Rock n Roll USA Marathon: Race Recap

I don’t really know how to tell this story without making it a long one.  It was a big day for me and I want to remember as much of it as I can.

First I will tell you that as race day approached, I started to feel like a giant MESS.  I knew in my heart of hearts that I was physically and mentally ready to tackle the marathon.  I had thought through so many details – what clothes to wear, what shoes and socks to wear, what gear to bring.  I had studied the course map and talked to friends and coaches about my pacing strategy and my goals.  I was sure that I made the right decisions and I was ready to execute it all.

But then, two days before the race, I began second guessing myself on just about every. single. thing.

Some of this can be attributed to normal pre-race jitters.  I’ve now run 9 marathons and before every single one I became somewhat neurotic as the day approached.  But this was different.  I had more at stake – I’d trained so hard for this race and my family had sacrificed so much.  There was added pressure (put on by yours truly, of course, and nobody else) and I wanted the day to go well.  I didn’t want a seemingly simple decision like what shoes to wear or what color shirt to wear to mess everything up.  Every little detail mattered and carried so much weight all of a sudden.  I wanted to be absolutely sure of my choices.

Thursday morning I woke up and felt completely off, both physically and emotionally.  I don’t want to go into too much detail here – but I will tell you that this “off” feeling was without a doubt related to my hormones.  I’m still a nursing mom and my body is adjusting and trying to settle into its hormonal cycle.  This cycle hasn’t been very predictable as a result, and it has left me feeling really off kilter.

But by Friday night I threw my hands up in the air.  I had to let go of the anxiety and execute the race as best I could on Saturday.  Robert gave me a hug and assured me that I was going to do great – that I made the right decisions about shoes and gear, etc and that no matter what I was going to run strong.  That’s all there was to it.  Move on and move forward.

Then at 1:00 in the morning I woke up and my bed was completely drenched in sweat.  I don’t mean a little bit wet.  I have had night sweats before, but nothing like this.  I was soaked to the bone from head to toe and my sheets were sopping wet.  I changed my pajamas and pulled the covers over the wet sheets and tried to get back to sleep.  At 3:00 I woke again – one of my headaches was coming on.  I am prone to migraines and they are very closely related to my hormonal cycle (I just have to say, sometimes I think being a woman is really the pits!!).  I decided at that point that I would get up for the day.  I took two ibuprofen (figuring it would be basically worn off by race start and not impact my tummy too much, it was still 5 hours before the race would start) and hopped in a hot shower to try to relax and stop the headache from taking over.  While I was in the shower I fought back tears — maybe this just isn’t my day.  I worried that all the sweating I did through the night would dehydrate me once I started running in the heat and the sun.  I worried that my headache wouldn’t go away, or if it did go away that it would come back.  I worried that I would have terrible cramps while I ran.  I worried.

Robert came into the bathroom as I was getting out of the shower.  “Are you OK?” he asked.  He was holding the baby, who had woken up while I showered.  I explained the sweating and I told him about the headache and that I just wasn’t sure what I was going to do about my race.  But that I knew I had to do my best.  I couldn’t not try.

I went downstairs and made my coffee and had my breakfast.  It was about 4:30 at that point and my ride was coming to get me at 5:15.  I got ready for the race and tried to relax.  I was starting to feel better.  Robert texted me (from upstairs) and told me the baby was fussy – and could I try to feed him one more time before I left.  I went upstairs and cuddled with my baby and fed him.  I had tears in my eyes as I cradled him in my arms.

I am a mother and a wife before I am anything else.  I love my family.  I am so thankful to be married to the most supportive and caring man I have ever known.  So grateful he is the father to our three beautiful children.  So grateful to be their mother.  So grateful.  Nothing else really matters…

My body drives me crazy sometimes.  But look what it can do – it can nurture and grow human beings and then bring them into this world.  It can feed and nourish them when they are babies.  And it can train for and run marathons.  I have spent so much time in this life complaining about my body – criticizing my cellulite, my love handles, my muffin top.  I have griped and moaned about my hormones – and all the annoying symptoms that come along with them.  I have literally SCREAMED about how awful my headaches are.  And my allergies! – don’t get me started on those.  And my stomach issues! – oh goodness, my stomach issues.  I have complained so much about my body.  But I want to stop doing that – because LOOK.  Look what it can do!  I should be so grateful.  And truly, I am.

After I nursed baby Gus, I brought him back to Robert.  He was still awake and it was after 5:00AM.  My ride would be here soon.  It was time for me to go.

