6

My experience as a trans woman at the Women’s March on Washington

"2017 not 1720" protest sign

I don’t know how much more room there is for takes on Saturday’s Women March (on Washington and elsewhere), as there have been plenty. Some of the best I’ve read have been from women of color—black and native, mostly—that have been thought-provoking and eye-opening. It’s interesting to read the different experiences and compare them to mine. It’s also important to listen to these experiences and adjust my feminism and activism to ensure inclusivity.

Where I was standing, I saw a number of trans-inclusive signs and Black Live Matter signs. There was a fair bit of intersectionality where I was, but this still was vastly outnumbered by the number of signs with uteruses on them. In general, the crowd was quite white. From what I could gather by looking around, most people here were new to protesting. I’m not an experienced protestor myself, but this wasn’t my first time.

While the organizers put together a diverse and inclusive lineup of speakers and performers, the crowd itself suffered from a lot of white feminism. I didn’t personally hear or witness anyone being actively malicious or saying anything problematic—though, I’ve seen a fair number of people who did—but it was also clear that inclusiveness and intersectionality were not concepts many of the people in attendance were familiar with or demonstrated. While this saddens me, it wasn’t the least bit surprising. A group of people this big is going to be far from ideal in many ways and problematic in more than a few.

What I want to touch on is my experience as a trans woman at a women’s march against a man who brags about sexual assault and grabbing women by the pussy.

I had only firmly decided on attending the march in DC a few weeks ago, after a friend of mine offered a place to park and sleeping arrangements for anyone whom I could fit in my car. So I loaded up my car with four coworkers and we made the drive down Friday night. I was prepared to make my voice heard and march. I wanted to be visible and take a stand as a woman, but I wanted to do so with my transness on display. I had planned to wear a rainbow headband and my “Real Live Trans Adult” shirt (which sadly stayed covered under my jacket the entire day).

On the way down, we tried to come up some things to write on the poster board we picked up at at Target on our way down. I wanted to make a sign that said “Black Lives Matter” on one side and “Trans Lives Matter” on the other. I also came up with “2017 not 1720” and “keep your tiny hands off my pussy.” We ended up getting down to my friends house just outside of DC nearly two hours after I had hoped and my one friend may have permanent bladder damage from holding his pee. We were exhausted and just went to bed instead of making our posters.

"2017 not 1720" protest sign

One side of my sign.

Come morning, I wrote my friend’s husband’s cell number on my arm in sharpie and pinned on my Planned Parenthood “don’t fuck with us, don’t fuck without us” button and got ready for some resisting. Making our signs was a last minute affair. I had asked my friend to make mine for me while I was getting dressed. She asked what I wanted on my sign and I quickly said “keep your tiny hands off my pussy.” We didn’t have time to be making multiple signs each so I went with that—and “2017 not 1720” on the back. To be honest, this was the tone I felt like I wanted to hit for the day. Generally, I would go for a something more serious and important to say, but that wasn’t the mood I felt. I felt sisterhood and solidarity. And for me, that’s what the day was ultimately about on a personal level.

Our resistance group

Our resistance group

Our group ended up being 10 people, I think. I’m probably forgetting someone here. Seven of us came from my friends house and the other three met up at the Metro. Of the ten of us, there were three men, six cis women, and one trans woman (me). Of the group, my sign was the only one that mentioned actual body parts. Ironic that it was the transgender woman who wrote “pussy” on her sign. For the record, our group’s best sign was my friend’s “Trump is obviously bad” sign.

Trump is obviously bad.

Trump is obviously bad.

Oh, and we were also handed “pussy power” pins by a couple random women when we got on the Metro. I proudly stuck mine on next to my aforementioned Planned Parenthood pin and the “Fuck Paul Ryan” pin I got from my friend.

The rally and march were a mostly fantastic experience, for me. I felt a part of the collective and never excluded. I felt empowered and I felt hopeful. I felt if that many people could show up to take a stand against this administration, that we might just have a shot at survival.

But!

Yes, there’s a but. The but is much the reason for this post in the first place.

For a trans woman, being in a crowd of women—or even just a small group—shouting about their pussies and uteruses can be a terribly exclusive experience. It’s an environment that says you’re not welcome because you don’t meet the prerequisites for membership. Even if you’re included as a woman on some level, language that equates womanhood to genitals can undo that. I’ve seen many trans women discussing this since Saturday’s march.

Before I continue, I want to be clear that what follows are my personal experience and feelings and they are mine alone. This should not be applied universally to all trans women.

Genitals have always been a tough subject for me. I rarely hated having a penis, but I certainly hated that I didn’t have a vagina. If those two things seem at odds with each other, think about it like this, what was difficult for me wasn’t what I had, it was what I didn’t have. I remember growing up wishing I had a literal detachable penis—even before the song came out.

When I transitioned, I felt different from other women because of my genitals, but my experience wasn’t one of exclusion. I attribute this to privilege and luck. I’m lucky enough to surround myself with inclusive and supportive women and live in one of the most progressive places in the country. Additionally, while I rarely try to hide my transness, I look enough like a cisgender woman that most other women seem to see me as one of them. I’m not seen or treated as an outsider. The only people who question that I’m a real woman are internet trolls.

This inclusion always eased my dysphoria around my genitals. It was there and I would feel it when I would look at other women or look at myself in the mirror, but it felt like an internal pressure rather than an external exclusion.

Last year, after years of going back and forth with myself about whether I should or even wanted to get surgery, I went ahead and just did it. Thanks to my privilege of having transgender inclusive health insurance, I was able to have a vagina. I’ve written much about this already and I’m due for a follow up as my vagina’s one year anniversary is coming up this weekend, but suffice to say that it’s been life-changing. It hasn’t fixed all that I struggle with, but it’s done a lot.

Now, this vagina did not come with a uterus. I do not have a period or menstrual cycle at all. I can’t get pregnant. But I do have a vagina and it’s done wonders for my internal feeling of adequacy as a woman. Despite gender not being defined by genitals, I feel like more of a woman. I want to note here that this is personal and how I feel about my body, it’s not something I would extend to anyone else.

It’s been a year with this vagina, but I’m still sort of obsessed with the idea that I have proper body parts now. I love my pussy because it is mine. However, when we talk about reproductive rights for women, I feel excluded because it’s really less a “woman’s issue” and more a “uterus-haver’s issue.” I wish we’d frame it a little better. Yet, at the same time, when we talk about people with vaginas, these feel like my people. I am a person with a vagina. I’m a vagina person now. When we heard those words “grab them by the pussy,” this didn’t feel abstract to me. I felt this personally. It could be my pussy that is being grabbed. This is a different viewpoint and framing than I previously had. My perspective changed when my anatomy changed.

So let’s get back to the march a little, shall we?

A lot of pink hats.

At the march, I proudly held my pussy sign up in the air. I was literally talking about my pussy. This was empowering as fuck to me. I could talk about my genitals and not be ashamed of them. I wasn’t that weird transsexual making jokes about her dick as a poor coping mechanism to hide how much she hated herself. I was a woman with a vagina proudly taking ownership of her vagina. This was a huge moment for me.

The pink pussy hats only made me feel excluded because I didn’t have one to wear myself.

As I looked around, I saw signs and shirts with uteruses on them and was reminded how much I wish I was a cis woman, that I was born put together properly. While the reality is I wouldn’t give up being trans for anything, I still struggle with the remaining ways in which my body is different. Women talking about their periods and uteruses is a reminder of that. But it’s a reminder that I can live with. My body is different, but I’m lucky to have people in my life who don’t make me feel excluded. I have a lot of privilege that allows me to feel included and only slightly different.

The reality for many trans women is different from this, though. Many—likely most—are excluded and treated as different. One group’s language of empowerment and reclamation can be the language of oppression to another. I don’t know where the exact line is between the two, especially given that it can vary from individual to individual. People with vaginas should be able to talk about their bodies and take ownership of them. However, at the same time, it is important to consider your overall message. Is your language equating your vagina to your womanhood? Does it exclude trans women? Does it exclude trans men? Does it exclude anyone? Does it ignore the oppression of women of color? Cis women, you are more than your vagina. Your existence goes beyond your vagina. Trump brags about grabbing women by the pussy and those of us with pussies should absolutely stand up and fight back against this, but we must remember that the fight is for equality and bodily autonomy for all women, trans people, and non-binary people.

5

2017 Walt Disney World Dopey Challenge – Marathon

This is the third post for the 2017 Dopey Challenge. Checkout my recap for the expo, 5k, and 10k here and the half marathon here.

Rocking that Dopey Challenge medal in Magic Kingdom!

The marathon! Not only is the marathon my favorite race distance, but the Walt Disney World Marathon is one of my favorite courses and easily the most magical of them all!

Pre-race stuff

I set out my clothes and got to bed nice and early for the marathon. I’m pretty sure that even with my 3:25am wake-up, I still got seven hours of sleep. Pretty good! I would have probably gotten even more if I didn’t spend forever the night before worrying about what to wear.

This year’s race was cold. Okay, not cold for someone who lives in New Jersey, but cold for a race in Florida. The starting temperature was around 38º with 15-20mph wind. At home, this isn’t really that bad. In fact, with a race temperature that was predicted to be around 40-44º for most of the race, this is just about perfect racing conditions to me. Minus that wind, of course.

But, this wasn’t home. I wasn’t just walking out my front door and taking off like I normally do when I run in the cold. I had to wait around in that cold for the race to start. This is bad enough for most races, but runDisney races are exceptionally bad with how long you have to wait before the race. First, you have to deal with taking a bus to the starting area which means waiting for that and leaving extra time, just in case. Then you have to walk close to half a mile from the bus to the staging area with the bag check. THEN it’s another 20ish-minute walk to the corrals. Add in leaving time to hit a porta-potty, meet up with friends, and get into the corrals before they close without having a close call—like I did for the 5k—and you’re talking 60-90 minutes of being outside before the race. Not bad when the weather is nice, but brutal when it’s cold.

After a lot of back and forth regarding shorts vs crop tights and short sleeves vs long sleeves and throwaway arm warmers vs real arm warmers, I opted for Oiselle Distance Shorts (basically my standard issue marathon shorts), my Chicago Marathon short sleeve shirt, and Oiselle lux arm warmers as my race outfit. Prior to the race, I kept on a pair of loose joggers, the cotton t-shirt from the Disney 5k, the Dopey Challenge long sleeve we got this year, and a couple mylar heat sheets (one as a skirt, one for my top).

The final outfit. Took a lot of stress to finalize on this.

When my alarm went off, I was surprisingly awake and ready to get up and go. I gobbled down a Clif bar and drank some water, but I was trying to be conservative with how much I drank. I know hydration is important even when it’s cold out, but I also knew I wouldn’t want to be dealing with hitting porta-potties any more than I needed to in the cold. I quickly got dressed and Ellen and I headed out to catch the bus. Luckily, there was one waiting for us and we were able to get right on without waiting out in the cold! The ride was quick and so was the walk to the staging area. There was only a short line to get through bag check. It was cold, but it didn’t yet feel super cold.

