Amelia McKeithen didn’t go in for a rigid training plan that told her what days to run, when to cross-train, or what to eat. She knew back in March when she committed to running the Marine Corps Marathon as a fundraiser for The Children’s Inn at NIH that a structure like that would cramp her style.
If one thing has defined McKeithen’s approach to marathon training, it’s been having fun throughout the process. “Fun” isn’t always the first term that the average person, or even the above average runner, equates with preparing to run 26.2 miles consecutively. But McKeithen, a lifelong athlete, is always pushing her limits, and finding new ways to challenge herself physically and mentally. A competitive intensity is right beneath the surface with McKeithen, easily obscured by her easy smile and self-deprecating wit.
While her virtual training partner jokingly called McKeithen’s laid back, run when she feels like it approach #theameliaplan, McKeithen logged a lot of miles in preparation for Sunday’s Marine Corps Marathon. The first-time marathoner ran two twenty milers in the months leading up to the race. In both, she kept close to a steady 9:00 minute mile pace. During and after each long run, her legs felt great.
In addition to the twenty milers and other long runs, McKeithen ran regularly during the week and kept up a variety of cross-training activities until tweaking her knee a few months before the race. She set aside cross training and alternated run days and rest days to stay healthy.
McKeithen had a few goals for the Marine Corps Marathon. She wanted to raise $1,500 for The Children’s Inn at NIH, break 4:00 hours, beat all the guys in her office who had run the race in prior years, and feel good all the way to the finish.
She raised the money for The Children’s Inn at NIH. Her contribution will pay for a week’s worth of services for a family at The Inn, which provides completely free housing, therapeutic and recreational activities, and education to the families of seriously ill children receiving treatment at NIH.
One of the highlights of her race weekend was going to The Children’s Inn for dinner the night before her marathon. “We got a tour of the facility. They do an amazing job of providing a whole space that lets families live like families to the extent that they can with all they have to go through,” McKeithen said.
“We’re so proud of Amelia,” wrote Lauren Stabert, Assistant Director of Corporate Giving and Special Events at The Children’s Inn, noting that Marine Corps Marathon runners overall raised more than $57,000 for the Inn’s operations. “And all of that doesn’t even cover the awareness that our runners raised by reaching out to their contacts to tell them about our work and by proudly wearing our shirts on the course that day,” Stabert said.
Some of McKeithen’s other goals were tougher to come by. Race day presented a few challenges to her plan of feeling good throughout her marathon effort. She gave herself ample time to get to the start of the race, but still found herself caught in a long security line prior to the start. She was still waiting to get through security and bag check when the gun went off and wasn’t able to get to the start line until a half hour after the race began.
“It was really stressful, really confusing, no one was telling us what was happening. It was an hour and half of logistical induced anxiety, in the predawn rain, just a bunch of people trapped without access to porta-potties,” McKeithen said.
The Marine Corps Marathon shared on its official Facebook page and with Runner’s World Magazine that a delay on the blue line combined with electronic metal detector wands malfunctioning in the rain held up runners at one of the security checkpoints. McKeithen was one of those who experienced a lengthy delay.
Once she got crossed the start line, McKeithen was at the back of the pack, behind others caught in the same line as her as well as all the slower pace groups. Trying to navigate around the slow and dense crowd taxed McKeithen’s legs as she struggled to find the smooth cadence she usually enjoys while running. “I had to run with the crowd instead of at a pace that I was comfortable with for my energy level,” McKeithen said. She wasn’t able to get into the zone. “I only had four miles of good running,” McKeithen said, estimating that her best miles were around the 15-18 mile marks.
McKeithen logged a 4:00:34, and stresses that just missing the four hour mark wasn’t a source of frustration as much as not being able to run at her rhythm. “It’s not that I was upset that I didn’t meet my goal of four hours, but I didn’t feel like it was a good run for me. It was not my best,” McKeithen said.
Even though she’d had strong 20 mile efforts in preparation for the race, the stress of running for a prolonged time with a truncated stride and the extra effort required to navigate around other runners had an impact on her legs.
“During the race, my legs went out before 20 miles. The only thing that kept me from walking, even though I felt like I was going that slow, was to tell myself to just keep moving across the pavement in a running like fashion,” McKeithen said.
As far as McKeithen’s goal of beating the guys in her office who had run the race in prior years, she did that. “I beat all of them,” McKeithen said. For now. A few colleagues have already vowed to gun for her record in next year.
As far as McKeithen’s next race? Her and the girls are looking at a half marathon in wine country with a much smaller field of runners. True to McKeithen’s style, it sounds like a lot of fun.