First Time Marine Corps Marathon Advice

Written by Ann Brennan

Marine Corps MarathonIt has been 17 years since I ran my first marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon. All of these years and marathons later, the Marine Corps Marathon is still my favorite. This weekend I will be running it for the 7th time. If this year lives up to past years, more than half the field will be first time marathoners. So, I have a little advice.

1. First and foremost, the advice I give to anybody before a first time event, there is only one first time. Enjoy it. Enjoy every minute of it, which means that you cannot, even for a minute let a negative thought enter your brain. If you find yourself heading to the dark side, stop and remind yourself that this is your first time and the negative thoughts will mar your beautiful memory.
2. This entire race is a photo opportunity. I am not one for carrying my own camera but I never miss an opportunity to pose for the camera. The photographers at this race have been doing it for a long time. They have picked amazing views to get the best shots so do not miss the chance to have your photo taken on the bridge heading into Georgetown, on Haines Point by the water or most importantly as you leave the Capitol. The photos from this race are priceless.
3. Thank the Marines. These young men and women have mostly been voluntold to be there this weekend. They work very hard but more importantly they are fighting for our country. Most of us will never be in their position, most will not have a spouse or child who serves. So take a minute and thank the Marines for being there for us on Sunday and the rest of the year as well.
4. There are tons of port-a-potties on this course so there is no reason to pee on the side of the road or in the woods. Wait a minute and you will find a potty for sure.
5. The only downside to this race is that the first 8 miles are a little hilly. Not a lot hilly but enough to make you nervous. Don’t worry. They don’t last.
6.Use the crowds. If you happen to go through a quiet spot, speak up and ask for the praise. It will come. The first time I ran this race I thought I was a rockstar. It is an incredible feeling to have so many people out there cheering for you.
7. Unless you have trained with the fuel on the course, bring your own. Don’t risk stomach upset for the convenience of not carrying something.
8. The last .2 of this race is uphill. Not slightly uphill but properly “piss you off” uphill. Gut it out. Ranger up. Get it done. The crowd at the top is enough to bring tears to your eyes.
9. Don’t rush through the finish area. The Marines work hard to make it a great experience. Get your photos, your medals and your hugs. Enjoy the moment.
10. Take your time getting to the Metro to head home. There is a line the entire day. It never gets better. So, take your time and enjoy the final moments of the marathon before waiting in line.

I have had bad experiences at MCM – the year I messed up my IT band enough to impress the Corpsman at the end. Great ones – the one where I PR’d by 20 minutes. And weird ones – the one I ran without realizing that queasy feeling was morning sickness. But I keep going back. This race is like no other. It is a race to remember.

Location Location Location

Written by Ann Brennan

Clicking Into PlaceI fear I may be spoiled. Having spent the day working at Spark Running and talking to people who are preparing for this coming weekend’s Baltimore Marathon or next weekend’s Marine Corps Marathon, it occurs to me that location is almost as important in our running lives as it is when buying a house.

We bought our house because of the schools, but a close second to that was the proximity to the B&A Trail and our ability to get in long runs without having to head out on a hunt for the best miles. Ten years later I find myself varying my route and searching out new running routes but I love that in a pinch I can just head out the door. Even better is knowing that any given weekend I can find a race within a short drive from my home. We live in a running town.

So, yes, I am spoiled. Do you live in a running town? Do you have specialty running stores? Trails within walking distance of your house? Races every weekend? Do you have roads that are friendly to runners? If not I am interested in hearing how you manage? Have you started a local running club? Have your organized a race in your area to encourage others?

Running is a huge part of our lives. Does your location change the way you think about your running life?

Where’s Your Local?

Written by Ann Brennan

A little over a year ago I created this video about what makes a local running store special. I now work at my local running store and can see it from the inside. I believe this video to be even more spot on now.


If you cannot see the video, please refresh your screen.

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Older And Wiser

Written by Ann Brennan

Older and WiserStop me if you have heard this before…Twelve years ago, after training for three months, raising over 2000 pounds for a new playground for my children’s school and then discovering a crisscrossing stress fracture in my left tibia, I, being young and a little stupid, decided to run the marathon anyway. After six months of recovery with no running, I learned my lesson. Never run injured. Since that time, for the most part, I have lived up this this idea , but this year, a redemption year, I struggled. Six weeks ago, I started noticing a niggle in the heel of my foot. I iced it, I elevated it and I even compressed it but I didn’t truly believe it was an injury so I kept running. I ran two sixteen milers and an 18 miler before finally giving in and realizing it was something more than a niggle.