My ride – my good friend Paul was driving me, my sister Jodi and my buddy Chris right to RFK where the race would start and finish.  We had an awesome car ride in.  No traffic — no issues at all.  The four of us were excited, yet calm.  I was feeling a lot better once we were all in the car together.  I told myself the best you can do is the best you can do and I repeated the following quote (by Goethe) over and over in my head as we rode into the city:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!

I decided I would be brave today.  I would not let anything stop me from doing my very best.

We arrived at the race start around 6:00AM, with plenty of time to get settled and ready before the race started at 8:00.  It was still dark out and we were there before there were any crowds.  Parking was as simple as simple can be.  We made our way over to the Brooks VIP porta-potties because we all had special passes to use them thanks to my sister.  I was so excited to see Melody from Will Run for Margaritas there.  She is such a sweet person and we got to talk for a while.  Seeing her helped me feel more at ease – she told me she knew I was going to do great and that she had been thinking about me all week.  This just made me feel so good and so thankful for her and for all of you who read my blog.  I don’t think I can say it enough — thank you.  For all of your support.  For all of your encouragement.

Me and Melody!  Looking oh so dapper, aren’t we?

After we visited there for a while we decided to make our way over to the Armory where we would meet up with our other friends and check our bags.  Gear check pretty much rocks at this race, in my opinion.  The Armory is an old icky building, but it is perfect for pre-race stretching and chilling and for gear check.  They had a very well organized system and it was incredibly easy to drop our bags off there and pick them up from the very same spot after the race.  We dropped our gear off around 7:20 and then hung out for a bit.

sister hug before heading to the start
me and Chris, getting ready to go

We had to go to the bathroom one more time before the start, so we made our way back to the Brooks trailers.  I was so happy to have that pass at this point!  All the “regular” POJ lines were insanely long and barely moving.  We even had to wait a little bit at Brooks, but it was nothing compared to the regular lines and the bathrooms were SO much nicer.  The toilets flush!  And you can wash your hands!  Enough said.

As Chris and I headed towards our corral I started taking off my throw-away layers.  I had on a grungy pair of old fleece pants with paint stains on them and I had cut slits in the cuffs so they would come off easily over my shoes.  I was also wearing an old race tee-shirt and a sweatshirt I got at Target years ago that was very flash-dancy and cheap.  I had not worn these tops in years.  The pants I had worn, but honestly shouldn’t have.  It was time to say goodbye to those – they had outlived their prime.

We got to our corral at the perfect time with about 5-10 minutes to spare.  I did my dynamic stretching routine and then we jumped into the corral.  I was feeling excited and nervous, yet completely at ease.

I was going to do this, one mile at a time.

When the gun went off we started inching our way up to the start line.  This race starts in waves, so it was a very smooth start.  I really think the RnR series does a great job with this.  This was my third RnR race to date and I have always been impressed with the way they handle these sorts of logistics.  (They charge us an arm and a leg for stupid stuff like picking up friends’ packets and tracking via text messaging, but the race start logistics are something they know how to do right and that counts for something.) 

Once our wave’s gun went off (about 2-3 minutes after the first wave), the race had begun.  I thought I hit start on my Garmin but about a minute or so into the race I realized that it wasn’t going.  I must have just not pressed the button hard enough!  I didn’t let this get to me because all I really cared about was managing my pace, so I just pressed start again – this time making sure it clicked on.

Chris and I were running together, and we were both so thankful to have one another.  A year ago, he never would have imagined that he would be running a race of any distance, much less a MARATHON!  His journey as a runner has been so inspiring.  When we first ran together last summer, he was fighting to hold a 10:00 pace for more than a few miles.  He lost 20 pounds and dedicated himself to getting stronger and healthier.  He is an amazing dad and husband to his awesome family, and I am thankful to call him my friend.  It was really wonderful to have him by my side yesterday.  To get to be a part of his first marathon.  I am ridiculously proud of him.

Go Chris!  You rock.

I knew the course was going to be tough.  There are a LOT of hills early on and then again later in the race towards the end.  It was a hot day (temps rising into the mid-70s) and quite sunny.  We had to be careful not to overheat.  The second half of the course would be run through Southeast DC and along the Anacostia River … not exactly the most scenic or spectator-friendly parts of the city.  My good friend and coach, Adam, had cautioned me about this course many times.  He told me not to go out too fast, and to be very careful on those early hills.  I heard his voice in my head through much of the first half of the race.

Even still, we started off faster than we meant to (you have heard that one before, I’m sure!).  My intention was to run the first two miles around 8:15s, but they were faster.  But the fact was that I felt like I was jogging.  I was holding so much back that it felt silly.  Like I was running in slow motion.

