2016 Richmond Marathon Race Report
3:48:01 (8:41 min/mile)
112/301 AG 950/4060 Overall
Its so common that they have a name for it – the Post-Ironman Blues. You train day after day, week after week, month after month – all for a singular purpose – Ironman glory. You kill yourself for a day, you finish, you’re euphoric…and then…nothing. No more 4:30 a.m. alarms. No more weekend long rides and runs. No more anything. Your life has revolved around Ironman for so long that you don’t know anything else anymore. Its like becoming “institutionalized” in The Shawshank Redemption. After being released from prison, you’re ready to rob somebody just to get sent back to the big house. “Brooks was here” indeed.
After Ironman Maryland, the rush of finishing faded fast and I felt like there was a giant void in my life. Sleeping in while recovering from that endeavor was great, but it felt like my hard-earned fitness was going to slowly fade away. I was already signed up for the Richmond Half-Marathon, but I was wanting more. Ironman training makes you obsessive, and its a hard cycle to break cold-turkey. I needed some metaphorical Methadone to help me kick the habit, so I began thinking about upgrading to the full marathon, and voiced my thoughts on that issue to coach Karen. That was like asking a fox whether it wanted to babysit a chicken, and soon enough, I was signed up for the Richmond Marathon.
There wasn’t a whole lot of time left for race specific training, and I ran 13.2 miles exactly two weeks after IMMD as my last “long” run. I continued biking during my marathon prep, but swimming was pretty much cut out of the program. If the short turnaround time wasn’t problematic enough, my right knee starting hurting in late October and I was sidelined for a weekend. Leigh Anne did a marathon with her friend Michelle that weekend in North Carolina, so my downtime was spent spectating and watching the kids while the ladies ran, which actually worked out quite well. Thankfully, my right knee pain went away after a few days, but I was still fighting my left-sided piriformis issues. Those were old hat, however, and come race week, I felt like I was ready to go.
I’d only run one standalone marathon before, which had been the Richmond Marathon in 2015. That race was sort of an afterthought to the Richmond Rox 70.3 triathlon, so I had never really trained solely for a marathon. I’d run a 3:53 in 2015, and Karen and I thought I should try for a 3:45 this time around. That felt sort of like a moonshot for me, so I figured that I’d either meet my goal or blow up spectacularly. Either way, it would be fun.
A 3:45 marathon equates to an 8:35 minute/mile pace. Karen had told me to run the first three miles at a 9:00 minute pace, and then to run the rest of the first half in the 8:35 – 8:40 minute range. The plan was to negative split the race, and hopefully I’d be able to run some sub-8:35 miles on the backside.
Race morning was cold but not freezing, and I drove downtown and parked at my office to avoid the bulk of the traffic. I then walked/jogged about 10 blocks to the starting area and immediately got in the long line for the porta-potties. I’d given myself about twenty minutes to spare, but by the time they started playing the National Anthem, I still had a long ways to go in the bathroom line. Thus, I abandoned the line and figured that I’d just have to hold out and hope for the best during the race.
Even though I hoped to run a 3:45, I hopped in the starting corral with the 4:00 pace group since I was going to ease into the race. As soon as I found my place, the race had started, and so began the movement en masse towards the starting line.
Mile 1-3 (8:54)(8:57)(8:54)
From the get go, most of the folks lined up with the four hour pace group took off in a hurry. A four hour marathon equates to 9:07 minutes/mile, and I was setting off at a 9:00 minute/mile pace. I was near the front of the pace group and got swallowed up by throngs of people passing me. That was okay, and I hoped that I would be passing them a little bit later in the day. The first three miles all head west and are really flat, so it was pretty easy to lock in my pace. In actuality, I ran slightly faster than I planned, but I was close enough to the plan to satisfy Karen.
Miles 4-6 (8:36)(8:36)(8:41)
The next three miles were still very flat and took us out towards the Country Club of Virginia on River Road. I’d picked up my pace a bit after passing the Mile 3 marker and was feeling good and relaxed. I hadn’t brought any gels with me since I knew they had those on the course. I didn’t need one quite yet, but hadn’t seen any at the first couple of aid stations. I did have an 8 ounce running flask with Gatorade Endurance with me, and had been sipping on that instead of slowing for handoffs from the volunteers. I planned to finish it by the time I got to the “party zone” on River Road near Mile 7 and then toss the empty flask to Leigh Anne if I saw her and the kids.
Miles 7-9 (8:10)(8:38)(8:32)
Mile 7 was pretty much all downhill on River Road so I let my feet turnover a little faster. That led to an 8:10 mile, but my heart rate actually dipped thanks to the gravity assist. I saw Leigh Anne and the kids near the bottom of the hill and tossed her my empty flask. The course then crossed the James River, and then took a left to parallel the river towards the east. I knew that the easy part of the course was now behind me and that there were some hills coming very soon. At that point though, I was still feeling pretty good and was nailing my pacing plan.
Miles 10-12 (8:37)(8:44)(8:40)
Mile 10 was pretty flat, but then there was some climbing through neighborhoods up away from the river in miles 11 and 12. My heart rate jumped up a bit, as did my pace for those two miles, which was expected. Still, given the elevation gain, my pacing remained fairly steady. Still no gels at any of the aid stations, however, and I was beginning to get a bit nervous about my nutrition. I began eyeing the gels that were hanging off some of the other runners’ race belts and considered asking for one. I wasn’t quite that desperate yet, but I was beginning to fear a late race bonk if I didn’t get some additional calories soon.
