Virtual Marine Corps Marathon Training – Week 1

I wasn’t originally planning on documenting my training for the Marine Corps Marathon. But I think it’s been awhile since I documented a training cycle, so why not? Let’s lay a little ground work first….

The 2020 Marine Corps Marathon was slated for October 25. Unfortunately, like so many things this year, it has been canceled due to COVID-19. Barry and I were both registered to run, and we both decided to defer our actual entries to next year’s race. We also both decided to sign up to run virtually this year for the special 45th anniversary medal. I’m not usually one to run a race for the medal, but this one is supposed to contain volcanic ash (“black sand”) from Iwo Jima and that’s just plain cool.

MCM has given us a date range of October 1 to November 10 to complete our virtual run. I plan to run it on October 18 with some friends, which means I’m 12 weeks out from race day. Each week, I plan to post a recap of that week’s training. Here’s a run down of week 1.

Monday – Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred, Level 2

Tuesday – 4 miles easy
Even though this was at an easy pace, I kind of felt like I was running uphill the whole time. And it was hot. But I did find the “Whomping Willow.”

Wednesday – 4 mile fartlek workout
After a 1 mile warm up, I did repeats at 10K and 5K pace, followed by a 1 mile cool down. This run totally kicked my butt. I had a hard time locking in on my paces and I really suffered in the heat and humidity. When is fall??

Thursday – Ab circuit
My legs needed a rest, so I kept it light and just did my 20 minute core workout.

Friday – 4 miles easy
Nothing exciting to report on this run, but here’s a turtle I saw.

Saturday – 5 miles easy
I did this run first thing in the morning. The temperature was nice and cool, but it was extremely humid.

Sunday – 13 mile long run
I slept in a little before hitting the trail for this one. Fortunately, it still wasn’t too hot out (low 80’s) and I had a really enjoyable run. Thanks to the summer heat and humidity, I haven’t had a pleasant long run in awhile. So it was nice to finally have one where I didn’t suffer. I hydrated and fueled well, and my legs felt strong.

(there’s a fly on my hat, haha)

During the last 90 minutes of the run, I did 1 minute pickups that were between marathon pace and 10K pace. That was something new for me, and it was actually pretty fun.

Total miles – 30 miles
Weeks to MCM – 11

An Honor Run

At the 2019 Eastern Divide Ultra and 8-miler, our trail running community lost one of its own. Graham Zollman passed away on the trail while running the 8 mile race. I was not personal friends with him, but he was one of those people you would know if you were part of the local trail running community. Graham was kind and always had a ready smile. Although this year’s Eastern Divide had to cancel due to COVID, many still did an honor run in his memory.

The fine folks at TrailAdventure marked the 8 mile course on the trails at Mountain Lake. I don’t know those trails well, so I was really grateful for the extra help in navigating the course. On a gorgeous and unseasonably cool sunny morning, Cathy and I met up to run the course.

One of my favorite features of the Mountain Lake trails are the ferns, and we got a taste of that right away as we headed down the trail.

The trails were very overgrown and the tall grass made it hard to see the uneven terrain below. It made for a slower than usual run, but that gave us more time for photos and to enjoy the picturesque scenery. The overgrown nature of the trails made them hard to follow at times, but eventually we figured out that the best course of action was to follow the tall grass.

About two miles in, we arrived at Grahams memorial. Cathy and I paused here and had a moment of silence in his honor.

From there, we continued along the trail. Normally, when the shooting range at Mountain Lake is open, I don’t think you would be able to run the true course (hence the trail signs). Luckily, the shooting range wasn’t opening until July, so we were able to run the course.

I always forget how tough this loop is. But as we made our way towards the meadow, we hit the one hill that vividly stands out in my memory from running the race in 2016. It is tough and it’s part of the big spike on the elevation profile.

But the climb is worth it. As we made our way around the meadow, we arrived at the view from the Old Clubhouse.

Photo credit: Cathy

After taking a short breather and enjoying the view, we continued uphill for about a half mile to the high point on the course around 4200 feet. As I had mentioned, the course was marked. But it was only lightly marked- nothing like what you would have on race day. However, as long as we stayed on trail the markings were plenty. Except for one spot.

