:  Finish in time (this race had a 6 hr time limit, most have a 7 or more hour limit -- so I was a little concerned after 6 weeks of physical therapy).  My other goals were to keep focused on my form and my mantra which is "don't resist," keep a positive attitude, and if I do cross the finish line, do it SMILING.

Leaving the house by 5:45, arriving at the gates by 6:00, I was surprised to find no line of cars. I was really surprised to find such a low attendance for this race -- I'd guess 2 to 3 hundred (they allow 4,000, and I fully expected that many). But then again -- it's race season; March was the LA Marathon, May is the OC Marathon and June is the San Diego Marathon, not to mention a multitude of races in between.

"We're gonna need a bigger boat." : )
Crossing the Start Line with so few runners

During the National Anthem, I noticed a female runner, pounding on the chest of a another male runner.  I thought she was only joking, but soon realized not so, as she commenced to scream at him.  I could never begin a race that way -- I must be up, and thinking about as close to nothing at all, that I can.  This meant that I could not think about the past week's events (not blogged about).

I began this race at the back of the pack. First off, I wanted to conserve energy and not stress over bursting out the gates.  Also, I figured, I could pass a person here and there if I started at the back. I felt strong and warmed up by walking around for a good half hour beforehand. Passing several in those first few miles, I stopped for my one and only pit stop.  I don't mean to be crude, but as I want to relay as much of the experience as possible, I have to say the porta potty was a mess.  I mean, urine covered the toilet seat (and floors too, but who cares about the floors).  Not that I actually SIT on porta potty seats.  But still, when I walked out of that box, I didn't want the next person thinking that I sprayed all over the place.  And so this strange occurance took place:  I unrolled wads of toilet paper and cleaned up the seat, taking several minutes in the middle of this marathon.  I laughed outloud at myself exiting the porta potty.  No one waited in line, and several of the people I had passed were now running ahead of me. 

And so, I used the drinking water at the aid station to wash my hands, and took off running, focusing on form and saying to myself, "don't resist . . . don't resist."  I felt good.  No hip pain, my pace was not too bad for a marathon.

After exiting the porta potty -- notice 1) GUY IN CAST!   2) Lucinda on far right, wearing black, carrying flag -- she's somewhat of a hero to me, a civilian, the military says to her "welcome back," as she enters the premises.  I've seen her at every Camp Pendleton race I've run -- always running in boots, wearing black and carrying the U.S. flag.  I figured, keep her in back of me, because the Marines are going to let her finish even if she doesn't make the time limit. 

I did not think 26 miles for this race.  I thought five miles five times, plus a little more.  The first five miles, on mildly rolling hills took me about 55 minutes. (This entire race, by the way was on these mildly rolling hills).  The second five miles took me a couple more minutes than the first.   My focuses were going great.  I was taking in the calories (about 100 every 45 minutes).  We ran Las Pulgas road down to Old Camino Real which runs parallel to Interstate 5 and the Pacific Ocean.  We took that road all the way into into San Onofre.  Wild flowers were out in abundance, and we would have had a superb ocean view if the waters hadn't been the exact same color as the sky -- that is gray.

Enjoying the beauty (I guess there was a little blue sky)

Clicking photo of self while running

Spring flowers

Thank goodness I was civilian and not military like this guy who had to run in combat boots (can you believe he's military -- no offense guy, but you look 13 -- lucky you : ) -- cute kid, nice enough to pose for me.

After completing my second five miles, I gave myself about a quarter mile walk, which I gladly took on an uphill.  I still felt really good -- hip good, energy and focus strong.  Others had already hit the turn around, and the first one to pass me on his way back (the front runner) was about 8 or 9 miles ahead of me according to my crude calculations.  The runners after that were few and far between.  I said good morning to each and everyone on both sides of the road, those heading back and those very few that I passed on my side of the road.  After the turn around, I even greeted the woman that was screaming and hitting her guy at the Start Line.  (He by the way was several hundred feet ahead of her making their way toward the turn around as I worked on the last few miles of the 3rd five mile segment).