We hit up the standard We Are Awesome Runner Friends meeting spot and chatted it up with the group. Everyone was cold, especially Nathan who lives right near Disney and isn’t used to the cold at all. Our friend Lauren came by to visit for a minute so we could get our group photo, but then she went back to the heated VIP tent like some kinda jerk! *insert me pouting here*

Eventually, it was time to check our bags and move out. When I pulled my joggers off, I literally screamed as the cold touched my bare legs. It was not pleasant! I quickly got my mylar heat sheets all tied around me and dropped my bag off. The walk to the starting area was the standard runDisney affair and all I could think about was hours from then when I was nice and warm again. Though, I did question if I’d ever be warm again. We were lucky to find some short lines for the porta-potties and took care of business—I must say, this was a minor feat in itself with all of the heat sheets and layering to deal with.

I got into the corral with plenty of time to stand and wait around. I just did my best to stay huddled up with myself. For some reason, Disney put me in corral E which isn’t really where I belong. I hate saying that and sounding like I actually care or think it matters or compare myself to other runners (I really don’t), but I was corral C last year and the time I gave was within the corral C range (and faster than the one I gave for last year). Plus, I’m a 3:28 marathoner. Still, I didn’t care too much since I wasn’t planning on racing. In fact, starting in corral E probably matched up much more with my plan to run just around a 4-hour marathon.

2017 Walt Disney World Marathon starting line

Really hard to get a good selfie of the starting line here with this lighting.

Anyway, time flew by pretty quickly and it was time to go before I knew it! Which was good because I was violently shivering! While I had seriously debated if I could actually run while keeping the heat sheets tied around me, I ditched them as the corral before us got going. The announcers said they might interfere with the timing mat and I knew they’d just annoy my anyway. Some runners did start with them on though! They looked hilarious while actually running!

The first 10k

The corrals ahead of us went quickly and there were no mini waves so the corrals to off started with little delay between them. Amazingly, the moment I started running, I forgot about the cold and was totally fine. In fact, from race start to finish, the weather was a complete non-issue for me. It was basically perfect.

I started things off easy and focused on keeping myself steady. My plan to stay just under 4:00 meant my target pace was around 9:09.

I clocked in my first mile at 8:57. A tad faster than I planned, but not too shabby at all. The important thing was to just stay controlled in this first mile and set a good tone for the race going forward. Just past the first mile marker, I ripped my throwaway shirt off Hulk Hogan style. Just tore it right down the front like a total badass! We can ignore the fact that I had pre-cut the neck to make the hole bigger and easier to take off during my run.

Most of the way to Magic Kingdom was quiet and uneventful. I think runners were still pretty cold and the cheer sections on the highway were a less filled than normal. One thing I noticed was the lines for photos were really short. This was a trend that continued the entire race and, after the first two or three of them, they were never more than five or six people deep—most were like maybe one runner. This was shocking to me. It was cold out, which I suspect was a big reason for it, but with the half marathon having been canceled, I’d have expected Dopey and Goofy runners to be upping their photo game. I didn’t stop for any of these early photos myself, though.

As we passed the fourth mile marker, my pace was pretty steady. My legs were okay, but not as good as I would’ve liked (pretty sure I say this in every marathon recap I do). The section right around here is where the second big cheer section is (if you include the one on the highway going into the Magic Kingdom) and it was fantastic! The cold did not keep people from being out here and getting their NOISE on! It was such a nice surprise to see these amazing people out there.

Just after we sailed through this cheer section, I stopped at a bank of porta-potties for a quick pee-pee break. When I came out, I took a moment to take off my long sleeve top and neatly tie it around my waist nice and tight before I started running again. This made for a longer stop than planned, but it beat having to pull it off and tie it while running. It also meant less risk of losing a headband or something in the process.

Once I started moving again, I still felt like I had to pee. I felt this the entire race. I knew I didn’t have to, but I never stopped feeling like I had to pee. Ugh!

As we made our way past the 5th mile marker and into Magic Kingdom, I couldn’t believe how quickly it felt like this had come up. Main Street U.S.A. was packed and loud, just like always! So much excite! I didn’t stop for any selfies here like I usually do because I wanted to just focus on my running. But as we came through Tomorrowland, I saw Buzz Lightyear with only a short line waiting for him. I hopped in line and then he promptly walked away. WTF BUZZ! I decided not to wait for him, but I did see Patrick as I took off to leave again. Just a little ways up, I made up for it with a photo with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.

Tweedles!

Then it was through Fantasyland, both new and old, and Cinderella’s Castle—I stopped for a photo, of course. Coming through Frontierland, I stopped for a quick shot with one of the Country Bears and then got back into my rhythm as we passed the 10k marker.

This is an important photo!

A quick jamboree!

By this point, I had only taken water once. I knew it was important, but I didn’t want to risk spilling it all over my face or getting my gloves wet with the temperature where it was. I know my body and knew I went to bed hydrated so I kept my water breaks to about three throughout the course of the race. Instead, I used the water breaks to thank all of the volunteers for being out there.

I love this photo coming out of the castle.

Through the first 10k of the race, I had lost just about 3.5 minutes to my pee break and photos. Hardly anything for a Disney race!

10k to 13.1

The section between the two Kingdoms is always a tough part of the race. It’s nearly 10k and, unlike the section between Animal Kingdom and ESPN, you’re still early in the race and needing to stay controlled.

I stopped for a few photos along here with the characters that were out. There were no lines so it hardly cost me any time at all.

He’s big. He’s bad. And he’s a wolf.

My mile splits were a little erratic through this section of the course as I fought with my body wanting to pick it up a little and my brain knowing I shouldn’t, especially since my legs were feeling tired already. I was nice and warmed up and started pulling my arm warmers down. I wanted to pull them off completely, but I was afraid I’d need them after Animal Kingdom while on the highway with nothing blocking the wind—I tried to figure out which way the wind would be blowing there and thought it would be a headwind. My fear with pulling them off is that they’d be a pain to pull back on when I needed them again. So I just left them pulled down to my forearms.

I’ve never taken a photo with Genie before!

Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope!

Glitchin’ and wrecking’!

These guys!

These hippies replaced the RV hillbillies I love 🙁

There used to be a section of the course here that lapped around the Disney World Speedway, but the Speedway doesn’t exist anymore. Last year, there was a new out-and-back section added around mile 11. It was a boring stretch of plain road just to even out the miles a bit. This year, the out-and-back was in the same place but went out farther than last year. I wasn’t surprised by this when we hit it, though. I knew there would have to be some section to make up for the changes in Hollywood Studios caused by the construction of Star Wars Land (I really hope they don’t call it Star Wars Land when it’s done).

My first half splits. I had my watch in manual lapping mode and lapped it on each mile marker so this should be pretty on point.

The weird thing about this though was, from mile 11 on, all the mile markers were moved from where they previously were the last few years. It wasn’t a lot, but up until the 23rd one, they all came up a little sooner on the course than before. It was actually a nice surprise at times.

Anyway, the section between the two Kingdoms flew by way faster than it ever seemed to before. Maybe it’s my growing experience with this race (5th time running it), who knows? My only complaint here was the RV hillbillies that I always loved to take photos with were gone. Instead, they were replaced with a couple of hippies with an RV. Not the same!

Sadly, the animals that are typically out as you approach Animal Kingdom were MIA this year. My guess is it was just too cold for them. This was disappointing, but understandable! We made our way into Animal Kingdom and through Africa and Asia. Asia was nice this year with the construction fencing from last year being gone now.

We hit the halfway mark and I checked in with my watch. 1:59:22. Right on schedule! I knew most of my photo ops were behind me and I was picking it up so I wouldn’t have much trouble negative splitting if my untrained legs didn’t bonk.

Feeling good through the halfway point!

13.1 to 20

We came out of Animal Kingdom, passed the 14th mile marker, and then came around to one of my favorite photo stops, the graveyard! This year, I went for a zombie style photo, but it didn’t come out as well as I’d have liked.

Zombie Amy! Spooky!

Mile 15 came right up after that and the rest of these highway miles ticked off like nothing. Unfortunately, I didn’t see one of my other favorite photo ops, Phineas and Ferb, along this stretch where they typically are.

As we made the turn towards ESPN Wide World of Sports, I was feeling pretty good and my splits had dropped down in to the low 8s. As we entered into Wide World of Sports, I took my second gel. Typically, I take one every five miles, but I only ended up taking two this whole race. I just wasn’t really feeling like I’d need them.

Wide World of Sports has a ton of turns, but they’re not too bad if the course isn’t crowded and you’re not trying to PR. We did our lap around the track and then into the stadium with lots of energy. Heading into the stadium I passed Joy and Sadness! And there wasn’t a single person in line! I had to snatch that photo up!

Joy and Sadness from Inside Out

Joy and Sadness!!!!

Stadium lap.

I was feeling good as we crossed 20 miles, but I was starting to feel like I had to poop a little bit. I had done some mental math through this section and realized if I kept going as I was, a 3:45 finish was possible. It was going to be close, but I could push for it.

20 to 23

This is the last quiet section of the course and the section I consider to be the last part you have to worry about.

Coming out of Wide World of Sports, we hit a wall of wind in our faces. This was the only part of the race where the wind was even something I noticed, but it was stupid.

As we passed 21, I was starting to tire a lot, but that was probably more due to the fact that my pace dropped into the 7:40s for this whole section rather than stay steady where it was in the low 8s.

This section also features the last two hills of the course. The first of which is probably the worst one of the whole race. It’s really not that bad, but it’s a highway onramp so it’s banked and a big wide turn. This is the point of the race that I always think of as the “just gotta get past here” point.

After nearly a mile, we hit that second little hill which was smaller than I remembered. After that, we made our turn into Hollywood Studios! Nothing but fun from here on out!

Mile 24 to finish

As I mentioned above, the Hollywood Studios section was different this year because of the construction. This year, we entered over by Fantasmic…ish. The course followed some of the walkway between Sunset Blvd and where the amphitheater is and popped us out behind Tower of Terror where the ride lets you out. The park was open by now so you could have taken a quick detour to the Twilight Zone, if you wanted. From here, we ran down Sunset Blvd to Hollywood Blvd. This was actually a really cool change to the course. As much as I LOVE Streets of America (RIP), this might be even better.

After we got back onto Hollywood Blvd, the course was the same as ever. We exited by the front of the park and made our way over to the walkway along the river towards the Crescent Lake resorts and Epcot.

By this point, I was passing runners left and right, but I was ready for the race to be over. As we approached the Beach and Yacht Club, I started looking for Danielle who was cheering outside of our room. We spotted each other at the same time and as I flew on by, I yelled “I gotta poop!!!” at her. The people around her didn’t know how to handle this.