Cathy and I ran right past one turn we were supposed to make onto a trail. But the reason was those two large rock piles, which were not there when TrailAdventure marked the course! As you can see, the ribbon would have been clearly visible had it not been for those giant rock piles. But we didn’t get too lost and quickly found our way back onto the course.

Photo credit: Cathy

Once again we were running through trails that were barely there. But I think it all looked kind of magical- like a place where fairies would live or something.

Along the course, we saw lots of neat stuff including a couple of snails, pretty wildflowers, and some cool looking mushrooms. And it was cool to see even more water back in the lake, which we ran by with a little over a mile to go.

The last stretch of trail before the finish is pretty gnarly, and we hiked almost all of it. But we did get a little postcard view of the Mountain Lake Lodge – which, if you didn’t know, is where they filmed Dirty Dancing!

We had one last mean little uphill and then made our way back around to where we had started our loop at TreeTop Adventures. Upon finishing, I found that the overgrown trails had my legs looking like I had just completed a loop at Barkley. If you don’t know what that means, check out the Amazon Prime documentary “The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young.”

Overall, it was a great day to enjoy the trails with great company. I’m glad Cathy and I were able to run the actual course in honor of Graham, one of our own.

Conquer the Cove 25K – Race Report

I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record, but this race was yet another one that got canceled due to COVID-19. I was going to defer to next year until my friends Lauren and Lauren reached out asking if I wanted to run the virtual option with them. I’m undertrained and haven’t been doing any climbing that would prepare me for running at the Cove. So of course I wanted to join my friends on a 25K jaunt with over 2,000 feet of gain!

I was talked into starting our run at 6:30 AM. There are very few people whom I will get up at 4 AM for, but my Trail Sisters are on that short list. Plus it’s when the race would normally start, and it’s often hot and humid, so an early start made total sense. The race usually starts and finishes at Loch Haven Lake. But since this is a private resort, our virtual run started and finished at the Timberview parking area which is where we met up. We were blessed with very forgiving weather – 60’s and overcast. The humidity was around 95%, but it didn’t feel oppressive with the lack of heat.

Without the extra mileage from Loch Haven, we started our day with a steep 1.1 mile, 600 foot climb. I guess you could call that easing into things since we were hiking? Along the way, we passed one of my favorite signs along the course. Of course, we took the expert route:

I felt okay going up the climb, although I always start to feel a little nervous and unsure when there’s a big climb at the beginning of a race. But I’ve been working on keeping that in check and I did alright keeping it at bay. It felt good to get to the top and enjoy some easier running on the fire road.

PC: Lauren H

We enjoyed some downhill and some rolling, mostly runnable trails on our way towards the Bennett Springs parking lot. We had a few creek crossings along here and the cold water felt refreshing on my feet. I was enjoying the cool, misty weather, although it made the trails kind of spooky.

Around mile 4.5ish we arrived at the Bennett Springs lot, where Lauren had left her car earlier in the morning to serve as an aid station. She had ice cold water and orange slices for us. After enjoying our treats and topping off on water for the rest of the run, we headed back onto the course and made our way to the Four Gorge Trail.

The Four Gorge Trail is one of my favorite trails to run at Carvins Cove. It is so pretty! It also has my favorite “park ranger” along the trail. Of course, we had to stop for photo ops with him!

From here we plugged along for another mile and a half or so before arriving at the fire road a little past mile 6.5. We regrouped here before tackling the 2.5ish mile climb up Brushy Mountain. I was feeling good, but I knew we had a long climb ahead of us.

PC: Lauren H

As we made our way up the fire road, I noticed a bright orange newt. I love seeing these little guys on the trail – they’re so cute! (Way cuter than that spider I saw during my Historic Half virtual run) After that first one, we started seeing a ton of them. I think they liked the weather conditions. Our entire climb up Brushy became a game of “don’t squish the newt!”

There are usually some pretty views on the way up Brushy, but it was too misty and foggy to see anything. The wet weather made the forest look super green, though!

The higher we got the foggier and spookier it got. After nearly 1,000 feet of climbing we arrived at the top. Again, we regrouped before tackling The Gauntlet.

The Gauntlet is a technical, two mile descent. After all of that climbing, you would think a long descent would be welcome. But this downhill is tough on the quads and on the knees. You also have to be careful not to trip on a rock or root and Superman down the mountain.

