2015 Richmond Marathon Race Report
3:53:12 (8:50 min/mile) 105/302 AG 1130/4523 Overall
November 14, 2015 – The Richmond Marathon was my last major race of the year, but it was never intended to be the pinnacle of 2015 for me. My primary goal for 2015 was to complete Ironman Raleigh 70.3, and then to try to best my time from Raleigh at the Richmond Rox 70.3 triathlon in early October. I had focused my training on the Richmond Rox triathlon, but I had extended my long runs beyond what would have been necessary for that race, with an eye towards the November marathon. Still the marathon was something of an afterthought until after Richmond Rox, which was only was six weeks prior. I was really using the marathon as a stepping stone for Ironman Maryland in October 2016, whereas I wanted my body to know what running 26.2 miles felt like before tacking the full Ironman.
To make matters more complicated, our family vacation to Disney World came at the end of October, and I basically went a week without any training – just as I should have been peaking in my training. Thus, I’d say that I was only semi-prepared for the marathon. I certainly was not out of shape, but I wasn’t in ideal marathon shape, and my longest run had been only 18 miles. I think most marathon training plans call for a long run of 20-22 miles, but I’d have to do the best I could with the training I’d been able to get through.
One final challenge popped up during race week, when I came down with the illness that Leigh Anne had picked up about a week and a half before race day. In the days leading up to the race, I felt run down and had a constant headache. All I wanted to do was sleep. It had taken Leigh Anne a few days to get over it, and that was going to run me right up against race morning. I got all of my stuff together early on Friday night and went to bed early, hoping to feel better when I woke up.
Thankfully, my energy levels had returned by race morning, but I still had a pounding headache that wasn’t alleviated by over the counter meds. I had my normal pre-race breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, followed by a banana. Leigh Anne and I hit the road early, and picked up her running buddy, Michelle, who was racing with us. Since parking can be a pain downtown on race day, we parked at my office and walked about eight blocks to the starting area.
It was cold on race morning, so we had all brought some old clothes to shed at the starting line. I had chosen to run with my four-bottle Fuel Belt filled with Gatorade Endurance, and while it is a bit heavy and cumbersome with all those bottles, I wouldn’t need to slow for the aid stations. I also had a few GU gels in the pouch for additional nutrition.
Neither Leigh Anne nor I had run a marathon, but Michelle had several under her belt. We both were aiming at anything under four hours, which is a 9:07 minute/mile pace. My stretch goal was 3:50, but I was afraid to try too hard for it, with the fear that I’d blow up around mile 23 and end up walking it in. Michelle had run some 3:40ish marathons, and she and Leigh Anne were going to run together. I told them that I’d be going my own pace, and we all lined up in the starting corral together, just behind the four hour pace group. After the National Anthem and a few chilly minutes after shedding our extra clothes, we were off.
Miles 1-3 (8:49)(8:46)(8:41)
My plan was to run a pretty steady pace of around 8:45 minute miles and then see how long I could hold on. If things still felt good towards the end, I’d speed up. The course is basically flat for the first six miles, but mile 1 was really congested due to the mass of runners. I probably should have started a bit slower to warm up, but the 8:45 minute miles felt very easy initially, and the adrenaline makes you want to run even faster.
The first three miles went by quickly, and I felt good with the exception of my pounding headache. I kept fiddling with my visor because my head felt like it wanted to explode, and the visor felt like a vice grip. I had started a few seconds ahead of Leigh Anne and Michelle, and had been ahead of them until just past the mile 2 marker, when we turned left onto Boulevard. They went past me at what seemed like an 8:35 pace. I wasn’t interested in running that pace, so we said goodbye and off they went.
Miles 4-7 (8:41)(8:33)(8:48)(8:05)
Over the next three miles, I began to settle into the race and I was still feeling good. There were a few minor hills in miles 4-6, but overall, the course remained pretty flat and easy. Around mile 6 my head quit pounding, and the headache became less intense. Leigh Anne and Michelle had gotten far enough ahead of me to where it was beginning to get difficult to pick them out of the crowd. I kept telling myself to maintain my pacing, but I think subconsciously, I ran a little bit faster to keep them in sight. Miles 4 and 5 dipped to 8:41 and 8:33 respectively, which took me away from my 8:45 plan.
Mile 7 has the longest downhill portion of the race as you head towards the river on Huguenot Road. I didn’t increase my effort level on the downhill grade, but I let my feet carry me at the speed that gravity wanted me to go. Between my increased pace and the fact that I wasn’t slowing for the aid stations, I began passing a few runners. By the time I reached the bottom of the hill at the first party zone at mile 7 I caught up to Leigh Anne and Michelle.
Miles 8-13 (8:46)(8:32)(8:47)(8:55)(8:49)(8:47)
The three of us ran together for the next three miles, and I couldn’t get past how much talking the ladies were doing. I understand talking during training runs, but it seemed like a lot of energy being expended by those two. I’d join their conversation every now and again, but by and large, I just ran beside them and listened to their deep thoughts.
This portion of the course took us east along the river, and there were a few uphill portions that slowed our progress. If miles 1-7 felt like an easy warmup, miles 8-13 let me know that I was in for a long day. I wasn’t getting overly tired quite yet, but the miles were no longer coming easily. After several uphill portions, we turned left onto Forest Hill Avenue, which later became Semmes Avenue. The Forest Hill Avenue portion was a bit boring, but there were a fair amount of spectators on the Semmes Avenue stretch, which helped with the motivation.
