I was recently at my first T3 event, the happy hours organized by the Annapolis Triathlon Club of which I am now a member, and I was talking to a new friend who asked me how long the buzz lasted from a marathon. He was convinced that triathlons leave a longer lasting buzz with athletes than running events. I imagine every athlete will have an opinion on this, but it’s more than a week after my second marathon and I’m still enjoying my runner’s high. So before it fizzles I’d like to recap the Richmond marathon, my second 26.2 mile experience.
My husband and I drove down to Richmond late afternoon on Friday to go to the Expo, pick up my race packet, and get settled in early Friday night. I’d like to take this opportunity to tell all race directors how much I love Saturday morning races. I would choose a Saturday morning event over a Sunday morning event any time! We chose to eat dinner at the hotel restaurant and I’m sorry to say that it was less than stellar for a marathon race meal. We started with spring rolls that I could have popped into my own oven from my own freezer at home. They were ok. I opted for cheese ravioli which came with garlic bread and a side salad. The bread was good, the lettuce in the salad was fresh, and the ravioli was…let’s just say it could’ve been a lot better.
The Expo was great though slightly smaller than what I expected for the event. For the thousands upon thousands of runners that ran Richmond I was expecting an enormous Expo. Regardless, about 3,500 did the marathon; the other 14,000+ runners were signed up for the half marathon or 8K. We made our rounds by each of the exhibits and headed back to the hotel where I was hoping to relax and get a good night sleep.
As with all run routines, I laid out my gear (a good way to help reduce pre-race jitters). I attached my race number (2047) to my fuel belt, attached my Gu and Hammer Gel packs to it, put out my shoes and socks and then looked at the weather again. I had brought two pairs of shorts, two shirts, and two sports bras. My decision on which combo I’d wear was based on functionality and comfort. I opted for my newer Brooks shorts, my older technical blend t-shirt, and my Gracie’s Gear sports bra. It was supposed to be almost 60 degrees by noon but the day would start off closer to 47 with light drizzle. I had a long-sleeve shirt to put on top that was going to be my ‘toss’ shirt. With all the clothes out and ready to go I attempted to sleep. Not surprisingly, I woke up often and was relieved when it was finally time to get up with my 5:45 a.m. alarm.
I walked and fed my dog (yep, she came along for the ride!), had a very small and terrible cup of coffee, went to the bathroom twice, had a banana, and went downstairs by 6:45 to wait for the shuttle. Start time was 8 a.m. and I wanted to be at the start area by 7. The start was only 10 minutes from the hotel but it turned out the shuttle was not big enough to accommodate all the runners. There were a number of runners waiting who were doing the other two distances and had very little time to get to their start before the gun went off. I abandoned the shuttle idea, went back to the room, and woke my husband up for a ride.
As we were driving to the start I got more and more excited. There were runners everywhere, cones were set-up, streets were blocked off, and I was excited to run. My husband got as close as he could to the start area and I decided to leave my long-sleeve shirt in the truck when he dropped me off. It was chilly and for the next 40 minutes I wished I’d kept it on but in the long run it worked out just fine that I never wore it to the actual race. I ended up having about a 4 block walk to the start which was enough to get me warmed up. While walking I met Julie, a woman doing her first marathon and I was energized by hearing about her training experiences and her own excitement to run. Then I ran into some other runner friends from Annapolis; I knew they’d be there but I definitely never expected to find them! And then I got in the porta-pot line.
I made my way to “Corral 2” per the assignment on my race bib and there I got to chatting with another woman also doing her first marathon. I could relate to the nervousness of first-timers but I honestly think I was more nervous for my second than I was for my first! In the corral I saw a guy holding a sign for the 4-hour pace group and decided to plant myself near that group. Four hours was my goal time so why not try to do it with the pace group? I chatted with more runners, did mini jumping jacks, hopped from side to side, rubbed my arms, and set my watch on all zeros waiting for the start. I noticed on another runner’s watch that we still had 5 minutes and I happened to be directly in line with a row of porta-pots. I scooted my way out for one last trip and when I got back to the corral it was like being at a concert–people were shoulder to shoulder and I did the best I could not to be rude but to also get to a start spot with a little bit of breathing room.