And finally, I rested. For the past three weeks I have been riding my trainer. I have not run. I have seen a doctor and received conflicting reports – Plantar Fasciitis, bone spur, stress fracture. After a definitive MRI, a stress fracture has been ruled out. I, having experienced PF for myself in the past know that this injury is not PF so, with the definitive hook showing on the x-ray, a bone spur seems to be the answer.

So I have been given the all clear, at least that’s what I wanted to hear.

The truth is that I have been given the “run and see how it feels”. Today I will do that. Today I will have to prove that I am truly older and wiser. Because going into this run I have set some ground rules. If it hurts when I start I will continue but only for a mile. If it eases I will continue. If it hurts after a mile I will take a few more days off and test it again.

Running is a huge part of my life. It brings me joy. It relieves stress. It helps me control my weight. But it is not everything. Running is part of who I am but it does not define me. I don’t have to run to be fit. I don’t have to run to stay healthy. But that doesn’t mean I will give it up. On the contrary it means that I will give it up for the short term in order to continue running for the long term. I want to run until they put me in that old pine box. I want to enjoy the feeling of the wind on my face and the ground beneath my feet for as long as possible so I am willing to take some time off. I am willing to miss my upcoming marathon if necessary. I am willing to be patient.

At least that is the plan. Today, I will work on being older and wiser.

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Going Back To Work

Written by Ann Brennan

Going Back To WorkJust over a month ago I decided to take a job outside of the house. For the past sixteen years I have been a stay at home mom. Although I have worked, for Patch.com as a columnist and Beyond Limits as an editor, I was able to set my own hours. I knew that going back to work would take a lot of getting used to, not just for me but for my family as well. So, I made the decision to contact my friend Caitlin at Spark Running. The store is minutes away from my house. The hours allow me to drop my youngest at school and pick him up everyday. Caitlin knows my family and my commitment to my family and helps me to work my hours into those committments. And Spark Running is a running store with a pretty good employee discount to boot. What more could I ask for?

When I started this job I expected to enjoy my time with Caitlin. I expected to enjoy learning more about the products and companies. I even expected, after having spent the past sixteen years working at a computer all day, to enjoy the customers. What I didn’t expect was to bring Ann’s Running Commentary to life in the store on a daily basis.

Each day I find the opportunity to share my experiences in running and triathlon with our customers. While it is fun to speak with experienced runners about our past races and our upcoming events, it is much more rewarding to spend time with the mom who has just decided to get back in shape, the dad who wants to start running with his teenage son or the grandmother who has started walking and thinks she just might be able to add running to the mix. I find myself sharing the story of coming in last at my first race, being left in the dust by my 8-year-old-daughter in her first race or just how hard that first mile is every time I go out for a run.

As much fun as it is to hear from readers who have found something I have written helpful, it is doubly rewarding to watch a light come on in the face of a new runner who was not quite sure they could do it and suddenly they realized just how much they can accomplish if they really want to work for it.

Going back to work was meant to be an experiment. Can I really do this? Can my family handle it? In the end it has become more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. And did I mention the employee discount?

Running Addiction

Written by Ann Brennan

Running AddictionI am not sure running addiction is the right term. Addiction is such a harsh word, conjuring images of a young man slumped over on a dirty bathroom floor with a needle in his arm, a mom pulling a bottle out of the very back of the cabinet, drinking straight from the bottle while her children play in the other room, an older man leaving a bar, stumbling to the car, driving off and putting everybody on the road at risk. Addiction means lives falling apart. Addiction ends in either recovery or death. But still we talk about running addictions. Because our love of the run is that strong. Our love of running is, in less offensive terms an obsession. Something we can live without but cannot imagine how.

I am always amazed at how quickly my love for running can move from dread, to like to love to passion to obsession. After taking months off, working through our family issues and letting my fitness slide, I have come back to running. The first few weeks were tough. Part of me believed that maybe I had lost the love for the sport, that I would have to look for something else to light the fire running had always ignited. But soon, before I had time to give up, I realized I was looking forward to my runs again. I began to not just plan for them but to long for them.

