2015 Love Rox Half Marathon
1:51:31 (8:30 min/mile) 16/33 AG 118/457 Overall
February 22, 2015 – The 2015 race season started earlier than normal for me, with my first half marathon coming in February at the Love Rox event put on by Richmond Multisports. I had been building up my runs throughout the winter, and I was consistently running 10-12 miles on my weekend long runs. That is, until a familiar pain crept back into the outside of left knee around mile 7 of one of my runs about three weeks before the race.
As you may recall, I injured my left IT Band in March of 2014, and I underwent physical therapy and ultimately received a cortisone injection. I had been running pain-free since the injection, but I was hobbled once again, mere weeks before my first half marathon. I made an appointment to see Dr. Young, and this time he decided to set up an MRI. Of course, running the race was “discouraged,” and the MRI was scheduled for the Friday night before the Sunday morning race. Thus, I would not have the MRI results before Sunday morning.
Of course I chose to run, knowing that if my pain was still coming from the IT Band, I wouldn’t be doing any permanent damage – just irritating it a bit more. There was certainly the chance that another problem had presented itself, but I was too stupid, stubborn or both to forego the race after training for it.
As it turned out, it snowed a fair amount in the days leading up to the race. In fact, Richmond received about 8 inches of snow on February 17th, and little had melted since the storm To make things worse, the weather forecast for race morning was calling for rain. I’m used to running in the cold, but running in cold rain is another matter entirely.
Leigh Anne was also doing the half marathon, and was fresh off of her first half marathon experience in November. My parents had agreed to keep the kids, and collected them on the Saturday before the Sunday morning race. We spent our free night dining at The Boathouse in Chesterfield, before hitting up Dicks Sporting Goods so I could try to find a waterproof jacket for the next morning.
Thankfully, the worst of the weather held off, and Sunday morning was cold, but little rain was falling at the start time. The half marathon started and finished at the Virginia Wine Expo, and we were able to warm up inside the Richmond Convention Center, with the starting line just outside of its doors.
The start was self-seeded, and Leigh Anne suggested that we should both run in the 9:00/mile wave, which was the second to start. My time goal was two hours or less, so that wave made sense for me. Nevertheless, I was concerned that if we ran together, we might start competing with one another and fail to run the race that was best for each of us. She seemed far less concerned about that than I did, but at the last minute, I decided to take off at the rear of the first wave. In hindsight, that was probably a bad idea, since I was then dodging and passing people for the first mile or so.
Let me just say at the outset – I am not a fan of this particular course. From the starting line near the convention center down to Brown’s Island, its all downhill until just before the 1 mile mark. Some portions are so steep that you have to “brake” to make sure that you don’t get out of control. The course is basically flat from mile 1 to mile 2, but its then pretty much all uphill from mile 2 on the south side of the 14th Street Bridge up to mile 5.25 when you turn right onto Leigh Street to head east towards the Coliseum. In short, you lose all of your elevation in the first mile, and then work for 3+ miles to gain it back. Of course, the fun resumes on loop number 2. The link for the course GPS data is immediately below.
The “fun” topography of the course was compounded by the fact that there was still a lot of melting snow on the ground, along with lots of puddles. While the streets had been cleared, there were only “goat trails” on Brown’s Island, and standing water on the Lee Bridge. By standing water, I mean, the entire right lane was flooded in certain portions. That meant that the runners had to either run through six inches of water or cross into the left lane, hoping to avoid traffic. Thankfully, I managed to keep my feet relatively dry throughout the run, but Leigh Anne was less successful. Her feet got wet on the Lee Bridge in the first loop, leading to bad blisters.
As noted above, my goal was to finish under two hours, and anything faster than that was a bonus. 1:50 was my stretch goal, but I really did not know how likely that would be since this was my first half marathon. There was also the issue of my ailing left knee.