Second half splits. Picked it up quite a bit!

The section along Crescent Lake quickly ended and I was feeling exhausted, but powering through with what I had left in me. I really was trying to get under 3:45! Of course, the Boardwalk along the Beach and Yacht Club here is where the “you’re almost there!”s started. Oof. I must have heard it a dozen times before even getting into Epcot. Seriously, folks, don’t say this if the finish line isn’t within eyesight.

As we turned into the World Showcase, I knew the 25th mile marker was just on the other side of the UK Pavilion as we crossed into France. I lapped my watch for a 7:29 mile here and told myself it was just 1.2 to go.

The countries ticked off as we traveled around the world on our way to Mexico and then into Futureworld. The final bit. As we passed under Spaceship Earth, I looked for the 26th mile marker and lapped my watch for a 7:21. I was shocked I had just run my fastest mile of the day with how I was feeling for the last couple of miles.

Epcot Futureworld

Futureworld! So close!

We exited the park and there was the beautiful finish line staring me down. I heard my name called by the announcers and then sailed across the finish line.

3:43:29!

Post race

Last year, I dry-heaved at the finish and thought I was going to throw up for the last 10k. The year before, I thought I was going to shit my pants for the last 10k and thought it was all going to come out the moment I stopped running. This year, I didn’t feel either. I had to poop, but it wasn’t an emergency…yet. Whew!

I collected my marathon, Dopey, Goofy, and half marathon medals (runners of the challenges got their half medal here) and then stopped for some photos before hopping on a bus back to the resort. Now, my body has collected itself a little and that poop was ready to come out. I barely got back to the room in time. It was a real photo finish!

I look like a mess, but I’m pretty happy here.

Chip'n'Dale!

Chip’n’Dale!

After I got in the shower, I was dismayed to find out that I had forgotten to put Body Glide on my lower back to protect from my shorts’ waistband. Oiselle’s Distance Shorts are great for marathons because of their three pockets, but their waistband will fuck you up if you’re not careful. While I did put Body Glide on my thighs, I had also forgotten to do under my bra, but that somehow escaped unscathed.

That night, we met up with the We Are Awesome Runner Friends group at Whispering Canyon Cafe at the Wilderness Lodge where we pigged out on delicious food and PRed in milkshakes. And Lauren drank two liters of Diet Coke.

This is a lot of meat. Yikes!

It was Patrick’s birthday!

Final thoughts

I’m really, really happy with my time for this race. Not only was this a 16.5 minute course record for me, but I negative split by 15 minutes. And this is my second fastest marathon since transitioning. If I hadn’t run Chicago back in October, this would have been a PR.

I had a lot of fun with Dopey this year. While doing four races over four days that all start at 5:30am is stressful, these races are a lot of fun and really enjoyable.

First, you bite your pretzel…

…then you drink your beer!

Finally, one additional change that Disney made this year was to start using their own photographers for race photos. No more MarathonFoto. The great part about this is it enables you to add them to your Disney PhotoPass and they start showing up pretty quickly after the race. My guess is Disney is using a lot of facial recognition software here to pull this off, which also explains how I have some photos where you can’t see my bib at all. But the best part about this change is that Annual Passholders get their PhotoPass photos for free so FREE RACE PHOTOS!

Finally finally, I ran the entire Dopey Challenge, all 48.6 miles, with my phone in my hand. I don’t typically run with it and being an iPhone 7 Plus, it’s too big for any pockets so it had to stay in my hand. Anyway, it wasn’t an issue at all until two hours after the marathon when it fell out of my jacket pocket and the screen cracked. ACK!

Wait, one more finally! I really loved the medals from the races this year. The retro style of the marathon and half marathon medals was fantastic!

2017 Walt Disney World Dopey Challenge medals

These are good medals!

And when you’ve run 48.6 miles, you get as much ice cream as you want! Gimme that Dole Whip!

4

2017 Walt Disney World Dopey Challenge – DIY half marathon

This is post two of three for the 2017 Dopey Challenge. Checkout my recap for the expo, 5k, and 10k here.

No disappointment here!

So this was the weird day of this year’s Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. We’d been watching the weather all week and knew it was going to be rainy. I don’t mind running in the rain if it’s not too cold, but thunderstorms were in the forecast, which…is a problem. runDisney had been sending out tweets that they were monitoring the forecast and would make a decision accordingly. We all had our fingers crossed that the thunderstorms would miss us or the timing would work out.

Unfortunately, at around 7:30 on Friday night, runDisney put up a post on Facebook stating “out of an abundance of caution” they were deciding to cancel the half marathon. I was shocked. As far as I know, they’ve never had to cancel a race before and it felt really early to be making that call. I understood their decision, but I didn’t have to like it!

I was literally snapping this Flat Amy pic when I got the cancelation notification!

Everyone was bummed. Twitter and Facebook immediately went crazy with people reacting. In the end, runDisney made the right decision. They had to think of the fact that they wouldn’t be able to evacuate all of the runners from the course if there was lightning in the area and also about their volunteers setting up throughout the night. As it turned out, it did lightning in the area throughout the night and continued well into the morning. It was the right call.

I have to give runDisney a lot of credit for how generous they were. Runners were offered refunds in the form of Disney gift cards, park tickets, entry into another runDisney race, or the option to run the full marathon the next day. Surprisingly 1,500 runners took that option! Dopey and Goofy runners are getting automatic refunds via electronic gift cards. And everyone got/gets their medals.

Still, many of us came to run and I didn’t feel right taking a medal for a race I didn’t run or taking Dopey and Goofy medals when I didn’t do the full challenge. This where things actually started to get fun. People started making all kinds of plans to run on their own. Some woke up at the same time they would have otherwise, others opted for a little extra sleep first. At first, doing laps around resorts sounded like it was going to be kinda miserable, but I’m stubborn and wanted to take part.

The half was the one race Danielle was planning on running so she still wanted to run too. We slept into just a little since we could and then got out there for our own half marathon. We were staying at the Yacht Club which is one of the Crescent Lake resorts so pulling this off was really easy. We did laps around the Boardwalk and out and back to Hollywood Studios. Each lap was just about 2 miles and quite scenic.

Just doing our thing!

When we got outside, there were already a bunch of other runners and the number of them just kept increasing throughout our run. Many even had their bibs on! It was amazing and there was so much camaraderie among everyone. Having that many people out there running at the same time almost made it feel like it was still a race! Some people even came out to cheer! At other resorts, people started setting up water and aid stops for runners.

Throughout the run, there was lightning that we could see in the distance, but it was never right over us. The good thing about where we were running was we had shelter most of the way that we could have ducked into if we needed. The rain held out for most of our run until about ten miles in, but it was so humid and warm out that it felt great! At one point, we got a pretty decent downpour going and it was probably my favorite thing ever!

Figured that the day that was 70º in the morning was the day the race got canceled.

We ended up doing our DIY half marathon in 2:00:29 and finished right at the lighthouse with huge smiles on our faces! It was an incredible experience, possibly even more fun than the actual race would have been. I’m so glad we decided to go out there and do it. By the time we were done, I had a huge smile and zero disappointment about the race being canceled.

All done! We perfectly nailed it so we finished exactly here.

7

2017 Walt Disney World Dopey Challenge – pre-race, expo, 5k, and 10k

What better way to start off a new year than with a weekend full of racing in Disney? For the second year in a row, I ran the Dopey Challenge in Walt Disney World. It’s a 5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon over the course of four days. And it’s a fantastic and wild event! After last year, I said I wasn’t going to do it anymore. It wasn’t because of the running, it was the walking up at 3:30am four days in a row thing. Yet, here we are.

Training

My training was, as has been trend for the last few years, not great. I ran an amazing marathon in Chicago in October, but then have been plagued with near-injury stuff since then. I was able to keep just enough fitness through the last few months to feel confident going in that I’d be fine to finish, but not enough to be feeling good.

The longest run I’d done since Chicago was a 15-miler in early November. And then I DNSed both the Philly Half Marathon and Philly Marathon because of my ankle. Since then, my longest run was just 13 miles and my ankle has been hurting off and on.

Expo

Danielle and I woke up at balls o’clock in the morning for a flight down to Orlando on Wednesday. With all the early nights you have because of the races, you need to maximize your time down there so we always take an early flight. After we hopped off Disney’s Magical Express and checked in at the Yacht Club, we got right on a bus over to ESPN Wide World of Sports for the expo.

When we rolled up, it was a MADHOUSE! There were swarms of people and it was totally unorganized. The expo for Marathon Weekend is always a little crazy, but this was the worst we’d ever seen. The line just to get into the building to pick up our race bigs was queued back and forth on itself a few times. Luckily this went quickly. Unfortunately, the line to get into the Jostens Center, where the actual exhibitor booths and pick up for the half marathon shirts are was even worse. It wasn’t organized at all. For a place that deals heavily with queue management, Disney really didn’t do a good job here.

Once we finally got into the expo, we did a quick lap and then got the heck outta there. Though, on our way out, we did run into my friend Julie who wasn’t just running her first Dopey, but her first marathon ever!

5k

The morning started off with a 3:30am alarm that I wasn’t ready for at all. I just wanted to sleep forever. But I dragged myself out of bed and threw on the clothes I had laid out the night before. We were sharing a room with our friend Ellen who was also doing Dopey for the trip so her and I got our stuff together and headed off to the bus.

5k Flat Amy

The nice thing about the 5k and 10k is the start is a lot more sane than the other races. You start near where the pre-race staging area and bag check are, rather than a 15 minute walk away like the half marathon and marathon. This lets you get there a little later.

It was chilly out. Not so much by my standards for running, but for Florida. I still wore a tank top and shorts, but I’m used to being able to just walk out my door and start running, not having to wait around for and hour and a half before running.

Love these people!

We met up with a bunch of my friends from the We Are Awesome Runner Friends Facebook group and took the first of our group photos before heading off to the corrals. My friend Nathan and I waited too long to go into the A corral and almost didn’t make it. They were closing it off as we were walking up and then forced us run to catch up to the back of the corral, which had already been walked up to the starting line. It seemed unnecessary to make us run to catch up considering there was still 20 minutes before the start, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Anyway, I was fine with starting in the very back of the corral as I wanted to run nice and slow, but Nathan’s coach wanted him to tempo the race.

Disney World 5k starting line

The starting line

The 5k started with “mini waves” which is something I’ve never seen in a race before. Rather than just let each wave go, they broke them up into smaller groups. Part of the corral would go, then two minutes later, another part, and so on. Our corral was broken into three mini waves. It sounds confusing and awful, but it was actually really nice. We were spaced out a lot more on the course and the start-of-the-race stampede was greatly reduced.

So much happy

I kept things nice and easy. I had no desire to push myself hard right off the bat. At about the halfway point, right after we got into the World Showcase in Epcot, I caught up to my friend Jeff and we ended up running the rest of the race together while chatting it up about running and races.