And in the past few weeks, as an injury began to show its ugly head, I realized that I had moved past love and passion into obsession. I need my run. Although my foot had become almost too painful to stand I continued to run. I complained about the pain but was not willing to stop running to let it get better.

Then this past weekend, the foot screamed loud enough to break through the running obsession. I was reminded of the advice I give to others, “Take a week off now and you will avoid having to take 8 weeks off later. “ And in the first two miles of my long run I stopped. I walked back home and hopped on my bike, giving my foot the chance to begin healing.

But here, in what has happened since, is the true reason we call running an addiction. Two days later and I have had moments when the foot is not painful. By moments I mean actual moments. I will be sitting down to dinner and realize that I am not in pain. I will wake up in the middle of the night and not feel that burning sensation in the heel of my foot. And I will think, “Oh, maybe I can run.” This morning I had to remind myself that those are moments. They are not the truth. The pain has been almost constant; going back too soon will only prolong the pain.

So, this morning I put on my padded shorts and biking shoes and climbed on my bike. I resisted the call of the run. I resisted the desire to ignore the pain, to push through and get my run in.

Running is an obsession, maybe it can become an addiction but I believe the difference lies in this decision I am making right now. I can choose to run until the wheels fall off or I can rest, recover and live to run another day. So, yes I am obsessed with the sport. It brings a joy into my life that is hard to find elsewhere so I fight for it. I will rest. I will let my foot heal and I will come back to running with the same love I have had for over twenty years.

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Clicking Into Place

Written by Ann Brennan

Clicking Into PlaceIf you follow me on Facebook you will have noticed an unseemly pattern of whining. “Why I am training for another marathon? I will never run another marathon again in my life. Running is hard. My feet hurt…” If you are one of my regular readers you may have responded by posting a link back to The Last Marathon in which I complain over and over again about the marathon only to be reminded on race morning why it is I keep going back. And I thank you for reminding me. But the truth is that this time has been different. This time I was truly struggling, completely doubting myself and ready to give up. But then two weeks ago everything clicked into place.

We were in Alaska, running on the Coastal Path, when my Garmin died. I couldn’t see the time. I had no idea how far I had run and suddenly, while wasn’t looking, I let my guard down. I stopped thinking about my feet. I stopped thinking about being bored. I stopped worrying about how much slower I am right now and for just a few minutes I enjoyed my run. Suddenly, everything clicked into place. I remembered that feeling of being able to let go. I remembered what it felt like to believe that I could do something. I looked around me, watched the birds swooping down, skimming the water. Listened to the call of the loons. And for the first time in months I truly enjoyed the moment.

And then my feet hurt. My left leg started nagging me. I saw the train tunnel that I knew came just before the big hill and ugh, I was right back into the doubt. I remembered that I wasn’t as strong as I used to be. I remembered that I hadn’t been running as fast. And I let go of the joy.

But running is funny that way, because those few minutes were enough to make me want to go back out again in search of the moment. Unfortunately the next run wasn’t as great. I struggled with jet lag. I began to chalk the run in Alaska up to the novelty of a new state, a new path. I wasn’t really going to love running again. I had lost whatever it was that made me a runner. But guess what? Even as I struggled, even as I doubted, I found myself falling in and out of love with the run. I had moments of love even in the midst of the pain. Since that run I find myself falling in love more than out. I find myself enjoying the moments more. And this weekend, on the first 18-miler I have done in more than a year, I was happy. I was happy to be a runner again. I was happy to find that everything is finally clicking into place.

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Little Victories

Written by Ann Brennan</strong>

Fat GirlI had a great run today. It was not significantly faster than all of the runs leading up to it. I did not cover more ground than normal. Looking at the numbers this workout was not significantly different in any definable way. But I noticed it. I felt it and today I am celebrating the little victories.

Today’s run was my first interval workout in almost two years. Two years ago I used a wonderful iTunes podcast set up by Coach Jeff because I did not have the discipline to make it through each and every interval. His workout podcast told me when to start and guided me through each and every interval and recovery set throughout the entire run. It acted as my discipline.

