“Why follow me, lost as you swear I am?”
2015 Independence Day 17.76k
1:36:17 (8:43 min/mile) 5/18 AG 23/231 Overall
**actual pace (8:11 min/mile over the 18.89k actually run)
July 4, 2015 – Richmond Multisports decided to begin a 17.76k race celebrating Independence Day in 2015, and since the kids would be out of town, Leigh Anne and I decided to sign up. 17.76 kilometers converts to a little over 11 miles, and we figured that it would be a nice run since we were both training for the Richmond Marathon. Shirley Plantation in Charles City County was the venue, and even though it was less than an hour from my house, I had never been. My neighbor, Linda Posey, also chose to run, so there’d be three of us, along with our chauffeur and Sherpa, Alan Posey.
July 4th can be a hot time for an 11 mile race, but it was overcast and drizzly on race morning. We all piled into Alan’s SUV, but we didn’t make it through Chester before he got pulled over for speeding in a 35 mile per hour zone on Route 10. There weren’t many people on the road at 5:30 in the morning, and thankfully the cop let us off with a warning once he saw that we were headed to a race – as opposed to driving home drunk from an all nighter.
The gravel/dirt roads into Shirley Plantation were very wet from a lot of recent rain, and it was sort of a maze to find the mansion and starting area. Linda was very excited to see a couple of goats in a small pen near the parking area, but to her dismay, she had more interest in them than they in her.
Even though we had all pre-registered, none of us had gone to packet pickup, so we had to grab our race numbers from registration prior to the start. The inaugural event was relatively small though, so there really was no waiting in line. Once we had our race numbers, there were the obligatory bathroom stops, and then we were all corralled for a mass start near the inflatable starting arch.
After the National Anthem, the race director instructed all of the runner to “follow the girl on the bike,” who would be leading us out of Shirley Plantation. She was then going to stay just ahead of the leaders, and we were assured that she knew the course. I had looked at the course map prior to the race, and most of the race took place on public roads outside the plantation. There were a couple of turns on unmarked gravel roads before exiting the plantation property, so I guess they chose to have someone lead us out on a bike so that we wouldn’t get lost.
I really didn’t have a specific time goal for this race (who has one for a 17.76k anyways?), but I just wanted to run as close to 8 minute miles as possible. I still did not own a GPS, so I’d have to pace myself based upon the mile markers.
Once the starting horn sounded, off we all went following the girl on the bike. I had positioned myself near the front of the mass start, with Linda and Leigh Anne somewhere behind me. As we got a half mile or so down the gravel road the line of runners began to thin a bit, but everyone was still in pretty much close proximity to one another.
Near the 1 mile point, the bicyclist made a right turn onto another gravel road at a “T” intersection. By that point there were probably 15-20 people ahead of me, with the remaining 200 or so people in the field behind me. I was pretty much focused on the people directly ahead of me, but after running several hundred yards, I heard people shouting ahead of me. Before I knew what was happening, I saw the bicyclist and the runners ahead of me turning around and heading back. As it turned out, the bicyclist had turned right instead of going straight at the “T” intersection, and only realized her error when she ran out of road due to a fence.
Unfortunately, I was already at the fence by the time that I put everything together, so I turned and followed the leaders back in the opposite direction. Mass confusion then ensued. The line of runners headed towards us slowly learned that this was an unscheduled detour and not part of the course. They began to turn around, but a third of the field had not yet made it to the wrong turn. Word made it back to the rear of the field to go straight BEFORE the front of the field got back on course, so then, the fastest runners were now all behind the slowest runners on a narrow gravel road.
Confusion turned to anger at this point, and for the next half mile or so the faster runners were doing everything they could to get around the back of the field. That was not easy given the narrow road. Overall, the first third of the field got the full detour, the middle third got a partial detour and the last third got no detour. Based upon Leigh Anne’s GPS after the race, the front third of the field who made it to the fence before turning around had gone .7 miles off course. At the time, however, I had no idea exactly how far off course I had gone, but I was guessing somewhere between a half mile and a mile.
Given that I had no GPS, I knew that I was going to be unable to accurately gauge my pace, so I would be running by feel. I figured that the mile markers would still help me to a degree, but once I got out onto the public roadways I quickly learned that there were NO mile markers. My last option was to ask the volunteers at the aid stations. When I got to the first one, however, I was told by the volunteers that even they did not know the mileage. Thus, I was stuck running by feel, which might get tricky over the course of 11 humid miles.