I counted down the distance as we made our way down Gauntlet. This was the one section of the race that I couldn’t wait to get through.

Halfway down The Gauntlet and still on our feet.

As we made our way down, a couple of women ran by who were also out doing their CtC virtual race. It was fun to see others out on the course! Finally, we made it down Gauntlet and had just 1.25 miles to go up Horsepen and back to our cars.

Horsepen usually feels like it takes forever. But honestly, it went by really quickly this time. The entire run – 13 miles with ~2200 ft of climbing – flew by with Lauren and Lauren. That, combined with the weather conditions, made for a really great day. We finished around 4 hours and 15 minutes.

To cap things off, we stopped for a photo in front of the Pegasus house on our way out.

Overall, I had a fantastic day. It was hard and, at times, it hurt. But the company couldn’t have been better. I’m also really glad we were able to run the actual course. I’m not big on virtual runs, but being able to run the actual course (or most of it, in this case) made things a lot better.

From here, I have some upcoming adventures planned during the summer and early fall. I’m not registered for any other races until October. It’s hard to know what life will look like then, but I’m hopeful that we will have returned to some normalcy by then and some of these events will be able to take place.

Marine corps historic half – race report

The Marine Corps Historic Half was supposed to be held on May 17. Like other races, it was canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Even though it was a road race, which is not my favorite, I was still bummed about this cancellation. Barry and I had a fun weekend planned with my dad, and I was looking forward to experiencing another Marine Corps race event. I’ve had good experiences in the past at the 17.75K and the Marathon. Instead, I ran this race virtually to maintain my eligibility for the Semper Fi challenge (running the Historic Half in May and the Marathon in October).

I chose to complete my virtual run on trails at Claytor Lake State Park, with two 6.5-ish mile loops. It definitely slowed me down significantly from what I would have run on roads, but you know I love my trails.

I was a bit worried on the drive over to the park when I realized I had forgotten to eat anything other than a yogurt for breakfast. Oops. Obviously my race morning routine is extremely lax when it’s a virtual race that I’m running by myself. Right before I started my run, I went on and ate a gel and hoped that would help. At the start of my run, it was overcast and in the upper 50’s.

As I mentioned, my race was made up of two 6.5-ish mile loops. I took it easy on the first loop and was feeling pretty good. I focused on hydrating regularly, as I had started my run mid-morning and knew it was going to warm up quickly.

At the start of my second loop, it had become sunny and I was really starting to feel the heat. Around mile 7 or 8 I also started to feel fatigued. I ate some honey stinger chews and drank some more. I mostly had the trails to myself, and I was really enjoying the solitude.

I was feeling rougher as I continued on the second loop, so I started breaking up the loop into chunks in my head. It definitely helped that I know this park like the back of my hand. I tried to shift my focus from how I was feeling to looking at what was around me. Throughout the run I saw two super cute chipmunks, four deer, a gazillion squirrels and one huge freaking spider. He showed up around mile 10, and that got me moving a little faster for sure!

During the final 5K, I started drinking more and more water. At this point it had warmed up to the upper 70’s and I was suffering. I started sipping from my hydration pack at least every half mile. Although it was motivational, it made my stomach feel all sloshy and gross. I was definitely hitting that point in the run where you start wishing for it to be over.

I forged ahead and felt a little boost of energy when I hit the final mile. I pushed harder towards the end, and could feel the threat of calf cramps coming on. Luckily, they held off and I finished my virtual race in 3:10:20 – at least 40 minutes slower than I would typically be in a road half.

This run was tough for me, but it was also good. It had a little over 1300 feet of elevation gain total and it had been a little while since I ran a longer run with that much gain. I also did a good job regularly fueling and hydrating throughout. Time spent in the woods is always a good time.

Yeti 24 Hour Ultra Challenge

My friends Lauren and Charlotte brought this virtual event to my attention. Jason Green, the founder and leader of Yeti Trail Runners, put this event out in response to requests for a challenge for us runners during the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t really think virtual races are my thing – I certainly won’t seek them out in the future. But sometimes, when life is throwing a lot at you, it can be nice to find a challenge to focus on.