I knew this was a good sign.  This was exactly how I wanted to feel at the beginning of a marathon.  When I glanced at my watch and realized I was running as fast as I was, I was shocked.  But since I felt like I was holding back so much, I decided not to let it bother me.  I was going to be smart and listen to my body.  This was not about putting time in the bank, it was about being careful and strategic and saving my energy for later, when I would really need it.

Miles 1-4:
8:01, 8:01, 7:51, 8:11

The big climbs started at Mile 5.  I remembered what Adam said, so I kept my effort the same and told Chris that we would need to take it very easy on these hills.  We would want to run faster and fight up the hills, but we couldn’t.  No fighting.  They had to feel easy.  We would make up the time lost later.  It was imperative that we save our energy and not spend it all on the hills early on.

Mile 5-10:
8:35, 8:05, 8:16, 8:06, 8:00, 7:46

I was feeling really good at this point.  I was consistently drinking my water and had refilled my bottle once already (one of Chris’s friends was on the course around Mile 6 and tossed us a water bottle as we ran by!  It was seriously awesome).  I was sticking to my nutrition plan and ate my Accel gels at Miles 5 and 10.  My stomach started to feel a little crampy and as though I might have to make a pit stop somewhere after Mile 10, but it was nothing serious.  I just took note of it and carried on.  My husband Robert and Chris’s wife Lisa were cheering for us at Mile 11.  We were SO happy to see our cheering squad!  They handed us fresh hand held water bottles and screamed their heads off for us.  It was so awesome and made me feel so incredibly proud and grateful.  I felt like we were on “cruise control” at this point and had settled into race pace now.  It was a comfortable pace and I was happy.  My anxiety melted away.  We saw our families again at Mile 14 and I was thrilled.  Still feeling strong.

Miles 11-17:
7:56, 8:11, 8:06, 8:01, 7:47, 8:10, 8:12

It was some time during the 17th mile that I started to feel Chris slowing a little.  I checked in with him and he said that he was good and that I should go on ahead.  I wasn’t sure how I felt about this, so I asked him again.  And again he said it – I’m good. You go on ahead.  I knew he meant it.  So I kept going.

Not long after that my stomach completely cramped up.  Oh my goodness, I needed a bathroom and I needed it fast.  It was an emergency.  As I approached the 17th mile marker I saw volunteers.  They told me that as soon as I turned the corner I would see a water station and the porta-potties.  Thank you God.  Thank you – that is just what I needed, when I needed it.  I bolted for the bathroom.  I was so grateful there was no line.  I tried to make it quick, but when I pulled my shorts up, all of my gels busted out of my pockets all over the floor – ugh.  I grabbed them and dashed back onto the course as fast as I could.  I knew I lost some time while I was in there, so I did my best to get right back into my pace and keep going.  My stomach felt so much better having stopped – there is no way I could have kept going without that stop – so I decided that rather than be upset, I would be thankful.  (When I ran the Lehigh Valley Marathon in September I had the same thing happen to me at exactly the same point, only that race did not have adequate bathrooms for runners so I was forced to walk and my whole race was ruined.  It was awful).

Mile 18:

I was hoping to see Robert again somewhere between miles 18 and 19, but when I got to that point they weren’t there.  I knew I would be on my own from here on out, until the Finish.  I was entering into the toughest part of the course now and no longer had my running buddy or my family to support me.

It was time for my fight.  Time to start racing.

Miles 19-20:
8:03, 7:55

At Mile 20 I usually eat another gel (I eat one every 5 miles of the marathon).  But my stomach was cramping again and I was afraid to eat it because I knew it would stimulate my stomach too much.  On the other hand, I was afraid about what would happen if I didn’t eat it.  As Mile 20 came to a close I saw a porta-potty up ahead.  I decided to eat at that point, and then I sprinted to the bathroom.  It was another emergency and I was so thankful there was a bathroom right when I needed it.

This time, I was the first person to use this bathroom and the toilet paper was completely packaged up still.  I ripped open the packaging and could not, for the life of me, find the start of the toilet paper to pull some off for myself!  I was scraping at it frantically trying to find the start.  It was taking too long and making me crazy, so finally I just scooped up a bunch of the shreds of toilet paper I created and used that.  I wanted to get back out there and keep running, I was frustrated with how much time I was losing.  As soon as I exited the bathroom my stomach felt much better and I ran as fast as I could to try to get back on pace.

Mile 21:

I figured I had a choice.  Either be negative and upset about my stomach issues and the delays they caused, or be thankful that I was able to resolve them and move on.  This would be the deciding factor of my marathon.  I could let it break me – mentally fall apart and give up.  Decide to try again another day.  Or I could choose to see the bright side and keep fighting.

