Tag Archives: marine corps marathon

MCM Runner’s World Challenge Program Review

I’ve owed you a review of my Runner’s World Challenge program for some time now, but I was waiting until I had shaken off some of my post-race/storm funk and I had some time.


I may never have “some time,” and it’s storming again in NYC…so…

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In May, after the Fitness Meet + Tweet, Anne, Tina and I met with the Runner’s World communications director to discuss how we could work together.

I suggested paying me to travel the world and run races, but Bart Yasso already has that job, so they offered for me to try out their Challenge program to review. It seemed like a decent compromise, so I agreed.

Their challenge program provides you with: a training plan, access to Training Peaks training log software, access to private RW Challenge training forums moderated by their editors/experts, a Runner’s World book of your choice, emails from Bart Yasso and a t-shirt.

Race weekend, you get a shakeout run with your RW buddies and a strategy session the day before. The day of the race, you get access to their RW Challenge tent before the race and an after-party post-race.

Training Plan

(Note: you can also purchase their interactive training plans a la carte.)

I was going for #sub4orbust, so I went for their break-4:00 training plan.

I’d heard mixed reviews. I’d heard of someone who used the plan and broke 4, and someone who didn’t. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I went for it.


Here’s an example of the first week’s workouts.

The plan generally consisted of 5 days of running, and peaked at 48 miles per week.

The first half of the plan relied on hill workouts for the challenging workouts; the back half of the plan relied on Yassos (obviously), tempos and track workouts of death interval workouts.

I’d never run 5 days per week before, but then again, I’d never tried to break 4:00 before, either. I wanted to challenge myself with more days of running to get my body as used to running and pushing itself as possible.

Did I make every workout? Nope. I’d say I made somewhere between 80-85% of them. I don’t regret anything about my training. I got really busy, still got in most of my workouts and somehow managed to have a little bit of a social life. (I think? Those 16 weeks are kind of a blur.)

Training Peaks Training Log

There’s a lot you can do with the training log, but the user interface isn’t the most intuitive.


I liked the thorough workout instructions, and all of these data fields available to enter lots of data to analyze later…but to be honest, it almost ended up being too much.

I’ve used DailyMile for a few years now, and I’m just really used to their user interface, and I realistically wasn’t going to track my miles in two places, so I ended up abandoning TrainingPeaks fairly early on.

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Although it does seem like there were some cool reports I could have accessed, I didn’t need them.

There was a PDF version of the plan that I ended up printing out and pinning up at my desk. Since I have plenty of time at my desk, I got constant reminders of the plan.


There’s some forums that are great…and some that are not so much. I’ve dabbled in the regular RW Forums, so I was really curious about these fancy private ones.

I learned all of the secrets to running, and I’m going to leave my job now to become an elite runner.

Well…not quite.

But the RW Challenge forums were the great parts of the regular forumsfeedback from other normal runnerswith the addition of advice from experts like Bart Yasso and all of these other people who get paid to talk and write about running all day. (Hey guys, why are your offices in Emmaus? NY is pretty cool, too…)

I let loose some of my taper crazies and other general paranoia…and the people in there got it. Luckily, I had no injuries to deal with, but I did ask a few questions about switching around some days on my training plan and hitting goal times and got good answers.

Race Weekend


The day before the race, we had a shakeout run with my BFF Bart and some more of the RW staff. It was a large group (there were 300 Challengeres!), so I didn’t get any one-on-one time to chat with any of them while running, so I chatted with my buddies and checked out those monuments I took for granted those seven years I lived in our nation’s capital.


Later that afternoon, there was a strategy session. It would have been nice to have this session right after the shakeout run (especially since I was staying in Arlington and therefore had to go back out to Arlington to come back to DC to go back out to Arlington), but I think Bart had another run to do after our run.

Bart; EIC David Willey; Senior Editor and our primary RW contact Jen Van Allen; Editor-at-Large Amby Burfoot; and Race Director Rick Nealis spoke at this session.

They gave lots of great running info, but I was fascinated by the random details Rick Nealis shared:

The security bill for the race is $1 million.