From the starting corral, we headed down towards Brown’s Island, and I did my best to bolster my speed on the downhill portion. I was dodging some poorly self-seeded traffic, and I got to the first mile marker in under eight minutes. Since the course flattened out, I slowed down, but I did not have a GPS, so I was running by feel. I could monitor my pace at the mile markers based upon my stopwatch, and when I reached mile 2, I saw that I had slowed way too much. In fact, I ran the second mile in a little over nine minutes.
The next three miles or so were mostly uphill, and I tried to pace myself for 8:45 minute miles. The long constant upgrades on 14th Street, 7th Street and Semmes Avenue were difficult, but I knew that they would be less fun on loop two. The Lee Bridge always seems to go on forever, and it also seems to have a constant headwind when you run across it to the north. Again, there was also puddle and car dodging, but my spirits picked up once I got back to the north side.
Once the course flattened out again, I was able to pick up my pace, and I think was holding 8:25 minute miles coming back towards the Coliseum to begin loop 2. The only real spectators on the course were near the finishing chute/start of loop 2, and even the ones there were limited. I did take a GU gel at the midpoint of the race, and I had taken one about fifteen minutes prior to the start. I also had two bottles of Gatorade Endurance in my Fuel Belt, so I was never thirsty, and I think that between the gels and the Gatorade, I had enough nutrition for the 13.1 miles.
Most importantly, my left IT Band had been doing ok. There was a dull burn on the outside of my knee, but I had taken a few Tylenol prior to the start. Thus, the pain was mild, but I was still on edge waiting for it to become sharp – as it normally did between 5 and 10 miles.
When I began the second loop I was feeling pretty good, and I had tried hard to make sure that I ran within my limits on the first loop so that I could negative split the second loop. Once again, I moved quickly down to Brown’s Island, and then tried not to let my pace fall off as much there as it did on the first loop. Then it was back across the 14th Street Bridge to the south side and the three mile uphill slog that was waiting.
I knew that my race could hinge upon how I handled miles 8.5 to 11.5, and I had steeled myself for them ever since the first loop. Quite frankly, those three miles really sucked, but once I got back to the north side again I knew that the worst was behind me. At that point, I was looking at my watch and doing some math in my head. I was well within my two hour goal, but it appeared as though 1:50 or less might not be out of the question. I needed to finish the last couple of miles at close to an 8:00 minute pace, and I began running harder once the course flattened out again.
As I headed back down Leigh Street towards the finish I was still feeling okay, but I just could not maintain a pace that was going to get me in under 1:50. My left knee pain had gotten a bit worse, but overall, it was not really affecting me. Whether it was the Tylenol, the adrenaline or both, the pain was only mild to moderate, which was a nice surprise. In the past, once my IT Band became sufficiently irritated, it felt like a knife in the outside of my knee.
There were a few turns from Leigh Street to the finish, and I picked up my pace again in the last quarter mile. I made sure that I bore right to hit the finishing chute instead of bearing left for a third loop, and I was able to put together a 100 yard sprint to the finish. My final time was 1:51:31, which came to an 8:30 minute/mile average. For my first half marathon, I was very pleased, and I felt as though sub-1:50 might have been possible on a flatter course.
Upon finishing, I grabbed a water and a banana and then returned to the finish line to wait for Leigh Anne. She came through a few minutes later in 1:53:56. Leigh Anne had completed the Richmond Half Marathon the prior November in 1:53:42, but that course was much flatter. She felt great after that run, but she was NOT happy about her Love Rox experience. While her times were similar, she disliked the hilly course even more than I did, and had been dealing with blisters on her feet during her second loop. Her grumpiness quickly subsided, however, once we went back inside the convention center and hit up the wine expo.
I had drawn the short straw, so I was the designated driver for the day. I did partake in a few tastings, and those went straight to my head. Leigh Anne imbibed a bit more, but after a while she had to call it quits since the sugar was getting to her as well.
A few days later my MRI results came back, and thankfully, there was nothing of concern beyond the IT Band issue. I underwent cortisone injection number two with Dr. Young, and to date, that second injection has cured my IT Band problems. Different problems would eventually arise, but those will be addressed in future posts.