Miles 13-15 (8:35)(8:31)(8:27)
I crossed the halfway point on Forest Hill Avenue and STILL no gels to be found. I’d asked the volunteers about gels at the prior aid station and somebody told me they thought there were some around mile 15. I picked up my pace a little to begin my negative split on the backside and began having evil thoughts about the people around me who’d had the foresight to bring their own gels. I made a mental plan to execute a gel mugging if I didn’t come across any soon, but about that time I finally saw a lady with a box of gels on the near side of the next aid station. I grabbed two, downed one immediately, and then took the other one about a half mile later. Caffeine and calories, just what the doctor ordered.
Miles 14 and 15 were both below my overall goal pace of 8:35/mile, but I knew that my least favorite part of the course was up ahead.
Miles 16-18 (8:43)(8:44)(8:35)
As soon as you pass Mile 15, you take a left from Semmes Avenue onto Belvedere, which is a slight upgrade for 1.6 miles until you turn left onto Main Street. You also have to cross the Lee Bridge, which is notoriously windy. Unfortunately, the wind was coming straight out of the north, and thus, directly down the bridge. There’s no shelter from the wind on the bridge unless you’re lucky enough to tuck in behind a group of people.
When I got to the bridge, the 3:50 pace group was about 50 yards ahead of me and I wanted to link up with them and draft. I tried to accelerate, but just couldn’t catch up to them without putting out more energy than I wanted to expend with so much of the course left in front of me. In looking at my GPS data, my heart rate jumped up as soon as I turned onto Belvedere and wouldn’t return to its prior level for the rest of the race.
Upon turning left onto Main Street off of Belvedere, you get a little bit of reprieve from the wind, but its still a false flat with an uphill grade all the way to the Mile 18 marker. Due to the wind and the elevation gain, my pace deteriorated a bit for miles 16 and 17, but I got it back down to 8:35 once I turned out of the head wind. By that point, I knew that I was going to have to have a super strong finish in order to get in under 3:45. In 2015, however, I had begun to fade after Mile 18, and faded badly after Mile 22. Hopefully I could keep it together this time around. I had grabbed another gel at an aid station on Main Street, so at least that nutrition problem had subsided.
Miles 19-21 (8:25)(8:44)(8:35)
Miles 19 and 20 were north on the Boulevard, and straight back into the wind again. My pace for mile 19 dipped back down to 8:25, but then it creeped back up again, probably due to having to climb over the bridge near The Diamond. It was in that area that I saw Leigh Anne and the kids one last time before the finish line. I also managed to catch the 3:50 pace group on the Boulevard and ran with it for about a mile before continuing on past it.
I pretty much knew that 3:45 was out of the equation since I just didn’t have the legs to maintain the sub-8:35 minutes/mile pace that I was going to need in the last 10k. Since my stretch goal was no longer in the cards, my fall-back goal was to see how long I could hold things together without blowing up. My legs definitely felt better at the 20 mile point than they had the year before, but the pain was already in the mail.
Miles 22-24 (8:44)(8:44)(8:43)
The next four miles were dark times for me and my mood really went south. On the upside, I was able to put together three straight miles between 22 and 24 at a consistent pace, but the struggle was real. Other runners and spectators began to annoy me for no reason, and I felt like lashing out at anyone who said “you’re almost done.” The poor souls, they were just trying to be helpful, but I wasn’t in a mood to be helped. I needed all of my concentration to keep moving forward on legs that were increasingly feeling like jelly.
Miles 25-26 (8:58)(8:43)
Mile 25 was not pretty. To borrow a t-shirt quote – everything hurt and I was dying. It was my slowest mile of the day in 8:58…BUT…my slowest mile was still under a 9:00 minutes/mile pace. In 2015 I’d ballooned to 9:42 in mile 25, and had run a total of seven miles at or above a 9:00 minutes/minute pace. There were no such miles in 2016 and I was proud of that.
The last mile of a marathon for me is infinitely better than the 25th mile, and I managed to get myself back down to an 8:43 pace. The final quarter-mile was all downhill, which is fun, but a bit precarious on blown out quads. I didn’t scream down the final hill quite as fast as I did in 2015, but it was still a fun descent. I crossed the finish line in 3:48:01, and was immediately sorry that I didn’t run two seconds faster to finish 3:47:59.
That being said, I was more than five minutes faster than the year before, so I was happy with my effort. Perhaps more importantly, I’d executed Karen’s race plan as well as I could, so I knew that I hadn’t left any time out on the course. It had taken me a few races, but I’d finally started heeding her advice and pacing myself more conservatively in the beginning. The time that I “lost” in the first three miles when I was warming up was more than made up for on the back end. I felt like I passed a lot of people in the back half of the race who’d passed me at the beginning.
After the race I found Leigh Anne and the kids and downed a couple of slices of pizza. Leigh Anne insisted on taking my picture in front of the race banner even though there was a long line, and then we began the long walk back to our cars. It was all uphill back to my parking spot at the office, which wasn’t a whole lot of fun on tired legs.
So, with the Richmond Marathon complete, my 2016 race season had come to a close. Not with a whimper, not with a bang, but with a solid effort in a race that I didn’t plan on tackling until six weeks beforehand. In actuality, I was signed up for the Turkey Day 5k once again in Martinsville, but this time I planned on running with the kids instead of racing. The primary focus of 2016 had been the day-in-day-out grind of preparing for my first full Ironman race, immediately followed by my marathon prep. It was time to dial it down and to focus on helping the kids through their race.