Last fall I did a training weekend to prepare for the Crooked Road 24 Hour Ultra, where I ran 4 miles every 4 hours for 24 hours – the “4x4x24.” It went pretty well. The hardest thing about it was the sleep deprivation – especially for my last two runs at 11 PM and 3 AM. I intentionally did not nap at all during the 24 hours to practice for Crooked Road.

This time, the Yeti Challenge would have me doing 5 miles every 4 hours for 24 hours – a total of 6 runs and 30 miles (except we made it 5.2 miles per run for 31.2 miles total to hit the 50K mark). Since I’m not preparing for anything, I fully intended to nap this time. I also didn’t think it would be a big difference to add on one more mile. I was wrong on both accounts.

I made a virtual bib for the virtual event.

I roped Kim into the Yeti Challenge, and honestly it didn’t take any convincing at all. I’m pretty sure she said “yes” before even knowing the full details of the event. Our friend Ashley also joined in last minute. Kim and I would run the first five runs together, but all of us started at the same time so we were all running together virtually. I enjoyed knowing we were all out there getting it done at the same time, making us feel more together while we have to stay apart during COVID-19.

Run 1 – 6 AM / local park / 40’s windy and raining

Kim and I met up at a nearby park where 1 lap is 0.7 miles. It was still dark, and with the rain and chilly temperature I wasn’t feeling super jazzed. The run felt like a harder effort, so I was surprised to see we ran a pace that was slower than normal. I was soaking wet and freezing, but the first run was done.

The event logo was very fitting for this first run.

Post-run food: Peanut butter and honey oatmeal and coffee.

Run 2 – 10 AM / New River Trail / upper 30’s, cloudy, and very windy

The time between runs throughout this event felt pretty short, and before I knew it it was time to run again. The first half of this run was on a gradual uphill and I still felt just “blah.”

So green!

The second half of this run was a gradual downhill and I felt like I cruised more.

Post-run food: Greek yogurt and a turkey sandwich

Run 3 – 2 PM / New River Trail / 40’s, sunny, and breezy

Kim and I started from a different access point on the trail to mix things up. I hit the restroom before we got going and found my first ever painted rock! Finally! Of course, it would be in a bathroom.

This run had the nicest weather yet and that definitely gave me some pep in my step.

We continued our trend of running each run progressively faster, and this run was the fastest yet – a trend we did not expect to continue!

Post-run food: Half of a Luna bar, a dill pickle, some plain potato chips, and a ginger chew.

Run 4 – 6 PM / New River Trail / upper 40’s and sunny

We ran this one in the same spot as run number two. I think I was getting a little loopy, as I kept mistaking things like tree branches for deer or a rabbit and orange flagging in a tree for a cardinal.

My legs were definitely starting to feel fatigued and I was starting to feel sleepy. Despite that, this run was even faster than run 3. The extra 0.2 miles we were tacking on to each run started to feel silly at this point.

When I got home, I was excited to find an envelope from Yeti Trail Runners in my mailbox with some new stickers! What perfect timing.

Post-run food: Tailwind recovery shake and a ginger chew. My stomach was starting to feel really rocky at this point.

Run 5 – 10 PM / local park / upper 30’s and cold

Barry came with me for this run and we met up with Kim at the park where we did our first run of the day. This one was really tough for me. My stomach was cramping and I just felt like crap. It was colder than expected and I was shivering pretty hard for the first part of this run. I definitely did not have enough layers on!

Normally, Kim and I talk our entire run. But we barely spoke at all during this one. What little conversation we had revolved around slapjack, sharks, and counting down the laps from what I can remember. I was so glad to get this one done!

Post-run food: Dill pickle, a few crackers, and half of a Luna bar.

Run 6 – 2 AM / treadmill

I thought I would nap between runs 5 and 6, but didn’t end up doing so. I was tired enough to, but I felt too crummy to sleep. This run was really tough and my legs felt stiff and tired. Even though I was tired and sore, I was really happy when this one was done because I had completed the Yeti Challenge!

Post-run food: Chicken noodle soup, and it was SO good!

Here are the stats from all six of our runs:

Overall, this was harder than I expected and it challenged me both mentally and physically. When I find myself in the middle of something hard asking “why do I do these things?” I know I’m taking on something worth while, and this was one of those things.

"I've opted for fun in this lifetime" -Jerry Garcia