Miles 14-18 (8:37)(8:41)(9:00)(8:58)(8:55)
Around mile 14 I picked up my pace a little bit and pulled away from Leigh Anne and Michelle. A small downhill stretch helped, but I didn’t know that I was about to hit the toughest portion of the course. Miles 15 and 16 were north on Belvedere, and straight into the wind across the Lee Bridge. You then turn left onto Main Street, which is a false flat, and was still somehow into the wind.
I really hadn’t felt the wind much all day until I got near the Lee Bridge. You were then completely exposed for a mile or so, and the wind was really whipping. I began seeing running coaches for the first time on the bridge, and they were yelling for people to tuck in behind other runners. I did the best I could to do so, but my pace ballooned upwards to 9:00 miles. After crossing the bridge, it felt like we had to continue running north into the wind forever until we finally turned left onto Main Street. By that point, the suffering had begun.
I thought that heading west on Main Street would be a little easier, and it probably was. Still, the wind felt like it was against us and it was still uphill towards mile 18. I did recover a little bit from the bridge experience, but fatigue and bad thoughts were steadily taking over. When I passed the 18 mile marker I immediately realized that I was running farther than I ever had in my life, and I was wondering how my body was going to respond.
Miles 19-25 (8:49)(9:04)(8:55)(9:07)(9:05)(9:05)(9:42)
I wasn’t in suspense long, because my body began telling me that it was time to stop. I was still able to hold an ok pace, but the legs were heavy and my feet a bit numb. After passing the mile 19 marker and heading north on Boulevard towards The Diamond, Michelle pulled up on my left side to say hello. She was alone, and indicated that Leigh Anne had been forced to walk around mile 17. I didn’t know how severe Leigh Anne’s condition was at that time, and I was worried that she may have a LONG nine miles ahead of her if she was walking at 17. Michelle then broke out her headphones, inserted them into her ears and glided effortlessly past me. I felt like I was working overtime to keep my pace below nine minute miles, but she was pulling away from me and didn’t even look like she was straining. She has hence been known to Leigh Anne and I as Michelle the gazelle.
Miles 22 to 25 were pretty dark times for me. Cardiovascularly I was ok, but my body was shutting down and I just couldn’t get my legs to move any faster. My splits inched up to about 9:05 for three miles, and then jumped up to 9:42 in mile 25 when the wheels really began to come off. There were a fair amount of spectators during that stretch, but I was unable to take in any encouragement. I was hurting and angry and felt like I wanted to lash out at anyone who gave me “stupid” encouragement, such as “you’re almost done.” I was in fact, almost done, but for me, the end was not in sight. My head had also resumed the pounding. Thankfully, I didn’t actually lash out at anyone and just kept moving forward through my tunnel of pain and dark thoughts.
Mile 26 (9:15)
After seeing the mile 25 marker, I knew that it was almost over and that I’d make my sub-four hour goal unless I rolled an ankle or totally collapsed. Being back downtown was a big mental boost, and I was able to pick up my pace a little bit. There were a lot of spectators as I headed east, and I was finally able to draw on their energy in light of my improved mental state.
The last .4 miles of the race is all downhill towards Brown’s Island, but its pretty steep considering that your quads don’t really want to work anymore. A lot of people were taking it easy down the hill, but I decided to sprint down it and hope that my legs didn’t give out. I saw Leigh Anne’s parents with our kids midway down the hill, and was able to run down the remainder of the downgrade to the finish line without incident.
It felt great crossing the finish line, and Michelle was standing there waiting after I got my finisher’s medal. She’d finished in 3:49:58, and I’d made it in 3:53:12. I felt like I was going to collapse at any minute, but she looked like she was ready to run again.
At that moment my thoughts turned back to Leigh Anne, wondering where she was on the course. Michelle seemed less concerned, and told me that Leigh Anne had only been planning to walk a little bit, and didn’t think that she had bonked and was walking it in. In the midst of our discussion, Leigh Anne crossed the line in 3:57:55.
We ultimately tracked down Leigh Anne’s parents and the kids, and Leigh Anne and Michelle seemed to be feeling relatively well. I felt less well, and had to sit down several times. I don’t know if I was sick, short on calories or sodium, or whether running 8.2 miles farther than I ever had before simply took a toll on me. It could have been all of the above. Leigh Anne and Michelle had some 22ish mile long runs under their belts, and perhaps that was the difference in how they felt compared to me when we were done. That, or they just might be tougher than me.
Overall, I was pleased with my performance, but I really suffered after mile 20. There is a big difference in training for a half-iron distance triathlon and in training for a marathon, and I certainly was not as fully trained as I would have been if the marathon was my A (or B) race for the year. With Ironman Maryland less than eleven months away, however, I at least knew how it felt to run 26.2 miles – albeit not after swimming and biking. Thus, the Richmond Marathon served its purpose, and was another stepping stone towards completing 140.6 miles.
After the race, some Chick-fil-A was in order, but I had to be careful to maintain my race weight – there were less than two weeks until the Turkey Day 5k in Martinsville. After all, I had a second place AG finish from 2014 to try to defend or improve upon.