They use 26 bomb-sniffing dogs.

Coast Guard checks the bridges for explosives.

The Marines working the race are Second Lieutenants.

There were 23,000 runners, and they released 1,000 runners a minute across the finish line, for 23 minutes.


Bart (not pictured above) and Rick Nealis obviously have known each other for a long time, and listening to their banter was sort of hilarious.

They went over the best places for spectators (Lincoln Memorial, miles 11, 16 and 25) and reminded us to start out slow.

“Running slow the first few miles,” Amby said, “decreases carbs being burned, and increases fat being burned,” so that you don’t burn through all of your carbs right away and bonk.


Jen Van Allen, probably my new favorite person, is every bit as sarcastic as myself. She talked about mantras, and told us to have backup mantras for when you don’t believe what you’re telling yourself. Sometimes my mantras work for me, sometimes I just think I’m completely full of shit; it’s hard to tell what will work, but you better have back-up mantras for when you don’t buy what you’re selling yourself at mile 23.

Another cool fact: 500 Marines in Afghanistan did a “forward operating” marathon from their bases in Iraq and Afghanistan and from aircraft carriers.


We also got basically all of their books at this session, which was awesome. I’m currently reading Bart’s book. The dude has done some cool stuff in his life!

Race Day

Race morning, I got to their tent near the start line. I didn’t have much time, but I grabbed a bagel, banana and water.


Thank you, running, for supporting my bagel habit.

I hit the private Port-a-Potty and thanked my lucky stars for it, and the lack of line.

I talked to a first-time marathoner in the tent, and attempted to assuage some of his fears. I met quite a few first-time marathoners that weekend, and knowing I’d already been down that road relaxed me a bit more.

Then, I went and ran a marathon.

Post-marathon, they had a party set up for the Challengers.

It was great to have a set, indoor meeting place to reunite with my parents and not have to try to find each other amidst the 23,000 other marathoners trying to do the same thing. It was held at the Artisphere in Rosslyn, across the street from one of my old offices.

The Disney post-race party was AMAZING, and I was expecting similar from this post-race partydrinks and hot food. I couldn’t walk another 100 feet to the food table, so I sent my mom (the best mom ever) to the table to suss out the situation. I think it was just a continental buffet, but I was pretty nauseous at the time, so I didn’t really care that there wasn’t much more food. My Gatorade Endurance (ew) was good enough at the time.

What was pretty awesome about this party: getting to chat with some of the editors and the post-race massage. It hurt like all hell, but it was pretty awesome to have someone working on my muscles that quickly after the race.

Would I do this again?

This program is not cheap. (I was provided it free of charge for reviewing purposes.) For MCM, it costs $349, which includes the $92 race entry. Taking out the race entry, let’s call the cost $257. (Thank you Siri.) For all that you get, I think that is a pretty fair price. Last year, I paid my running coach around $40/month for 4 months, and I know most online running coaches cost at least that. The Disney pre/post-race tent costs $110. When you break it down like this, the cost is fair and competitive with each of the individual components.

I think a program like this would be great for a first-time marathoner or someone who doesn’t race often and is making an experience out of their weekend/training.

Their in-person Challenge programs in Big Sur and Disney are currently sold out, but you can train for any half or full through their Challenge program.

Have you ever done/would you ever do something like this? Have you ever done a pre/post-race Race Retreat?

Oh, um, and this is happening.

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2012 Marine Corps Marathon Recap!

First of all, thanks to all my Internet and IRL friends for all your kind words and well wishes! You’re all the best! Especially my parents, who came down to spectate and followed me all around the District of Columbia in hopes of seeing me run for just a few seconds. Thank you for always being there for me.


Short-version recap:

I ran my third marathon yesterday.

I didn’t make my sub-4 goal, but I still took 15 minutes off my NYC marathon time, and I’m incredibly happy with that.

I bonked, HARD, at mile 23.

Long-version recap:

Go grab a drink. I make no promises to keep this short.