It was at that point that I became more determined than ever.  Determined to enjoy myself.  To celebrate the fact that I was doing what I loved to do, whatever the outcome may be.  Determined to be in control of my body.  If my stomach lurched again, I would deal with it.  I already had, twice, after all.  Determined to keep my spirits up and not let the time I lost bother me or worry me.  I was not going to entertain thoughts of negativity.  There was no room for that.

I felt unstoppable.

Miles 22-26:
8:02, 7:49, 8:17, 8:08, 7:32

Mile 26 ended on a steep hill, and the last .2 was no different (of course!).  There was more of an ascent and then a turn towards the Finish Line.  I ran that last stretch at a 7:43 pace.  As I crested the hill to turn towards the Finish, I saw my family.  I put my arms in the air and tears streamed down my face.  I could see all of them cheering for me – their big smiles.  They were proud of me.  I thought my heart might burst out of my chest, I felt so happy and thankful.  Even just thinking about it now I get a lump in my throat.

post race hugs from the man I love

I did not let the marathon break me.  Not physically, not mentally, not emotionally.  I kept my head held high and I conquered the troubles that came my way.  I chose to fight.  To love what I was doing.  To believe.  And to dream.

And it was a dream worth fighting for.  A dream worth chasing.  Every step of the way.

I ran my first marathon in 5:21:20 when I was 24 years old.  Yesterday I finished in 3:34:46 and was 4th out of 190 women in my age group.  I will be 36 in a few weeks.  My dreams do not stop here.

After I crossed the Finish Line and got my medal, I stayed there to wait for Chris.  I wanted to see him finish and cheer him in.  He came across in 3:47.  An incredible first marathon.  Absolutely incredible.  My sister Jodi ran a strong race also, finishing in 3:57.  She amazes me, always.

so strong, so beautiful.  my sister.

I saw a spectator sign at a marathon a few years ago and it stuck with me.  It said May the JOURNEY by your JOY.  I love this.  Each marathon is a unique experience.  An opportunity to test your limits and dig deep within your heart.  A chance to grow as a person.  We face obstacles that sometimes we cannot prepare ourselves for.  The time on the clock should not have so much power over us that if it does not say what we want it to say, we don’t appreciate the journey.

I am really happy that I qualified for Boston on Saturday and that I improved my marathon PR by 8 minutes.  But more than that, I am thankful for the journey.  For the fact that I didn’t give up when things got rough.  I’m thankful for the sport of running and that there are many more marathons and other races ahead of me.  Some will be faster and many will be slower.  It is about the journey, not the destination.  I do not want to ever lose sight of this along the way.

Congratulations to all of you who raced this weekend!  Whether you ran your fastest time or your slowest, whether it was a 5K or a marathon, you should be proud.  You should be proud because you are a runner.  Because it takes guts and courage to make it to that Start Line.  And if you didn’t have the outcome you were hoping for, don’t give up.  Know it is all a part of the journey.  See the big picture.  Pick yourself up, learn from it, and move forward.  It is worth it.

May the JOURNEY be your JOY.

holding my baby after the race. one happy mama.

41 thoughts on “Rock n Roll USA Marathon: Race Recap

  1. Congratulations on a very well executed performance! And great job on not letting everything that happened prior to the race get in your head and prevent you from running well. Glad the bathrooms were there when you needed them – I've also fought with the new TP roll…sooo frustrating…while someone else was pounding on the door! I've found that cutting out fiber a couple of days before the race keeps these issues at bay somewhat. Anyway, congrats on your BQ!

  2. Jessica! This made me tear up – I'm so proud of you. You seriously AMAZE me. Congratulations on your achievement!

  3. I cried through that entire post! I am beyond proud of you. I've known for a long time that you were destined to BQ. You are such an amazing mother and runner. I aspire to be like you. To have your drive. Congrats again friend!

  4. It has been such an amazing journey and one that I'm glad to have been able to be a part of. I have really enjoyed watching you continue to show what determination and hard work result in – week in and week out. Every race brings unique challenges (and this certainly had some good ones), but you were so ready for this race that it didn't really matter what happened out there, as long as you stuck to your plan. We're all so happy for you 🙂

  5. Awesome race report!! I think the races where things don't go perfectly, but you push past and reach your goals are the best, even if the don't feel that way while you're doing it. That was so inspiring – I'm ready for another one myself now!! =)

    Congratulations on your BQ – so exciting!!

  6. What an awesome race recap! I got so teary eyed for you and I have never even met you!!! =)

    Congrats on the BQ and great race to your husband and sister as well!