Aid station workers

The front runner

More pretty spring flowers on the base

San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant

Before the end of my third five mile segment, my right calve began cramping.  Very soon after that, my hamstrings followed suit.  I have read up and studied and prepared in every way to avoid this, and yet . . . dang!  It was about then that I lost focus.  I stretched, practically in a panic to get rid of these things.  I gained focus back a little here and there for the next few miles.  Guzzling the sports drinks even faster, I  took enduralytes as well.  About mile 16,  I phoned home to check on the family.  Mile 17,  I stopped by First Aid to change out my moleskins.  The lady marine said, "Are you the blister lady," to which I responded, "No, I'm the callus lady."  (Apparently, they had reports of a woman with severe blisters laying in the grass a ways back).   She laughed at my response and watched with great interest as the medic helped me pull off my shoes, change my moleskins, wrap one of them with tape, etc.  They both held my used moleskins, commenting on how they had lost their plumpness.  I laughed to myself.  You won't catch me touching and inspecting someone else's moleskins.  These Marines, they are fantastic aid station and first aid workers -- nothing phases them.  Surprisingly, I completed the third five mile segment in less than an hour as well.

About that time, I began stuffing my pockets with pretzels.  I sucked the salt off, and even with the pain increasing, and losing my focus, I somehow managed to move onward, running much of the way, but having to break for walks.  By mile 18 or so, I was in extreme pain with my calves, hamstrings and quadriceps cramping to where I couldn't even run.  At each aid station, I literally threw my leg up on the table for a hamstring stretch.  Other runners around me suffered from cramps as well.  One guy I spoke with briefly was suffering immensely.  Another was just plain ole pissed off about his leg cramps.  I tried to keep the positive attitude but chucked the sub five hour idea, and just hoped I could make it before the cut off.  The sweepers were driving by very slowly, reminding me of  vultures, waiting for us to drop.  I worked so hard to pass this guy ahead of me, when he finally threw in the towel.  With shoulders shrugged and eyes to the ground, he walked to the sweeper's van and got on in for a ride back.

It must have been mile twenty when a medic noticed that I was in trouble with cramping.  Well, it would have been hard for him not to notice.  I wasn't very quiet about the pain.  It HURT.  I have NEVER cramped so badly in a race before.  Usually it's just the calves, or just the hamstrings -- but to have the calves, hamstrings and quads cramp on me all at once.  Well, let's just say, I wasn't silent about it.  In fact, I was a little panicky.  Pain was immense.  It didn't dawn on me to take motrin, though I'm not sure it would have helped.  Instead, I sucked on pretzels, tossing them to the road after depleting them of all their salt.

At mile twenty, I pleaded for more salt, and someone yelled for the medic to help with cramps.  He tried to get me to drink more water.  Which I did, until I finally said, "I am not dehydrated -- I've drank so much, I'm water-logged, I'm full." (I was by the way drinking only electrolytes so far).  I started talking rapidly, because I really was aghast over this cramping.  I mean COME ON!  This is something I've been working on avoiding for quite some time.  Then he handed me a glass of cold water, and said, "Put this on it."  So, I splashed my calve with it and said, "That's going to help cramps?"  And I have to say, this was one of  the most entertaining parts of the day.  The medic said, "No.  But it will help calm you down." 

The medic then asked if I was light-headed.  I lied and said, "No," because I feared he might pull me out of the race.  I took off running with a smile on my face, declining the medic's suggestion that I drop out of the marathon.  Believe me, I was sure to regularly drink and take in calories.  Light headedness gone, my cramps eased up a bit to carry me on.  I ran the downhills and flats when I could.  Sucking on pretzels seemed to work a bit.  I was out of Endurolytes.  I ate a banana (not really feeling like food here!). 

I walked a good portion of the next two miles, actually passing a few guys cramping up rather badly.  I chatted with one guy offering suggestions how he might ease the pain (salt, salt, salt, and stretch in the opposite direction of the cramp.)  He was way worse off than I, and I was in pretty bad shape.  Pretty bad shape CRAMP WISE, otherwise, I was strong.  Dang it!  I could have it the ball out of the park today if it hadn't been for the cramping.