Maybe a little exuberant for a 5k finish, but it’s Disney World!

I crossed the finish line right at 29:00 on the dot, grabbed my medal, and made my way over to the bus. The medals this year were surprisingly nice. In the past, the 5k medals were a rubbery plastic, but this year they were actually medal. A nice little surprise!

2017 Walt Disney World Marathon 5k medal

Quality medal!

10k

Friday morning started off much the same. We didn’t leave quite as early so we had less time to wait around. But there was a bus waiting for us when we walked outside so we still ended up at the starting area nice and early. We took another group pic and then we headed off to the corrals again. This time, we didn’t cut it as close with the closing of the corrals!

10k Flat Amy

Patrick was a playing card! No idea how he ran in that!

I had walked over to the corral with Nathan and Aimee from our group and we hung out in the back of the corral before the start. When the race started, we stuck together for the first two miles, while passing Jeff along the way. After that, I pulled back a little and let them go on ahead. Again, without the training under my belt for Dopey, I didn’t want to push it.

Classic Amy face!

More Classic Amy

Amelia Gapin and Pluto at 2017 Walt Disney World 10k

Pluto!

I kept things nice and comfortable and had some fun. The race was over before I even knew it! I kind of regret not stopping for many photos, but I was running nice and comfortably and just wanted to keep my rhythm. I cruised across the finish line with a 56:26.

After the race, I waited in a loooong line to get a photo with Dopey and then sprinted off to just barely make it on a bus before it pulled away.

All-in-all, the days 0-2 of the Dopey Challenge were relatively uneventful and low key. Not bad!

Amelia Gapin with Dopey

Hanging with Dopey!

2

2017 CJRRC Hangover 5k – 21:44

 

That new PR smile!

2016 is finally over and 2017 is here. Who knows what this year has in store for us, probably even worse things than 2016, but let’s just take it one day at a time. And the Central Jersey Road Runner Club’s 35th annual Hangover 5k is a good place to start.

This was my second time running this race, and despite it being on New Year’s Day, I like it a lot. You get a decent hoodie, there is hot chocolate at the end and the course is mostly in a park near my in-laws house so I’m pretty familiar with it. The race starts with 1 3/4 laps around the 0.8-mile loop in the park, then out on the local streets for less than a mile, and then back into the park for another full loop in the opposite direction. It’s flat and there aren’t too many turns. If you’re not hungover, you can do pretty well.

We took New Year’s Eve nice and easy last night so getting up this morning was a lot easier than three years ago. We started the night off with a couple beers at our favorite bar a few blocks from our house with a couple of our friends and then we all came back to our place for some games and snacks. None of us got more than buzzed and we got to sleep before 1:30. Thanks to a noon start time for the race, there was plenty of time to sleep in and be lazy for a bit before heading out.

The weather was great for a 5k today. 47º at race start. There was a decent wind elsewhere, but it was mostly calm in the park.

As far as my plan for the race, I just wanted to take it easy and not actually race it. With the Dopey Challenge coming up next weekend, this is the first of five races in eight days. No reason to push my legs hard.

We made our way to the start early and snagged a spot near the front, but not too far up. The race started right on time which is rare for small local races.

At the gun, Danielle took right off and left me behind. She’s “only” doing the half marathon in Disney World and isn’t looking to race it so she didn’t need to worry about anything. Not more than a few seconds later, my friend Sarah flew on by on the right with a quick “hey Amelia” as she blew by. She went on to take second place overall.

I started off much quicker than I wanted to, but I was barely keeping up with the people around me. My legs felt good, but I felt like I was breathing a bit hard already. We made the first lap around the park and then passed the one mile marker as my watch displayed a 6:57 for the first mile. Oops. That was a solid minute faster than I was planning on doing.

That’s when I said “ah, fuck it” and decided to keep at it. Despite crushing Chicago Marathon less than three months ago, I’m not in tip-top shape right now. Between dealing with some ankle tendonitis and keeping my effort level easier since I’m not “training,” I’m just not at my fastest. I felt like I was running just about as fast as I could probably hang onto for 3.1 miles, but I knew it wasn’t exactly the smartest idea.

I rounded out the rest of the second lap around the park feeling like I was working for it but still within reason. The section outside the park went by pretty quickly as I focused on getting to the second mile marker—I knew exactly where it was because we parked right by it. I passed by at 7:00 and told myself it was okay to let off the gas if I had to. At this point, I knew even if I really pulled it back, I’d be pretty happy with my time.

Once I made my way back into the park, I knew it was just one more 0.8-mile lap around the park and I’d be done. I decided to keep it steady and not give it anything extra. Dopey and all that.

With a little less than half a mile left, I saw Danielle up ahead. I was gaining on her very slowly, but didn’t make much effort to try to catch her. I was starting to get that end of race nausea thing I get sometimes so I knew I couldn’t push it anymore unless I wanted to risk dry-heaving. I spent the final third of a mile with her just barely ahead of me all the way to the finish.

I crossed the finish just as the clock said 21:44, a new PR by over a minute! I was 12th woman overall out of 367 and 4th in my age group. I would have placed in my age group, but Danielle’s 21:36 took 2nd and the woman between us was apparently in our age group as well.

For a race that was just supposed to be an easy three miles and my first 5k since this same race three years ago (if you exclude the Dopey Challenge 5k from last year), I was pretty happy to have a new PR. Of course, I’ll probably regret as I’m trudging through Dopey next weekend, but Future Amy will have to worry about that. For now, this is giving me a little motivation to work on the 5k a little this spring and see what I can do when I’m actually in shape to be running fast.

Not a bad start to 2017.

Not a bad hoodie!

6

The case of 2016

I’ve been putting off writing this all month, partially because I’ve been lazy and depressed since the election, but mostly because thinking about 2016 makes me feel weird and guilty. 2016 has been an awful hell year in almost every way imaginable. We lost celebrities and public figures who have inspired us and changed our lives. We lost scientific figures who made important discoveries. We elected Donald Trump as our next President after the worst election year pretty much any of us have been a live to see. North Carolina passed HB2. 2016 was a long year of terrible things and you couldn’t close your eyes for a second without something else terrible happening.

While all of this was happening in the world, 2016 was busy being one of the biggest years of my life, if not the biggest. I don’t know that I’d call it the best because it wasn’t at all easy, but it was certainly the most eventful and pivotal.

2016 started off with my first Dopey Challenge in Disney World. I’d previously done the Goofy Challenge three times so while it was just adding a 5k and 10k to the back-to-back half marathon and marathon weekend I’ve done before, it was still a fun challenge. Of the four Disney World marathons I’ve done, I think this one might have been the most fun. It was also my fastest time, not that I’ve ever raced a Disney marathon for time. Overall, how well this race went was a nice surprise considering it was following up a rough year of running in 2015.

Disney Marathon!

Look at all these medals!

Look at all these medals!

Not even three weeks after the Dopey Challenge, I underwent genital reconstruction surgery (or SRS or GCS or GRS or bottom surgery or any other of the dozens of terms trans people can’t agree on to call this surgery). This is a major surgery and I don’t think I could possibly overstate anything about how big of a deal it was. Of everything in my 33 years on this planet, the only thing more life-changing than this was transitioning itself. This was physically painful in ways I can’t describe and terrifying beyond anything else I’ve ever experienced.

About 90 minutes after waking up from surgery

While 11 months later, the swelling still hasn’t fully gone down, this surgery has already had a profoundly positive effect on my life. Recovery was hell and there were major points of depression and borderline regret for a while as I dealt with large amounts of granulation, but I couldn’t be happier with my decision. My body feels more like mine than it ever has before. My gender dysphoria isn’t gone entirely, but it has been greatly reduced. In addition to how it’s made me feel, it’s also made life easier in many regards. The simple act of picking out clothes to wear and getting dressed no longer requires thinking about how to hide my junk. I can put on running tights or wear leggings as pants without worry. My jeans fit better. I can wear a fucking bathing suit without epic levels of stress.

Of course, most of this year was made many times harder because of the recovery from this surgery. I also spent much of this year being more isolated and holed up at home because it, as well. My dilation schedule frequently meant making it an earlier and more sober night than I otherwise would have. This is something I’ve still not fully reverted back from. In a way, it seems like this is my new normal, that I’ve changed. I’m less interested in being out late and I’m less interested in being drunk or even buzzed than I used to be. I spend less time with friends. Despite this, it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.

Dealing with just the surgery recovery would have been enough to keep me busy, but that was only part of what I had going on in the first half of this year.

The non-profit startup I co-founded launched in May. MyTransHealth was a project I started in the fall of 2014 and worked hard to bring to life. Our launch was the culmination of a very successful Kickstarter campaign and thousands of hours of work I put in through 2015 and the first half of 2016 (I mean, we all put in a lot of work, but this is a post about my year). The final months of work for MyTransHealth were put in while juggling intense post-surgery granulation pain and being hopped up on painkillers, but I learned a lot about myself and my dedication to something I care about. It was a level of work I didn’t know I had in me. I learned I’m stronger than I thought I was. And, on top of that, I built something that I’m extremely proud of.

The flip side of MyTransHealth is that it also ruined a very good friendship of mine. It hurt to lose this friend and I’m still working through the feelings associated with that. And just as importantly as losing that friendship, I’m also no longer involved with MyTransHealth. Leaving the organization hurt just as much as losing the friendship did, but…well, it is what it is.

While the finishing touches to MyTransHealth were being put together, I was approached by Women’s Running to be on the friggin’ cover of their July issue. Some of you are aware that I was a finalist in their annual cover contest in 2015 and lost so it was amazing to have the opportunity to be on their cover outside of a contest. This was not an easy decision to make. Being a focus of the cover story on the issue, I know that made me a logical choice for the cover, but it was a lot of attention to invite on myself. I’m no a stranger to attention, but this was a whole new level for me. And it wasn’t just being on the cover, it was also being the first openly trans person on the cover of any fitness magazine. This added even more attention.

IT ME!!!!

As we all know, I did say yes. Less than a week after the launch of MyTransHealth, I had my photoshoot with them and that itself was its own experience. It was wonderful and the issue turned out great. I couldn’t have been more proud to see myself on the cover. While the first few days after the issue hit were an intense ride of media stories about me, things quickly settled down after a couple weeks and I got back to normal life. I was proud of the cover, but at the same time intense levels of attention make me extremely awkward. All I wanted was for no one to recognize me in public. Lucky for me, they didn’t. But the most amazing part was all of the people who reached out to me to tell me how important this was for them and the hope that it gave them. It’s weird to be called an inspiration and I’ve never wanted to be called a role model, but knowing I’ve had a positive effect on so many people’s lives is greatly important to me. I take this seriously and I know the responsibility that comes with it. I do my best to respect that and it’s something that has given me strength through the tough things in my life.