I’d set my alarm for 4:59 and 5:00, but excitement woke me up at 4:45. I watched some YouTube videos of the marathon in bed and cried, per usual.

I’d laid out all my stuff the night before, so I got ready pretty quickly. The last two marathons, my mom pinned my bib on because my hands were too shaky for me to do it myself, so I had her pin my bib on again, because it’s tradition now.

We were staying in the Courthouse area of Arlington, so I walked to the Courthouse metro at 6 and took it to Rosslyn to switch to the blue line to get to the Pentagon. I hadn’t looked at the metro times in advance, so I ended up having to wait 15 minutes for a train. I got nervous about the wait, but realized there was nothing I could do, so I took advantage of this time to try to do some deep breathing and center myself before getting to the race. I talked to a man who was running his first marathon, and this bolstered my confidence. Whether I met my goal time or not, I knew I’d finish. I’d done this before.


It was SO crowded.

I made it to the Pentagon, and we had a long walk from the metro to the runners’ village. I’d guess it was close to a mile.

As part of the Runner’s World Challenge (which I was given free access to to blog about it, which will come next week), I had access to their tent before, which was pretty sweet. They had breakfast there, so I planned on eating there, not at the hotel. By the time I got into Runners’ Village, it was after 7, and I started to get nervous I wouldn’t have time to eat.


I choked down a bagel and a banana, hit the private Port-a-Potties and went to hit the corrals.


Arm warmers are so flattering.

I met up with Ericka to line up in the corrals. We were both chasing sub-4, so we decided to try to start together. We lined up in the 3:40 corral in hopes of not getting stuck in crowds, but I think that’s probably impossible in a race this big.

I’d taken a pace bracelet at the expo, and I didn’t really have much of a pace plan other than start slow and then pick it up later. At the Runner’s World strategy session, they talked about starting slow so that you burned through fat and not carbs and didn’t bonk…but, spoiler alert: I didn’t do that.

I knew I should start at what felt like a snail’s pace, but in the first few miles, every time I looked down at my watch, I saw sub-9 minute miles. They certainly didn’t feel slow, but they felt comfortable, so I hoped I’d be able to hold them.

The first 6-7 miles include the biggest hills of the course, which worried me that my legs would fatigue earlier from the hills, but at least they kept us from going out too too fast.

Before getting to the Key Bridge, we ran on Lee Highway, down Spout Run Parkway and down the GW Parkway. The GW Parkway was gorgeous, but there were no spectators, and I couldn’t wait to get back into the city. (City girl at heart.)

Mile 1: 9:25

Mile 2: 9:18

Mile 3: 9:09 (oh look, goal pace!)

Mile 4: 8:43 (oh look, too fast!) This mile was a downhill.

We reached the Key Bridge just after mile 4. I’d asked my parents to be on the Key Bridge around mile 4ish and then at the end for 8.5ish, so I hoped to see them there. As soon as we turned the corner to get on the bridge, I saw a wall of people and started smiling like an idiot.

We reached the end of the Key Bridge, and began climbing Canal. It was a long, slow climb for miles 6 and 7, but we stayed steady.

Mile 5: 9:20

Mile 6: 9:01

Mile 7: 9:17

I knew that this area was pretty hilly both from studying the course map and from when I lived in D.C., so I was a bit nervous, but it was less hilly than I expected. Until we took a hairpin turn onto Reservoir Road. (I saw Anne just before mile 7, and she ended up KILLING it in 3:51!) The course leveled off at this point, and I felt cheated out of the downhill I was expecting! We ran past the Georgetown Reservoir, and Ericka and I talked about how much we wanted a downhill. Just before we got our downhill, I took my first Gu.

We flew down Foxhall, and I was excited for more crowds as I ran through Georgetown. I was psyched to run through Georgetown. I knew the area well, I knew it’d be crowded, and I hoped to see my parents.

It didn’t disappoint in any of these regards!


There’s me and Ericka, side by side! We’d actually only met once before this but knew each other well from each other’s blogs, so it was great to get to know each other for three hours.

I felt so strong at this point, and felt so excited and proud of myself that I was actually racing this race, not just running it. I was putting everything I had into the race, and my times were reflecting that.