But today, I did not want to listen to the podcast. I wanted to prove to myself I would not follow my old patterns. I would not use excuses to slow down at the end of the seven minute interval. I would not use excuses to do 4 instead of 6 sets. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do all 6 sets according to plan on my own.

And I did. I plugged the workout into my Garmin and I set out for my run. Yes, I went out way too fast on the first set. I was so winded when I finished that first interval that I had already begun to make excuses why I wouldn’t be able to complete all of them. But I pushed the doubt to the side and I worked on my 2 minute recovery. I slowed down the second interval so I was solidly in Zone 4 but not pushing higher than that. And I made it through another set.

In the end, as my Garmin Forerunner 220 beeped at me letting me know it was time not for a recovery but for my cooldown I was almost disappointed. That was it. All of that build up of worry and that was all it took? Really? But then I thought about it. I thought about how mental this sport really is. How setting your mind to something can make all the difference and I knew I needed to celebrate. I needed to celebrate my discipline. I needed to celebrate my consistency. I needed to celebrate the little victories.

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No Excuses

Written by Ann Brennan

No excusesEvery day without exception I run across one Pinterest photo or another along the same lines, “No Excuses.” And every morning without exception I think, wouldn’t it be nice if I could live by this motto. But unfortunately I am human and life is full of excuses. One of my kids was awake all night with a stomach virus, one of the dogs made a mess of his crate, or I am just plain exhausted from having tried to cram too much into the previous day. There is always an excuse.

But, Coach Jeff is right, the trick to any good training season, before speedwork, before hill repeats, before heart rate training, is consistency. Without consistency there is simply no way for a race to go to plan. Jeff’s other favorite saying is to work the plan. Well, there we go again. If we are to work the plan, there is no real room for excuses. So, what do we do?

How do we move past the excuses? How do we take what we are dealt and still move forward? With a plan. Whether you use a coach or a training program you found in a book, the plan is the first step to consistency. Yes, you still have the excuses. There will still be days when the workout is just not going to happen. But with a plan you can begin to juggle. You can move today’s workout to tomorrow and try to fit a shorter workout into today. You can juggle your workouts to fit with your life and you can develop the consistency, even with the excuses, that will inevitably get in the way.

Without a plan procrastination sets in. You push the workout to tomorrow but you can just as easily skip it tomorrow as well. Without a plan you have no map and without a map, you will not get to that destination.

Today, I missed my workout. But I have a plan. I know where I will move things around and I will get it done. Because I have built the consistency I don’t doubt that I will make it to the finish lines I have set out for myself this fall. Yes, I have excuses and yes, life gets in the way. But with a plan and consistency, those excuses are not roadblocks. Instead they become speedbumps. They slow me down but they don’t stop me.

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Final Sunrise – New Beginnings

Written by Ann Brennan

Sunrise Brooklyn BridgeYesterday our family went on our final sunrise hunt of the summer and what a great way it was to end the summer. Hours before we were to move Blaise into his dorm at NYU, we walked through the city onto the Brooklyn Bridge and enjoyed the most spectacular sunrise of the summer.

For the past few weeks our family has felt like it was in limbo. We were all waiting for the next big event. For school to start, for Blaise to leave for college, for the soccer season to begin and for me to start my first out-of-the-house job in 16 years. During this time we spent a lot of time waiting, barely moving forward. Today the waiting ends.

Blaise is in his dorm and is in the meat of orientation this morning. Zane is at school for his first day of first grade. Meg is putting the final touches on her summer assignments. And I start work at Spark Running. After a month of being in limbo and a year of being in absolute and total flux, we are settling in. We are making big beginnings and looking forward to where they take us.

For me, these new beginnings mark a rejuvenation of Ann’s Running Commentary as well. Once again I am sitting in front of the keyboard. Once again, my thoughts turn from everything that is happening outside to what it means to be a runner/mom/writer. Today I begin anew and I am so happy that so many of you have stuck around, waiting me out. I look forward to sharing this fall’s marathon season with you. I look forward to sharing Meg’s senior year and Blaise’s adventure in NYC. I look forward to being Ann from Ann’s Running Commentary once again.

There will be many more sunrises for us. Yesterday marked only one thing – the end of summer. The rest of the story is yet to come.

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