Whaaaaaa???

At over 1,200 words, that just about covers 2016…the first six months.

Come on, you already know I get a little wordy around these parts.

With the Women’s Running cover landing at the end of June, the first half of 2016 was pretty intense and wildly busy. Going into the second half, honestly, all I wanted was a little bit of a rest. I wanted to finish recovering from surgery and I wanted some relaxation. Most of all, I wanted to focus on training for my first marathon post-surgery.

For the most part, that’s how I spent summer and early fall, training for Chicago. I didn’t enter training in the shape I was hoping to be in, but I was within where I had expected to be after a major surgery. I knew just running a fall marathon at all wasn’t a given so I was happy to even be able to train. But training went beyond swimmingly. Much better than I could have imagined it’d go. I went from starting training with a “we’ll see how it goes, but it’d be super rad to snag a small PR” attitude to wrapping up with “fuck it, I’m going for a huge PR and Boston qualifying time.”

The race itself went better than I could have imagined and I ran a nearly flawless race. Not only did I get an 11-minute BQ, but I I also snagged a 16-minute PR. I ran more than a minute faster than my time goal for the last three years—the time I did everything to work towards for New Jersey Marathon 2014 and Grandma’s Marathon 2015 and failed to get. A sub-3:30 marathon had been my running goal since I started transition years ago and I finally got it. And even more importantly than that, after five and a half years of caring more about qualifying for Boston than pretty much anything else in my life, I did that too. I got that 🦄! This wasn’t just my most important running goal, it was one of my most important life goals period. And the truth is, it was possibly my biggest reason for going ahead with having surgery in the first place. To have that pay off so quickly was the nicest surprise I could have ever expected this year.

Amelia Gapin with 2016 Chicago Marathon medal in Grant Park

Oh, yes, look at that smile!

So that was the big stuff in 2016. And it’s a lot of big stuff. But 2016 was also the year I become comfortable enough with my body to run in just a sports bra and shorts or even just wear a bikini. It was my year of body positivity. And, despite not being able to run consistently for the first five months of the year, I still racked up 1,150 miles and scored a new half marathon PR. And my Twitter account got verified.

Running a new half marathon PR in just a sports bra!

Me and Tamar at the Tumblr beach trip!

It was quite the year, to say the least.

Anyway, I kept the second half of the year a lot more sane than the first—like I had hoped—but the reality about 2016 is that none of it has been sane. This has been the year from hell. I know years are mostly just arbitrary markers of time that humans use and we’ve collectively treated 2016 as a sentient being while, in reality, years are an utterly meaningless concept in the universe. But, here’s the thing, we use years as a way to mark time and group things together. People don’t die because of a year and, with the exception of the weather and astronomical events, things that do happen based on the calendar are human constructs. Sure. Absolutely. But we still live by the calendar. We plan by these numbers we assign to the Earth’s position around the Sun. It’s a natural way for use to group things and break our lives down into smaller subdivisions.

And as far as these arbitrary subdivisions go, the one labeled 2016 has been exceptionally difficult. I won’t deny there is, of course, some level of confirmation bias going on and every time something bad happens, it seems to confirm our feelings rather than simply existing in our minds as another unrelated event. Yet these things add up. And in the case of politics and the world outside of celebrity deaths and such, these things are frequently interconnected. They build on and influence each other.

Much of 2016 was dominated by the election. It was brutal and it put on display just how ugly our world can be. How divided humanity is. It’s terrifying, to be honest. 2016 has eroded our democracy and set forth a wrecking ball that will affect our lives for decades to come. Looking ahead to 2017, it’s hard to see a place for people like me. Many members of marginalized groups won’t survive because of what we’ve done this year. LGBT people, black people, Muslims, Jews, and women are all at major risk because of decisions made in 2016. Looking out beyond just 2017, it’s very difficult to see a way in which America’s hyperpartisanship can be healed. For many of us, it’s much easier to see a second American Civil War (this isn’t necessarily my personal prediction, but the way things look and feel).

Obviously, all of the things that have led us down this path towards major war sequels didn’t just come about in 2016. They’ve been there for a long time. Some lying dormant and some, such as racism, existing to various degrees for hundreds of years. But 2016 is when they all bubbled to the surface in ways humanity hasn’t seen in a (relatively) long time. Whether it’s World War III, Cold War II, or Civil War II, it seems quite likely that years—decades—from now we’ll look back on 2016 as being the turning point, the year that it all just started to go to shit.

Basically 2016

Now, that’s a bit of a tangent to go off on in a post that I wanted to write focused on my 2016, but it’s important. 2016 hasn’t been exclusively bad, but it has been a year of garbage all over the place. What I’ve been struggling with for months now is how to reconcile it all. 2016 has been an amazing year for me personally in so many ways, but it’s also been awful in the world. These two things absolutely don’t have to be mutually exclusive and can both be true, but it’s still difficult to come to terms with how to feel about 2016. At best, my feelings are complex and complicated. I am incredibly grateful, happy, and proud of these things from my personal life, but I am heartbroken, enraged, and disgusted by the world around us. These things in my personal life have opened doors for my future. I can now focus on new running goals. I can help more trans people get through their transitions. I can simply live my life more easily. Yet, at the same time, things in 2016 will mean many doors will close in 2017. I won’t be able to live my life as openly and safely as a trans person. There will be more transphobia, homophobia, and misogyny to deal with, in addition to the racism, islamophobia, anti-semitism, and other forms of bigotry (and fascism and white nationalism) that will become even more overt in our country and around the world. The progress we’ve made over the last eight years will be eroded away. It’s quite a dichotomy to try to reason about and accept.

Ultimately, I’m taking these positive and amazing things from my life in 2016 and walking away with my head held high because of them. They can’t be taken from me. And at the same time, I am moving forward with sadness for all the people we’ve lost this year who have had a positive effect on the world and changed it for the better. I am also going forward angry and charged for a new, but more difficult, fight for our rights and our future.

2017 will, almost without a doubt, be worse than 2016, but we don’t have to lie down and accept that quietly. We can stand up and keep on fighting. 2017 may be even worse than 2016, but that doesn’t mean this has to be a thing we’ll say every year going forward. We can put in the work to make this not being the darkest timeline, but just a dark spot in an otherwise brightening timeline. And along the way, we can accept that good and bad things can happen simultaneously. We can accept and enjoy the good while lamenting and fighting against the bad. Life and the world are weird like that and the balance between good and bad things isn’t a constant. It’s a pendulum that swings back and forth.

So, finally, thank you for the good things you gave me, 2016, but mostly fuck you.

PS: If you’re one of those people who come to my blog to leave antagonistic comments or you feel you have something you just have to say in contradiction to my feelings about politics, either specifically related to 2016 or more generally, don’t. Just move along.

3

One weekend, two DNSes

Two races. I DNSed two races this weekend. I’m not too happy about it either.

Back in July, I started kicking around the idea of doing a second fall marathon this year. I didn’t want to commit to it at the time, but it was an idea I had in the back of my head. I figured there’d be two circumstances in which I would actually do it. The first was if I didn’t like how training was going for Chicago Marathon and wanted to push my goal race back. I would run Chicago easy as a training run and then focus on the second marathon as my goal race. The second scenario was if and my recovery both went well.

Enter Philadelphia Marathon.

I ran Philly in 2011 as my first marathon. It was a great experience and it’s less than two hours away. The great thing about Philly is registration stays open until 11/1, less than three weeks before the race. And it rarely, if ever, sells out. It’s perfect for a last minute marathon! This sounded great to me. I could wait and see how Chicago recovery went for three weeks and then make a decision. Even better, they moved the half marathon to the day before the marathon for the first time this year—rather than running both races together, as they always have in the past. This opened up the option of doing the Rocky Challenge, both the marathon and the half marathon. I really liked this idea, to be honest. I’ve done Goofy Challenge three times and Dopey Challenge once (I’m doing it a second time in January) so I’m no stranger to running a half marathon and marathon on back-to-back days. Anyway, I went ahead and booked a hotel room for the weekend in Philly just so I’d be covered. It was a refundable room so there was no risk to do so.

As we all know, Chicago went fucking amazingly. I didn’t go into it perfectly healthy, but recovery went well enough and, after a lot of back-and-forth, I decided to go for it. And by “it,” I mean the Rocky Challenge. I registered on Halloween.

The next couple weeks went okay. Running wasn’t going as well as I would’ve liked, but it wasn’t anything I was worried about either. Then, all of a sudden, I woke up last Sunday morning and my left ankle and arch hurt like hell. Walking hurt. WTF! I know from experience that pain in my foot and ankle is almost always due to tight calves so I went to work trying to loosen them up. I went to my scheduled physical therapy appointment and her focus on down there. I only did one three-mile run during the week and it didn’t feel great. I was not happy.

In reality, I likely didn’t do anything to cause it. However, since the election, I’ve been tense. Just stressed and tense like all hell. The kind where your whole body is constantly clenched. My teeth have been tightly clenched 24/7 since the 8th. I just can’t seem to get it out. I could feel this tenseness and tightness in my runs. I never felt like I was loosening up. And I especially felt it in my 13-miler the day before the pain started. This was the likely cause of the pain.

So I went into the weekend playing it by ear. Friday night, I decided I would run the half and I set out all my stuff for the race. While the marathon was more important to me, the half felt like a way to at least make sure I salvaged something from the weekend. When I woke up Saturday morning, I went through my routine of getting ready for the race. As I was about to head out the door to the start, things just didn’t feel right. My foot didn’t feel right and the decision to run felt wrong. I decided to take the DNS and try again the next day for the marathon. I got back in bed.

After another couple hours of sleep, I got back up and jogged the .9 miles to the starting line with the wife for the 8k (her race for the weekend). My foot felt kinda eh. I could have gone either way with it. I still didn’t know what to do. The rest of the day continued like this. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either.

Come 8pm, I had to decide what I was going to do. I knew I could go out there and run the race and likely finish. But at what cost? Was it worth turning this into a full-on injury? Risking Dopey and being miserable in Disney because of it? Honestly, it wasn’t. And I knew that. Plus, the weather was a major factor. For the half marathon, it was amazing weather—calm wind and nice temps. But overnight, everything changed. The temperature dropped into the mid to upper 30s and the wind kicked up to 20mph—and was predicted to get much worse from there during the race. Oof. If I ran, it wouldn’t be pleasant. Was this really a race experience I was worth taking the risk for? What if I did have to DNF out there in the cold? Ugh.

I decided to take another DNS. This was the smart decision. But I was disappointed. I’ve been intensely depressed since the election and this really drove me deeper into it. Not to mention how pissed I was about the money. I was pissed I even registered for both races and paid for the hotel for the weekend. It was a $1,000 I didn’t really need to waste.

And, of course, I woke up in the morning and my ankle felt okay. Good enough to run a marathon on, I thought.