I saw my parents here, at the far end of M Street, and I was happy. As we ran, I remembered so many hazy nights at Georgetown bars, and told Ericka how this marathon was so special to me. How my life was so different when I lived in D.C., and I was so happy to be back and running a marathon in this city where I was so lazy and inactive. We turned down Wisconsin and ran under the Whitehurst on K Street. I remembered in 2005 when I wanted to train for the Dublin Marathon with a friend and my IBS completely derailed me. I remembered trying to run a mile and needing, instead, to race back for a bathroom.

Mile 8: 8:57

Mile 9: 8:57

Mile 10: 8:54

We ran down Rock Creek and under the Kennedy Center. I told Ericka how I’d loved running under the Kennedy Center in other races, and I’d completely missed it last weekend because I was so busy chatting. I savored those few seconds under the Kennedy Center this time. It was at this point that we hit mile 10, and someone around us (or maybe Ericka? marathon fog brain here) said “It’s just a 16-mile training run from here!”

Um, shit. I don’t usually run 10 miles with most of them sub-9 before 16 miles. The next 16 miles would be interesting.

Around 10.5, we dipped back near the city to run past the Lincoln Memorial. Just before the memorial, I saw Bart Yasso, and he yelled my name! I was SO excited that he yelled my name, and I yelled back BAAAAAART!

Mile 11: 8:57

It was here that we entered West and East Potomac Park. There were lots of great signs here, including one RUN ALL THE MILES sign, and a long series of funny and motivational signs every few yards.

I remember starting to feel really thirsty here, and thinking the next water stop couldn’t come quickly enough. I also remember the wind picking up, and seeing some official D.C. boat just offshore of the park. This is honestly the only point in the race I started worrying about the storm.

We hit the halfway point here, and I switched to margarita shot bloks, which have been miracle-workers in the past. I wasn’t yet feeling fatigued, but was starting to feel concerned about keeping up this pace for another 13.1 miles.

Mile 12: 8:56

Mile 13: 8:59

(Half split: 2:00: 07)

Mile 14: 9:14

Mile 15: 9:14

After what seemed like forever, we finally were heading towards the Mall.

Mile 16: 8:56

Here’s where I really started faltering mentally. I asked Ericka for a pep talk, and we talked about how we had to be uncomfortable and push ourselves if we were going to break 4. We talked about how great it would be to be able to say we broke 4 hours. My legs were starting to feel a little tired at this point, but the pain was far more mental than physical. I wanted to stop at mile 16, and I credit Ericka, my pacing angel, for keeping me going.

She reminded me I’d see my parents again soon, and this kept me going. We also saw a few people she knew, and seeing how happy she was to see them gave me a boost, too.


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So, so happy. Minus really wanting to be done.

We pushed down the Mall, towards the Capitol and turned around, and I finally saw my parents again!

Mile 18: 8:52

Mile 19: 9:05

At this point, I knew the 14th Street Bridge was coming, and remember hearing how hard it was. I wasn’t nervous for the Queensboro Bridge last year, but I started getting nervous for this long bridge.

We turned down 14th Street, just like during the Army Ten-Miler. I remembered how I’d felt that first Army Ten-Miler running this bridge, and reminded myself how far I’d come. How, although I was definitely uncomfortable, I was doing well. I had less than 7 miles to go.

“This bridge is great! You love this bridge!” Ericka told me. We kept trading mantras back and forth to each other. “No guts, no glory,” I told her.

As we were on this bridge, I started to fall just a few steps behind her and struggling to stay by her side, instead of easily keeping up like I had before. This was where I began to fall apart mentally. She was obviously so much stronger than me, I thought. Why was I running with her? Why didn’t I run my own race? I knew this negative talk was doing nothing for my race, and I tried to push it out of my mind and remind myself how well I’d done these first 20 miles.

Mile 20: 9:03

At some point during mile 20, she asked what our pace was. When I looked, our current pace was hovering somewhere around 9:17. I told her this, but said “It’s okay! We have time in the bank! We’ll be fine!”