At that point, my mind started going to a dark place. I am a data nerd, and I like to know exactly how far I’ve run, how long it took me to get there and whether I’m speeding up or slowing down. The first couple of miles (I think) had me brooding, but then I finally told myself that I needed to get over it and just run. Everyone who should have been competitive for a podium spot got directed off course, so there was no point in staying angry. Moreover, I had run by feel in a 15k in Pocahontas State Park a year earlier and actually ran faster than I thought possible. Maybe I could overachieve once again. I put on a happy face and decided to focus on the task at hand.
Once the course got onto the public roads, there were only a handful of turns before re-entering the Shirley Plantation property. There were, however, three LONG stretches of road, with the last being down Route 5 coming back in. After settling into a comfortably hard pace for a time, I started to get a cramp in my left leg somewhere near the mid-point of the course. Thankfully, I had brought sodium tablets with me, and after taking a couple of those, the cramp subsided. Even though the weather was not as hot as it could have been, it was still in the 80’s with nearly 100 percent humidity. Thus, I was sweating a ton and was losing a lot of salt in the process.
After what seemed like forever on Route 5, I finally got back to the entrance of Shirley Plantation. This was, however, a different road than the one that we had exited the plantation property from near the beginning of the run. I had been feeling pretty good overall, but as soon as I got back onto the gravel roads I began hurting. I knew that there was still some running around the plantation before the finish near the river, but my brain was telling my body that the end was very near. Once you lose the proper mindset, the body quickly follows.
Unfortunately, the run through the plantation was nearly 2 miles, and it seemed like it would never end. I kept waiting to see the river or the finish line, or to even just hear the music from the finish line. Still, every time I made another turn there was nothing to see but more fields and corn. I finally saw the river, and based upon my recollection of the course map, I thought the end was upon me. Nope, I then had to make a left and reverse course towards a turnaround cone out in the middle of nowhere.
I hate to admit it, but I was all alone at that point and there was a big part of me that was saying to forget going all the way to the turnaround cone and to just turn around and head back in. I kept telling myself that they owed it to me after sending me off course to begin with, and that this shortcut would still only get me back a portion of the extra mileage they’d already made me complete. Leigh Anne tells me that she had the exact same thought, and I’m guessing a lot of others did as well. In the end though, I couldn’t bring myself to cut the course, and went all the way around the cone and then headed back in my original direction.
By that time I was within a half mile or so of the finish line, but I still had no idea where it was because I couldn’t see or hear it. The course wound away from the river, then back towards it, and then away from it once again. It was then that the finish finally came into sight, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see a finishing chute as I was that day. After finishing, I waited a few minutes and then came Linda and then Leigh Anne. I hadn’t seen either of them since passing them on the detour and telling them to turn around.
Officially, I ran a 1:36:17, which equates to an 8:43/mile pace for the designated distance. After Leigh Anne finished, we confirmed that we’d run 18.89k instead of 17.76k, which is an additional 0.7 miles. She and Linda had also gone all the way to the fence to turn around during the detour, so we’d all run the same amount off course. Unofficially, I ran an 8:11/mile pace. That fell squarely into the pacing range that I was hoping to run, and I felt good about it, especially since it was hot and humid.
Leigh Anne and Linda were not very interested in partaking in the post-race food, but I made a pig out of myself with the hamburgers and hot dogs. There were a lot of angry people milling around the finish area complaining about the detour, and the bicycle girl made a wise decision in departing early since she seemed to be on everyone’s hit list. As noted above, the detour probably did not affect the podium spots much, whereas the faster runners pretty much all took the entire detour.
Sadly, I finished 5/18 in my age group (23/231 overall), but Leigh Anne was 3/20 in her age group and made the podium. Linda is no stranger to the podium, and was 1/10 in her age group. Thankfully, there were no run-ins with the police on the way back home, but poor Alan had to sit in the car with three very sweaty people. I’m not sure whatever happened to the girl on the bicycle, but based upon some of the post-race comments that I heard from other participants, she may have entered the witness protection program.
Prior to the Independence Day Classic, I had had nothing but good experiences with Richmond Multisports. I know that 2015 was the inaugural year for the event, so some growing pains are to be expected, but I was not impressed by the production. The course was poorly marked (and pretty boring), and even the volunteers were not as helpful as in prior events. We enjoyed ourselves to a degree, but none of us had any overwhelming desire to run the race again in the future. The best that we could say is that two-thirds of our group made the podium, and that we burned a lot of calories on July 4th before lunch time.
Next up for me was the Jefferson Sprint triathlon in Charlottesville the following weekend. That event would be notable for several reasons, and the weather would make it a seriously challenging endeavor.