My timing was ideal; a couple more “good lucks” and the gun went off!
I had several goals for this marathon. One was to finish in 4 hours. I also wanted to run 9-minute miles which is a slightly faster pace than necessary to finish in 4 hours. Most importantly, I wanted to make sure that I paced myself, enjoyed myself, maintained some semblance of form, and finished as strong as I possibly could. I started out with the 4-hour pace group and we did the first mile in about 8:20; too fast. Despite the 3,500 runners, there was never a point of congestion and I found it very easy to space out as soon as we crossed the start mat. However, I also found it tough to get into a groove for about the first 3 miles; they all felt too fast. By around the third mile I was in front of the 4-hour pace group and saw my husband and dog cheering and I was feeling fresh, strong, and confident.
Once I got into a groove I truly just enjoyed. I picked up short conversations with whatever runner happened to be next to me, took in the Richmond scenery, and thought about various moments of training that helped get me to that point. Mile 10 came very quickly and it included a short but steep uphill. I charged up it, grateful for the hill work-outs of my training plan. Then I settled in with some women from Leesburg for a few miles and enjoyed hearing their stories. We ran along an amazing road that paralleled a river and I knew from having watched the Runner’s World preview of the course that soon enough we’d be coming upon a bridge. A long, flat bridge with crosswinds at mile 16.
I didn’t hate that flat bridge but I didn’t love it either. It just seemed to keep going and going and finishing the bridge was a mini-accomplishment within the marathon. A little after the bridge my husband reappeared on his road bike that he’d brought down for event. He’d been riding around the course that morning and it was awesome to see him beside me, camera in hand, and giving encouraging words of support. Part of my race strategy had been to leave my water belt behind and use the water the race provided. I didn’t love the idea of not having my little bottles around my waist but I wanted to run without the extra weight and in the end I’m glad I made that decision. The water stops were frequent, extremely well staffed with amazing volunteers, and they were not congested, so getting water to take a few sips of was not a major deterrent to my pace. The race was providing Clif Shots which I’d never used before so I was prepared with one Vanilla Bean Gu and one Rasberry Hammer Gel, both of which I’d used on long runs. I took one at mile 13 and one around mile 21. I also collected the Clif shots the race provided so I can try them later.
Around mile 20 I reconnected with one of the Leesburg runners which was perfect timing as we were both in need of a little extra support. We talked for a bit but mostly just ran. About halfway into the race I could feel in my right foot that my sock was crinkled under the tongue of my shoe and it was rubbing enough to be annoying. By mile 20 it hurt and I decided it was just going to have to hurt; I was not stopping to fix it. Having my Leesburg friend to run with helped distract me from the pain in my foot and I also had my husband riding alongside me for about the last 6 miles. I really felt quite good up until about mile 23. My pace had stayed right around 9 minutes almost the entire time but by mile 23 I just wanted to be done. From 23 to 24 I ran an awkward combination of a shuffle and hard strides and my husband was coaching me to focus and breath and not talk. He also said something key to me: “You can’t do anything about the time on the clock once you’re finished. I know you’re running hard, but make sure you push as hard as you can.” He knew how badly I wanted to make that 4 hour mark and he knows how hard I am on myself when I don’t finish as strong as I possibly can.
Mile 24 to 25 is somewhat of a blur; I think I kept a 9-minute pace but all I could think about was getting to mile 26. I knew that the last mile was pretty much downhill and when I got to the stretch where I could see the last mile I pushed. I could feel my right foot hurting and I could feel that I was using every muscle to run hard. I do not like running downhill and that last stretch to 26 was a challenge. I could feel my feet sliding forward in my shoes and I focused on using my arms for balance so that I would not fall down. At mile 26, the last .2 was flat to the finish line and I ran with all my might. As I approached the finish I could see that I was definitely going to make my 4 hour goal and I sprinted hard across the finish line.
My official finish time was 3:51:17.
I have much more to say about the race, the post-race events, my “recovery,” the emotions I felt, and the positive effects of the training plan that I used but this post is already long enough. In writing this, I can say with confidence that I am continuing to bask in the glow of my second marathon.
Thank you to everyone who supported and encouraged me throughout this experience!