It was then when I realized we’d probably split up and I got nervous about running those last miles alone. I knew I probably had it physically but didn’t know if I had it mentally. “I know we have it in the bank, but I don’t want to rely on that,” she said. I couldn’t push it any more, and we split around mile 21.

Mile 21: 8:52

As soon as we split, my pace started to drop.

Mile 22: 9:23

I still felt strong, but I was definitely faltering.

Mile 23: 9:24

Crystal City was fun, and I remember the Lululemon Cheer Squad (they’re hard to miss!), but just after this, as we entered Pentagon City, I bonked. Hard.

I stopped to walk on an overpass, and started to give up on my goal. I just wanted to be done. I hadn’t seen a pace group anywhere else in the race, but the 4:00 pace group passed me at this point. I didn’t think I had it in me to keep up with them, but it put a little wind back in my sails, and I began to run again.

As we hit Mile 24, the Pentagon was in sight, and I remember thinking the finish was so close, yet SO, SO FAR. Another 2 miles!? I kept telling myself “no more than 20 minutes. 2 miles. This is nothing,” but my mind wasn’t buying what my mouth was spewing. (Yes, I was mumbling these mantras to myself.)

Just after we hit 24, we hit the highway again, and I wanted nothing more than to be done. I told myself to just fight to get to 25 and I’d see more people. I’d taken a Munchkin at Mile 24, hoping the sugar would help. I think I got a small burst of energy, but I also got nauseous really quickly. Noted. No more munchkins in a marathon.

Mile 24: 10:32 (Not much fight left. I stopped to walk for a stretch here.)

I hit mile 25, and saw signs that said 1.2 miles to go. At this point, I think my watch was somewhere around 3:51, and here was when I was sure I wouldn’t meet my goal. At this point, I could care less about sub-4. I just wanted to finish.

Mile 25: 9:58

I wondered, at this point, how I’d busted out those sub-9 miles earlier in the race. I readjusted my goal here to finish under 4:05.

Mile 26: 10:18

At some point before mile 26 (according to my watch, which was a little off the whole time), my watch read 3:59, and I ripped off my pace bracelet, rather dramatically.

I knew Anne would be near the finish, and my next goal was to look strong as I passed her. I chugged through, was ecstatic to see her, and ran up that asshole of a hill at the end and put every ounce of energy I had into crossing that finish line.

And I finished in 4:04:36. (That is not an error message.) I raised my arms triumphantly, and smiled like an idiot for the cameras.

I crossed the finish line, and everything hurt immediately. I hobbled through the finish line stuff and started tearing up. I had finished my third marathon, and had taken off nearly an hour between my first and my third! I knew that sub-4 was probably a bit of a stretch for me (but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t going to try!), and I laid everything I had out on that course, and I was thrilled with my time.

The first text I got was from my old boss, Morgan, who’d been tracking me the whole time, and who’d texted me during my first two marathons, too. She told me she was so proud of me, and I just wanted to give her a big hug for encouraging me to run my first 5K six years ago.

I met my parents at the Runner’s World Challenge after-party, where I melted onto a chair and only got up to get a few minutes of post-race massage, which hurt like all hell. My stomach was incredibly upset, and I got up pretty quickly, because I was nervous I’d throw up on the massage table.

My family and I then walked uphill (ow, ow, ow) to the hotel since the line for the metro stretched around the block. We packed, picked up Rebecca and booked it out of town to beat the storm back to NY. I outran Sandy, and we outdrove her. (Please, please, stay safe, wherever you are.)

I didn’t run the smartest race, and the last few miles of this race were incredibly tough for me. I didn’t finish anywhere near as strongly as I did at the NYC Marathon, but I also didn’t try to throw down sub-9 minute miles for a big chunk of that race. I grew a lot as a runner yesterday, and I’m proud of myself for pushing with everything I had. I never imagined I’d be able to run a marathon that started with 4:0x.

I have no idea what my next race will be, and I’m not sure if I’m ready to try again for sub-4, but I know I have it. I can taste it.