In the end, the weekend wasn’t a complete loss. We met up with a ton of friends we hadn’t seen in a while and ate at a bunch of great restaurants. It’s just never fun to DNS a race. And it’s even less fun to DNS two races in the same weekend.

Life goes on. I’m bummed, but I’ll live. It wasn’t a goal race, it was only ever just a cherry on top.

7

How did I run a nearly flawless race?

The me in this photo was expecting pretty much the opposite kind of race performance.

The me in this photo was expecting pretty much the opposite kind of race performance.

It’s been a week and a half now since my nearly-flawless marathon in Chicago and I’m still trying to put together what I take away from this race. I’ve always been of the mindset that there’s much more to learn from failure than from success, but this race feels like the exception to the rule, for me. I want to analyze every bit of it and pick out what I did right and make it a part of my marathon training, planning, routine, and strategy going forward.

Two and a half years ago, I ran a personal worst at the New Jersey Marathon—if you exclude the Disney World Marathon and only look at races I’ve raced. To this day, I’ve never toed the starting line of a race more prepared or with more training miles under my belt—I even crushed a 20k five weeks before the race in a nearly exact mirror of my half marathon from three weeks before Chicago. Unfortunately, everything went wrong on race day. Weather was 30-50º warmer than nearly all of my training miles. It was windy as heck that day—the pacers all finished with their little flag sticks broken from it. I felt both dehydrated and uneasy to my stomach from the start. My legs just were not into the idea of running goal pace miles. And I all-around had no energy.

At the time, I chalked this up to overtraining. I assumed I just pushed too hard in training and burned myself out. My second peak week and both taper weeks were a pretty accurate precursor to race day, which felt like further evidence of overtraining. I spent the remainder of 2014 struggling through my running. Every run felt just like the crappiness of New Jersey. It exacerbated my slip into a months long bout with depression that year.

The following spring, I decided I wanted to run Grandma’s Marathon and made adjustments to my training plan to try to avoid the overtraining. Training went well for the first eleven or twelve weeks. Then I started feeling as I had the year before. Things feel apart. I felt like shit while running again. I started struggling through runs and I had zero energy. Two weeks before the race, I decided to DNS. I wasn’t where I wanted to be and I didn’t have the guts to fight it out on race day. A year and a half later, I’m now regretting that decision. I had good reason at the time and even thought I might have been developing an overuse injury. I don’t think I was. I should have raced instead of cheering through tears.

After that failure, I made a visit to my doctor to try to find the root cause of my problems. I had my theories as to why my energy levels kept crashing to zero and getting in the way of my running, but I needed blood work to confirm. It turned out that my hypothesis, which my doctor agreed with, was wrong. I actually had a severe vitamin D deficiency. Not to mention my testosterone was practically zero, but that was of no surprise. I started taking supplements, changed up my hormones, and lowered my testosterone blocker dosage.

A few months later, running started feeling good again, but it was too late to race another marathon before my surgery. So I had to go into surgery having started running well again and knowing I’d be out for at least six weeks.

When I was finally ready to start marathon training again, I wasn’t anywhere near where I wanted to be. I hadn’t been running consistently again after surgery long enough to build my base to where it normally is before I needed to switch gears into actual training mode for Chicago. I made a very non-aggressive training plan and set aside my hopes of a BQ and big PR. I was a little disappointed, but I knew going into surgery that this was the most likely outcome.

Much to my surprise, training quickly fell right into place and I started nailing my runs. I hadn’t planned any speed work into my plan on purpose, but I was destroying my mid-week long runs of 8-10 miles. Each became an unplanned tempo run and each was faster than the week before. I started setting unofficial 5k and 10k PRs during them. I felt unstoppable. These runs were fast. The fastest miles I’d run since I transitioned. I kept waiting for training to fall apart because it just felt too good to be true. I got my testosterone level checked, 100% expecting it to be higher than when I was still on blockers. It had to be.

It wasn’t.

So that theory went out the window.

Throughout training, faster and faster times kept feeling easier and easier. I started struggling to keep my pace at 8:00. I was feeling very comfortable 7:30-7:45 and I run by effort so that’s what I ran at. Additionally, my heart rate was the lowest I’ve seen it seen I started tracking it.

On the flip side, a couple of my long runs were busts and my overall mileage was the lowest it’d been for marathon training in years. In my head, I was focused on the number of miles and seeing that as what would be my undoing. What I kept consciously dismissing was how many of the miles that I did do were significantly under goal marathon pace.

Here’s where I’ll mention that by week eight, I secretly changed my goal from “just have a good race and stay healthy, spring will be a BQ attempt” to “fuck everything, I’m going all in for that mythical 3:30 time I really want.”

Three weeks before Chicago, I kicked ass at the Newport Liberty Half Marathon. It wasn’t the best race day execution I’ve ever had, but my time was solid and perfectly in line with a 3:30 marathon. Unfortunately, that was the last good run I had until the marathon. Based on this race alone, I was ready to go for it in Chicago. Based on the three weeks between this race and Chicago, I doubted my ability to even make it through the race uninjured.

So that was everything leading up to the race. What was it that got me there?

After analyzing as much of the race as I can, I’m giving credit to all those fast miles I kept throwing down.

It’s, what I’m calling, the Disney effect. Over the last five years, I’ve done the Goofy Challenge (half marathon and marathon on back-to-back days) three times and Dopey Challenge (5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon over four days) once. Each year, I go into these races woefully unprepared. The last two years, I had zero business running a marathon at all, let alone one after doing other races. But each year, feel fucking fantastic. I negative split and I have tons left in the tank by the finish line. The reason it works out is I run these races much slower than I typically run my miles. I run them for fun, I don’t care about time. I try very hard to run as slow as I can. Even though my legs don’t have the miles on them, they are never working very hard during the race. They’re running easy and aren’t fatiguing quickly.

This was also the case in Chicago. Sure, I was running much faster than Disney (31 minutes faster than my fastest Disney Marathon), but I was running much slower than a very large amount of my training miles. The pace didn’t tax my legs the way other marathons I’ve raced do. This allowed me to keep my goal pace while not depleting the tank in the first half to two-thirds of the race.

Sure, I could probably have ran the last few miles even faster with more training miles under my belt, but let’s be honest, I can’t complain about anything here.

Now, of course, this isn’t the only story. Your training doesn’t make for a great race. There were assists along the way. A great race takes planning, hard work, discipline, confidence, and luck.

The leg pain I had during taper, while robbing me of my last long run, meant I got plenty of rest and toed the line with very fresh legs. And more than just the rest, but it made me go to physical therapy three times in two weeks to get my legs massaged and it forced me to actually thoroughly foam roll every day. It was like a blessing in disguise.

Another big factor was being free of my testosterone blocker. I knew the side-effects for it held me back a little, but it wasn’t until it was out of my system that I felt just how much it was. The only positive side-effect from my blocker was the extra potassium in my body, but the loss of that wasn’t as noticeable as I expected it to be.

I also think I nailed my carbo-loading. Maybe not nailed, but I ate a lot of carbs and really focused on making sure that’s where my calories were coming from in the three days before the race. While this is sort of a hard thing to measure, the fact that I had plenty of energy through all 26.2 miles is likely a good indication.

Additionally, I focused on my race plan and stuck to it. I mentally broke up the race into small, manageable chunks. I took it one bit at a time and never let the weight of “oh my god, there are still X miles left” get to me. My first mile was too fast when you look at the time, but was exactly right in terms of the effort and feel. After that, I repeated my plan and strategy over and over in my head during the race. I mean, it was pretty constant. I kept that focus strong. it kept me from getting stupid. Even when I wanted to push a little extra in the middle miles, I listened to the smart voice in my head telling me to hold it back and save it for later. I took my gels throughout the race and I took water at every stop in the first half. I only stopped taking water when I was 100% confident in my hydration level being good for the rest of the race. And that’s something I was only able to do because I know my body and I know my hydration. Training through a hot summer was invaluable here.

And finally, there were all the other things that just went right. I pooped race morning, which I never do. I had good hydration. The weather was fantastic.—cool with only a slight wind and no rain. I timed my morning perfectly to minimize the amount of time I spent standing around on my feet waiting for the race to start. It was a flat course with great crowd support. And there was a big cheer section of people I know literally exactly when I needed it. I really can’t overstate how much that boosted me going into the last 15k. It was like a short of adrenaline that lasted and lasted.

When everything goes right on race day, it’s easy to have a good race and that’s what happened. But a lot of those little things that all add up aren’t things you can control. So the takeaway here is the training and the focus on my race plan. My mindset for the last four years that I need to be putting in more miles to race better was flawed. It’s not about the number of miles. It’s about the quality. Sure, your body needs to build the endurance to go the distance, but quality over quantity. I don’t mean to say I didn’t run quality miles before, but the pace of my runs was always second to the distance in past training cycles.

Going forward, yes, I want to run more miles than I did this time. But I’m going to stop making the quantity the end-all be-all of training.

(I’m on the right in the video below. You can see the moment I realized my time at about 5 seconds in.)

12

2016 Chicago Marathon – 3:28:41

Amelia Gapin with 2016 Chicago Marathon medal in Grant Park

Oh, yes, look at that smile!

Marathon number nine is in the books! And it was fan-fucking-tastic! I would go so far as to describe this as not just my best marathon, but my best race ever.

Pre-race

The plan after getting to Chicago was to hit up the expo and then take it mostly easy though the rest of Friday and Saturday. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on my feet. I just wanted to rest my legs and keep them fresh.

Amelia Gapin at 2016 Chicago Marathon race expo

Got my bib!

The expo was the typical big race expo affair, but we were lucky to get there early enough on Friday that it wasn’t completely insane yet. We did a lap, grabbed some free samples, and I met up with my friend Heather for a few minutes. After that, we chilled at our hotel until it was time for the Oiselle meetup. And that was about it for Friday.

Amelia Gapin at the Bean

Wife and I at The Bean on our shakeout run.

Saturday was even more laid back. I went for a two-mile shakeout run with the wife which we ended at breakfast. I had considered going to one of the many group shakeout runs, but ended up skipping them all. The one with Meb was the one I really wanted to go to, but it filled up before I signed up. And when I woke up on Saturday, I opted for a little extra sleep over going to Bart Yasso’s run, which was also a mile longer than I had wanted to do.

Flat Amy 2016 Chicago Marathon

The obligatory Flat Amy pic of my race clothes laid out the night before.

After breakfast, we stopped by Target to buy some throwaway clothes—I didn’t have any at home, nor the luggage space to carry them if I did—and then relaxed until our delicious, and early af, dinner at Italian Village. Then it was an hour or so of foam rolling my legs before getting in bed! I got to bed by 9:15 which was 👌 for my 5:30 wakeup.

