At 8AM sharp on a bright and chilly November morning I joined thousands of my closest friends assembled downtown on Broad Street to run the 2012 Richmond Marathon. Over five hours later as I crossed the finish line, it was no longer chilly. And I had completed my first ’26.2′. A few weeks have passed since the big day. I’ve come down from my runner’s high (for the most part) and I have returned to walking normally. And I’m watching my calories again. It’s time to reflect on the journey.
Me, a runner??
I started running during the late summer of 2010, primarily as a way to add to my cycling fitness regimen with some midweek workouts. I can run right from my front door, but good cycling routes are 20-30 minutes away. Never having run before, I started with a run / walk approach and gradually built up to running three miles without stopping. With some encouragement from my sister Janice (a marathoner and triathlete) I entered my first 5K at Wolf Trap in October 2010. I finished, and just as importantly I enjoyed the scene — not to mention the swag. I caught the racing bug.
After several 5K’s and an 8K in early 2011, I decided to try a half marathon in November 2011. I chose to run it at the Outer Banks Marathon which offered the side benefit of another trip to the beach. Despite some IT Band problems during the last few (painful!) miles, I finished in 2:22. At the time I tweeted that I couldn’t imagine running twice that distance. And yet, even after running a second, grueling half marathon in heavy rain in April 2012, I was tempted to see if I could go the distance.
I chose the Richmond Marathon, wanting to try something smaller than DC’s Marine Corps Marathon. Another reason: It is held two weeks later, increasing the probability of cooler temperatures. Which kinda sorta worked out. My half marathon training had been a bit haphazard, but I knew I would need a formal plan this time. I chose Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 plan based on the sum of my prior running experience. I also liked the relatively shorter mid-week runs which meant I wouldn’t have to get up quite as early. (I am a habitual morning runner.) Cycling would be relegated to cross-training on Sundays. By the end of November, I would have run more miles in 2012 (803) than cycled (786). I also read (devoured, actually) Higdon’s “Utlimate Marathon Training Guide” which I found very valuable.
As I look back, I can honestly say I enjoyed the training as much as the race itself. Not that every 5AM alarm was met with unbridled joy — although my Lark made it a little more bearable for my wife Cynthia — but the discipline and constant focus (where would I run when I traveled?) provided a weekly sense of accomplishment. Not to mention the extra calories I could consume: In fact, it was essential to avoid constant hunger! The Higdon plan is an 18-week program that includes runs T-W-Th as well as a long run Saturday that steps back very third week. At the end of 17 weeks, I had completed 61 of the planned 68 runs, totaling 403 miles out of 452. (Yes, I keep track of these things.) Most weekday runs were in my neighborhood, often before dawn thanks to my trusty headlamp. I did my weekend long runs on the nearby Washington & Old Dominion Trail when I was in town. While traveling I also enjoyed runs in Philadelphia, New York City, Illinois, North Carolina and Arizona. And as suggested by the plan I ran a half marathon in Week 9: The Parks Half Marathon in Montgomery County, MD (2:23)
But it was not all roses. The summer heat forced curtailing some of the weekend long runs, and after I caught a cold in mid-September I decided to cancel some runs. This led to perhaps my largest training error. After cutting short my planned eighteen mile run on October 6 due to heat, I ended up running my 19 and 20 milers back to back the next two weekends. This resulted in my only training injury, a slight but nagging pain on the inside of my ankle which seemed to fit the description of posterior tibial tendonitis. But this turned out to be mangeable; in fact it didn’t bother me on race day at all. Which is not to say that nothing did…
Race Week Prep
After that last 20-miler, it was time to taper with long runs of 12 and 8 miles. The marathon was on a Saturday so I adjusted my race week training to include a 3-miler on Monday and a 2-miler on Tuesday. Then, still nursing my ankle, I took the next three days off except for a brief elliptical workout on Friday. We drove to Richmond Friday, hit the Expo (Swag!!) and enjoyed a traditional pre-race pasta dinner at Maggiano’s. Then we turned in early at the Hilton Garden Inn: a great location just a block from the start of the race.
With our hotel so close to the start we could hang in the room until around 7:15. Of course, I was up at 5AM going through my pre-race ritual and eating my “traditional” pre-run breakfast: bagels with peanut butter, brought from home. Temperatures were in the 40′s and despite some hesitancy I chose to stick with my mantra: Dress for the end of the race. This meant shorts and a short sleeve tech tee, along with some “disposable” gloves purchased at the Expo and discarded around Mile 7. I’m sure I was freezing at the start — after all, it’s part of being a runner — but I really don’t remember it being a problem. After the singing of the National Anthem, I said so long to Cynthia and got in position with the 5:00 pace team. The details of my pacing and fueling strategies are in my post over on dailymile.
After a crowded start the field thinned out within the first few miles. We headed west on Broad Street and then turned on to beautiful Monument Avenue. Many residents lined the streets cheering, high-fiving and holding homemade signs (including the chesnut “Worst Parade Ever” and the topical “Paul Ryan Already Finished” — at Mile 3). More residential areas followed and at Mile 7 we passed the first of three “Party Zones” where spectators gathered to cheer the runners. This was a nice move by the organizers. The Zones were in strip malls with plentiful parking and they provided a nice energy rush. Things were going well: after the first six miles I was averaging about an 11:00 pace. But my target was 12:00. Time to slow down. One of the mantras of marathoners is “Don’t Go Out Too Fast”.