  7. You did it!!!!! Way to go, girl. Thanks for motivating me to press on. I want to be in the sub-3:35 club now too! Congrats again on a great race, Jess. You should be so proud of yourself.

  8. congratulations again! loved reading this report! I am thinking of signing up for my first marathon at age 43 with a very rebellious stomach…I will come back to read this again I am sure. Very happy for you.

  9. Sounds like you had quite an eventful day. What a great supporting crew you've got. Are they available to rent on race days? HAHA Btw, just a bit of a TMI on the 2nd Don Jon experience.. thanks for sharing. Most importantly, congrats on your achievement Jess!!

  10. I love this report… and I teared up at the end. 🙂 Congratulations to you, such an awesome journey with a happy ending! You earned this. And I'm so impressed that you pushed through despite tummy troubles, and still got your goal!

  11. Wow, what a great recap, and an even better race! I love that you didn't let a few “snags” get in your way of running a great race. Sometimes it really is about the mental space you decide to put yourself in. I too fret about every detail of a race to the point where it becomes ridiculous. I should remember that if I train and plan as smart as I can, it all should come together on race day regardless.

    Anyway, congratulations on a race well run!

  12. Love this post! I though about your drive while I was doing 1mile repeats on the track in Davidson, NC. See you inspire others all over the USA! Congrats! Tara O.

  13. Not just crying reading this…sobbing. Honestly. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the first part of this post (well I love the whole thing…) – I can totally relate to what you said about your children – nurturing, nursing, raising them – as being the most important thing in your life. Everything else pails in comparison and doesn't define who you ARE. I am so sorry you had such terrible stomach issues, but you are a fighter and I'm thrilled that you were able to push through and run some seriously fast miles.
    Congrats, again, Jess…on a fantastic race…but I had no doubt all along that you could do it. You trained hard. You put in the miles, the sweat, and the hard work. You deserved this. xoxo

  14. Oh that was an amazing recap! I definitely saw you come in because I watched all the first people and I remember you now that I see these photos. YOu are amazing! I don' tknow how you did it with a morning like that but I can only imagine how amazing it must have felt to conquer. Seriously, congratulations!!!!!!!

  15. BQ!BQ!BQ! Yay, you are such a huge inspiration! Wow that recap brought tears to my eyes. I am so darn happy for you, we all knew you had it in you. But the crazy part is… if you didn't have tummy issues you would have been even faster you speedy lady! And holy cow your time already was insanely fast 😉 I can't wait to hear about your next marathon journey! Congrats!!!

  16. YAY!!! SO happy for you and your big BQ! Boston 2013 is going to be awesome! 😉 I love your quote about enjoying the journey. So, so true. Enjoy this victory!

  17. So so so happy for you! I can't believe you had 2 bathroom stops yet ran such an amazing race. Way to not let anything get you down and to finish so strong. See you in Boston next year!!!!!!

  18. A truly amazing and inspiring race report. Congratulations on an awesome race, on overcoming everything including those stomach issues, AND on getting that coveted BQ! Awesome!!

  19. Congratulations!! I am so very happy for you. Seriously, my eyes are welling up now. Jess, reading your race recap and following your journey has been incredible. You inspire all of us not only to dream and believe in ourselves but to enjoy the journey along the way. Thank you for taking us along with you.

  20. Just wanted I needed before I head out on my run. A few tears here. 😉 thanks for sharing. You motivate me more then you know. Two bathroom stops in the race. I know how that goes. That's at least a minute or two on your time. Killer race and way to stay tough. I knew it was yours. Congratulations again, Jessica. You are amazing.

  21. You are one amazing woman, Jessica. Congrats on your BQ, on overcoming some tough mental/physical stuff, and for inspiring all of us!! thank you for this post. You are a rockstar!!

  22. Congratulations Jessica! This is such a wonderfully written recap and one that I'm sure you will enjoy looking back on. I have a feeling that being a BQ is just the beginning of lots of great things to come for you!

  23. I've had this marked to comment because I saw you! I was cheering on the side of the road right where your mile 26 picture was taken. CONGRATULATIONS!

  24. Wow what INSPIRATION ! You are truely amazing . What incredible positive energy you have and reading your blog just sends out so much of it . Thank you Jessica you make all my doubts disappear !

  25. Wow awesome job! My first marathon was last year, and I'm 23, and I also ran 5:21! My goal is to BQ one day but I feel like it's impossible with my current time but clearly it IS possible. How did you do it?! What kind of training do you do/do you run multiple marathons in a year?

    -Patty (

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