 

Race morning

I woke up easily and felt well-rested and ready to go. I scarfed down a Dunkin Donuts savory donut bagel and then I had to 💩! I never 💩 on race morning, but I considered this a good omen. One less thing to worry about in those late miles. Not that I often have to 💩 during races, but it has happened before. I had just enough time to get dressed and get my stuff together to head out of the hotel right according to plan.

Amelia Gapin pre-2016 Chicago Marathon

Dressed and ready!

The weather was basically perfect. Low 50s, hardly any wind, sunny. I knew it’d get a little warmer later on and I tend to prefer racing in the low to mid 40s, but I knew the weather was going to be a non-issue. Another good sign for the day!

I walked to the start, checked my bag, and got in line for a porta potty. I was feeling okay. No nerves. More calm and relaxed than normal. Before checking my bag with my phone in it, I sent a quick text off to the wife to let her know I’d be radio silence until I saw her at mile 17. She said “you got this” and I, without even thinking, said “I do have this.” And I believed it. I felt confident for the first time in two weeks.

This was when I knew it was going to be my day.

This was when I knew it was going to be my day.

The porta potty lines were long and I got out with just a few minutes before the corrals closed. I pulled off my throwaway sweatpants, dumped my hoodie, and made my way over. The corral was packed and I entered from the back. But I knew my goal and race plan had me running much faster than almost everyone in my corral (based on the way the corrals were broken out by previous finish times). I slowly worked my way up to the front, but it was tough. There was little room to get through, but I knew that’s where I belonged and needed to be. I knew starting in the front would help me have a more controlled start because I wouldn’t be fighting to get around other runners. I’d have some space to run my own race.

Sun just starting to come up.

Sun just starting to come up.

I finally got all the way up to the second row of people just as the corral before us was sent on their way. I ripped off my makeshift tube sock arm warmers, reminded myself of my race plan, and told myself, again, that I had this.

Miles 0 – 7.5

Once our corral got going, I stayed calm. I had a lot of adrenaline, but I repeated over and over in my head “stay slow, take it easy.” I had switched my Garmin to manual lapping so I could have accurate splits and really be able to assess how I was doing throughout the race without having to worry about the typical GPS inaccuracy. I made it my personal mission to not look at anything on my Garmin except each split on the mile. That was it, besides the occasional heart rate checkin on my Apple Watch.

Throughout mile one I felt great. Easy and relaxed. I felt like I was running slow. I know, you’ve heard this before. When I got to mile one, I saw a 7:48 and panicked for a minute. “Shit! I was supposed to run around 8:20! Did I just blow my whole race?EVERY TIME, AMY!” But I quickly pulled it together and eased back a little. It’s a long race, I could recover. Plus, I felt like I was supposed to in that mile and I was running this race by feel.

My heart rate was quite high, in the mid-170s, for the first mile, but I didn’t feel it. I was totally confident in chalking that up to race start adrenaline.

Miles two and three ticked off uneventfully as I eased myself in. Almost got taken out by a few spectators crossing the course a few times, but that was an issue multiple times throughout the race.

The first 3-4 miles of this race are loud with strong crowd support, you need to take it in and store it for later, but you can’t let it go straight to your legs or you’ll blow your whole race. I just kept repeating my race plan in my head and kept telling myself I had this. Step one was getting to the northern most part of the course and hitting that turnaround at Addison (~7.5 miles). Then step two was getting to the Willis Tower and the halfway point. Step three was the Oiselle Cowbell Corner at 17 where my wife was. Then mile 20 and finally the finish. I had everything nice and broken out in my head. One step at a time.

I took water at each stop and tried to slow myself just a little as I drank to focus on getting some down, but I was still a bit splashy with it. Still out of practice, I guess. As I approached mile six, I realized I forgot to take my first gel. My marathon plan is typically to take one every five miles and this works for me. I gulped it down and set a mental reminder that I couldn’t make a habit of forgetting them.

When I got to the first 10k, I realized a new mental tool to add to my arsenal. Make each 5k a mental checkpoint. Each 5k had a timing mat and I knew my wife was tracking me. “Just get to the next checkin with Danielle.” In my head, I made this a big deal, almost as a way to connect with her telepathically throughout the race. It also meant that I was hitting mental checkpoints constantly throughout the race. This helped all 26.2 miles tick off like nothing.

Throughout this first portion of the race, my legs were back and forth between feeling great and feeling “ehhhh.” I knew going into the race my legs weren’t likely to feel good. I knew my IT band could be an issue. I knew there could be a lot of tightness and muscle soreness. It was never too bad, but it was always in the the back of my mind “okay, when is this going to get bad?” At a couple points here and there, I thought I felt my knees get weird and my left calf was tight for a mile, but nothing lasted or stayed consistent.

My pace throughout these miles was pretty consistent in the 7:55 to 8:05 range. I was hoping to for a less variation, but my effort level was very steady and I made very minor adjustments with each mile to keep myself on track. Besides being a little fast in miles one and two, I was right on plan.

Miles 7.5 – 13.1

Once we looped around at the top of the course and started facing South again, I used the Willis Tower as my North Star. I knew from running the course before that it’s the visible center of the course and it’s where the hallway point was. Whenever I could see the tower, I’d look up and say “Okay, you’re X miles away. I’m on my way!”

These miles were super uneventful. There is a lot of crowd support through here so I focused on keeping my effort on track and my pace right where it was supposed to be. I was really locked into where I wanted to be and overall feeling great. Legs kept having their moments of feeling weird, but still nothing consistent. To sound like a broken record, I just kept repeating my race plan in my head. I was not going to blow the day by not following my plan.

Throughout the first half, I slowly caught up on the pace groups in the corrals in front of me. 3:45 and 3:40 from each the C and D corrals (they had overlapping pace groups). I didn’t speed up to get around them, I just ignored them and ran my own race. My only thought was “whatever you do, don’t catch up to the 3:30 group.” The 3:30 pace group started in the C corral and had a nearly five minute headstart on my corral. If I caught them, I was running way too fast.

As I crossed the half, I was feeling confident. 1:44:29. Slightly fast for my 3:30 goal, but within a safe margin, I felt. I wasn’t trying to bank time, but I had an extra 30 seconds to work with in the second half, if I needed it.

Miles 13.1 to 17

“Okay, just get to Cowbell Corner!” That was my mantra here. I just kept on doing what I was doing.

At one point, a guy dressed like Mario passed me. Not long after that, I nearly slipped on a banana peel. Fucking Mario Kart out there, I tell ya!

Through this section, I started to have my doubts. Nothing major or self-destructive to my race, but they were there. I knew I was doing great so far, but my legs were starting to tire. I knew my long runs had been the weak part of my training so when they started feeling a tired here, there was some concern, but I still had energy and lungs for days. I expected this disconnect between my upper and lower body going into the race so I just kept to my plan. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy day and nothing was at a point where I felt like I should ease back.

Sometime in mile 15, I got my first side-stitch. Ugh! But, hey, you don’t get to nine marathons without learning how to run through them, right? I switched my focus to my breathing for a few minutes. Deep breathes in and let it all out as the foot on that side comes down to the ground. It worked.

Normally, at the halfway point of a marathon, I switch from water to Gatorade. It’s another thing I’ve had success doing. But I was still splashing water on my face while drinking and didn’t want to risk having sticky Gatorade all over me. Plus, my hydration levels felt great. I typically try to take water at almost every stop for marathons (yet, almost never for shorter races), but I stopped taking water almost entirely in the second half. I paid close attention to how I was feeling and I was feeling confident I was hydrated enough given my current sweat rate. And when I had the option, I was sticking to the shadier side of the street.

As I approached the overpass for 290 right before mile 17, I knew it was time to get myself to the left side of the course for my wife and everyone at Cowbell Corner. Once I got over there, I noticed another pace group up ahead. I assumed this was the 3:35 group from corral C. Good timing for catching them, I felt. Anyway, I locked my eyes on the side of the course looking for everyone. Typically, I’m pretty oblivious to the the course around me, but I was getting tired and I need to see some familiar faces. About 50 feet out from them, I saw a big Oiselle sign and immediately sprung back to life. I soaked the excitement in and flew by with a HUGE smile on my face. So much energy!

Miles 17 to 20

I took so much of this energy in from Cowbell Corner that I went from running 7:55 to 8:00 miles to running ~7:47 for three miles. I was a little worried after the first mile, but I was feeling good again. I knew I was late enough in the race where I didn’t have to worry too much anymore about getting too fast. If my legs were feeling good with it, I could let them do what they wanted.

Sometime early in this three mile stretch, I got a bad cramp right in the middle of my chest. I focused on my breathing again while saying to myself “welp, this is where I die. This is probably something serious and I’m going to be that runner that dies at a marathon. Fuck it, legs are feeling good and I’m not pulling them back.” I ran through it for a few minutes and it went away. NBD. This happens to me in marathons a lot.

As I crossed mile 18, I stayed focused on my 5k checkpoints. “18.6 is 30k, just get to there and checkin with Danielle.” I was still using this mental trick and it was working.

Before I knew it—no really, it happened so quick—I was at mile 20. “Okay, here’s where things get hard. Stick with your plan. You got this, you’re fucking killing it, bitch.” Yes, I call myself bitch when I’m running. Anyway, I was confident and knew that almost nothing, short of an injury-related thing, was going to stop me from at least getting my B goal of 3:35. Even if I bonked, I had that on lock.

Miles 20 to 23

fullsizerender-10After crossing 20, my focus was getting to 22 and getting retribution from four years ago when my race fell apart right at the 22nd mile marker. I was not doing that again! I kept it steady. As I crossed mile 22, I forgot to lap my watch. Only mile all race I missed lapping exactly on the mark. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I realized it at about 22.25 and thought about lapping it there and then again at 23, but decided to just wait until 23.

In the 22nd mile, I started to get a really bad side stitch on my right. It was super painful to the point where I had to grab at it. I thought “welp, this is it. This where I fall apart…again.” I wanted to walk it out, but I refused to give in. I pulled back on my pace a little, but not much. I was determined to not give in until my body refused to keep going. “Four miles to go. You can deal with this for four miles. Okay…you probably can’t, but you’re going to fucking do it anyway.” Miraculously, I eventually worked it out within a mile and regained my pace and resolve.

Mile 22 was also where the “you’re almost there!”s started. I sorta wanted to punch every one of these people, but I let it go. I I was not letting this distract me.

These miles are where I really started to fall back on my half marathon from three weeks ago. I haven’t raced much in the last two and a half years so my race experience is a bit rusty. I drew as much as I could from this one race and used it as a reminder of what I could fight through.

I also thought about the elites who had just come through here not much more than an hour before me. I wondered who won and what it felt like for them coming down this stretch.

And when I needed to, I went to old faithful. I imagined myself running at him along my normal route. “Five miles left, just gotta get home from Port Liberte.”