We headed down River Road (another beautiful residential area) and across the Hugenot Bridge, which was a bit barren but offered good views of the James River. At Mile 9 we headed along Riverside Drive which is, ahem, right beside the river. This was a pastoral, calm setting and most runners seemed in a good mood. I struck up a conversation with a fellow runner and the miles passed easily. Despite some hills around Mile 12 my pace at the halfway mark was 11:22. Still faster than my target but I was feeling good….
We left the park-like setting and ran “up” Forest Hill and Semmes Ave. And by “up”, I mean that literally: There was a long incline on Semmes where I took my first extended walk break. By now (11AM) the temperature had risen and the sun was out. As we crossed the (lengthy!) Robert E. Lee Bridge, several runners stopped to use the railing to work out cramps. After crossing the bridge, we were back downtown and we turned left on Main Street. I spied Cynthia on the left side of the road; she’d come to cheer me on at Mile 17. It was a nice pick me up, as I was starting to ‘feel it’ in my legs after the bridge. The route continued down Main Street, through the heart of the VCU campus where the cheering was a bit more colorful. Perhaps the Friday night parties hadn’t quite ended. In any event, it was a another scenic part of the route — in an urban campus sort of way. And then at around Mile 19 we turned right on the Boulevard. At the 20 mile mark my average pace had slowed to 11:45. Which was still ahead of goal, and the fastest I had ever run this distance.
But, I’d never run farther than 20 miles and all the sudden my legs reminded me of this. Thus began the difficult part of the race. Water stops were now every mile and I availed myself of them, walking a bit longer at each one. But this was a double-edged sword as it became more difficult to get started running again. Somewhere around Mile 21-22 we faced the “hill” over I-64 and I was set to walk it when a female runner next to me said simply (and forcefully), “C’mon. We’ve got this!” I pushed myself over the hill and ran with her for another mile or so. We never exchanged another word but powered through the difficulty together. We separated at a water stop.
By Mile 23 I was getting warm and at that water stop I doused my head with water (an old cycling trick). Next we passed Virginia Union University and at the Mile 24 water stop I added some electrolytes to my water as a preventative measure, even though I really hadn’t felt any cramps yet. This resulted in a long stop and my slowest mile yet — over 14:00. We turned left on Grace Street and were now heading back towards downtown and the finish. My legs were now quite sore, especially my thighs. One final walk break at around Mile 25 to “gather myself”: I knew there would be no more walking from here on out. A couple of quick turns (ouch!) and then we headed south on 5th Street — and the Finish came into view.
Finishing in 4077th Place!
The finish in Richmond is a fairly steep downhill. This may sound good but if you are a runner you know this is not necessarily the case — running downhill can be very painful. And yet, the adrenaline had kicked in and I was propelling myself towards the finish line with a sort of tunnel vision. It’s a very strange feeling actually. You’re trying to take everything in but at the same time you are focused 100% on that line in front of you. You’re aware of the crowd but (at least in my case) too focused to let it soak in. If I was concentrating on anything else it was “Don’t do a face plant at the end!!!”. I crossed the line 5 hours and 19 minutes after I started.
To be honest, I was a little out of it at after I crossed the finish line. I did know enough to get my medal and one of those nifty metallic blankets. I grabbed a banana and water but my stomach was not really into the idea of any food. I kept walking until I found Cynthia, Rob and Paige. I admit it — it was a very emotional reunion. I was a little light-headed (probably dehydrated) and thought it best to stay on my feet so after taking some pictures we walked the half-mile or so back to the hotel. The walk was slow but it felt good to keep moving. I wore my medal — and the blanket — the whole way back. n00b and proud of it!
A cold bath, some sports drink and lying down for an hour seemed to refresh me and then I began my recovery — which started that evening with Mexican Food and adult beverages at Margarita’s Cantina. The next day the gastronomic tour of Richmond continued with brunch at LuLu’s. A few days of walking funny followed and I didn’t run for a week. But as I write this I’ve been out three times, and I’m already looking at next year’s race calendar. And wondering: Another?
Acknowledgements and Credits
This story would not be complete without acknowledging the people, places and things that provided invaluable support during my journey. My wife Cynthia has attended all my races, serves as my photographer and has provided much needed logistical support (e.g. willingly toting my warmup clothes). My family sat through countless training stories. My cycling buddies pushed me on the roads earlier in the summer and helped build fitness. Then kicked my *ss when I returned post-marathon. My unofficial coaches and experienced marathoners Kevin and Janice provided great practical tips, and co-worker and co-RVA runner Wes provided a weekly sounding board. I set up a special Twitter feed for my training and the runners I met there provided support and encouragement especially as we worked through “taper madness”. I’m especially thankful to the spectators on the course and my fellow runners who offered encouragement during the race itself.
The gear and technology I used included three pairs of ASICS GT-2170 (sadly, this model is soon to be retired); clothing from Brooks, Underarmour and Balega; on-the-run nourishment from Accel Gel and (yum!) Honey Stinger Waffles (carried via a SPIBelt); my trusty Garmin 110; iPhone apps including Strava Run, Runner’s Log, RunKeeper, WalkJogRun (great for locating routes when traveling) and of course LoseIt!. Koko Fit Club provided valuable strength training early in the summer. I did not wear headphones during the marathon but during my long runs I was sustained by (no surprise) C-SPAN Podcasts.