Just prior to mile 21, I stopped at another aid station, threw my leg up on the table, grimacing in pain. I even yelped once or twice because as I stretched the hamstring, my quads cramped!  The hamstrings were hitting worse than any muscle group at this point.  Again, a Marine counseled me about dropping out of the marathon.  Out of the question, I said.  I would walk this damn thing in if I had to . . . if I had enough time.  So the guy said, "I'm gonna radio a truck to follow you, just to make sure you're okay."

"No!"  I said.  "I'll feel like a vulture's following me!"

He laughed.  "We're here to help you, we want to take care of you," he said.  "You're human," he further exclaimed.  "This is bound to happen when you run 26.2 miles!"

And I was off and running . . . with a limp, sucking the salt from pretzels (but, by the way, no hip pain!)

I noticed the sweeper following me right away, even though there were several runners ahead and behind me.  When I bent down to loosen my shoe ties, the sweeper stopped in the road, waiting, waiting, is she gonna drop?  Somewhere up Las Pulgas, the driver turned around and drove back to pass me again and again.  I stopped to walk several times, cramps so severe, it was difficult not to yell out in pain.  I smiled and zoned into my ipod music, and when I walked, I power walked.

With about a dozen runners in and around me, I ran/walked miles 21, 22 and 23.  I passed a few of them, but at mile 24 I had to stretch out those cramps again.  And while stretching my hamstring, the quads when into spasms, causing a great deal of pain (a hamstring stretch feeds right into a quadricep cramp!).  The Marines there asked if I wanted to finish the race.  I asked how much time I had left, and I believe they said about thirty five minutes.  "The only way I'm not finishing this race," I said, "is if you don't let me.  I will lay down and roll myself the rest of the way if I have to."  And I was off, cramps subsided some, I finally made mile 25! 

I was smiling, saying, "ouch, ouch, ouch," and other not as nice words as the pain doubled down on my last 1.2 miles.  I passed the last aid station, asked how much longer.  The marines joked with me saying, "Oh, about two and a half miles."  I laughed back.  Up a little further, I asked the marine standing in the road.  He said that I had at least a mile and half to go.  Funny!

 A new sweeper came in and drove right next to me, the woman in the truck saying encouraging things, yet asking if I could make it.  I had twenty minutes to make a mile -- I was gonna make it!!!  And then I had to stop.  And then I had to stop again.  It was quite the scene of agony.  With the finish line in sight, the legs stiffened in cramps and I could not move them.  I stopped to stretch just once more, mustering all the strength I had, and RAN it on in across the finish line with about 8 minutes to spare!

For the next few minutes no other runners came in.  And then in the final moments, I heard cheers as the last runners to make the time limit approached the finish line.  I saw one girl walking as fast as she could with just one minute to spare.  I wanted to cry.  And then several minutes after the six hour time limit -- I'm not sure, possibly five, maybe ten, Lucinda ran across the finish line (there may have been others with her).  And that was it.  The race was over, and the marines began dismantling the scene.  Within minutes it began to look as if there wasn't even a race. (But my memory serves me incorrectly -- time became wierd after that.  Ends up, Lucinda crossed at 6:01, and then there was a cluster at 6:07 and another small cluster finally crossing at 6:11.  My official clock time was:  5:51:35.  It's difficult to determine my standings, because results are separated by civilian and military and age groups.  But I really don't care about my standings.  I care mostly that I crossed the finish line before 6 hours, smiling).

What a run!  And here's the funny thing.  I never really did lose my spirits, except at the very end when I could barely make it to the finish line.  And I would do it again tomorrow.  I can not wait until the next Marathon!

26.2 miles logged today : )

My amateur video, just a sample of the many minutes of video I took on the run.  I caught crossing the finish line on video.  And notice if you watch, that white truck at the very end, ready to drive me in in case I dropped. (Yup, I noticed that I mispelled "Corps" in the video)


  1. Congratulations Lauren! Way to get thru it overcoming all the cramping and everything. You're tough!
    And liked the sweeper truck following you WAITING for you to drop!!!!

  2. "that's a long friggin ass time" hahaha...

    love all the documentation Lauren. I've dealt with cramps more times than I care to remember too. But man, that's some awesome schwag. Good job on finishing and finishing tough!

  3. Thanks guys! I will conquer this leg cramping thing yet! Next marathon: June : )