The finish

Once I hit 23, I knew I had this race locked down. No, not just the race, my fucking A goal. I was going under 3:30 and absolutely nothing was going to get in my way. The question now was if I could hold on enough to finish in 3:28:XX. I knew I was on track for a negative split, but I wasn’t doing exact enough math in my head to know how close it was.

I fought these miles. My legs were tired and sore, but they kept on going. They kept doing what I was asking them to do. As much as I was hurting, I was never miserable. I was never begging for the misery to end. And I never bonked. I was focused on that finish and what had more left, the course or my legs. There was a lot of crowd support in the last 5k, but it barely even registered in my brain. I was in my own world focused on staying as strong as I could.

I hit mile 24 and my confidence grew even more. “This. Is. Yours. Finally. You’ve got your BQ. And you’re going to get your sub-3:30. All your marathon goals are happening today.” I briefly went back to imagining myself running at home. “Okay, you’re passing Ellis Island now. 2.2 to go.”

img_0489In those last two miles, the focus was on that stupid quarter mile hill as you hit mile 26. That last slap in the face from the course. It’s not even a huge hill, but I remember it completely crushing my soul four years ago. Not this time. I was going to fight with everything. And that was all I thought about from the 24th mile marker on.

I passed mile 25. Still had it. I the “one mile to go” marker. I was somehow staying strong. I felt slightly better than I did with this much left in my half marathon three weeks ago. But it hurt and I was putting down 100% of what I had left.

“Okay, the turn into the hell hill is almost here.”

800M.

“Let’s do this!”

I fought up the hill. I gave what I had knowing I didn’t need to save anything. I lost a few seconds on my pace, but not much. Less than I thought I would.

400M.

200M

I got to the top of the hill and made that final left turn. There was the finish. Waiting for me. I had it.

To be honest, when I saw the finish line, my first thought was “huh, this race kinda flew by. I can’t believe that’s 26.2 already.” I mean, I was hurting, but the race seemed to just fly by. I gave what I had down this last stretch, but I think most of my remaining energy was trapped in my smile.

I stopped my Garmin as my body crossed the finish.

3:28:41.

I literally screamed out loud. And then I cried. Good thing I was wearing sunglasses. All I wanted was to get to my phone and see what my actual chip time was. I hardly even cared about water.

2016 Chicago Marathon medal

This medal means so much to me after this performance.

I made my way through the long finisher chute grabbing water, Gatorade, and beer and then got to my phone. 3:28:41 here too.

“Holy. Shit. What?” I was honestly in shock for hours.img_0490

Post race

After I got my checked bag and texted my wife. I went through my dozens of texts and Twitter/Facebook notifications from people who were tracking me. I was almost too excited to function. My legs didn’t even feel that bad. I guess since I never hit my breaking point, they weren’t 100% wrecked.

I changed in one of the changing spaces and then made my way over to the post race party to find Danielle and get another beer in my body. I was walking pretty much fine. Sore, yeah, but not stiff.

Takeaways

This race was what happens when just about everything goes right and I focus on my race plan. It was a “best case scenario” situation. I’ve been on the other side where just about everything goes wrong and that’s pretty much the worst. This was the opposite of that and it was great.

Going into the race, I was not confident about my decision to go for 3:30 from the start. I knew it was a risky plan, but it still felt like the right decision. I never would have dreamed I’d not only hit that, but also hit my stretch goal. This was the first time I’ve ever negative split a race that I was racing. I typically suck at that. I also can’t believe I never bonked.

Look at that salt crust! No one told me about it until I got back to the hotel!

Look at that salt crust! No one told me about it until I got back to the hotel!

I was nervous about pacing myself on my own. I usually try to start marathons with a pace group to keep myself controlled and have something steady to focus on late in the race. I didn’t have that option this time around as the pace group I wanted was two corrals ahead of me. In the end, this seemed to work out really well. I was free to make my own adjustments in relation to how my body felt rather than be forced into what the group was running.

I’m a bit stuck on trying to figure out why this race. My training was fast, but it was low mileage and I didn’t do any cross-training or speedwork. In terms of marathon training, this was about the least work I’ve put in. To be fair, this was planned from the start of training. this wasn’t supposed to be a BQ race. I was focusing on just building back up. And then I spent all of taper dealing with making sure my IT band and quads were even going to be able to do the race at all. I was really aggressive with rehabbing everything, but it never felt right. And, again, my long runs. My longest run was only 17 miles. I had a 20-mile day, but it was split between a couple runs. My 19 and 21 milers were complete busts.

I guess, in a weird way, the issues with my leg forced extra rest during taper to allow me to go into the race recovered and ready, even if I didn’t feel like it. It also may be that my body responds better to lower mileage marathon training, which would go against everything I’ve ever believed would get me here. I’ve always felt like my body needed high mileage training to be able to stay strong late in a marathon. I might have been wrong?

I also had a solid race plan with many pre-planned options to handle anything the race threw at me. And I kept repeating that plan over and over and committed to it like I never have before. I made it gospel. I never let the race get away from me. I stayed in control of it.

No matter what, I couldn’t possibly be happier with this race. It was as close to flawless as I’ve ever been. I negative split. I PRed by 16 minutes. I got my BQ by more than 11 minutes. And I had fun and loved it. I finally feel like I have a PR that is mine. 3:44 is quite respectable and I’ve always been proud of it, but it felt dated and I knew I could do better.

I love the Chicago Marathon. Both times I’ve run it have been amazing experiences. It’s such a well put-together event that runs like clockwork. Crowd support is fantastic. The city is fantastic. It’s a big race, but it’s a great race.

Celebratory deep dish pizza!

Celebratory deep dish pizza!

1

Chicago Marathon training recap

img_0395It’s marathon time. I guess. Well, not I guess, actually. It is marathon time. Tomorrow. Oof.

For the most part, training went better than I had expected, but one part of marathoning that I’m really bad at is managing the nerves leading up to the race. I’ve be super stressed about it for the last two weeks. This is typical for me, but this time around it’s even worse.
I got a later start running consistently again after surgery than I hoped so my base wasn’t anywhere near where I wanted it to be by the time I started my training. I adjusted for this as much as I could with my plan and put together one of the least aggressive training plans I’ve ever done.
After a few weeks of training, though, my body started to really fall into sync. I was kicking ass on my runs and feeling pretty good. I run by effort rather than by trying to hit certain paces and it was turning out that my runs were overall much faster than I thought I could run at all effort levels.
As training progressed, my goal for the race started to move from “probably just want to be around 3:40” to BQ to “I don’t think 3:28 is impossible.” My training runs were faster than they have been for any marathon training cycle since Chicago 2012, which was before I transitioned. I was pleasantly surprised with that.

Not a lot of miles here at all :/

Not a lot of miles here at all, especially those weeks without long runs :/

I should make a clarification here, though. My mid-week runs were great. Even my longest, hardest runs during the week were beyond solid. By the end, I was crushing nine and ten milers at paces near my 5k PR. In fact, I had a 7-miler during a step back week that was a faster overall pace than my 5k PR and I felt fantastic doing it. Even my stupidly easy effort runs were quick despite some of the lowest heart rates I’ve since on runs since I started monitoring it.
What wasn’t consistently great were my long runs. Some were good. One was really good. Most were eh. And a couple were “god fucking dammit.” One of my 17-milers got split into two runs, a morning one and an afternoon one. And my 19-miler was cut at 11 because I was feeling terrible in every way and gave up. And my last long run, a 21-miler, didn’t happen at all.
Three weeks out from marathon day, I ran a half marathon. This was built into my training plan from the beginning. The race was on a 20-mile day and I ran 10k before it to cover most of the extra miles and then another mile after. The race went really well. I ran faster than I expected. Unfortunately, I also ran faster than planned and than I should have. I was sore afterwards, but I chalked it up to DOMS and then continued into my peak week of training without making adjustments to properly recover. I did my runs at an slightly easier effort, but I didn’t adjust my mileage or run as easy as I should have. By the end of the week I was still sore and started to have some pain on the outside of my right thigh. I massaged it a lot, but that seemed to only make matters worse. Come the Sunday following my race, I knew running a long run was going to be a bad idea. The pain had moved down along the length of my IT band from my hip down into my knee. I decided to take three days completely off. I wasn’t thrilled about losing a 21-miler, but avoiding injury is priority number one and I’d rather risk my time than risk my ability to run at all.
In addition to skipping a couple of runs, I also made an appointment with a sports physical therapist who is also a runner right away. I didn’t want to mess around. I got three appointments in with her where she mostly focused on massaging my very tight legs. With less than two weeks to go, there wasn’t time for much else. Just massage, foam rolling, and a few exercises to loosen things up. It definitely helped, but physical therapy isn’t magic.
Free beer at the expo. Photo stolen from Ellen's Snapchat.

Free beer at the expo. Photo stolen from Ellen’s Snapchat.

My runs during taper have been very easy effort, but my legs have been tired and garbagy. It’s really hard to feel out where they’re at right now. There is still some soreness in some spots, but the pain has mostly settled in behind the top couple inches of my IT band. This is the same place I had problems four years ago going into Chicago, but this is a bit more intense.
Ultimately, it feels okay enough to run on. I know it’s going to be uncomfortable during the race and recovery is going to be a bit harder and longer, but DNSing doesn’t feel like the necessary move here. I might just be being stubborn about it, but my physical therapist doesn’t seem too worried about it as far as my decision to run.
This does affect my goal a lot though. Missing that last long run after having a couple others not go well worries me for the last 10k of the race. My overall milage through training was lower than I normally do so I don’t have much confidence that my legs are ready for the distance.
I still haven’t fully decided exactly what my exact plan is for tomorrow yet. If I hadn’t developed this issue and had done my last long run, I’d be shooting for 3:30 as my A goal with a stretch of 3:27 or 3:28. Now I’m leaning more towards a 3:33 with 3:30 as my stretch, 3:37 as my B goal, and 3:40 as my C goal. This is still not fully decided though.
Boston 2018 is the day after my 35th birthday so I get an extra five minutes on my qualifying time. 3:40 will qualify me, but it’s looking like 3:37 is the slowest I can go to have a decent chance of actually getting in, based on the last few years.
I had thought about pulling back my goals a lot for this race and not actually racing it, but looking at how my race schedule is coming along for the spring (and with Dopey in January), it looks like this might be my last chance to make a BQ attempt before next fall. To be fair, a BQ attempt wasn’t really on the table when I started training. I didn’t think it’d be a reality at all, but my training makes me feel like a goal for a race any slower than BQ time would be selling myself short.
In the end, I hope to play it smart tomorrow and listen to my body. Not being injured is the most important thing so if my assessment is wrong, I need to be smart and stop. The key will be starting out slow and not taking off at the start like I always do no matter how hard I try not to. If I can have a slow start for the first couple of miles, I can feel things out and then hopefully stay stronger throughout the rest of the race. A lot of this race may be a play-by-ear situation.