Every year in late October, roughly 30,000 runners descend on the District to run the Marine Corps Marathon.
It’s an event I used to find more of an inconvenience than something to celebrate; the extra traffic because of road closures and the jam-packed restaurants and sports bars — especially on an NFL Sunday — were a major nuisance. I was overweight and just wanted to watch football and eat my nachos and other greasy food in peace — not wait for a bunch of fit runners to clear out of the bar.
But since the summer of 2015, that perspective has all changed. I dropped 60 pounds and in the process became a runner. This year, I’m not dreading finding an open table at the restaurants or dealing with the traffic, because this year I am going to be one of the marathoners.
Since 2015, I have completed eight half-marathons (with another, the Navy-Air Force half, on tap for this Sunday) and a slew of 5K and 10K races. But marathon-running is a completely different animal. I tackled my first 26.2-mile race in January at the Walt Disney World Marathon in Orlando with a simple goal: to finish. I accomplished it with a less-than-spectacular time of 5 hours and 23 minutes, while stopping for a variety of photo opportunities with Disney characters.
The first 15 miles of the race were OK, but from mile 20 to the finish it was rough. My running friends Jennifer Benisek and Teresa Green really helped push me to the finish. I was running, but there was some serious foot-shuffling going on toward the end.
That race was the most challenging obstacle I have ever overcome, and as a sports writer it gave me a great perspective on what it feels like for an athlete to accomplish a goal. It also taught me lessons that I can use, both as a runner and a reporter.
As I devised my plan for running in the 42nd Marine Corps Marathon, I consulted my running coach — Lauren Cramer, owner of the personal training firm More Miles — about strategies to not only help me finish the race, but to conquer it. The biggest areas I needed to focus on were diet and cross-training.
Running 50 or more miles a week inevitably leads to insatiable hunger. During my Disney preparations, I would reward myself with big unhealthy meals because I ran so many miles. Often I didn’t end up with as much of a calorie deficit as I had planned and I paid for it, gaining 20 pounds during training. I wasn’t at my fittest even though I was doing all of the workouts, and I felt it on race day.
To properly fuel and prepare myself during this training cycle, I am focusing on a no-added-sugar diet, eliminating items with ingredients such as cane sugar, honey, stevia, agave and other similar items. Per my coach’s direction, however, I allow myself fuel gels to keep me going during long runs. In the process I shed those extra 20 pounds I put on preparing for Disney. In addition, I indulge in a whatever-I-want brunch on Sundays after my long runs of 16 to 22 miles.
Meanwhile, I’m taking cross-training much more seriously. During my Disney training I went to yoga at Corepower only sporadically — about once every two weeks. For the Marine Corps Marathon I have been going to the company’s Georgetown and Northern Virginia locations two to three times a week, working with terrific instructors like Laura Settle. It’s made a dramatic difference in my flexibility, and my legs have felt far less fatigued.
In addition to adding yoga to my routine, Cramer recommended strength training. That was something I always hated doing because I could never get my breathing quite right. That’s when one of my high school friends, Janet Tela, recommended I try classes at Madabolic in Arlington. At first it was intimidating with kettlebells, box jumps, boxing and battle rope workouts. I went into my first class and the instructor was Corbin Jennings, the Palisades resident who owns the business. It was the best workout I have ever been through — rotating among a variety of movements including deadlifts and squats, which left me feeling strong.
Over the course of my training, I have been running six days a week, while adding a yoga session or Madabolic class five days a week. The results have been incredible. I’ve been virtually injury-free (frantically knocks on all wooden things within arms’ reach), and I’m in the best shape of my life.
With five weeks to go before the big race, one thing has become abundantly clear — a marathon isn’t 26.2 miles. Rather, the race itself is just the last leg of a journey. The hundreds of miles that I have logged since I started training on June 4 (about 160 per month) and all the other things that go with the preparation are all part of the challenge.
On Oct. 22, I get to swap roles — going from being the scribe telling other people’s athletic stories, to writing my own. I hope to see you out there cheering with signs as I run with the Marines.